3 Deadlift Variations for Beginners

If you are looking to start strength training right, the deadlift is one exercise that MUST be in the weekly routine. Dubbed as the “mother of all exercises”, deadlifts, when done right, efficiently targets most major muscle groups in the body and improves your overall posterior chain.

Like most exercises, the deadlift comes with varieties of forms to target different muscle groups efficiently. For newbies, we would recommend considering the variations mentioned below. Once you have mastered these lifts with proper form and hit a plateau, you can opt to take it up a notch with the more challenging variations.

1. Conventional Deadlift

The conventional deadlift mimics the fundamental action of lifting a heavy load from the ground. It’s what you should start with if you are new to deadlifting. Conventional deadlifts can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbells. They target the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, lats, middle back, quads, traps calves and forearms.

To perform this deadlift:

  • Approach the barbell and stand with your mid-foot under the barbell.
  • Space your feet about hip wide and your hands should be just outside your feet.
  • Bend over and grip the bar, keeping the distance at shoulder width. Grip firmly.
  • Keep your back flat, in a neutral spine. This posture should be maintained from the start to the end of the lift. Do not ever bend your back.
  • Keep your shoulders rolled back and chest up. Look forward.
  • Take a deep breath. Tighten your core muscles.
  • Lift the bar, and as you lift, your hips and knees should move together to lift the bar from the ground to your upper thigh.
  • Lock and hinge your hips as you hold.
  • Lower the bar while maintaining a neutral spine. Repeat.

2. Sumo Deadlift

As the name implies, the sumo deadlift is performed by placing your feet at a wider stance with your arms inside of your feet just like how a sumo wrestler starts his fight.

To perform the sumo deadlift, place your feet at a wider stance with your hands inside of your feet. Your feet doesn’t have to be too wide but at a stance that’s comfortable for you. Unlike the conventional deadlift, your grip will be between your legs instead of outside.

The sumo deadlift is a great option for those who have limited back mobility. It is often argued to be an easier lift to conventional deadlifts due to its shorter range of motion, however, research has shown this may not be true. The ability to lift heavier loads in either form would depend on the lifter’s body, dominant muscles and mobility. The muscle groups the sumo deadlift targets differ only slightly to the conventional. Being lower body dominant, it applies more emphasis on hips, quads and hamstrings, while conventional deadlifts emphasises on the lower back.

To perform this deadlift:

  • Approach the bar and find your comfortable stance. Your stance shouldn’t be too wide. Moderate, just slightly wider than your shoulder should do. You’d have trouble getting the bar off the ground if your stance is too wide.
  • Point your toes out and place the bar towards your inner shin. Your knees should follow and follow your toes, pointed out, following your ankle.
  • Drop down to the bar, as low as your hip can go.
  • Grip the bar firmly, hands in between of your legs, about your shoulder width.
  • Keep your back flat and be careful not to round it as your hinge your hips.
  • Keep your shoulders rolled back and chest up. Look forward.
  • Take a deep breath. Tighten your core muscles.
  • Lift, lock and hinge your hips as you hold.
  • Lower the bar while maintaining a neutral spine. Repeat.

3. Romanian Deadlift

Sometimes called the straight-legged deadlift, the Romanian deadlift is a deadlift motion that’s performed like the conventional while keeping your legs and back stiff when you lower and lift the weights. The lift works on strengthening your hamstrings, hips and as well as your posterior chain. If you are a beginner to deadlifts, we recommend you start with dumbbells or kettlebells.

To perform this deadlift:

  • Stand in front of the bar with your mid-foot under the barbell.
  • Space your feet about hip wide and your hands outside your feet.
  • Your knees should bend only until you feel the stretch on your hamstrings.
  • Grip the bar at shoulder width while bending your butt and hips. Keep your legs stiff.
  • Keep your back flat, in a neutral spine.
  • Keep your shoulders rolled back and chest up. Look forward.
  • Lift the bar, but unlike the conventional, you’ll only use your hips while keeping your knees as still as you can.
  • Lock and hinge your hips as you hold.
  • Lower the bar until you feel the stretch on your hamstring and then raise up.
Surin is a strength trainee and martial artist. He is certified in Nutrition and General Fitness. He specialises in helping athletes and non-athletes achieve muscular fitness as well in formulating specific training and meal plans to achieve their fitness goals.