The deadlift is probably the most functional exercise there is. The “pick it up, put it down” simplicity of this movement pattern makes it a go-to exercise for athletes of all calibers. On top of that, it’s an exercise that boosts overall strength and athleticism with carryover to other lifts. Adding variations of this essential lift to your repertoire will help you double down on your conventional deadlift gains. If you truly want to master the skill and technique of the deadlift, incorporate some of these alternatives into your training.
This deadlift variant is probably the most commonly seen. A mainstay for powerlifters, the sumo deadlift gets its name from its wide foot stance set-up position. Although the wider stance means a shorter range of motion, it also allows for more leg drive without risking lower back injury. This is also why many athletes find that they can lift more weight in a sumo deadlift compared to a conventional deadlift.
This variation works mostly the same muscle groups as a regular deadlift with a bit more emphasis on the quadriceps, glutes, and adductors. Like the deadlift, it also helps to develop pulling and grip strength which is invaluable for CrossFit athletes.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Set up with your feet outside of shoulder width and your toes slightly pointed outwards.
- Take the bar with your arms inside of your legs, and your hands about two thumbs apart (use a mixed grip if desired)
- Push your hips back and knees out so that your shins stay perpendicular to the bar. Set your shoulders down and back.
- Brace your core and keep your back flat as you drive with your legs and separate the bar from the ground.
- Ascend with your chest high and shoulders locked into place while keeping the bar as close to your body as possible.
Single leg Deadlift aka Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The unique thing about this variation is that it's a unilateral exercise meaning that it trains each side of the body independently. Unilateral training is important to avoid muscle imbalances that can be difficult to detect when you only perform exercises with the bar. Furthermore, it improves balance, coordination, and stability on each side. The single leg RDL is an effective way of training your glutes and hamstrings just like the bilateral version however it takes you through a greater range of motion which favors improved muscle growth and mobility.
Perform this exercise holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in the hand opposite from the working leg. You can also perform this as a landmine exercise, crossbody, or with a PVC stick to reinforce hip hinging.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Start in a standing position holding a dumbbell in your left hand.
- Press your bodyweight into your right leg as you slightly bend the right (working) leg. Slowly begin to hinge your hips back, allowing your upper body to come forward.
- Continue to control through the range of motion as you kick your left leg back. You should feel tension in your right calf, hamstring, glute, and abs.
- Keep your back flat as you come to the top of the exercise (your left leg will be parallel with the ground). Complete all of the reps on one side before working on the other.
This exercise can be a little difficult for beginners so make sure that your hip hinge mechanics are on point before attempting to go heavy. If balance is the issue or you're not able to keep a flat back, scale down by doing a staggered deadlift instead.
The pause deadlift involves stopping for about 2-3 seconds before continuing the rising phase of the lift. The pause is usually at mid-shin, or above the knee (low hang, and hang position, respectively), which reinforces the lifter to maintain structural integrity, therefore becoming stronger in those positions. Pauses can be incorporated into nearly any variation of the deadlift, and sometimes are even used twice in the same rep. This also serves as an interesting way to develop force production as well as increasing the time under tension which makes the exercise considerably more challenging without adding more weight.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Start with your feet shoulder with a part and your toes under the bar pointing straight ahead.
- Set your shoulders down and back and take the bar with an overhand or mixed grip.
- Keep your back flat, and your hips pushed back with your shins perpendicular to the bar.
- Take time to stabilize your core and push the ground away from you with your feet flat.
- As your hips open, pause for two to three seconds once you reach mid shin or above your knees. Be careful to maintain a straight back and tight hamstrings as you pause.
- Continue the lift until your hips are fully extended. Squeeze your glute to lock out at the top and then lower the bar in a controlled manner without any pauses.
If you want to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, you're gonna need a strong back. These deadlift variations will strengthen your posterior chain, as well as other muscle groups making them a worthy addition to your weekly training.
By using lift variations, you can diversify your training and accumulate more volume. This is a crucial aspect of developing absolute strength and improving your proficiency as an athlete. Just like all resistance training, prioritize technique over going heavy to see the maximum benefit.
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