15 Types of Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a foundational exercise for any weightlifting program. But it seems like there’s a new deadlift variation everywhere you look.

Admittedly, the complex classification of deadlifts can be confusing. And most people don’t know all the types of deadlifts, let alone the advantages and disadvantages.

That’s why I assembled the definitive guide to deadlift variations. Now you will know how and when to use each type of deadlift.

I’ve even included different types of deadlift grips and deadlift bars. So you can become an all-around deadlift expert.

Types of Deadlifts

What Is A Deadlift?

The deadlift is a weightlifting exercise where you pull a weighted bar from the floor to the standing position. And it’s one of the three major powerlifting moves along with the bench press and barbell squats.

But you don’t have to be a competitive powerlifter to benefit from deadlifts. This exercise is arguably the best for strengthening all the major muscle groups on the back of your body, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

Deadlift Muscles Worked

In addition, you’re not relegated to the traditional deadlift with a barbell. There are at least 15 different types of deadlifts to choose from.

Each variation allows you to adapt the deadlift to your equipment and training goals. Therefore, the deadlift is perhaps the most versatile exercise of all.

Types of Deadlifts

Now let’s look at all of the different types of deadlifts. All of these exercises have pros and cons that I’ll try to touch on so you can decide whether to include them in your routine.

1. Conventional Deadlift

A conventional deadlift is when you keep your feet about shoulder-width apart and grab the bar just outside your knees. Then you pull the bar from the floor to hip level in one fluid motion.

The conventional deadlift gets its name because it is the standard deadlift exercise used in powerlifting and strongman competitions. And it’s a great foundational movement for any strength training program.

With the narrow stance, most of the load is on the posterior chain, a group of muscles including the hamstrings, glutes, and back.

One drawback of the conventional deadlift is that it puts stress on your lower back. In addition, it doesn’t put your body in an ideal position to pull the heaviest weights.

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2. Sumo Deadlift

A sumo deadlift is when you stand with your feet significantly wider than shoulder-width and have your toes angled out. Then you grab the bar inside your knees instead of outside.

The sumo deadlift gets its name because the stance resembles a sumo wrestler getting ready to take on his rival. In this squatted position, your thighs are about parallel to the floor.

The wide sumo stance results in a shorter range of motion, and your back remains relatively upright. As a result, more load is on the quads and inner thighs.

While you can generally pull heavier weight with the sumo deadlift, it’s not as good for developing the posterior chain.

Types of Deadlifts Sumo

3. Trap Bar Deadlift (Hex Bar Deadlift)

The trap bar or hex bar deadlift uses a unique hexagonal-shaped barbell with handles on either side of your body. Due to its shape, the bar fits around your body instead of being in front of your legs.

The trap bar enables you to keep a more upright back during the deadlift movement. As a result, the body mechanics are a cross between a deadlift and squat. So more load gets put on the quads.

In addition, some trap bars have raised handles that enable you to start the deadlift from a slightly higher position. This shorter range of motion and upright body position means you can generally lift more weight without stressing your lower back.

However, like the sumo deadlift, the trap bar deadlift is not as good for developing the posterior chain.

4. Rack Pull or Block Pull

Rack pulls are a deadlift variation where you start with the bar just below knee level on a power rack. You can also place blocks under the weight plates to achieve this elevation. That particular variation is called a block pull.

Types of Deadlifts Block Pull

You take some of the load off the hamstrings and glutes by effectively shortening the range of motion. And that puts more load on the mid-back and traps.

One advantage of rack pulls is that you can lift significantly more weight than a standard deadlift. So you can use this exercise to get your nervous system acclimated to pulling heavier weights on other lifts.

Also, you can use rack pulls to strengthen the top half of the range of motion on deadlifts if that is where you are weakest.

I can lift about 60 lbs more on rack pulls than I can on conventional deadlifts.

5. Deficit Deadlift

A deficit deadlift is the opposite of a rack pull. Instead of raising the bar to decrease the range of motion, you raise your feet to increase the range of motion.

To raise your feet off the floor, stand on a weight plate or low box, 1-3” in height. This modification makes it so you have to reach down lower at the start of the deadlift, making it more difficult.

