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8 Best Deadlift Variations for Strength, Power, and Mass

There are a lot of different deadlift variations that you can perform to make progress in the gym. I’ll routinely rotate and program different deadlift variations depending on my goals and training context.

That said, if you want to do more deadlifts, then it’s a good idea to have an understanding of the “why” behind the variations you’re using. By using the best deadlift variations for your needs you’ll make gains faster and more consistently.

Below, I’m going to cover seven of my favorite deadlift variations for packing on mass, building strength, and improving power output.

There are countless deadlift variations that you can learn and master. Despite seeming like a simple exercise, it’s important to remember that the deadlift, and its countless variants, are skills that need to be practiced.

Must Read: Tackle your deadlifts with the right footwear. Check out some of my favorite deadlift shoes. I have picks for powerlifting, wide feet, sumo deadlifts, and more.

Variation 1: Conventional Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is what I would call the equivalent of the “gold standard” in the context of deadlifts to learn and know. This deadlift variation is generally the first variation that most lifters learn in the gym.

Testing the Vivobarefoot Motus Strength JJF for deadlifts

This deadlift variation entails standing with the feet about hip-width apart, hinging backward, and then lifting the weight from the ground to a locked position. There are countless reasons why you’d want to master conventional deadlifts.

Why Do Conventional Deadlifts

  1. Build full body strength with heavy a focus on the hamstrings, glutes, erectors, and back muscles.
  2. Improve your capacity and skills to pick things up off the ground safely and efficiently.
  3. Increase overall mass by training multiple muscles at the same time. These can be great foundational muscle builders.
  4. Read My Conventional Deadlift Guide

Barbell Deadlift Muscles Worked

When To Do Conventional Deadlifts

  1. When you’re just getting into lifting. It can be a good idea to focus on mastering the conventional deadlift when you start out your lifting journey as it’s often considered a fundamental movement pattern to know.
  2. When your goal is building general strength in the context of picking things up from the ground. You can also use deadlifts to train maximal strength as well.
  3. When you’re thinking about or planning to compete in powerlifting. In powerlifting, you’ll compete with the deadlift and if you’re a conventional puller then you’ll want to train the conventional deadlift often.

How to Deadlift Properly

Conventional Deadlift Muscles Worked

The conventional deadlift will work a wide range of muscles, but generally speaking, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with this exercise in the context of training the glutes, hamstrings, and erectors.

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Forearms
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Erectors

*bolded indicates a higher level of involvement

Variation 2: Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The Romanian deadlift also referred to as the RDL is another foundational deadlift to learn and understand. This deadlift variation will heavily bias the eccentric or lowering portion of the deadlift.

How To Romanian Deadlift Step 1

This bias is great for training and strengthening the glutes and hamstrings through a lengthened position which can translate to increased muscular hypertrophy, power output, and overall strength.

Why Do Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Improve hamstrings and glutes strength and size.
  2. Romanian deadlifts can improve your sports performance by improving your hamstrings and glutes capacities to lengthen, produce power, and control lower body movement.
  3. Increase your ability to hip hinge (another fundamental movement pattern) with different loads and implements.
  4. Read My Romanian Deadlift (RDL) Guide

How To Romanian Deadlift Step 3

When To Do Romanian Deadlifts

  1. When your goal is focused on isolating and growing posterior muscles like the glutes, hamstrings, and erectors.
  2. When you want to improve your hamstrings and glutes capacities to lengthen while controlling your ability to contract and produce power through hip extension.
  3. When you want to improve your hip hinge abilities which can translate to a better understanding of how to mitigate and lift loads with a heavy hip bias.

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is one of my favorite exercises for lifters of all skill levels who want to improve their hamstrings and glutes mass.

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Erectors
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Forearms
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Variation 3: Stiff-Leg Deadlift

The stiff-leg deadlift is an unappreciated deadlift variation at times, in my opinion. This variation can be great for focusing on strength off of the floor and for building the posterior muscles and erectors.

RDL versus stiff leg deadlift

In general, I’ll use stiff-leg deadlifts for lifters who find they have eager hips in their conventional deadlift as this exercise can be a great teaching tool for teaching and owning desired hip positions.

Why Do Stiff-Leg Deadlifts

  1. Improve deadlift strength off of the floor since this movement focuses heavily on how you’re breaking the floor.
  2. Increase the strength of the glutes, hamstrings, and erectors.
  3. Heighten your awareness of the hips and their position when lifting weights.
  4. Read My Stiff-Leg Deadlift Guide

Stiff-Leg Deadlift Hips Mistake and Fix

When To Do Stiff-Leg Deadlifts

  1. When your hips are “too eager” during normal deadlifts. By teaching yourself to lift with a higher hip position this can sometimes translate to teaching you better hip mechanics in your traditional pull.
  2. When you’re struggling to break the floor with your deadlift. The disadvantaged setup of the stiff-leg deadlift can have a positive carryover to your normal pull.
  3. When you want to keep your weight lighter with your deadlift while focusing on the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors and how you’re training them during the concentric or lifting portion of the deadlift.

