deadlift variations

Top 10 Best Deadlift Variations to Build Strength

The deadlift is the toughest exercise of the big three. Many people debate the squat being the hardest lift to perform in the gym. However, the fact that the deadlift requires you to lift a motionless bar puts you at a massive disadvantage. That’s what separates it from the other big lifts of the squat and bench press.

With the deadlift being so tough, you need to consider performing a deadlift variation to meet your needs. What is a deadlift variation? A deadlift variation refers to a modified or alternative form of the traditional deadlift exercise. Deadlift variations target similar muscle groups but may emphasize certain aspects of the movement or provide unique benefits. Here are the top 10 best deadlift variations for building strength:

  1. Conventional Deadlift
  2. Sumo Deadlift
  3. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
  4. Trap Bar Deadlift
  5. Deficit Deadlift
  6. Single-Leg Deadlift
  7. Snatch-Grip Deadlift
  8. Band or Chain Resisted Deadlift
  9. Block Deadlift
  10. Isometric Deadlift

This article will discuss these top deadlift variations, muscles recruited, and purpose per variation. You will also learn how to do each of these movements, so you perform them correctly. Not knowing the differences between these variations could cause you to implement the wrong variation into your own programming.

As a strength and conditioning coach, I want all my athletes to perform the deadlift for many reasons! Let’s get right into it and talk about all things deadlift!

What Muscles Do You Use for the Deadlift

Stock image of the anatomical position

The muscles used to conquer the deadlift exercise are listed below. A big factor that affects muscular recruitment is weight displacement, range of motion, and stances such as a sumo stance or conventional stance.

  • Trapezius
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Erector Spinae
  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings


The trapezius is a large muscle that extends from the base of the skull down the spine to the middle of the back. The upper fibres of the trapezius are engaged during the deadlift, especially in the initial phase of the lift. They contribute to scapular retraction and shoulder stability as well.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi, commonly known as the lats, is a broad muscle that spans the middle and lower back. The lats play a crucial role in stabilizing the spine during the deadlift. They also contribute to the deadlift by extending the shoulder joint and aiding in the retraction of the scapula.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae is a group of muscles along the lower spine. The erector spinae muscles are heavily involved in maintaining an upright posture throughout the deadlift. They provide support to the spine and prevent flexion, especially during the initial phase of the deadlift.

Gluteus Maximus

The gluteus maximus is the large muscle of the hip joint. The gluteus maximus is a powerful hip extensor and is crucial for the lockout phase of the deadlift. It plays a significant role in driving the hips forward to complete the deadlift.


The quadriceps are a group of four muscles located at the front of the thigh. The quadriceps are engaged during the deadlift to extend the knee joint. They contribute to the lockout and play a role in overall leg stability.


The hamstrings are a group of muscles at the back of the thigh. The hamstrings are essential for hip extension during the deadlift. They work in conjunction with the gluteus maximus to bring the hips to an upright position, especially during the lockout phase.

How to do the Deadlift

Below we will highlight the steps of performance for a deadlift related to the conventional stance. This stance requires a shoulder width stance, which seems typical in a majority of programs that the deadlift is prescribed for.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Position your toes under the barbell, with the bar over the middle of your feet.
  2. Bend at your hips and knees to reach the bar. Use a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  3. The two grips of the deadlift could be a double overhand grip or a mixed grip. There is a “hook grip” for deadlifting, but that would be for more advanced lifters and or powerlifters.
  4. Push your hips back while maintaining a neutral spine. Keep your chest up, back flat, and arms as vertical as you can.
  5. Take a deep breath and brace your core. Engage your lats by pulling your shoulder blades back and down.
  6. To begin, drive through the floor using your whole foot. Keep the barbell close to your body throughout the movement.
  7. Stay tall, and try to bring the barbell and hips together into a lockout position.
  8. Stand tall with your hips fully extended. Ensure a straight line from your head to your heels. Do not hyperextend your lockout.
  9. Reset your form before starting the next repetition.

