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4.4. Variations and their purposes

Sumo deadlift and conventional deadlift

Builds hips and lockout, builds lower back strength.

Regardless of what style is the preferred competition style, sumo or conventional, many lifters will find it valuable to also train the opposite. In the case of the conventional deadlifter, training the sumo deadlift will build a stronger lockout. In the case of the sumo deadlifter, training the conventional deadlift will ensure that the lower back doesn’t get too weak since there’s not as much stress on it in the sumo style. It’s therefore advised to train both at least periodically.

Deficit deadlift

Builds both start and lockout.

In this variation the lifter stands on a block, it doesn’t need to be very high. It’s imperative that the lifter bends the legs more (as opposed to the back) in order to reach the starting position. This will train leg drive. Most will agree that the deficit builds a stronger start because it requires a lower (and for most people weaker) start position. It will also build lockout due to the prolonged time under tension. However, some people are actually stronger from a deficit. In this case ensure that their technique is optimal for them in their start of the regular deadlift.

Deadlift, off mats

Identify weakness.

In this variation the bar (not the lifter) is placed higher up. Use thick mats or a very low block, 2-4 cm. If the lifter is significantly weaker from this position they rely heavily on leg drive and momentum and need more posterior chain work.

Deadlift, off blocks

Builds lockout, strengthens upper back.

This is the same as above but the blocks are higher and the variation serves a different purpose. Make sure that the body is in the same position it would be if the lifter had lifted the bar too a similar height in a regular deadlift. The bar should in almost every case be below the knees. It takes almost all of the leg drive out and allows overloading of the upper back. Can also be used to practice hip drive.

Deadlift off pins

Builds lockout, strengthens upper back.

Same as deadlift, off blocks. The former is preferable as the feel is closer to a regular deadlift due to the plates resting on the blocks rather than the bar on pins.

Stiff leg deadlift

Strengthens posterior chain, builds lockout.

The lifter starts with almost straight legs, a very slight bend is allowed. If the lifter lacks posterior chain strength (very common) the stiff leg deadlift is a useful addition.

Romanian deadlift

Strengthens posterior chain, builds lockout, increase flexibility.

Similar to the stiff leg deadlift but is not actually a deadlift at all since it's not a "dead" lift but rather done from the hang. To perform it, start at the top of the deadlift, push the butt back to lower the bar (it will happen as an afterthought) and raise it by pushing the hips forward. Depth is not very important but you should be able to go below knee level. Since the range of motion can be kept shorter it's useful for those who don't have the flexibility to do regular stiff leg deadlifts. It will increase flexibility if done with light to moderate weights.

Floating deadlift

Strengthens upper back, improves strength endurance and position.

This is typically done standing on a block and deadlifting the bar to the top as normal before lowering to the point where the ground would be before being lifted again. It puts significant stress on the entire body.

Kettlebell swing

Improves lockout, speed, and work capacity.

These should always be done "hard style" (with aggressive lockout and full body tension) rather than competition style. If done in this manner it can help teach a strong lockout. Due to the nature of kettlebell swings they also improve work capacity.