How to Stiff Leg Deadlift

Stiff-Leg Deadlift Muscles Worked

The stiff-leg deadlift will typically feel harder to perform for most lifters and will generally result in a nice stimulus for the hamstrings, glutes, and even erectors.

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Erectors
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Forearms
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Variation 4: Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is another popular deadlift variation that all types of lifters will use to improve their pulling strength. This variation is most popular in powerlifting and for lifters who feel more comfortable pulling with a sumo setup.

Testing the Adidas The Total for sumo deadlifting

The sumo deadlift can be great for training the hips through a different range of motion while focusing on the adductors, glutes, hamstrings, and quads as they’ll all be active when pulling sumo.

Why Do Sumo Deadlifts

  1. Improve the strength of the adductors and surrounding hips muscles as the wider stance will work primary muscles and multiple stabilizer muscles of the hips.
  2. Increase the weight you can lift. If you feel more comfortable deadlifting sumo and plan to compete then you’ll want to make this your primary deadlifting style.
  3. Sharpen your ability to lift things from different setups. I think there’s merit in learning how to efficiently sumo and conventional deadlift.

Are Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Good for Powerlifting

When To Do Sumo Deadlifts

  1. When your goal is improving hip strength. The wider stance used in sumo deadlifts will train the hips through a fairly unique range of motion which can be great for increasing variability in your movement efficiency.
  2. When you plan to compete in powerlifting and you can lift more with sumo deadlifts. If this is the case, then your goal should be to master and own the sumo deadlift.
  3. When you want to train multiple muscles at once. The sumo deadlift can be great for training the adductors, quads, hamstrings, and glutes amongst other muscles.

Reviewing Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star for Powerlifting

Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked

Your sumo deadlift setup can dictate “how much” you’re working certain muscles. For example, I like to pull with a more hybrid stance (closer sumo stance) so in that context, I may have more glutes than a lifter with a wider stance.

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Erectors
  • Quads
  • Adductors
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Forearms
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Variation 5: Trap Bar Deadlift

While the trap bar deadlift isn’t a barbell deadlift variation it’s still an important variation to train with and master. The trap bar deadlift is a lift that can benefit all types of lifters and athletes.

How to Trap Bar Deadlift Step 3

Similar to the conventional barbell deadlift, there are countless trap bar deadlift variations you can use for your benefit. However, for this article, I wanted to include the traditional trap bar deadlift as a core deadlift variation to know and understand.

Why Do Trap Bar Deadlifts

  1. Improve your general deadlift strength and ability to pick things up off the floor from a deadstop position.
  2. Increase full body strength and train muscles like the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and back muscles.
  3. Create carryover to life and sports as the trap bar can be an awesome tool for improving strength, power output, and general lifting mechanics.
  4. Read My Trap Bar Deadlift Guide

How to Trap Bar Deadlift Step 1

When To Do Trap Bar Deadlifts

  1. When you want to improve your deadlift strength but you’re not focused on barbell deadlifts and you have no desire to compete. Yes, the trap bar deadlift can be a fine substitute for general lifters, in my opinion.
  2. When your goal is to improve your strength and power output. The trap bar deadlift is awesome because it can create more balance between the anterior and posterior muscles so it’s almost a hybrid between a squat/deadlift.
  3. When you’re wanting to train a bunch of muscles at once. The trap bar deadlift is awesome for hitting a wide range of muscles in a single set so they’re a great “bang for your buck” exercise.

Low Handle Trap Bar vs high handle trap bar deadlifts

Trap Bar Muscles Worked

The trap bar will primarily target the quads and glutes and it will passively train a wide range of other muscles. If you do low-handle trap bar deadlifts then you’ll create a greater bias on the legs.

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Forearms
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Erectors
  •  

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Variation 6: Suitcase Deadlift

The suitcase deadlift is an underappreciated deadlift variation and rarely gets the love it deserves in the gym. This variation is unlike the other deadlift variations in this list because it involves using one hand to lift the weight.

How to Suitcase Deadlift

By only using one hand and lifting the weight on the side of the body, you’ll get a high level of oblique and core involvement as they work to stabilize the torso to keep the weight balanced and close to the body.

Why Do Suitcase Deadlifts

  1. Improve your oblique strength and how they stabilize the torso from a standing to a lifting context.
  2. Increase your ability to resist lateral flexion and maintain a desired deviation of core positioning.
  3. Train your body through different ranges of motion while picking up dead weight from the floor.
  4. Read My Suitcase Deadlift Guide

Suitcase Deadlift Benefits Functional Strength

When To Do Suitcase Deadlifts

  1. When you want to challenge your body in a different means and practice deadlifting things from the side of the body. There’s a nice real-life and sports carryover with this exercise.
  2. When your goal is building your obliques and core muscles’ abilities to resist excessive lateral flexion when lifting heavier weights.
  3. When you’re wanting a mental challenge in the gym. The suitcase deadlift can be a fun challenge from a physical and mental context.

