The deadlift is a compound strength exercise that uses a range of muscles in the arms, back and legs.
It’s a good way to develop strength in the hamstrings, glutes, calves, quads, lower and upper back, and it’s great for improving posture, core strength and stability.
Popular with gym-goers looking to develop power, strength and muscle mass, the deadlift is often carried out with a barbell, but you can also use a kettlebell or a dumbbell in each hand, or even a resistance band.
There is more than one way to carry out a deadlift – here are a few that you can try.
1. Conventional/traditional deadlift
A good starting point if you’re new to the deadlift, especially if you carry out the movement under the professional eye of a personal trainer or qualified fitness instructor.
Feet should be shoulder-width apart and your hands on the bar should be slightly further out. Choose between a double overhand grip or a mixed grip, with one hand over and one under the bar.
Keeping your head neutral – chin up and looking forward – and keeping your chest up and your back flat, engage your abs then drive your hips forwards and lift the bar. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Reverse the movement slowly to bring the weight back down to the floor.
2. Sumo deadlift
We’ve all seen the sumo wrestler stance – now’s your chance to incorporate it into your training!
Usually carried out with a lighter weight than you might use for a conventional deadlift, it is particularly effective for building strength, power and flexibility into the hamstrings. It also works the inner thighs and takes some of the load from the lower back.
Feet wide apart and angled slightly outwards, grip the bar with a narrower grip (inside the feet). Lift in the same process as the traditional deadlift.
3. Stiff-legged deadlift (SLDL)
Particularly good for engaging the muscles in the back of your legs, the stiff-legged deadlift also works your lower back. It’s usually executed using lighter weights and a higher number of reps.
To carry out the exercise, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, as in the conventional deadlift, with the barbell at thigh height. Use an overhand grip and keep the knees slightly bent.
Bending at the hips, lower the barbell to the floor and then straighten up slowly, without jerking the bar.
4. Romanian deadlift (RDL)
Similar to the stiff-legged deadlift, the Romanian deadlift targets the hamstrings and is generally carried out with a lighter weight than the traditional deadlift.
The starting position remains with your feet shoulder-width apart, but standing straight and holding the barbell, dumbbells or kettlebell at thigh level. Knees slightly bent, lean forward from the hips and lower the weight to shin level, keeping it close to the body.
Keep the core engaged and the glutes tight, while the back should remain slightly arched. Straighten to the starting position and repeat as necessary.
5. Hex Bar deadlift
Also known as the trap bar, this is a specialist piece of gym equipment that is shaped like a hexagon. It allows you to lift similar weights to a barbell, but with less strain on the back and no hyperextension at lockout. It can also allow you to increase the weight you lift for increased muscle growth.
To carry out the lift, stand inside the hex bar and reach for the handles, which are raised from the hex bar frame and located either side of your shoulders. Keeping the eyeline down and the arms and back straight, lift to hip height then gently lower.
Other alternatives to the conventional deadlift
Other alternatives include the single-leg deadlift, kickstand (staggered-stance) deadlift, offset load deadlift, sliding deadlift and hack deadlift.
Two further variations can be applied to any of the above deadlifts:
1. Deficit deadlift
This is when you stand on a raised level above the barbell on the floor. As with the traditional deadlift, the bar is lifted by driving the hips forwards, but this lower starting position encourages you to keep a flat back and engaged shoulders.
2. Heel-raised deadlift
Keeping your heels elevated slightly as you carry out a deadlift increases the flexion in the knees and the stretch in your quads. However, caution is advised, as when the barbell goes above knee height, elevated heels can limit the required movement of the hips towards the barbell.
Some people avoid the deadlift for fear it will lead to a lower back injury. However, carried out correctly it can actually strengthen this area. If you already suffer from lower back pain, it’s advisable to seek appropriate professional advice before carrying out any form of weight training.
The best way to avoid injury is to train with a qualified professional, such as a personal trainer, who can advise you on deadlift technique, weight and posture, and remain on hand if you encounter any difficulties.
As with any exercise, build up gradually from your base level and work on your technique to reduce the risk of injury.