Most lifters use sumo and conventional deadlifts. That's because they don't know about squat-stance deadlifts. These fall somewhere between sumo and conventional. It's the best of both worlds. With the squat-stance deadlift you'll pull with the strongest, safest, and most efficient biomechanics, which means less injury and more progress.
When it comes to proper execution of the squat-stance deadlift, the position and mechanics should feel very simple and natural. It's the same technique you'd use if you were going to pick up a heavy kettlebell, stone, or any heavy object off the floor.
Foot positioning is the basis of the squat-stance deadlift. Unlike the sumo deadlift where the feet tend to rotate outwards in excess of 45 degrees, the squat-stance deadlift requires you to keep the feet relatively straight. This position will produce the greatest strength increases.
Keeping the feet relatively straight and pushing the knees out transmits the greatest foot and ankle torque into the floor, ultimately maximizing the production of force. Activation starts with the feet, so the greater the enervation signal from the foot and ankle complex, the greater the muscle activation, not only in the legs but also throughout the entire body.
Use a position that's anywhere between a normal squat stance (approximately shoulder width), to roughly 20% wider than normal squat stance. This means the feet will be anywhere from 2-3 feet apart when measuring from the outside of the feet. This position will provide the greatest pressing strength from the legs while eliminating hip irritation produced from using an excessively wide stance.
Similar to a sumo deadlift, the arms and grip should be placed in between the legs to create a feeling of straddling the barbell. It should feel as though the bar is positioned between the feet and legs rather than in front of them. With this in mind, the grip will be anywhere from roughly 1-2 feet apart. The key is making sure the arms can fit between the legs without running into the knees.
For those who choose to take a slightly narrower stance, a portion of the hands may actually be inside the knurling on the smooth portion of the bar. As long as grip strength is sufficient, this shouldn't be an issue.
Don't be surprised if it appears as though your elbows have a slight bend in them when performing this variation. This is more of an illusion as the closer grip can give the appearance that the lifter is pulling with the arms. The key is to focus on keeping the arms as straight as possible without letting the biceps get involved. Think of your arms as hooks while letting the hips and legs do all the work.
Hip, Torso, and Knee Positioning
Your lower body mechanics will be nearly identical to a low-bar squat. Focus on pushing the knees out and keeping the hips pushed back as far as possible while still keeping the chest up. Keep a natural, not excessive, arch throughout the spine while and keep your head in a neutral position.
Your torso will be bent over to approximately 45 degrees, which maximizes your ability to cock the hips back fully at the bottom (hip flexion) while minimizing sheer stress on the spine. This ideal position can't be duplicated with either the sumo or conventional pull. The reason for this is based on simple biomechanical analyses of hip function. The farther back the hips set at the beginning of the pull, the more you can rely on powerful hip extension mechanics to perform the lift. However, this typically requires a more bent-over torso position as witnessed with the conventional deadlift, which unfortunately places greater shear stress on the spine.
After pre-loading the musculature by pulling slack out of the bar, focus on locking the spine tightly into position by squeezing the daylights out of your lats. Most people have difficulty flexing their lats. Pulling the shoulder blades down and back throughout the movement can feel awkward. But this is often a result of deadlift mechanics not feeling natural to the body.
The squat-stance deadlift, on the other hand, does feel natural, allowing you to set the hips, spine, and lats very tightly. Besides significantly reducing the risk for injury, this also allows you to go heavier.
Squat and Deadlift Transfer
Powerlifters who are proponents of the sumo deadlift argue that its carryover to the squat is much greater than with conventional deadlifts because the sumo position is more similar to the mechanics used in a typical powerlifting squat. While this is true, the squat-stance deadlift is even more similar. It's almost identical to a proper low-bar squat. It has incredible transfer – squat to deadlift and deadlift to squat – so each time you train one, you're essentially training the other. This helps groove the proper neural pathways more efficiently as you practice the squat and deadlift patterns twice as frequently.