Deficit deadlifts increase your strength off the floor by overloading the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. So you can use this type of deadlift when you are weakest in the lower half of the range of motion.

One drawback of deficit deadlifts is that you can’t lift as much weight. And they can put more strain on your lower back.

6. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The Romanian deadlift or RDL is where you start with the bar at hip level and lower it to just below your knees. RDLs are a partial range of motion deadlift that focuses on the top half of the movement.

Another thing that makes it different from regular deadlifts is that you bend more at the hips than at the knees. As a result, RDLs target the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back while minimizing quad activation.

However, even with the reduced range of motion, you generally can’t lift as much weight due to isolating the hip joint.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift: When to Use Each

Types of Deadlifts Romanian

7. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

You can also do RDLs with dumbbells instead of a barbell. This variation is perfect if you have a home gym with only dumbbells or kettlebells.

Also, the dumbbells allow you to adjust the movement path since there is no bar to hit your thighs. However, a drawback is that you generally can’t lift as much weight.

One trick to make dumbbell RDLs more challenging is placing a weight plate under your toes. By elevating your toes, you stretch more through the hamstrings so you can feel the burn with less weight.

8. Stiff Leg Deadlift (Straight Leg Deadlift)

At first glance, the stiff leg deadlift looks a lot like the Romanian deadlift. So you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know the difference.

However, the critical distinction is that you keep your legs straighter during an SLDL than an RDL. With virtually no bending of the knees, you really only bend at the hips.

Therefore, the SLDL is more like an isolation exercise for the hamstrings. And you’ll find that you must use significantly lighter weights on the SLDL compared to other types of deadlifts.

Stiff Leg Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift: Differences & Proper Form

Types of Deadlifts Stiff Leg

9. Single-Leg Deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is a variation of the stiff leg deadlift where you do the exercise while balancing on one leg. This isolation allows you to focus on each leg individually while activating stabilizer muscles.

One situation where you would use the single-leg deadlift is for increasing balance and athleticism. Or if you’re rehabbing an injury and need a deadlift variation involving minimal loads.

10. Snatch Grip Deadlift

The snatch grip deadlift is where you stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and hold the bar with a much wider grip, similar to that used in Olympic weightlifting.

With this wide grip, you have to bend farther forward at the start of the lift. And you put more load on the hamstrings like a deficit deadlift.

While this isn’t a go-to type of deadlift for most people, it can benefit lifters looking to improve strength off the floor on the snatch exercise. Or anyone trying to target their upper back.

11. Dumbbell Deadlift or Kettlebell Deadlift

The dumbbell deadlift is a versatile exercise variation ideal for beginners or if you work out at home. And kettlebells can be used in place of dumbbells if needed.

You can replicate a conventional deadlift by starting with the dumbbells in front of your legs and using an overhand grip just outside your knees. This variation is best for posterior chain strength and overall power.

One drawback to the dumbbell deadlift is that you start closer to the floor, putting more strain on your lower back.

Types of Deadlifts Dumbbell

However, you can put the dumbbells on blocks to adjust the starting position. And the handles on the kettlebell make the starting height close to a barbell deadlift.

Another option is replicating the sumo deadlift by placing a single dumbbell on its end between your legs and standing with your feet significantly wider. This variation works the inner thighs more while taking some strain off your back.

12. Suitcase Deadlift

The suitcase deadlift is where you hold the weight in one hand on the side of your body. You can perform this variation with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell.

The body position resembles that of a trap bar deadlift. So your back stays in a more upright position, and you use more leg drive on the lift. However, the load is only on one side, which forces you to stabilize.

Again, dumbbells have you starting lower to the floor. So use blocks or kettlebells to adjust the starting height if necessary.

13. Smith Machine Deadlift

The Smith machine deadlift is like a barbell deadlift where the bar travels on vertical guide rails. While this fixed movement path requires less balance, it’s not as natural because the weight can’t move front to back as it would with free weights.

Some Smith machines have angled rails, but the movement is still somewhat restricted. Therefore, Smith machine deadlifts are only advisable if you workout at a gym that doesn’t have conventional barbells, like Planet Fitness.

