Top 10 Deadlift Variations for Greater Power, Strength and Size
So your goal is to become as strong as humanly possible while building impressive muscular thickness from head to toe? And you would also like to improve postural stability and core strength, optimize athletic performance, torch body fat, enhance functional strength to make life easier, become less susceptible to injury, increase testosterone and growth hormone production? Not too much to ask for, right? Well if you haven’t started deadlifting, achieving each of these objectives automatically becomes that much harder. In fact, without enlisting the true king of the multi-joint mass-builders you may never reach your full bodybuilding/athletic potential, period.
How To Deadlift – Top 10 Deadlift Variations for Greater Power, Strength and Size
While the most effective way to build a lean, muscular and better-performing physique remains subjective at best, with many conflicting viewpoints each vying for supremacy, there are several non-negotiable requirements that work for almost all people and in almost all situations. Achieving at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is one. Getting adequate sleep to enhance recovery and facilitate performance improvements is yet another.
When it comes to piling on the mass and improving almost every indicator of athletic performance, deadlifting must also be added to this list.
Using the deadlift to enhance growth and performance comes with several caveats:
- Proper Form must be used at all times.
- Proper Preparation is essential, and
- Like with many other aspects of training, it pays to Vary Your Approach to performing this important lift. This means incorporating a range of different deadlift variations for maximum effect. This article will show you how to address safety and efficiency when it comes to hoisting heavy iron from the floor. You’ll also learn how to prepare for the most demanding deadlift workout of your life and which of the best deadlift variations can be called upon to give you superior size, strength and performance gains.
Though many use the deadlift primarily to develop the back (including the traps) and legs (specifically the hams) and glutes, this preeminent mass-builder, in fact, work systemically (system-wide) to positively affect all muscle groupings, much the same way the squat does.
Because of its degree of difficulty (when performed with proper form and heavy weights) and system-wide impact, the deadlift (like the squat and other basic compound movements) elevates testosterone and growth production, key hormones essential for size gains and performance enhancement.1, 2, 3
Also, due to its systemic nature, and the sheer effort required to complete a full set of heavy deads, this movement builds a degree of mental toughness that’ll serve you well when it comes to all aspects of the training process – from dieting to applying full intensity across all movements to grinding out the final rep of an especially grueling set. Needless to say, the full list of deadlifting benefits is seemingly infinite.
For all its amazing benefits, however, the deadlift can also be potentially injurious if performed incorrectly. From torn hamstrings and lower back injuries to biceps tears, rotator cuff strain, ruptured blood vessels, wrist and finger-flexor strain and headache, the deadlift can be an unforgiving taskmaster for the underprepared. To achieve perfect deadlifting execution requires immense concentration and attention to detail. It’s to be given full respect. Here are some important considerations. Follow them for superior results and to lessen your chance of injury.
Biomechanics of the Deadlift
Under no circumstances should anyone, at any level of training experience, attempt the deadlift without first gaining a thorough understanding of the biomechanics behind this highly technical lift. The deadlift is a seemingly simple movement. After all, you lift the bar from the ground and put it down again, right?
However, when it comes to the dead, appearances can be deceiving, and perfecting this lift can take much time and practice (not to mention a great deal of patience).
Follow the pointers below for a general understanding of how best to perform this fundamental mass-builder. The fundamental principles of correct deadlifting form, as explained below, apply to all deadlift variations. Where applicable I’ll discuss the specifics of each different version when addressing each lift.
Always consult with an experienced trainer or qualified coach to gain a more practical understanding and before attempting to max out on this movement with heavy weights.
Positioning: position feet and shins as close to the bar as possible and keep the bar close to your body as you lift it from the ground (or rack). This will stop the bar from pulling you forward (thus allowing you to keep your hips back) while also preventing it from slamming into your shins mid-lift.
Breathing and Correct Alignment: a major factor in deadlifting success is core rigidity and correct posture. By keeping the muscles of the lower back, abs and hips tight and the spine in a neutral position throughout the entire range of motion (neither rounded not excessively arched), you’ll better target key muscles while also offsetting the risk of injury. Think ‘back flat and chest up.’
Before initiating the lift, take a deep breath and hold it until the lift is completed. Then reset breathing and slowly lower the bar. This will allow you to keep the core tight while simultaneously contracting all of the major muscle groupings.
Hip Hinge: when lowering your body to the bar, do not bend into the movement (thus engaging the knees and lower back). Rather, push your hips back as far as you can. In this way, you prepare (or load) the hips and glutes for the work to follow. As you lift the bar, the body will essentially ‘unfold’ as the spine remains in a neutral position. Never drop down into the lift (squat style) by exclusively bending the knees.
Grip: grasp the bar with an overhand grip (or, if the weight exceeds gripping capacity, a mixed, or over-under, grip). The bar must be held as tightly as possible so as to remove any slack. This is best achieved via scapula retraction (pulling the shoulder blades back and down) to enhance upper body tension while keeping the spine in the correct alignment. Keep the torso at a 45-degree angle and apply as much upward pressure to the bar as possible before attempting the lift properly.
