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Different Types of Deadlifts

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Today’s discussion is based on the different types of deadlifts. There's a variety of them to choose from that work similar muscle groups, but each deadlift having their primary focus for use.

Deadlift variations can be used for muscle development, max effort, or even to fix issues causing you to not progress further i.e. accessory lifts.

This movement in general, regardless which type of deadlift you choose, is going to work the body as a whole especially your legs and posterior chain (muscles on the back side).

As much as I love squats, I would venture to say deadlifts are the one exercise that everyone will benefit from - and should be performing. However, too many execute it incorrectly and injure themselves, which gives the movement a bad name.

When I say everyone I even mean seniors as well. This doesn't mean it has to be heavy ass repetitions, but rather reasonable loads to encourage muscle development and strength. Let's take a look at all the different types of deadlifts available for you.

Conventional Deadlift

This is my go to exercise and method of execution. The conventional deadlift is where your feet are around shoulder width apart or narrower, and executed with an emphasized hinge at the hips.

Several exercises have a foundation for positioning similar to the conventional pull, which is why it's very important for carry over. Think about it. Nearly all standing row movements for the back are in the hinged position, and also includes stiff leg and RDL.

If you're preparing, or starting up, Olympic weightlifting then conventional deadlifts should be a key exercise to learn as well. Snatches and cleans are both started from the conventional deadlift position.

The movement isn't desired by many within the powerlifting community because it requires more range of motion (ROM) to execute vs. sumo deadlifts. The sticking point is usually just below or above the knees.

Primary muscles worked are your quads, hamstring, and back. Again, it's a full body movement, but these are the primary movers.

different types of deadlifts conventional

Sumo Deadlifts

The sumo deadlift is great for those with dominant leg strength seeking to pull heavy loads at competition. The name comes from how wide you stand similar to a sumo wrestler ready to hold their ground.

The ROM is considered less from floor to top position, which is why lots of powerlifters use this stance instead. Primary muscles being used are all within your upper legs, glutes, and back.

However, when executed properly you can take much of the pressure off the lower back by the upright and wide stance. This makes it a good alternative to conventional pulls while recovering from minor low back pains in my opinion.

Sticking points are normally clearing the floor and below the knee. Success rate is pretty high for lockout if you can pass the knee.

Touch and Go Deadlifts

The cheater way to deadlift, right? This idea is about as useless as those who believe sumo is cheating. Both are just different variations to use. Sure, you can just dislike the use of a deadlift variant, but no need to say they are cheating or unhelpful just because you don’t agree.

I digress though. First, let’s cover the touch and go deadlift. This version has several useful benefits:

  1. Increases Muscle Endurance

  2. Improves Strength

  3. Improves Grip Strength

Muscle endurance improves from being able to continuously pull the load without resetting for maximum control of power.

This exercise is not to see how hard you can slam the weight into the floor. That’s what makes people believe this is a useless exercise. You simply allow the weight to tap the floor like you’re giving it a quick kiss, and then pull the weight back up.

Stop and go deadlifts are when you pull the bar from the floor, and once lowered you stop and reset for another pull. Essentially your x5 reps in the set are honestly a bunch of singles with no rest.

The issue with this is that you focus only on the concentric phase, which is when you’re in the position to pull from the ground in terms of the deadlift. This is good for pure strength and explosion, but not the best for muscular growth.

Sure you can control the deadlift down, which is an option you should be doing some training blocks, but this is another way to utilize the eccentric phase while performing more reps.

Aside from this, when you touch and go you also improve grip strength. The entire set you’re grasping the bar firmly and never releasing until the end of the set. Stop and go deadlifts, many reset grip as well, so this is another advantage to consider for the later variation.

Lastly, time under tension is the goal for touch and go deadlifts. The more time under tension means not just muscular growth, but true strength training as well. Generally touch and go can be used with heavier weights around 70-90% of your max pull.

The lowering portion of the deadlift, also referred to as the eccentric phase, is greatly necessary for improving growth and strength in the quads, hammies, and lower back.

