The Right Deadlift for a Backside Overhaul
Lifters debate the merits of the conventional and sumo deadlifts. And as long as you're not using bad form, they're both fine. But there isn't much discussion of the other deadlift variations.
These alternatives deliver massive benefits for the glutes, hams, and upper back. In some aspects, they're just as good – if not better – as their more common counterparts.
Here are five underrated deadlifts you probably aren't doing but should be.
The snatch-grip variation will develop your upper back and grip strength. Your hands go where an Olympic weightlifter would grasp the bar to perform a snatch.
For most people, the best snatch grip is somewhere between having your pinkies on the barbell's outermost rings (where there's no knurling) to having your pointer finger just outside of that ring. Spreading your hands out this far will be a mechanical disadvantage compared to your usual grip, but it'll pay off in the long run when you do return to the standard position.
Another benefit? Because your arms are spread out, you'll have to start from a lower position to initiate the pull. This increases posterior chain development and hip mobility.
You won't be able to load this exercise with the same weight as your normal deadlift, but if you get stronger, it'll be much easier when you return to a more conventional deadlift.
Stand on a platform or plates that elevate you one to three inches off the ground. This starting point will create a longer bar path and lead to increased strength off of the floor – the most common sticking point.
You can do both conventional and sumo deadlifts from a deficit. Start with a small deficit and then gradually increase it as your strength and technique improve.
The split position – also called a kickstand deadlift – is a great way to nail the posterior chain while addressing any potential single-sided weaknesses. You can use a trap bar or barbell.
You can use all the same technique cues as standard deadlift variations but keep the reps lower since you have to perform it on each side. Don't let fatigue break down your technique. You can also break up the sets by legs – perform one set on one leg, rest, then do the second set on the second leg.
While most serious lifters have heard of a Zercher squat, the deadlift version also has its benefits. This is the one you want to master if you're interested in enormous traps.
Make sure your bar is in the rack at about hip level to set it up. Get under the bar by positioning it in the crooks of your elbows. Now stand up straight to lock it into place.
Start by performing this off of blocks and gradually get the bar closer to the floor. While impressive, I don't have any clients do this exercise off the ground since it involves a more rounded position. Some strongmen competitors routinely do this since it can train the same muscles used while hoisting atlas stones.
There's a two-part process of first deadlifting the barbell up, then placing it on the front of the thighs to get into the Zercher position before standing all the way up. For a full breakdown, watch Christian Thibaudeau's video on How to Zercher Deadlift.
This is a single-arm deadlift where you start with the implement next to you. Aside from building strength, this unilateral position trains the core, improves total-body stability, and increases mobility.
It's important to keep tension throughout the whole body. If you're holding the bar with your right arm, you must fight to keep your left side just as stable. Do this by extending the opposite arm and making a tight fist. This creates irradiation and helps you maintain tension.
You can do the suitcase deadlift with a dumbbell, kettlebell, EZ-bar, or barbell. If mobility is an issue or you can't maintain good positioning when beginning the exercise, just start with the bar or dumbbell elevated off the ground. This will prevent you from having to start in a risky position.