What’s the best variation of the deadlift?
Different variations of the deadlift put the body in different positions; they also require the barbell to travel different lengths.
People compete in the deadlift and the sport has a name—powerlifting—and an international governing body—the International Powerlifting Federation—that allows two variations of the deadlift to be used in competition: the conventional and the sumo. Outside of powerlifting competitions, two very common variations are the stiff-legged and the Romanian. These last two are sometimes thought to be the same exercise under different names. But some others think of them as similar but different moves, and that is how this post will treat them.
The body’s position during any one variation, relative to the other variations, will determine which muscles are involved or emphasized when you lift the weight from the ground. Here are the main differences in body positions:
- At the start of the conventional, the hips are more adducted and the shoulders are more abducted relative to the sumo.
- At the start of the sumo, the hips are more abducted and the shoulders are more adducted, relative to the conventional.
- During the stiff-legged, the knees are fully extended, or more extended relative to the conventional and the sumo and the weight is already above the floor.
- During the Romanian, the knees are less extended relative to the stiff-legged and the weight is already above the floor.
Each of the 4 variations requires you to pull the barbell over different distances, relative to each other:
- The barbell travels further when doing the conventional than it does when doing the sumo.
- The barbell travels slightly further when doing the stiff-legged than it does when doing the Romanian.
- The barbell travels less when doing the conventional than when doing either the Romanian or the stiff leg.
How deadlift variations are used
Among powerlifting athletes, the sumo is said to be better for those with superior flexibility. The Romanian was first seen performed by an Olympic weightlifter, not a powerlifter, named Nicu Vlad who reportedly used it to improve his ability to clean a barbell from the floor. Powerlifters typically use the stiff-legged to condition their bodies to better perform the conventional or the sumo.
The deadlift is a skill. Skills are best developed through diligent practice under a coach’s supervision. So, find a personal trainer that can teach the skill, or else find a powerlifter’s training facility.