Deadlifts are absolutely awesome. They work pretty much your entire body, from your legs and back being the prime movers, to your core being the stabiliser – and even the brain! My clients say there are so many cues to remember for the deadlift, considering it’s essentially just picking up a weight from the floor.
Not all types of deadlifts work for everyone, however. We’re all differently shaped so while a conventional deadlift might work for many people, a sumo may suit others better. If these words mean nothing to you then read on – this post will explain three different types of deadlifts, why you might do them, and how to do them, too.
If you’re brand new to deadlifting, you might want to download my free ebook which talks about how to do a conventional deadlift, along with answering queries about common strength training terms and how many sets and reps to do. There are lots of different types of deadlifts, but three of the most common are the conventional deadlift – the one you’ll see most often – the Romanian deadlift, and the sumo deadlift.
A conventional deadlift works the posterior chain fairly evenly, with the legs pushing the ground away as your upper body extends. However, those with different lever lengths may struggle to set up a conventional deadlift optimally, which is where the sumo deadlift can step in, with many competitive lifters pulling more weight off the ground in sumo set-up. The sumo deadlift targets the glutes and quads more than conventional, with less emphasis on the lower back.
The Romanian deadlift (named after Romanian Olympic weightlifter Nicu Vlad) places a laser focus on the posterior chain – hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, with upper back engagement to keep the barbell close – and is highly beneficial even at lower weights due to its focus.
All deadlifts involve a hip hinge and extension and you may do all of them at some point during your training, depending on your goals.
For all of these deadlifts, you want to get good and close to the barbell – you’ll often hear shoelaces under the bar, though I like to cue the barbell running up and down your leggings. For both conventional and Romanian deadlifts, your feet should be about hip distance apart, but for sumo deadlift it’s more of a personal preference. Get your feet as wide as feels comfortable with a slight turn-out of your feet, whilst also being able to keep a vertical shin when you hinge down to grab the bar.
Hinge at the hip to grab the bar. If this is a new move to you, think about shutting a door behind your using your butt! I coach double-overhand grip, but you may also want to try switch grip. For both conventional and Romanian your hands will be just outside your knees, and for sumo I use the width of my hipbones as a guide for where my hands should be, but you may prefer slightly wider or narrower. Your shin should be vertical in all variants.
Here’s the view from the side for those set-ups – you’re looking for the angle at your hip to create a perfect arrow shape. Bum too low and you’re pushing too much with your legs, bum too high and you’re pulling too much with your back. Brace your tummy, engage your lats (imagine you’re holding something under your armpits), then push the ground away to stand up.
You may have noticed that so far the Romanian deadlift is identical in set-up to conventional – this is because your first rep of Romanian starts from the top of the lift as opposed to other variants, so the first rep will be the same as conventional. If you have an injury that prevents you from pulling from the floor or you simply have a preference you could take a Romanian deadlift from a rack, ready at hip height.
Here’s where you should see the difference with the Romanian version. In both the conventional and sumo deadlifts, that ‘arrow’ you created with your hip opens and closes evenly, although the sumo deadlift is more open at the hip. For your Romanian deadlift, once you’ve reached extension you’ll hinge forward (still keeping the barbell close) with much less knee bend than in conventional. Hinge to the point where you feel your hamstrings work but you’re also able to keep your spine neutral.
A quick note on your back: Whilst your back will not be fully straight, you don’t want any excessive curvature in your spine. That’s my t-shirt bunched at my back in the Romanian photo above.
If you’re thinking, these all sound interesting but I just can’t picture them! then don’t worry, I got you. Visuals are worth a 1,000 words sometimes.
Watch the three videos below then go back to read the technique points above to pick out the differences and think about how they might benefit you. Did I miss anything, or do you have another preferred type of deadlift? Let me know!
Welcome to That Squat Bot, established 2013! I'm Sarah, a fitness professional based in Manchester, UK.
I love feeling strong and lifting heavy, but I also love trying different types of movement and using my fitness to adventure outside of the gym. I'm also a massive Marvel nerd!Find out more about me here.
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