The 13 Best Deadlift Variations & Benefits Of Each

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into deadlift variations you can add into your training programs. For each deadlift variation, we’ll cover what it is, why/when to use it, and the specific gain you’ll see.

Use the links below to jump to any you wish to read about.

Deadlift variations

Deadlift basics

A deadlift variation typically involves the hinge movement pattern, which is a fundamental movement pattern that requires a hip hinge movement where the hips move back (i.e flexion at the hips) and the torso leans forwards.

When performing a deadlift, the hip hinge movement pattern requires the activation of the posterior chain muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings and lower back, in addition to the core muscles to stabilise the spine and maintain proper form throughout the exercise.

For a deeper dive into the muscles worked for deadlift variations check out this link.

While the deadlift is typically performed with a barbell, there are many variations of the exercise that can be performed with different equipment or modifications to (1) bias specific muscle groups, (2) modify the technical demand, (3) intensity of loading (4) work  a specific range and/or (5) target a specific outcome to support an athletes sport.

In this article, we’re going to be breaking down WHAT each deadlift variation is and WHY you might use it in your training.

Conventional Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is the original deadlift that most people are referring to when they talk about a deadlift. 

Why do it?

Develop overall strength and power, especially in the muscles of the posterior chain.

Who’s it for?

Athletes looking to develop overall strength and power. However, it’s a technically demanding exercise so it’s better suited to athletes with an intermediate-advanced training history in the gym and who moves well and has a decent base of strength. 

Hex or Trap Bar Deadlift

The trap bar deadlift is a technically simpler version of the conventional deadlift. It involves using a hexagonal-shaped bar with neutral-grip handles positioned at the side of the body, which puts you in more of a “squatty-hinge” movement pattern.

Why do it?

The trap bar places the load onto the quads and reduces the stress on the lower back and hips as it allows you to maintain a relatively upright posture in the set up position. 

It’s relatively easy to learn and keep the correct technique, making it a great introductory compound lift.

It also allows an athlete to lift a large amount of weight, this is because the trap bar puts you in a mechanically advantageous position. 

Who’s it for?

The trap bar deadlift is great for beginner athletes looking to load in a safe way, for heavy strength training and for athletes who want to minimise stress on their back. 

Romanian (or Stiff Legged) Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift, also known as a stiff legged deadlift, involves performing a deadlift with relatively straight legs, which places more work on the hamstrings.

Why do it?

You can work through the full length of the hamstring muscle group, as the hamstring is working constantly throughout the exercise. 

The exercise can be prescribed to build strength throughout that range of the hamstring, as well as the core and lower back (this is significantly more than the single leg variations given that both feet are fixed on the floor and the barbell allows you to load it). This is important to reduce the risk of hamstring injury and to produce force through the length of the hamstring.

Who’s it for?

It’s great for anyone wanting to develop hamstring strength. 

Single Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a variation of the Romanian deadlift but performed on one leg whilst holding a dumbbell in one hand.

Why do it?

The single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift challenges balance and control when balancing on one leg, which allows you to develop the stability of your standing leg. 

You can work to even out any differences in stability or strength between your left and right leg when working each side individually. 

Develop muscular endurance through the length of the hamstrings, if performed with low load-high volume (e.g. 30-60% of 1RM for 8+ repetitions). This exercise is suited for this prescription as it’s limited in how much you can load it with the challenge of stability and dumbbell.

Coordinate movement efficiently by working across a chain of muscles like a “sling” (i.e. the weight is held in the opposite hand to the foot on the floor, creating a diagonal line of tension throughout the body).

Who’s it for?

Athletes wanting to improve their single leg stability, hamstring muscular endurance, and ability to control force through each leg independently.

This is particularly beneficial for athletes who participate in sports that require running, jumping, change of direction, such as football, basketball or tennis. 

Single Leg Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The single leg barbell Romanian deadlift, is the same as the single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift, but instead of holding the dumbbell in one hand, you’re holding the barbell in two hands.

Why do it?

The single leg barbell Romanian deadlift has a few of the same benefits as the single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift, including working the length of the hamstring, developing stability and evening out any differences between your left and right leg. 

The barbell single leg romanian deadlift can be loaded more than a dumbbell to work the hamstring more intensely, so it can be a great progression from the single leg dumbbell romanian deadlift. This is because holding the barbell in both hands distributes the weight more evenly across the body, which can make the exercise feel more stable so you can add more weight to the barbell.  

Who’s it for?

The same athletes as the single dumbbell romanian deadlift, but can be used as a progression to increase the load of a single leg hamstring exercise. 

Single Leg Stick Romanian Deadlift

The single leg stick romanian deadlift is a variation of the single leg romanian deadlift that involves using a stick to guide you into the correct hip-hinge position.

Why do it?

This is a great exercise to learn how to perform the hip-hinge movement pattern by using the stick, which guides you into the correct position. 

Who’s it for?

This is a great exercise to use with beginner athletes learning how to perform the hip-hinge movement pattern – we’re a big fan of this exercise which James Langford shared with us and we’ve had great success with it!

Sumo Deadlift

Sumo deadlifts are performed with a wide foot stance, typically 2-3 x shoulder width apart, and an upright torso position. 

Why do it?

The sumo deadlift places more load on the quads rather than the lower back, this is because of the position of the legs being 2-3 x shoulder width apart and a relatively upright torso position.