The deadlift can be viewed as a dangerous movement. However, it is a highly beneficial movement that can aid your efforts into building either size or strength. As long as you perform with appropriate form and a lever belt, the possibilities are endless!

Top 10 Deadlift Variations for Strength

Try to get an image of someone deadlift with bands or chains

The following are the top deadlift variations used for improving strength:

  1. Conventional Deadlift
  2. Sumo Deadlift
  3. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
  4. Trap Bar Deadlift
  5. Deficit Deadlift
  6. Single-Leg Deadlift
  7. Snatch-Grip Deadlift
  8. Band or Chain Resisted Deadlift
  9. Block Deadlift
  10. Isometric Deadlift

I understand that the conventional deadlift is typically referred to as the original deadlift. However, we will consider the conventional deadlift a variation on this list so we can explore the use of the sumo deadlift, their purposes, and all other variations relevant to the deadlift.

After our list, we will include an honorable mention - the farmer walk. Although this movement doesn’t physically resemble the deadlift, the fact it requires you to lift and carry weight parallels the demands of a normal deadlift.

Conventional Deadlift - Best for Competition

The conventional deadlift is the standard deadlift where the lifter stands with feet hip-width apart, gripping the barbell with hands just outside the knees. This lift is great for competition, and should be used as the most dominant variation as it resembles the functionality of most sports and everyday life. This lift recruits all the pulling muscles, such as the traps, lats, erectors, glutes, and hamstrings.

How to Perform:

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes under the barbell.
  2. Grip the barbell with hands just outside your knees.
  3. Hinge at hips, keeping a neutral spine.
  4. Drive through the whole foot, extend hips and knees simultaneously.
  5. Lock out at the top with hips fully extended.


  • Targets a broad range of muscles.
  • Mimics natural lifting movements in sport and life.


  • Can be demanding on the lower back.
  • Longer range of motion compared to other variations.

Sumo Deadlift - Best for Competition

The sumo deadlift involves a wide stance with toes pointing outward, reducing the range of motion and emphasizing the use of the adductors and gluteus maximus. The muscles used for the sumo deadlift are the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors. This lift is great for competition as this technical lift can be helpful for certain body types, especially longer athletes.

How to Perform:

  1. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width, toes pointing outward.
  2. Grip the barbell inside your knees with a wide grip.
  3. Hinge at the hips and lower the torso, keeping the chest up.
  4. Drive through the whole foot, extending hips and knees simultaneously.
  5. Lock out at the top with hips fully extended.


  • Engages inner thighs and hips.
  • Reduces stress on the lower back due to a taller posture.


  • Requires good hip mobility.
  • Mostly helpful for competition, not for other functional goals.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) - Best for Hamstring Strength

Romanian Deadlift involves keeping the legs relatively straight, hinging at the hips, and emphasizing the hip hinge movement and hamstring stretch. This is a great movement for hamstring strength and to help build the posterior strength of the lower body.

How to Perform:

  1. Start with feet hip-width apart, bar in front.
  2. Hinge at hips, keeping legs straight but not locked.
  3. Start at the top of the lift, and lower the barbell along the front of the legs.
  4. Feel the stretch in hamstrings, squeeze the glutes at the top of each lift.
  5. Return to the starting position by driving hips forward.


  • Emphasizes the posterior chain.
  • Helps to recruit more of the hamstrings than the back.


  • Doesn’t challenge the bottom of the deadlift.

Trap Bar Deadlift - Best for Leg Drive

The trap bar really challenges the leg drive of the deadlift. This movement allows you to be inside a specialty bar, which is known as the trap bar or hex bar. Because you can leverage leg drive more effectively, this movement recruits the quadriceps and gluteus maximus. It also teaches more optimal technique for the deadlift.

How to Perform:

  1. Stand inside the trap bar.
  2. Grip the handles with a neutral grip.
  3. Hinge at hips, keeping chest up.
  4. Lift the trap bar by extending hips and knees.
  5. Lock out at the top.