Deadlift Vs Suitcase Deadlift

Suitcase Deadlift Muscles Worked

The suitcase deadlift will train the core muscles more heavily compared to the traditional deadlift, especially when it comes to muscles that contribute to lateral flexion, extension, and stability (obliques, for example).

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Obliques
  • Forearms
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Erectors

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Variation 7: Single-Leg Deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is another underappreciated deadlift variation that often gets overlooked compared to their bilateral peers. This deadlift variation can be awesome for a wide range of reasons.

How To Single-Leg Deadlift

Plus, you can perform the single-leg deadlift in a variety of ways so you can scale it based on your current abilities and strength levels. For example, you don’t have to do a barbell single-leg deadlift to reap the benefits of this exercise.

Why Do Single-Leg Deadlifts

  1. Improve your balance and ability to lift things on one leg from a posterior muscle-dominant context.
  2. Sharpen your single-leg skills. Often we just perform single-leg exercises like split squats and lunges.
  3. Increase the strength of your glutes and hamstrings along with the stabilizer muscles of the hips.

How To Single-Leg Deadlift Step 2

When To Do Single-Leg Deadlifts

  1. When you want to improve your single-leg strength and want carryover to aspects like athleticism. There’s merit in being strong on one leg when it comes to lifting through different ranges of motion.
  2. When you want to place a heavy emphasis on the glute max and the smaller hip muscles. The single-leg deadlift can be fantastic for biasing the glutes and how they’re flexing and extending.
  3. When you want to improve your balance on one leg and want a positive carryover to real life. Life happens and being able to bend over and hinge on one leg to pick things up can be a useful skill to learn and master.

Single-Leg Deadlift Benefit Training the glutes

Single-Leg Deadlift Muscles Worked

The single-leg deadlift will target a lot of the same muscles as the conventional deadlift, however, you’ll generally need far less weight to “feel” this exercise on the hamstrings and glutes.

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Forearms
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Erectors

*bolded indicates a higher level of involvement

Variation 8: Dumbbell Deadlift

The dumbbell deadlift is a deadlift variation that can be great for multiple reasons. Generally speaking, this deadlift variation can be great for beginners and for those traveling who don’t have access to a barbell.

How to dumbbell deadlift form

In addition, this variation can be great for teaching deadlift mechanics to true beginners since barbell deadlifts can be a little more skill-focused.

Why Do Dumbbell Deadlifts

  1. Improve your deadlift mechanics and understanding of the deadlift’s movement pattern demands.
  2. Increase your capacity for performing high-rep deadlifts with lighter weights.
  3. Continue to progress your deadlift skill when traveling with no access to barbells.
  4. Read My Dumbbell Deadlift Guide

When To Do Dumbbell Deadlifts

  1. When you want to improve your deadlift mechanics. This exercise can be great because it’s beginner-friendly and easy to modify based on what you need. For example, you can lift from the floor or from an elevated surface and this will train different hip positions.
  2. When you want to target multiple muscles at once. For beginners, the dumbbell deadlift can typically be enough of a stimulus to get a nice full-body benefit.
  3. When you’re traveling and don’t have access to a barbell and more weights. In these contexts, I’ll program higher rep sets and focus on accumulating quality work at greater capacities.

Dumbbell Deadlift Form and guide

Dumbbell Deadlift Muscles Worked

If you’re an advanced lifter, it may be harder to get as much of a stimulus using dumbbell deadlifts since they’ll typically be performed lighter than traditional barbell deadlifts.

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Erectors
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Forearms
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
Which deadlift variation is best?

A:
The best deadlift variation for your needs will depend on your goals. However, for most lifters especially beginners, it can be a good idea to master the conventional deadlift then branch out to other deadlift variations from there.

Q:
What are the variations for deadlifts?

A:
Deadlift variations can vary based on movement mechanics and the equipment you're using. For example, the RDL and stiff-leg deadlift will result in a change of hip position and movement intent while exercises like the dumbbell deadlift is a variation that involves different equipment.

Q:
Which deadlift variation would be best for beginners?

A:
The dumbbell deadlift performed from an elevated surface or the kettlebell deadlift are both great deadlift variations for beginners. They involve less of a learning curve and can be easier regarding the demands they place on the body.

Takeaway Thoughts

There are far more deadlift variations that you can perform outside of the eight featured in this article. However, these are the eight deadlift variations that I would argue are the “biggest” to master and learn.

All of the deadlift variations featured in this article have their own lists of pros and cons along with contexts in which they make the most sense.

If you can narrow down your training goals, then it can be easier to pick and choose which deadlift variations will be best for you in the context of efficiently accomplishing your goals.

If you have additional questions about any of the deadlift variations featured in this article, drop a comment below or reach out to me via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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