The Lift: as you can see, deadlifting success largely comes down to the correct setup. Getting ready to complete the lift is as important as initiating and completing the lift itself. To begin the lift, forcefully drive with the feet (keeping the weight evenly distributed across both) while pulling the bar directly into the body (not up).
Maintain a low center of gravity by keeping the bar tight to the body, bringing the chest up and driving the hips forward (in that order). For the first part of the movement, let the legs do most of the work while the upper body is kept tight and chest is kept up. If you bring the hips forward too soon you’ll be placing undue pressure on the lower back, which may lead to serious injury.
As the movement continues, keep pressing with the legs but also begin pulling the arms behind the body as you approach lockout. Squeeze the glutes and hams at the top (to engage these muscles and to prevent excessive arching of the lower back) and contract the back muscles. Do not shrug the weight. Keep the arms straight. Fully extend the knees and hips and tighten the shoulders to complete the lockout phase.
Mixing it up for Optimal Results
There comes a time when the standard, conventional deadlift just won’t cut it. As with many other aspects of training, varying your approach to deadlifting can enhance progress when seeking to achieve maximum size, strength and performance improvements.
When it comes to any lift, personal preference can count for a lot. Some movements just ‘feel’ better than others. Some movements also work better than others based on one’s individual lifting abilities, physical structure, strength level, mental state and myriad other attributes. The same holds true for the deadlift. Thus it is always best practice to explore different variations to find the one that works best for you.
Greater progress can also be achieved through the strategic inclusion of certain deadlift variations. For example, you may need to rest the legs for longer when incorporating twice-weekly squat sessions. Your second deadlift workout of the week may, therefore, require you to use the rack version to take more of the legs out of the equation. You may even wish to use rack deads exclusively should your program prioritize legwork. Conversely, if you require extra legwork, and providing squat strength is not adversely affected, you may choose to emphasize sumo squats, to better target the legs while lessening the recruitment of the back muscles.
In saying this, all forms of deadlift, employed judiciously, will enhance squatting strength by enhancing the development of muscles crucial to the squat (such as the lower back and glutes).
Also, you may be recovering from an injury or need to work around an existing injury (the nature of which should determine whether you include the deadlift or not). Here you may choose to incorporate light dumbbell deadlifts until you are again ready to tackle the heavier iron.
By varying your approach to deadlifting you may also target different areas to round out your development.
For example, if your sport requires more hip, hamstring and quad strength you may wish to ‘run’ with sumo deadlifts (which remove much of the stress from the lower back). If you lack trapezius size and strength you may choose to emphasize snatch-grip deadlifts. However, for overall size and strength, the conventional deadlift should form the basis of your back training.
Before embarking on any of the below-listed deadlift variations you must be well prepared and ready to work to full capacity. This means fueling up with the right pre-workout nutrients, getting your mind in the game and ensuring your environment is conducive to training success.
A good training partner and/or training environment can give you the lift you need to fully tap into your physical potential. Setting the scene for a heavy set of deads involves getting in the zone, where the flow state necessary for optimal performance is achieved. A hardcore training environment of like-minded lifters coupled with impactful music and a supportive workout buddy can make all the difference here.
Optimal workout intensity simply cannot be achieved without the right fuel. A solid pre-workout formulation combined with a serving of high-grade BCAAs 30 minutes before liftoff will give you the best possible advantage when it comes to fully benefit from any of the below-listed deadlift variations.
Overpowering the weights requires a solid mental game. Here, three factors are all important: total self-belief, complete focus, and a clear mental image of exactly what it is you want to achieve from your workout. Before your next set of heavy deadlifts, form a picture in your mind of the successful lift to follow, block out all distractions, and think only of the impending set. Know that you are fully capable of safely and efficiently controlling the bar for the desired number of reps.
Ten Superior Deadlift Variations
Reference: M&S Deadlift Article
Building Muscle and Strength from the Ground Up
Muscular thickness and density, power, strength, and overall athleticism can all be vastly increased with the addition of one of the best exercises ever to have challenged the most determined of trainees.
For all its many benefits, the deadlift is as old school as you’re likely to get. Who would have thought that with all the latest training wizardry, developed over decades and decades of painstaking research and trial and error, that the greatest gains in size and strength are best achieved by picking a bar off the ground and putting it back down again?
As one of the most basic of movements, the deadlift is unparalleled in its ability to significantly engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
As a true test of strength, it provides enormous benefits for those willing to buckle down and pull some serious weight. Like most worthy accomplishments, building a great physique requires us to begin from the ground up. What better way to do this than by employing the king of the compounds.
- Ahtiainen, J.P., et al.. (2005). Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic resistance training: influence on muscle strength, size, and hormonal adaptations in trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19 (3), 572-82.
- Ahtiainen, J.P., et al. (2004). Acute hormonal responses to heavy resistance exercise in strength athletes versus nonathletes. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. 29 (5), 527-43.
- Durand, R.J., et al. (2003). Hormonal responses from concentric and eccentric muscle contractions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35 (6), 937-943.
- Swinton, P.A., et al. A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. J Strength Cond Res. 25(7): 2000-2009, 2011