Powerlifting of course is focusing on that one rep pull, but having stronger muscles and central nervous system is what allows both new and advanced lifters pull even more weight for reps.

Many are going beyond 800lbs easily, and it’s not just from practicing raw singles all day.

This is an alternative reason for incorporating touch and go deadlifts.

Deadlift Pause Reps

Another great deadlift variation to consider adding into your training program is the pause rep. As the name implies, you are literally pausing for 1-5 seconds at around mid-shin level while pulling the weight up.

Pause reps are not really intended to be performed with 90% your max or above, but rather around 60-85% (under most training circumstances and needs). There’s a lot of stress placed on the lower back while paused with heavy resistance.

So don’t get crazy and keep the weight being used reasonable. One of the main reason for paused deadlifts is to strengthen core muscles, but we don't want to injure the back either.

Other benefits received through pause reps are:

  1. Grip Strength

  2. Time Under Tension (TUT)

Grip strength definitely gets improved since you stop mid pull and have to hold that weight for the set amount of seconds. Doesn’t sound like a long time, but do them and you will think differently.

Time under tension is again a determining factor with this type of deadlift also. Having to pause with the weight not only increases time in general, but the other concept to this is more attention on muscle building for the core, back, and legs.

Rack and Block Pulls

Now it’s time to take away portions of the deadlift to work on concentric strength and lockout. Rack pulls and block pulls are basically the same, but just noting the equipment used to separate the height of the bar from the floor.

Both are as their names imply. Rack pulls means you pull the bar from the safety handles on a power rack. Then block pulling is when the weight is on top of blocks that are set at various heights.

The point is to have the bar height placed shin to just below the knee (usually).

This takes away the necessity to pull the weight strictly from the ground and requires pure concentric strength and firing your hips to lockout.

You should be able to do more weight than you use for regular deadlifts. For example, I can pull 475lbs 3×3 smoothly, but rack pulls I do 3×3 with 515lbs. or more.

These also assist with improving lower back strength, and should not be incorporated with the touch and go pull.

Deficit Deadlifts

Deficit deadlifts are when you place your footing higher from the floor with something such as a block, platform, or even a weight plate.

The intention is to make your body spend more time pulling the weight for a longer distance, which hopefully makes your body used to pulling heavier loads easier from the floor. Leg muscles will surely develop from these added within training blocks.

Deficit deadlifts should be performed with 50-75% your max pull before trying out heavier weights. You may need some time getting used to pulling this way as you have to get deeper into position to prevent this from being a straight up stiff leg pull.

Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)

This type of deadlift is an accessory exercise used for a variety of reasons including muscle growth and learning to hip hinge proficiently. Main muscles being targeted are your hamstrings, core, and glutes.

The hip hinge portion requires you to push them back while lowering your torso down with a slight knee bend. No forward rounding of your shoulders or low back should occur.

These two issues will place all the weight on you spinal erectors causing injury. The normal reason this occurs is because you're going down too low and not pushing your hips back.

The RDL can be used for a variety of rep ranges such as 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, etc. Basically you can utilize them for heavy training blocks and volume blocks too.

Snatch Grip Deadlifts

Snatch grip deadlifts are when you grip the bar wide towards the outer rings on a barbell. The easiest way to remember this is by relating it to Olympic weightlifting snatches - only you're just doing the deadlift portion.

These are great after primary deadlift sets to train hip position and use of hamstrings more for the conventional pull. They also target your lats and core muscles greatly, which makes them a well rounded deadlift variation to add into your training block.

The grip can be difficult to maintain if you're not used to performing snatches. Wrist straps are recommended especially when trying to execute snatch grip deadlifts for multiple repetitions.

You can also use this grip for block pulls and RDL's to add some variety into your program.

Conclusion: Try Out Different Types of Deadlifts

Just give these different types of deadlifts a try and see what works for you and your program needs. Some time is needed before judging too quickly as they can take some getting used too. This mainly applies to sumo vs. conventional - as the rest are deadlift accessories at the end of the day.

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