No Sticking Points
Unlike the conventional deadlift, which has a sticking point near the top of the movement, and the sumo deadlift, which has a sticking point near the beginning of the pull, the squat-stance deadlift has even tension throughout. As a result, there's no significant sticking point, which allows for a smooth yet powerful motion.
Don't be surprised if you're able to perform squat-stance deadlifts with much greater frequency and volume than conventional or sumo variations. This is in large part due to the natural mechanics actually being therapeutic. The technique promotes optimal movement while helping to eliminate dysfunction.
1. Negatives & Hypertrophy
Most powerlifters would cringe at the idea of performing accentuated (slow) negative deadlifts – and rightly so! The sumo and conventional deadlift just aren't conducive for using accentuated negatives because the body isn't in an ideal position to absorb force during lengthening contractions. It's for this very reason that most coaches and elite lifters are now recommending a free-fall on the negative phase of the deadlift in order to avoid stress on the spine and hips.
But, because slow eccentric motions are one of the most potent stimuli for promoting functional strength and size gains, this free-fall maneuver unfortunately short-changes the strength and hypertrophy benefits of the deadlift. As a result, the deadlift numbers among powerlifters has more or less plateaued over the last decade with many of the deadlift records from the early '80s and '90s still standing to this day.
Luckily, the squat-stance deadlift allows the use of eccentric motions in a very safe and effective manner due to its natural and familiar position. In fact, the negative (lowering phase) is nothing more than the eccentric portion of a squat. The truth is, if you don't have the capability to control the negative – whether that be for a deadlift or any other movement – you probably have no right using the amount of weight you're handling.
Even if for some reason the squat-stance deadlift doesn't allow you to demonstrate maximal strength, it will stimulate more strength and size gains than any other deadlift technique, particularly when combined with controlled negatives. Furthermore, these size gains will occur equally throughout the whole body.
2. Negatives & Speed Reps
One of the most effective methods for quickly gaining technical and neuromuscular efficiency in the squat-stance deadlift is to combine speed reps using 50-70% of your 1RM with accentuated eccentric motions. The lighter load will assist the lifter in cleaning up his technique, as well as make it very conducive for learning how to perform controlled negatives on deadlifts.
3. Eccentric Isometrics
The most advanced and effective method for improving deadlift strength and mechanics is performing eccentric isometrics on squat-stance deadlifts. This method is also highly potent for stimulating full body hypertrophy as the intensity of contractions in the lengthened position, combined with constant tension and occluded stretch, make this a difficult combination to beat.
Furthermore, the eccentric isometric allows you to fine-tune your body position and movement mechanics as emphasizing the stretch promotes increased sensory feedback from muscle spindles and other proprioceptive mechanisms.
Similar to the speed deadlift variation, you'll want to start off by using 50-70% of your 1RM and progress from there. You'll also want to elevate yourself several inches by using a box or plates in order to allow for full range of motion in the stretched position. Focus on lowering your body slowly during the eccentric while feeling for optimal positioning. This will help you find the natural stopping point at the bottom.
Then hold this position for several seconds to reinforce these ideal mechanics into your central nervous system. As long as you don't collapse, the range of motion should only be 1-3 inches below what you would typically go to when touching the floor. The goal is a natural but not excessive range of motion.
Look no further than Ed Coan. Besides being considered one of the greatest powerlifters of all time, Coan holds one of the most impressive raw max deadlift attempts ever with a 901-pound lift at a 220-pound bodyweight. Coan used a deadlift technique very similar to the squat-stance method, essentially turning the movement into a modified sumo or semi-sumo deadlift. Many strength athletes would benefit from taking a similar approach.
Roughly 80% of the athletes and lifters who are introduced to this method end up using it as their go-to deadlift. The other 20%, while feeling more accustomed to sumo or conventional, inevitably end up incorporating the squat-stance deadlift into their training as a means of increasing their overall strength, size, and movement mechanics. So even if you prefer the more traditional variations, adding the squat-stance deadlift into your routine will undoubtedly produce gains in both your squat and deadlift PRs.