Mastering the Deadlift – Part 3

Categorized under Training

Here it is, the grand finale.

In Part I of this series, I introduced you to a collection of deadlifting prerequisites needed to qualify my recommendations to you – and enable you to determine if deadlifting is right for you in the first place.

In Part II, I covered the good, the bad, and the ugly of the conventional deadlift, the cornerstone of the deadlifting world.

With the prerequisites and the general technique issues resolved, it’s time to diversify and look at several deadlifting variations you can use to give your training plenty of variety without losing out on the tremendous benefits of heavy pullin’!

Sumo Deadlift

Why use them?

  1. Many powerlifters choose them because they actually decrease range of motion by 14%, so it clearly has some benefits for those who are built for it.
  2. Generally speaking, a wider stance will carry over better to a squat than a conventional stance – especially if you squat with a wide stance.
  3. Sumo pulls are aided more by deadlift and squat suits, which provide more “pop” in the bottom position – where most sumo pullers tend to miss.
  4. Many heavier lifters opt to pull sumo because their bellies get in the way of pulling from the ground conventionally. This “shift” generally takes place during the jump from the 242 to 275-pound weight classes, at least in my experience.
  5. Sumo pulls tend to be better in the short-term for those with flexibility limitations and in the long-term for those with longer femurs.
  6. The wider stance increases recruitment of the adductors and more medial hamstrings, so they offer variety in a bodybuilding context.


  1. Sumo deadlifting can really beat up on your hips; anterior hip pain is very common in sumo-style pullers. Make sure you’re finishing with your glutes on each rep (prevents anterior glide of the femoral head, which can irritate the joint capsule), and be sure to never go longer than four straight weeks pulling sumo-style without a break from it. Many powerlifters will wear squat briefs when pulling sumo just to protect their hips.
  2. Stance-width is a very individual thing. In the video above, my stance is out wider. Tony Gentilcore, on the other hand, tends to pull with a narrower stance.

Experiment and find what works best for you.

Speed Deadlift

Why use them?

  1. With every heavy deadlift, there’s going to be that miserable, awkward moment when you’re pulling like crazy and the bar isn’t moving – yet it does eventually break the floor. Speed pulls help to shorten the duration of this agony by improving rate of force development (RFD).
  2. My experience has been that many athletes with an Olympic lifting background – especially those who only clean and snatch from the hang position – struggle with being fast from the bottom position. From an athletic development standpoint, you want to have great RFD from all joint angles.
  3. The faster you develop force, the more likely you are to make the lift.
  4. They’re a great way to practice technique with submaximal loads, yet you can make up the reduced tension by accelerating the bar fast.

This video is of a triple at roughly 68% of my 1RM.


  1. Stick with sets of 3 and below. Most powerlifters go with sets of 1-rep only, whereas I’ll use more doubles and triples with my athletes.
  2. Regardless, these SHOULD feel fast; anything over 65-70% isn’t really speed work.
  3. Don’t overthink this. It’s a deadlift done REALLY FAST with a controlled eccentric.

Rack Pull

Why use them?

  1. Rack pulls are a good option for those with flexibility deficits, and therefore serve as an excellent teaching tool as part of an overall deadlift progression.
  2. They’re also a great way to use a lot of weight and overload the muscles of the posterior chain, grip, and upper back.


  1. As I noted in Deadlift Diagnosis, I don’t think rack pulls are a particularly great way to train the lockout portion of the deadlift, but they’re sure to make people pack on muscle fast, and it’s always fun to make a bar bend. As a little frame of reference for what you can probably do, this was 705 for a set of 5 at the kneecaps back when my best deadlift was about 617.
  2. Play around with different starting positions: mid-shin, just below the kneecap, and just above the kneecap.

Snatch Grip Deadlift

Why use them?

  1. Strict postural control is needed to do them perfectly, so performing them is both a good test and corrective exercise modality for those with crappy upper back posture.
  2. Like rack pulls, they’re a fantastic upper back movement involving the lats, upper traps, and mid-back musculature extensively.
  3. Bringing your hands out wider increases the distance the bar must travel, which makes the snatch grip deadlift a great hypertrophy exercise (work = force times distance).