14. Jefferson Deadlift

The Jefferson deadlift is a niche variation where you straddle the bar with one foot in front and one foot behind. Then you hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip.

This unique type of deadlift results in less back strain and involves asymmetrical loading and rotational forces you don’t get with any other deadlift variation.

While it’s not a lift for a beginner’s program, advanced lifters can use the Jefferson deadlift as an accessory mainly if they’ve stalled on the conventional deadlift or need to correct left or right side imbalances.

15 Paused Deadlift

The paused deadlift is where you stop for a split second somewhere in the middle of the range of motion. Pausing forces your muscles to start from a dead stop instead of being in constant motion.

If you’ve ever done box squats, then you know this concept. With the squat version, you pause at the bottom and start from a dead stop. This technique can improve your explosive strength at the low end of the range of motion.

Similarly, pausing in the middle of a deadlift can improve your strength in that part of the range of motion. So paused deadlifts could be beneficial if you have a sticking point between the floor and the lockout.

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Types of Deadlift Grips

Now that you know all the types of deadlifts let’s look at the different ways you can grip the bar.

Overhand Grip

The most common deadlift grip is where both hands are palms down. Generally, it’s somewhere around shoulder-width with your hands just outside your knees.

One advantage of the overhand grip is that it’s symmetrical, so there are no risks of imbalances. And the pronation of the hand puts less strain on your bicep.

However, a drawback of the overhand grip is that the bar tends to roll out of your hands with heavy loads unless you use lifting straps.

How to Use Lifting Straps

Types of Deadlifts Overhand Grip

Mixed Grip

The mixed grip is where you hold the bar with one hand palm up and the other palm down. So it’s a combination of supination and pronation of the hand.

The biggest advantage of the mixed grip is that it prevents the bar from rolling out of your hands. This means you can lift heavier without the need for straps.

However, the mixed grip could result in muscle imbalances if you don’t regularly alternate your hands. And it also strains the bicep on the underhand side with heavy loads.

Sumo Grip

The sumo grip is when you hold the bar inside your knees with wide foot placement. Generally, your hands are shoulder-width or narrower.

You can use the sumo grip as either the overhand grip or mixed grip depending on your preference.

Snatch Grip

The snatch grip is when you hold the bar outside your knees with your hands significantly wider than shoulder-width.

Types of Deadlift Bars

So far, we’ve talked about a couple of different deadlift bars. But it’s important to know which bar works best with various types of deadlifts. So let’s look at each of them in more detail.

Trap Bar (Hex Bar)

The trap bar or hex bar is a specialty barbell used primarily for deadlifts. One reason is that the hexagonal shape makes for more ergonomic deadlift mechanics.

Also, the raised handles allow you to adjust the starting height like a rack pull or block pull. However, this type of deadlift bar isn’t ideal for posterior chain development, and it’s not used in powerlifting competitions.

How Much Does A Hex Bar Weigh?

Types of Deadlifts Hex Bar

Power Bar

The power bar is the most common type of barbell found in commercial gyms because you can use it for just about any exercise, including deadlifts.

However, the power bar’s versatility limits its functionality for specific exercises. In fact, it’s not ideal for deadlifts, especially as you become more advanced and pull heavier weights.

Deadlift Bar

The deadlift bar is designed for the sole intent of lifting heavy weights from the floor. For this reason, it has several design properties that make it more efficient for deadlifting.

And experienced lifters should notice an immediate 5-10% increase in their 1RM when using a deadlift bar compared to a power bar.

Types of Deadlifts Hex Bar

Deadlift Bar vs Stiff Bar

Now you know all the different types of deadlifts and how to use these variations to reach your fitness goals. But if your goal is to increase your deadlift max, you need to know more about deadlift bars.

Specifically, the bar’s “whip,” or flexibility, plays a significant role in how much you can lift. So I wrote a definitive guide to the deadlift bar vs stiff bar to show you the differences.

Click below to learn more about barbell properties and how they can help you optimize your deadlift.

Deadlift Bar vs Stiff Bar
Deadlift Bar vs Stiff Bar

With this information, you’re now a deadlift guru. To become an expert on all things fitness, check out my other great content below!

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