So, you know deadlifts are an important component of your workout routine to strengthen and develop your posterior chain and improve your overall exercise performance, right? However, do you know the best deadlift form for your body? Or which deadlift variations are best to help achieve your fitness goals?
While the conventional deadlift is the most popular variation, there are other types of deadlifts that target different muscles and therefore produce different results. Not to mention, ensuring proper deadlift form is key to creating results and preventing injury.
So, if you’re interested in learning how to start deadlifting or to improve your deadlift form and which deadlift variation is best for your body, mobility, desired results, and injury history, then keep reading.
Deadlift Muscles Worked
Before we get into deadlift form and deadlift variations, first thing’s first... which muscles are worked when you do a deadlift?
Deadlift muscles worked depends on which type of deadlift you’re doing but, in general, they include:
- Lower back
In short, the deadlift muscles worked involve your posterior chain which includes all the interconnected muscles that make up the back of the body.
Depending on the variation of deadlift you perform, the deadlift muscles worked will be either more or less focused on specific areas of the posterior chain. In other words, a sumo deadlift works your quadriceps more than your lower back. But, all in all, you’re entire back body will be put to the test when you do any type of deadlift variation.
Types of Deadlift Variations
Did you know that the deadlift world record is 501 kg (1104.5 pounds)? Surprising, hey!
And while we can’t promise that you’ll ever be able to match the deadlift world record, even with proper deadlift form and the right deadlift variation for your body, it still goes to show just how much weight can be lifted in this powerful move. After all, our posterior change is a powerful group of muscles that clearly can pull their weight. But depending on your body composition, some deadlift variations will be more powerful than others. Below, we’re going over a few of the most common types of deadlift variations:
- Conventional Deadlifts
- Sumo Deadlifts
- Trap Bar/Hex Bar Deadlifts
- Deadlift on Smith Machine
- Deadlift with Dumbbells
Just remember, what’s even more important than trying to lift enough weight to challenge the deadlift world record is your deadlift form. But before we talk about form, let’s go over each of these types of deadlift variations in more detail.
As you’re probably aware, conventional deadlifts are performed with a narrow foot stance with your hands about hip-width apart, placed on the bar just outside of your knees. The conventional deadlift primarily focuses on and engages your lower back muscles. The reason being that your lower back must work harder to ensure your back remains extended when lifting the bar off the floor.
If you’ve noticed during your workouts that your lower back is a weak point for you, conventional deadlifts are a great way to build and strengthen these muscles to improve your overall performance in all your workout exercises.
Due to the nature of its stance, the conventional deadlift also will require the most mobility by your spine with the horizontal starting position. This is an important point to be mindful of if you have experienced lower back injuries in the past or find it difficult to maintain the correct form.
If that’s the case for you, the other deadlift variations we’ll go over below may be preferable.
Sumo deadlifts are performed with a wider foot stance with your hands placed on the bar shoulder-width apart inside your knees this time. From a form perspective, a sumo deadlift can look like a squat movement.
Due to this reason, a sumo deadlift works the quadricep muscles as your body is more upright, and therefore puts less emphasis on your lower back. So, if you’re looking to strengthen your quadriceps muscles, then we recommend the sumo deadlift over the conventional deadlift.
And again, if you have experienced lower back issues or find it difficult to maintain the form and mobility needed for the conventional deadlift, we recommend opting for a sumo deadlift.
Plus, if your goal for deadlifts is to develop your strength, then the sumo deadlift would be your best option.
Trap Bar/Hex Bar Deadlift
A trap bar deadlift using a trap bar is where you stand in the middle of the weight as you grip the bar on the sides instead of holding the bar in front of your body. This variation of a deadlift is more vertical than your conventional deadlift but also more horizontal than your sumo deadlift.
The trap bar creates a hexagonal shape that you stand in between. So, sometimes, trap bars are also known as hex bars. So, you could also refer to a trap bar deadlift as a deadlift hex bar variation. The deadlift hex bar or trap bar variation is easier to perform than a conventional deadlift and is like your sumo deadlift in that it engages your quadriceps more so than your lower back.
