The deadlift is one of the few movements that work all major muscle groups in the body – depending on the stance and variation, it will help you strengthen your lower back, hams, glutes, hips, calves, quads, upper back, arms, traps, spinal erectors, etc. When you deadlift, your arms, forearms and hands hold onto the barbell and ensure that the bar remains stable throughout the range of motion; your shoulders and traps hold the weight; your back and core musculature help keep the entire body tight and the spine secured; your posterior chain and legs help you lift the weight by acting as a lever.
What’s even cooler, the deadlift is one of the most basic “real life” human movements, and whenever you’re moving a piece of furniture or simply picking your child off the floor – you are deadlifting. In other words, deadlifting helps you build real, functional strength that can improve your everyday life on many levels. That being said, the conventional barbell deadlift isn’t the only way to pick up really heavy stuff off the floor, nor is it necessarily the best way for you.
Besides the standard version, there are many other great deadlift variations that correspond with different training goals and body compositions. This means that there is no such thing as the best type of deadlift, as the effectiveness of any variation will depend directly on whatever it is that you want to achieve.
So the first thing you need to do before you can figure out which type of deadlift you should be doing is answer the question “What exactly do I want to get out of my training?” Once you set clear goals, such as losing fat, improving core strength or developing a maximally powerful back, the rest will be easy.
Got your answer? Now read the rest of this article to find out which type of deadlift is the best for you!
The Ideal Progression
Deadlifting isn’t inherently dangerous, however deadlifting with poor form can lead to serious injury. And one of the biggest problems with deadlifting is that many lifters lack adequate strength and mobility to deadlift safely and effectively, and this is especially true when it comes to maintaining a neutral spine and properly loading the hamstrings.
That’s why the Romanian deadlift, which has minimal mobility demands, is the most recommendable and safe version for beginners. After mastering the proper form for Romanian deadlifts, you can move on to the trap bar deadlift, as this version will also allow you to improve your deadlifting pattern without stressing too much about mobility. You can go as high as 10-15 reps per set here, especially if you’re looking for intense fat loss.
Then comes the sumo deadlift, which is easier to learn than the conventional version, and will give you great results as long as you work on your groin and hip flexibility. Also, five reps per set is enough for both sumo and conventional deadlifts.
Progressing through the different deadlift versions like this will make it much easier to acquire a proper initial position on conventional barbell deadlifts, thereby ensuring an injury-free, optimally effective training.
Anterior VS Posterior Chain Activation
If you’re looking to target your quads, or your anterior chain in general, the trap bar deadlift will help you do that more effectively. Typically, lifters will keep an upright spine and include a lot of dorsiflexion, which results with something a lot like a reverse squat.
On the other hand, the way most people do conventional deadlifts (the hips are way back and the torso is inclined more than it should) makes it a much better exercise for building the posterior chain, i.e. glutes, hams and spinal erectors. Therefore, decide which body part is your priority and train accordingly. Or, you could get the best from both worlds with the sumo deadlift, which is kind of in the middle between these two and allows you to hit the quads, glutes, hams, adductors and lower back muscles.
Compressive VS Shear Forces
If you use proper form, and don’t have any pre-existing back injuries, deadlifts won’t hurt your back. While it’s true that deadlifting causes spinal compression (when your vertebrae and discs are being pushed closer together vertically), that’s not really an issue for your lumbar vertebrae, since they are designed to deal with compressive forces and your spine can tolerate more force vertically than it can horizontally.