Corey Grant PT Coach
Shut up and Train

The Kings Knight Table

In the last article I went into explanation of the King of all Exercises, the Deadlift. From benefits for fitness athletes, to regular joe’s, and how to perform the Deadlift as well from the set up, to the lift, to the descent. Now I will venture off and explain a few of the different variations of the Deadlifts and how to curtail them to your fitness goals.

“I believe there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I’m pretty sure the cat isn’t going to like any of them” – Jeff Foxworthy

This is basically how your posterior chain will feel about all these different ways to perform the Deadlift that I am about to go over with you

Brief Science Note: (If you do not like sciencey mumbo jumbo then feel free to scroll down to the exercise description) I am not going to get too overly technical here with force couples, force vectors, biological terms, and planes of motion, I just want to talk briefly about the Posterior Chain, and Hip extension which may be two of the most important concepts when it comes to the human body and movement.

There are things in the body called Force Couples, which is basically a fancy term for saying “chains of muscles that work together to perform a given action” undoubtedly the largest and most powerful of these is the Posterior Chain. The Posterior Chain is a group of three muscles primarily. The Lower Lumbar s, Glutes and Hamstrings. These are, and supposed to be, the largest and most powerful muscles of the body. In fact your Gluteus Maximum (Butt) is the largest single muscle of the body.The primary responsibility of the Glutes is Hip extension and hip adduction and abduction and stabilization of the hip. The Hamstrings are the muscles on the back side of the legs that have the primary responsibility of Hip extension and knee flexion (bending the knee). The Lumbar s are the lower portion of your Spinal erectors which are two long muscles that run the length of your spine, the primary role of these muscles is to keep the spine neutral and strong.

The primary motion of the posterior chain is an action called hip extension. This is Basically the straightening of the hip from a flex ie. bent position to a straight position. Seems kinda pointless but in actuality this is one of the most vital movements of the body. A person can not stand up from a chair, or pick up a penny off the floor without these muscles going into action.

Over the recent years in sedentary lifestyles of many people, these muscles have been so underutilized and weak that they have become a huge problem for millions of people. We live in a day and age of people with back and knee problems, which keeps doctors offices with lines out the doors, and filling the pockets of chiropractors, and drug companies in search of pain relief. When in actuality this can all be cured by strengthening these muscles with the King of all Exercises added to your fitness routine. Now lets get to the variations.

Deadlift Variations

Conventional Deadlift: This is without a doubt the most common form of the Deadlift seen. Its the simple deadlift described in the original article. Feet are shoulder width apart and hands just out side of the knees, and the Deadlift is started from the floor.

Sumo Deadlift: This is similar to its Conventional brother but the foot and hand placement are different. Sumo Deadlifts are performed with the feet wide and hands inside of the knee. This deadlift has its benefits because it can allow some people who have mobility issues keeping a flat back in the conventional style perform the deadlift. It also places a greater stress on the hips and off of the lower back. Many Power Lifters do there competition deadlifts in this manner because the Range of Motion (ROM) is shorter allowing greater weight to be lifted, but World Records have been set with both styles. This Style is also a favorite among many of my Female Clients for the extra emphasis on the Glutes.

Snatch Grip Deadlifts: Get your minds out of the gutter. This is a very unique way of Deadlifting even more unique than the name itself. It is the exact opposite of the Sumo Deadlift, this version is performed with the hands wide and the feet close together. The starting position is basically the same as the Olympic lift called the Snatch. This is quickly becoming a new personal fave of mine because with the wider grip you have to start lower and it increases the range of motion, I get a Good stretch in the Glutes and hamstrings and a Good deep pull to really feel those muscles work. Conversely the wide grip also places more stress on the hands and Lats of the upper back and bringing them into play into the lift as well

Straight/Stiff Leg Deadlifts and Romanian Deadlifts. These are a mouth full to say and handful to type, so from this point on they will be referred to as SLDL, and RDL.  I group these two together because these two cause the most confusion and I get the most questions about these two forms of Deadlifting. Many people see these as interchangeable and one in the same, but they are different but there are some minor nuances. Both have virtually the same cues but the execution is different. Ill start with the SLDL

The SLDL was traditionally performed with Perfectly straight legs and rounded back. The lifter would set up and pull using all back and hamstring. I will repeat this. I do not and I mean DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES ADVOCATE DEADLIFTING WITH A ROUNDED BACK!! when you lift with a rounded back to can place an inordinate amount of pressure on the disk in your back which can cause rupture, herniation, slippage and a whole other list of problems that are not fun to deal with at all. But if you enjoy laying in your doctors office, then a rounded back Deadlift is for you.

(Disclaimer: Some of you may say “Hey Corey I saw Big John Sequoia on the world strongest man Deadlift a Suburban and his back was rounded and he didn’t get hurt so what gives?” Here is my explanation. 1. When you lift in competitions or near your max total, the form is not going to be perfect and some natural rounding will occur 2. This also gets into the concept of Lumbar vs Thoracic flexion of the spine and that is for another article, I’m primarily speaking of Deadlifting as a integral part of your fitness regiment, Ill cover the max training and Powerlifting in another Article now back to the SLDL.)