However, more so than the sumo deadlift, the trap bar deadlift is the best option if you experience issues with your lower back or mobility as the handles on the bar are slightly higher than a normal bar making it easier to reach, decreasing the necessary range of motion.
The deadlift hex bar variation is a great option for beginners as it is easier to execute with the correct deadlift form and puts the least strain on your spine while also requiring the least mobility.
You can always use trap bar deadlifts to improve your deadlift form and then work your way up to conventional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts as well.
If the main goal of incorporating deadlifts into your workout routine is to improve your athleticism and power, then we highly recommend opting for a dead lift hex bar or trap bar variation.
Deadlift on Smith Machine
A Smith machine is a common weight training machine found in many gyms. It consists of a barbell fixed within a set of rails running along the vertical length of the machine. Smith machines offer both unassisted weights and counterweighted options.
Often used to assist in weighted squats, you can also perform a deadlift on Smith machine equipment. You’ll move the barbell to the lowest rung on the Smith machine and perform the deadlift from a position slightly higher than if the barbell was starting on the ground.
You can perform a deadlift on Smith machine equipment with a variety of variations. It’s great for those who have limited mobility in their hamstrings and posterior chain since you won’t have to bend as low to the ground to complete a deadlift on Smith machine equipment.
Deadlift with Dumbbells
A dumbbell is a short bar with two weights on either side. In other words, a dumbbell simply a shorter version of a barbell. So, the bars on dumbbells are made to be held in one hand as opposed to a barbell that is long enough to hold with both hands.
A deadlift with dumbbells can be done either by holding one dumbbell in each hand and then performing the deadlift. Or, you can use a single dumbbell, holding the weighted part of the dumbbell with both hands.
You can perform a conventional deadlift with dumbbells or a sumo deadlift with dumbbells and it’s a fantastic option for those who need to use lighter weights before they build up the strength to use a heavier barbell for their deadlifts.
Using dumbbells is also a more mobile and at-home-friendly option for doing weighted deadlifts, especially if you’re using lightweight dumbbells for your workouts.
Deadlift with Kettlebells
A kettlebell is a cast-iron weight shaped like a ball with a handle at the top. Kettlebells are unique because they’re centre of gravity is offset, unlike dumbbells or barbells that have a more even weight distribution.
A deadlift kettlebell variation puts less pressure on your spine than some other deadlift variations such as a deadlift with dumbbells or barbells. Deadlift kettlebell variations can be done with conventional or sumo deadlift form, yet they offer a more dynamic option.
With a kettlebell deadlift, instead of holding a kettlebell in each hand, you’ll generally grab the handle with both hands and perform the deadlift.
Similar to doing a deadlift with dumbbells, a deadlift kettlebell style allows for more mobility with its off-centre of gravity and you’ll be able to focus on slightly different muscles in the posterior chain than you’d be able to activate with other styles of deadlifts.
Proper Deadlift Form
Now that you know about all the different deadlift variations that are possible, let’s finish things off by talking about proper deadlift form for a conventional deadlift.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Touch your thumbs to your thighs and run your hands down your legs until you touch the bar to find the proper hand placement.
- Choose between a double overhand grip or a mixed grip with one overhand grip and one underhand grip.
- Keep your head in a neutral position for the entire movement.
- Maintain a strong spine for the entire movement, focusing on keeping your chest lifted to prevent rounding your shoulders forwards.
- Make sure you always have a slight bend in your knees. They should never be locked.
- Always activate your core to protect your lower back.
- Keep your shoulders slightly in front of your hands until the bar reaches your thighs at the top of the deadlift.
If you’re unsure how to maintain the proper deadlift form, please work with a trainer to help you prevent injuries.
An important aspect of your workout routine is to ensure that you are taking care of your body and back when setting up your equipment.
If you’re expelling energy getting heavy weightplates onto your bar, you won’t have as much energy for the reps themselves.
Our Barbell Jack is a great option to prop up your bar; so you can easily and safely slide on your weights without struggling to hold the bar in the process.
We’d love to hear about your experiences using the Barbell Jack for your workouts, feel free to follow us on Instagram at @thebarbelljack and tag us in your workout photos and videos. Stay tuned for more blog posts and comment below with any other topics you’d like us to cover.