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What’s The Best Deadlift for You?

by Fitness, Health

Many individuals hear the word deadlift and picture one of two things in their mind: a heavy barbell -or- a broken back.

At South Landing, we incorporate many variations of the deadlift into our workouts.

Why?

The deadlift is one of the more “functional” movement patterns. In real life scenarios such as helping lift a couch, or picking up groceries bags off the floor, you are performing deadlifts. It is important to train this movement pattern properly.

While the conventional deadlift (i.e. heavy barbell) is one of the more popular variations, it does not accomplish every goal an individual might have. Nor does it match everyone’s unique anatomical differences. 

We all have different goals, preferences, body types, and more. It’s important for the deadlift (and every movement) to meet individuals where they are on their fitness journey. 

Below are 6 of our most commonly used deadlift variations, and how they can be used to fit different body types and various goals.

Kettlebell deadlift

The KB Deadlift is a great variation for working on technique, or if you have limited equipment on hand. For conditioning pieces, this movement provides better opportunities for higher rep counts. This will help build endurance capacity for the muscles on the backside of your body (i.e. posterior chain – glutes, hamstrings, etc.). If you’re new to strength-training, this is a great variation to get the benefits of the deadlift, and learn proper movement technique, without putting too much stress on your body.

romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) begins by standing tall with your feet underneath your hips, having a slight (key word) bend in the knees. Then, your hips push back as the weight slides down the front of your body. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or your back loses its stiffness (i.e. rounds), you stand tall by squeezing the glutes. The RDL can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, and/or kettlebells in each hand. This is a great exercise for targeting your hamstrings and glutes. In addition, we love the RDL for individuals who struggle to maintain proper spinal alignment (i.e. rounding), or get low back pain when pulling weight from the floor.  

Do you struggle with the RDL? Try this –

A common cue we give our clients is to push your hips back towards an object set up behind you. Try standing with your heels about 6-12 inches in front of a wall. Then, proceed to lower the bar down pushing your hips/glutes back towards the wall.

single leg rdl

Best done with a kettlebell or dumbbell (you can also do this unweighted), single-leg exercises help us to fix or improve any existing imbalances we may have. Like the RDL, this movement targets and strengthens our hamstrings and glutes. It also helps us to improve balance, stability, and core control. 

elevated deadlift

By elevating your barbell on plates or blocks (usually about 2-4 inches high), you are reducing your overall range of motion. For some individuals, this allows them to lift heavier weights and strengthen the top part of their lift. However, we love the Elevated Deadlift for individuals who have limited mobility or tend to get low back pain when deadlifting from the floor.

Should you elevate your barbell? Try this test:

Standing tall with your knees extended and feet comfortably underneath your hips, reach down as far as you can. 

Can you touch the floor with your fingertips without stressing yourself to get there? 

Yes? Awesome! Pulling weight from the floor without elevating your barbell might be a good exercise for you.

No? No problem. Measure the distance from your fingertips to the floor and try elevating your barbell proportionally. For example, your fingertips are 2 inches from touching the floor, try elevating your barbell 2 inches off the floor. 

Do you feel this bent over position anywhere other than your hamstrings or glutes (i.e. calves, low back, etc.)? Try elevating your deadlift next time you lift and see if that helps with your low back pain or improves your pulling positions.

Conventional deadlift

The Conventional Deadlift is the most well-known deadlift variation.  When you picture the roid rage meathead at the gym with a heavy barbell, this might be the movement that comes to mind. The deadlift taxes the central nervous system in ways that other movements don’t. This is because it is a multi-joint movement that engages major and minor muscles. At South Landing, we typically perform conventional deadlifts in rep ranges of 1-8, with an appropriate rest period following each set. Because of its taxing nature, the rest period is essential to keeping your technique sound and body healthy. 

SUMO DEADLIFT

Similar to the Conventional Deadlift, the Sumo Deadlift is a multi-joint movement that engages almost every muscle in your body. It also taxes the central nervous system in a unique way. The difference comes in the set up. While the Conventional Deadlift has a very ‘hingey’ set up with the hands outside the feet, the Sumo Deadlift has a ‘squattier’ set up (yes, these are technical terms) with the hands inside the feet. 

Depending on your unique anatomical structure (i.e. how the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone…name that song), you may prefer the Conventional over the Sumo or vice versa. One is not right and one is not wrong. The goal should be to choose the correct movement pattern that best fits your body type and moves you closer to your goals.

how much should i deadlift, and what variation should I use?

When we program for clients (or modify our group workouts for individuals), we assess their goals as well as their current capacity and physical limitations. Since it is essential to have an understanding of the individual client before giving programming advice, we are going to hold off on specific recommendations.

However, if your goal is simply to be fit and healthy, our general recommendation is to train a variety of rep ranges, movement patterns, rest periods, etc. By incorporating different variations of the deadlift into your programming you are giving your body a much wider range of benefits. If you have had injuries in the past, being intentional with your variations will also help you strengthen the weaker areas of your body. This will actually lower your risk of injury in the future.

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If you’re wanting to gain strength but don’t know how to be intentional in your programming, we always offer a free intro to assess your goals as well as your current starting point. Plus, we have online and in-person programming options so you can take the guess-work out of your workout routines. To find the best program for your goals, click the button below to talk to one of our coaches today.

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