The deadlift, the ultimate show of strength. The ultimate challenge to your friends to see who is the strongest and who can walk away with bragging rights. One of, if not the best overall exercises one can do. If I could only do one exercise for the rest of my life, I’d probably pick the deadlift. But… which one?
The deadlift is one of few lifts that arguably transcends the health and fitness industry to the rest of the world. Most people know what a squat is, most people know what a bench press is, and most people know what a deadlift is. And this is not by chance. The deadlift is so well-known because it is a staple move in most people’s workout routines, the movement pattern is used to describe correct manual handling technique in health and safety at work, and the bar can be loaded up more than almost any other lift.
When talking about how the deadlift transcends the health and fitness industry, we’re talking to conventional deadlift; traditional barbell, shoulder-width stance, bent knees and straight back to name a few technique points. However, you may have seen a number of other movements that look like a deadlift, but not how you have traditionally seen it before. In this article, we are going to break down some different variations of the deadlift and look at the purpose that each variation serves and which one(s) you should choose when deadlifting.
Let’s begin with the conventional deadlift. This deadlift is so widely performed around the world because it demonstrates a ‘true hinge’, one of the foundational movement patterns in order to live as a strong, healthy and athletic human being. A hinge just means to bend and straighten at the hip, and not the back! Being able to ‘hip hinge’ is vital when performing the deadlift and when doing anything that requires bending over, which we do an awful lot of throughout each and every day, to cause strain to your back. If you want become faster, stronger and more powerful, deadlift! You will improve your game no matter what sport you play by regularly deadlifting.
A conventional deadlift requires more mobility and flexibility that the other variations we will cover in this article which means that it utilises more of the muscles in the posterior chain (anything along the back of the body). This makes it a great lift for wanting to build muscle size in both the upper and lower body. The greater range of motion necessary in the lower body means the muscles need to be on a greater stretch, leading to stronger and larger muscles (hamstrings, gluteals and spinal erectors) but the requirement for muscles in the upper body to stabilise (lats, traps and rhomboids) allows for sizeable gains.
The additional range of motion is because the torso is more horizontal to the floor, compared to other variations, when the bar is between the floor and the knees, requiring greater stretch from the gluteals. It has been found that a 20-25% greater range of motion is needed for this lift so you can see why it may not be the best choice for beginners, though it is often the first choice and possible only type of deadlift performed when new to weight training.
If you struggle getting into the traditional deadlift position, there’s also a possibility that it’s not the flexibility that you lack, it could just be your anthropometry.
Anthropometry [ an-thruh-pom-i-tree ] noun
“the measurement of the size and proportions of the human body.”
Everyone is made up slightly differently. Two of the most common effects of this in a deadlift is hip socket size and femur length. The conventional deadlift is great for shorter people who have shorter femurs than others. Not only do you have to pull the bar a lesser distance to be able to stand upright, a shorter femur allows for a larger hip hinge meaning the lift is easier and safer! However, if you’re more on the tall side, you have options which we will discuss in part 2 of this article.