As stated in the Fundamentals of Deadlifting, the deadlift is undeniably one of the most functional strength training movements out there. Benefits include more force production in the hips and legs, more supportive strength in the core & back, shoulders, and hands, increased bone density, and an increase in desirable hormones to help build muscle and burn fat. One thing to keep in mind is that there is not just “one style” of deadlifting, in fact, there are quite a few, and this post will shed light on a few of the more prominent and valuable approaches. Not all styles of deadlifting are right for everyone, so the onus is on you to determine which option(s) will be the best fit for you. If you’re not sure where to start, the tips below should be helpful, and of course, you can always get connected with a personal trainer to help with this too.
1 — Kettlebell deadlift
For a few reasons the kettlebell is the best place to start for most people.
- They are available in light weights that everyone can lift
- There is no set up involved, e.g. you do not need to load weights on/off a barbell
- The height is easily scalable by adding blocks / risers under the kettlebell
- Even if you have poor flexibility you can probably get into a good position to deadlift a kettlebell, however that is often not true with a barbell
I also recommend to stick with primarily KB deadlift until you have “maxed it out” … meaning you can deadlift the heaviest KB at your gym for about 10 reps. Most gyms have KB’s up to 48kg / 106lbs, and some facilities have even heavier ones.
2 — Trap Bar Deadlift
Many trap bars come with two sets of handles, one that is at the same height as the weight plates (meaning it would be the same height as a regular barbell), and then they also have a second set of handles that is higher up by 4-6”. The option of handle height lets the user choose to start their lift from the standard position, or from a slightly reduced range of motion. This slight reduction in range of motion can be a game changer for many people. At Industrial Strength we use this “high handle” version most of the time, and its awesome how it allows nearly every to get set up into a safe and strong position, even if they are not able to get there at the lower height. Below are a few other benefits of the trap bar deadlift:
- Allows everyone to safely deadlift from a hip-width stance, even if they would not be able to with a barbell / straight bar. This can have great carry over to other movements that require the feet being “under” the hips rather than outside of them, such as carrying things up stairs, running / sprinting, jumping, and more.
- Allows the shoulders to be in a safe and neutral position, which can be challenging with a straight bar for some people.
- Tends to be a version of the deadlift (especially the higher handles) that allow the most weight to be lifted. This is great for many reasons, including an often overlooked benefit of increasing bone density. If you have maxed out the KB deadlift at your gym and are looking to take it to the next level, consider the HH TBDL.
3 — Barbell Deadlift
The barbell (I sometimes refer to this here as the “straight bar” to clearly differentiate from the trap bar) is what most people think of when they think of the “deadlift” exercise. It has been a staple in gyms for decades, and is often a contested event in strength competitions such as powerlifting. There are several styles of deadlifting with a barbell, and I will not cover all of them here. Instead, I will focus on two of the major styles, and the two which I think are appropriate for most people.
- Conventional Deadlift: The term “conventional” refers to using a stance where the feet are inside of the arms / hands. Typically the lifter’s feet will be about hip width and their hands will be shoulder width or slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Semi-Sumo Deadlift: This stance where the lifter’s feet are a bit wider than their hands, so the opposite of the conventional stance above. Note that there also exists a traditional “sumo deadlift” where the lifter places their feet as wide as possible – this is more of a competition technique that results in the weight not needing to be lifted as far (thus allowing heavier weights), rather than a method we encourage for most people who are just looking to be strong, fit, and healthy.
So why would someone choose conventional over semi-sumo, or vice versa? This is one of those things where some people get super dogmatic about it, and I do not really understand why. In my opinion, it all comes down to finding the right stance for each individual. The two most important considerations here are the lifter’s anthropometrics (body proportions) and their mobility. Some people’s proportions lend themselves to conventional (longer limbs, shorter torso) while people with more symmetrical proportions will probably be able to get into a better semi-sumo stance. If someone has tight hamstrings then conventional will be pretty difficult to do well. If someone has tight adductors (groin muscles) then semi-sumo might not be the easiest. If someone is tight everywhere they should probably stick to the trap bar. At the end of the day the benefits of conventional vs. semi-sumo are so similar that there is no way to say that one is “better” than the other as a blanket statement; instead, it is imperative to individualize it to each person and find a style that works for them. It is also worth noting that many of the best deadlifters train with their weaker style in the off-season and then switch to their preferred style leading up to important competitions, so that is always an option as well. Lastly, remember that nobody is forcing you to deadlift with a barbell. The barbell deadlift is the least accommodating version, meaning if you are limited by body proportions, flexibility, and/or injury history then these might not be a good fit for you. In fact, I would say that it is quite common that deadlifting with a barbell is a poor choice for many people, and the other options outlined above are often a better solution. So, don’t be shy about sticking with the kettlebell, the trap bar, or other similar options if that makes sense for your situation.