  • Reduces stress on the lower back.
  • More user-friendly for beginners.


  • Might not challenge the hamstrings as much as other variations.
  • Grip is different from a barbell deadlift.

Deficit Deadlift - Best for Bottom Strength

The deficit deadlift is a variation of the deadlift that involves standing on an elevated surface (like plates) to increase the range of motion. This is a great movement to help improve the bottom portion of the deadlift as you need to perform at a greater range of motion, whether in the sumo or conventional stance. This lift is highly challenging for the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

How to Perform:

  1. Stand on an elevated surface with the barbell in front.
  2. Perform a standard deadlift, just at greater range of motion.
  3. Deeper reach to the ground to strengthen the initial phase of the deadlift.
  4. Return to the starting position.


  • Enhances bottom strength and ability to pull stronger off the floor.
  • Could recruit the hamstrings and glutes more than other deadlift variations.


  • May strain lower back if not performed correctly.

Single-Leg Deadlift - Best for Athleticism

The single-leg deadlift is just like the conventional deadlift, except using one leg at a time. You want to lift on one leg, with the non-standing leg extended straight for balance. This is a great movement for athleticism and can recruit the gluteus maximus and hamstrings since the single leg is more of a hinge, with limited leg drive.

How to Perform:

  1. Stand on one leg, slight knee bend.
  2. Hinge at the hips, lowering the torso.
  3. Reach for the barbell or alternative form or resistance.
  4. Keep the non-standing leg straight for balance.
  5. Return to the starting position.


  • Improves balance and stability.
  • Targets each leg individually.


  • Requires good balance and stability.
  • Limited load compared to traditional deadlift.

Snatch-Grip Deadlift - Best for Lat Engagement

This variation of the deadlift involves using a wider grip on the barbell, similar to the snatch weightlifting movement. This movement puts a ton of resistance onto the lat muscles, which makes it great for back growth as well as bottom strength since you begin the lift in a lower position.

How to Perform:

  1. Grip the barbell with a wide snatch grip.
  2. Perform a standard deadlift.
  3. Wider hand placement increases the range of motion of the lift.
  4. Lock out at the top.


  • Targets the lat muscles and other posterior muscle groups.
  • Improves thoracic spine strength.


  • Requires good flexibility and mobility.
  • Increased difficulty in grip strength. Preferably use lifting straps.

Band or Chain Resisted Deadlift - Best for Lockout Strength

This variation of the deadlift requires the use of accommodating resistance in the form of bands or chains to challenge the lockout of each rep. This variation doesn’t necessarily recruit more or less muscle groups. It does, however, challenge the lockout of each rep which makes it a strong variation for those who need to improve their deadlifting strength.

How to Perform:

  1. Attach bands or chains to the bar for accommodating resistance.
  2. Perform a deadlift whether in the sumo or conventional position.
  3. Push your hips through lockout
  4. Perform the desired amount of reps and sets prescribed.


  • Improves lockout ability.
  • Weight is lighter at the bottom that makes it easier in the bottom position.


  • Learning curve for those who are not familiar with accommodating resistance and its effect on lifting.

Block Deadlift - Best for Postural Advantage

Block deadlift involves lifting the barbell from an elevated surface (blocks or platforms), reducing the range of motion. This is opposite to the deficit deadlift, and it allows you to have a postural advantage for a couple reasons. Those who do block pulls might need the postural advantage for lower back pain, or for learning to have more upright characteristics with their traditional deadlift, sumo or conventional. This movement challenges the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and various back muscles.

How to Perform:

  1. Place blocks or platforms under the barbell.
  2. Set up as you would for a deadlift.
  3. Lift the barbell from the elevated position.
  4. Similar mechanics to conventional deadlift but with a shorter range.


  • Reduces stress on the lower back.
  • Targets specific portions of the deadlift.


  • Limited range of motion may alter muscle engagement.
  • May require additional equipment (blocks or platforms).