You can load your adductors (inner thigh and groin muscles), which work to keep the knees in line with the toes and prevent them from caving inwards during the sumo deadlift. 

Some athletes can lift a large amount of weight with the sumo deadlift, so it is suited towards heavy strength training. This is because the wide-stance shortens the amount of range you need to lift the weight, which in theory allows you to lift more. 

Who’s it for?

The sumo deadlift has gained huge popularity and is a “fashionable” exercise amongst the general gym gower. We would typically only use this exercise for athletes that are looking to overload the adductor muscles. 

Snatch Grip Deadlift

The snatch grip deadlift involves using a wider grip on the barbell, typically beyond shoulder width. 

Why do it?

The snatch grip deadlift places more emphasis on the upper back muscles and trapezius whilst still targeting the lower body muscles and torso. 

The snatch grip deadlift closely mimics the first phase of the snatch (the olympic lift), where the lifter is required to lift the bar from the ground and to the same position, so you can overload the snatch grip deadlift to build strength during this phase of the snatch.

Who’s it for?

This is a great lift for Olympic weightlifters looking to improve the first phase of their snatch.

It’s also a great exercise for more experienced rowers looking to improve the catch position of the rowing stroke, where they find themselves in a similar position using similar muscles. 

Banded Deadlift

The banded deadlift involves adding resistance bands to the barbell when performing a deadlift. The bands are typically looped around the barbell and anchored to the floor or other stable objects on either side of the lifter. 

Why do it?

The bands increase the tension and difficulty of the lift as the athlete pulls the barbell upwards. This provides the greatest resistance and challenge at the top of the lift, which can help improve the athlete’s ability to generate force during that phase of the lift. 

Who’s it for?

Athletes looking to improve strength at the top phase of the lift (or lockout strength).

This is particularly beneficial for rowers during the drive phase of the rowing stroke, as they must produce a large amount of force throughout this whole phase when the knees are moving into extension, so having resistance at the end of the lift will allow them to develop their strength when the legs are moving into extension.  

Pause Deadlift

The pause deadlift involves adding a pause at the midpoint of the lift, typically just below knee level.

Why do it?

The pause requires the athlete to maintain tension in the muscles worked in the conventional deadlift for an extended period of time, which can help improve strength and muscle recruitment in those areas.

The pause deadlift also places greater emphasis on maintaining proper form throughout the lift, as the athlete must maintain balance and stability during the pause. 

Who’s it for?

Athletes who want to increase strength in a very specific range during the deadlift. 

Good Morning 

The good morning involves bending forward at the hips with a barbell on the shoulders, and then standing back up to a straight upright position. 

Why do it?

You can work through the full length of the hamstring muscle group, as the hamstring is working constantly throughout the exercise. 

The good morning works the back muscles – some say good mornings work the back more when compared to the Romanian deadlift.  

Who’s it for?

This isn’t an exercise we typically programme – you could use it if you want to develop strength through the length of the hamstring (or the back), however we would typically programme a Romanian deadlift instead. 

Deficit Deadlift

The deficit deadlift involves standing on a platform or plates to increase the range of motion of the lift. 

Why do it?

Increase the range of motion of your posterior chain muscles working, which will develop tension and strength in the end ranges of those muscles. 

Increase time under tension, making them work harder which increases muscle mass and strength. 

Improve the first phase of the deadlift when pulling the weight off the floor. 

Who’s it for?

This is more suited for Olympic weightlifters looking to improve the pull from the floor.

This exercise is highly technical and places a lot of stress through the back, so if I was coaching an athlete I would need a really good reason to use it as I would question the risk-reward and look if a different variation of the deadlift would be better for them.   

Trap Bar Jump Deadlifts

Trap bar jumps involve using a trap bar (also known as a hex bar) to perform explosive jumps.

Why do it?

Generate force quickly and efficiently (i.e. speed–strength on the force-velocity curve) to be more powerful and explosive, if loading the trap bar at around 30% of your 1RM. 

Who’s it for?

Athletes looking to be more powerful – it’s a great way of developing power without using Olympic weightlifting variations!

Final Thoughts

The deadlift is a key exercise of any strength and conditioning programme, but there are many variations that can be used to bias specific muscle groups, modify the technical demand and target specific outcomes. Here is a quick summary of these differences:

The trap bar deadlift and single leg stick Romanian deadlift are both great introductions to the deadlift for beginner athletes whereas the conventional deadlift, snatch grip deadlift, pause deadlift and deficit deadlift are all more suited for advanced lifters as they are more technically demanding.

The conventional and trap bar deadlifts are suited towards heavy strength training as they can be loaded heavy whereas the single leg variations are better suited for building robustness and stability. 

The Romanian deadlift variations and good mornings are more focused on the hamstrings whereas the conventional deadlift is slightly more ‘quaddy’ and the trap bar deadlift is even more quad dominant. 

Trap bar jumps and banded deadlifts are both great deadlift variations for developing power, moving fast and moving with intent.

Choose the variation that best suits your level and the outcome you’re looking for.

Happy deadlifting! 

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Emily, co-founder of Sport Science Insider, graduated from the University of Leeds in 2020 and went on to become an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA in 2022. A former athlete herself, Emily has since gone on to deliver S&C coaching for the Southern Academy of Sport, GB Rowing, GB Taekwondo and works currently as a full-time S&C coach at the University of Leeds.