  1. Watch out for the family jewels; bringing your hands out wider will typically bring the bar up a bit higher than normal…
  2. My experience has been that one’s best snatch grip deadlift is roughly 85-90% of his 1RM conventional deadlift.
  3. Feel free to use straps.
  4. The index finger should be on the rings.

Snatch Grip Rack Pull

Why use them?

  1. You get the best of both worlds with rack pulls and the snatch grip. These will wallop loads of meat on your upper back.
  2. I often use them in Month 2 or 3 with a beginner as a progression from rack pulls if that individual still isn’t quite ready to deadlift from the floor.


  1. Feel free to use straps.
  2. The index finger should be on the rings.

Snatch Grip Rack Pulls

Deadlift Against Bands

Why use them?

  1. Pulling against bands is a fantastic way to overload the lockout without changing the starting position of the lift.
  2. Bands tend to develop supportive grip strength better than regular ol’ bar weight, as evidenced by the fact that I always tear up my calluses doing these.


  1. Jump stretch platforms are great for these. We, however, use band pegs in an EliteFTS rack and stand on a small step:


  1. You can use these for heavier pulling, but speed work is generally a more appropriate way to implement them.
  2. Rigging this up might take some creativity if you don’t have the right equipment. Don’t lose any sleep over it.

Trap Bar Deadlift

Why use them?

  1. Trap bar deadlifts are a pretty good teaching tool with beginners.
  2. They’re a bit more quad dominant, so from a bodybuilding standpoint, they give you some variety. You also get the variety of pulling with a neutral grip instead of a double overhand or alternate grip.
  3. Speaking anecdotally, they take a lot less out of me than straight-bar pulling. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just a “thing.”
  4. Generally, they’re a “safer” means of testing with athletes.
  5. Like sumo deadlifts, they’re a good choice for those with long femurs.


  1. This is not a squat, people. If I see one more guy do a trap bar deadlift like this, I’m going to puke in my mouth.
  2. Some trap bars have two handles, enabling you to pull from a slightly elevated position if you lack the flexibility to pull from the floor.
  3. Some trap bars have great knurling and destroy your hands, while others have no knurling and are a pain in the butt to grip. Be prepared for both by bringing your chalk, and potentially even a pair of straps.
  4. Trap bars can be a pain in the ass once you’re a good deadlifter. If you don’t have 100-pound plates, you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to get anything more than 585 on there – and even 495 is tight on most models.

The object is NOT to stay as upright as you can; it’s still a pull, so you need a bit of forward lean – which actually helps to keep the spine neutral instead of a position of flexion.

Pulls from a Deficit

Why use them?

Pulling from a deficit improves strength off the floor, a common deficit in sumo pullers, in particular.


  1. Only elevate as much as you can without losing neutral spine. More than 4-6 inches isn’t going to happen.
  2. Try this with a snatch grip and chains draped over the bar and you’ll likely be bedridden with soreness for a few days.

Pulls from Blocks

Why use them?

  1. eadlifting from blocks is a happy medium between rack pulls and pulls from the floor.
  2. These also serve as a good substitute for rack pulls for those who don’t have an actual power rack.


Depending on the starting position, these can actually be more difficult than pulling from the floor. Mid-shin is REALLY tough, especially if you toss in accommodating resistance in the form of bands, chains, or weight-releasers.

Pulling it All Together

Terrible pun, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

If I had to leave you with one closing thought, it would be that there is an inherent risk to any sort of physical activity, be it whiffle ball, yoga, or deadlifting.

One of my aims in this series was to show you that deadlifting isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you’d like, call it different strokes (techniques, variations, and loading parameters) for different folks (powerlifters vs. athletes vs. weekend warriors, healthy vs. injured individuals).

Regardless, always err on the side of caution and be honest in your assessment of your own situation.