The key to a good SLDL is a nice flat back and “Stiff” not “Straight” legs. Keeping the legs in a locked position while performing a lift can place a lot of undue stress on the knee joint, but keeping them slightly bent will place the stress on the muscles and off the joints and keep your knees nice and happy. Now this is where it can get tricky, you still want your legs stiff so your hips will be higher than a conventional deadlift, but you still want your shins on the bar, so you will have to sit your hips back and stick your butt out to achieve this position. Most people will not be able to achieve this their first time out in the gym this will take some practice, along with flexibility and mobility work.

This is why I prefer to start people out with the RDL. It is an easier lift to teach, and it allows for adjustments in flexibility of the individual. Even if a person can not take the bar all the way to the floor the person can still benefit from the RDL. With the RDL you place the bar on handles and you lift up and walk out and start from the up position. Get a nice tight arch in your back get your abs tight and begin by sticking your butt back. Envision there is a wall 3 ft behind you and your trying to touch it with your butt. As your butt goes back and the bar descend just concentrate of feeling the stretch in the hamstrings. Trust me this will allow you to feel any flexibility problems in the hamstring. Keep the knees stiff, not straight, and allow your hamstrings to stretch into the movement. Descend down until you feel a nice stretch in the hamstrings, then squeeze the glutes and hamstrings and pull yourself back into the upright position. Most people on their first try  will only be able to lower the bar to about knee level. On each rep try to stretch a bit further, don’t push it to hard the first time out or you’ll end up with more problems than you want. Start out slow with this exercise and progress to a longer range of motion until you can touch the floor. This is a constant tension exercise, When you get to the point to where u can go to the floor, just gently tap and go back up.

Recap: The RDL is started from the up position and the bar is lowered to the desired position and then you return to the top and keep constant tension on the muscle. The SLDL is an RDL but it is started from the floor, with stiff legs, this one takes some working up to in order to keep good proper form. Remember on the SLDL be sure u can complete 10 proper reps of the RDL to the floor before trying SLDL. Hope this clears up any confusion

More Variations:

These next variations are about depth and Bar Placement.

Deadlift from a Deficit: This is basically a Deadlift done off of a box anywhere from 1″ to 6″. Just as with the SLDL be sure your Flexibility and Mobility are up to par before trying these versions of the lifts

Rack Pulls: This is a fave of powerlifters and is a great way to get stronger. It is a Deadlift done from the pins in the Power rack with the pins set at knee height. So essentially it is a top half deadlift. Due to the shorter Range of motion more weight can be handled and it is great for adding muscle mass and strength to the upper back, and well as over loading your body’s Central Nervous System which is great for making strength gains, again will be explained in a further order

Good Morning aka Russian Deadlift: Dont get caught up in all the Eastern European names of these lifts, they do have valid reason I may choose to venture into for a later date. But for now I will refer to it as a Good morning. This is primarily a RDL performed with the bar on the shoulders like a squat. This is a particular favorite exercise of power lifters to strengthen the muscles for the squat and deadlift, and taxes the spinal erectors a tad more getting the stronger for the heavy lifts. It can still be used as a great switch up and to shock the hamstrings. I have taken guys who can Deadlift 400 pounds for reps, had them do a few sets of Good mornings with 185 pounds and they could barely walk the next day because their hamstrings were so sore. Start out light with these and work your way up

Sumo RDL and SLDL: Just as it sounds its a RDL or SLDL done with the sumo stance, this is a nice little switch up to hit the hamstrings and glutes at a different angle. This is another fave of my female clients because of the extra glute emphasis.

Dimmel Deadlift: This is an exercise popularized by powerlifter John Dimmel. It is a short ranged RDL, lower the bar just past the knee the explode back up just short of lock out, this is normally done with lighter weights and higher reps, really good for getting a great pump in the glutes and hamstrings

Trap Bar Deadlifts: This is a Deadlift done with an apparatus called a Trap Bar, it has a diamonds shape to it where you can stand inside of it, allowing for slightly different centering of the weight and allowing good leg drive and minimizing stress on the lower back

Single Leg Deadlift: Just as it sounds, this is a Deadlift performed on one leg. This is a highly challenging move and best started out with no weights, just to achieve form and proper balance. With the instability on the one leg you will feel all types of muscles in the glutes and hips fire in an attempt to help stabilize you. Take it slow with this exercise

People doing for the total strength route would be best sticking with the conventional and sumo varieties and low reps for their Deadlifitng, and throw in some Good mornings and RDL for assistance work.

Bodybuilders can utilize all forms. The heavy conventional and sumos can help add overall size, the RDL and SLDL can be used to focus more stress on the glutes and hamstrings

Fitness enthusiast can benefit from them all as well, but may be better suited sticking with the RDL and SLDL for development of the posterior. Heavy conventionals and Sumo can be used as well, but as with any exercise some risk are involved with going heavy. It can be beneficial to test your metal and push your limits with those lifts, but the bulk of my focus would be the RDL and SLDL to help with the hamstrings and glutes. Also perform the single leg variety, strengthen those hips and make them stable can provide lost of benefits in all areas of life

Athletes feel free to get a balance of all, heavy conventional and sumos for strength, RDL for focused development of sprinting muscles and one leg for hip stabilization

Well there ya go, a whole list of way to perform the king of all exercises, none are better than the other and all can be utilized in strengthening the Posterior Chain and building overall muscle on the body and burning the fat off and getting you stronger. These lifts can also be performed with Dumbbells and well as Barbells. So these are many ways to build up that back side, but I’m sure your backside wont like any of them. When you put in the time and hard work the end results will be nothing short of spectacular

Until then, Ignite the Fire in your life


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