Isometric Deadlift - Best for Sticking Points

The isometric deadlift is a variation of the deadlift that requires you to pull the bar against a motionless rack in different positions. This is a great variation that provides a ton of muscular recruitment of various muscle groups depending on stance especially.

How to Perform:

  1. Set up for a conventional or sumo deadlift.
  2. Lift an empty barbell and set it underneath pins or a motionless rack.
  3. Once you set up the empty bar against the motionless rack, pull from that specific range of motion for a matter of seconds.
  4. Maintain proper form during the isometric hold.


  • Improves strength at specific joint angles.
  • Enhances stability in sticking points.


  • Does not involve a full range of motion.
  • May not be suitable for beginners.

Honorable Mention - Farmer Walk

Although the farmer walk does not look like a normal deadlift, it still requires you to challenge the same muscles you would use for a deadlift. The farmer walk challenges strength, posture, core strength, and grip. All of these characteristics of the deadlift make it a strong movement to program for anyone trying to push past a deadlfiting plateau. Because it is an exercise that requires movement, it also overloads your anatomy much differently than a static lift like the deadlift. Meaning, it provides an overloading stimulus for muscles to respond to.

What are the Benefits of the Deadlift

The benefits to the deadlift are:

  • Increase muscle growth
  • Postural strength
  • Enhance athleticism and performance

Increase Muscle Growth

When executed correctly, the deadlift engages a wide range of muscle groups, including the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, traps, and more. This level of activation results in significant muscle growth and enhanced strength. As you incorporate deadlifts into your training routine, you will begin to notice growth in both muscle density and strength.

Postural Strength

Deadlifting plays a pivotal role in developing and maintaining postural strength. Deadlift exercises that target core muscles, such as the abdomen and lower back, contribute to a stable and well-supported spine. By promoting muscle balance and coordination, deadlifting helps individuals maintain proper posture, reducing the risk of musculoskeletal issues and enhancing overall body alignment.

Enhance Athleticism and Performance

Executing the deadlift exercise showcases a functional movement that is identical to many skills for athletic performance. This exercise mirrors many skills such as jumping, sprinting, and quickly changing directions. This means the deadlift should translate to improved performance in various sports, whether it’s football, basketball, or track and field. The strength and coordination gained through deadlifting make you a stronger and more potent athlete.

There are plenty more benefits to the deadlift, such as grip strength, increasing resting metabolic rate, and more in previous articles we have published about the deadlift

How to Incorporate a Top Deadlift Variation

If you want to incorporate a deadlift variation, you have to understand where your performance can improve. Most people struggle to deadlift off the bottom, at lockout, or outright struggle with bad posture in general. Knowing this, that’s when we can understand how to implement certain variations to your performance.

Stuck at the Bottom

If you are stuck at the bottom of your deadlift, you need to utilize movements like the deficit deadlift and snatch grip deadlift. Both movements increase range of motion, and make you perform reps beyond your means.

Bad Posture

If you have bad posture with your deadlift, you should use the trap bar deadlift, Romanian deadlift, and block pull. The trap bar deadlift and block pull allow you to have a mechanical advantage with your posture. The Romanian deadlift doesn’t provide that same benefit, but challenges your muscles to improve to hopefully be strong enough to have better posture during a normal deadlift.

Lockout Issues

If you struggle to lock out heavy weight on the deadlift, you should use the isometric deadlift and the bands or chain resisted deadlift. These variations allow you to challenge a specific range of motion for your deadlift to hopefully challenge and improve your lockout ability.


The deadlift, considered one of the toughest exercises, targets various muscle groups, including the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. If you want how much you can deadlift, you might want to consider implementing some of these variations into your program for building strength.

Not every deadlift variation is necessary for your success. If you can figure out your strengths and weaknesses, you can easily identify which deadlift makes the most sense for you and your goals. It’s time to defy Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, and to grab that barbell and pick up the most weight you can to be the strongest person in the room!