Deadlifts 101

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Like squats, deadlift is an important full body exercise to master. In this blog, we discuss what a deadlift is and why it’s important for us to know how to perform one. Then we will provide you with 3 different variations of the deadlift and what the differences are between each one.


What is a deadlift and why is it important?

The deadlift is a compound (multi-joint) full body exercise which can be heavily loaded to place a large mechanical stimulus on the body thus providing effective strength and power adaptations. This exercise is an excellent tool to enhance muscles of your posterior chain (back, hips and hamstrings) when performed correctly.


Deadlifts are popular among a broad population and is used commonly in athletes, recreational weightlifters, the elderly, and is one of the three lifts tested during competitive powerlifting. Along with all of this, the deadlift is arguably one of the more functional movements aside from the squat, you will find yourself using it anywhere such as the grocery store, picking up something from the floor or even objects around the house!


Different types of deadlifts

Just as we discussed in the Squat 101 blog, there are many variations in which the deadlift can be performed depending on which muscles you are wanting to involve. There are several factors that can be altered such as the positioning to achieve differing biomechanics during the lift. We're going to talk about three types of the deadlift: the conventional deadlift, Romanian deadlift (RDL), and the snatch grip deadlift.


Before covering the following ‘how to deadlift’ tutorial, it is important to understand there are multiple biomechanical differences between individuals and there is no one size fits all approach. It is important to consider consulting a movement specialist such as a physiotherapist, personal trainer or exercise physiologist to make any necessary adjustments to your technique.


Conventional Deadlift

For the first variation we will be giving an overview of why you would choose a conventional deadlift and detailing how to perform this version of the lift.


The conventional version of this lift targets the entire body but specifically the most dominant muscles are the hamstrings, quads, spinal erectors and glutes. This lift is the most common of the 3 discussed In this article as it is useful to help develop full body strength and is known as one of the “Big Three” (Squat, bench press and deadlift).


Whether your goal is to get bigger, stronger or shred some body fat, learning ow to deadlift properly can help to achieve these goals faster. Studies show that the conventional deadlift is a better technique for training the rectus femoris and gluteus maximus (quads and glutes) than the RDL so if this is something you are attempting to target then this could be the lift for you.


1. Firstly, to perform a conventional deadlift, the lifter will stand with feet approximately hip width apart with the barbell over the midfoot.


2. Hinge at your hips by pushing them backwards with a slight bend in your knees until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor and grip the barbell with both hands at shoulder width just outside your knees.


3. Bend your knees until the bar almost touches your shins, pull up on the bar slightly to take the slack out while allowing your hips to drop down slightly, this will activate leg drive and help to achieve a neutral spine.


4. Brace your core as if you are about to be punched and activate your lats by bringing your armpits to your pockets. Ensure shoulder blades and armpits are positioned over the barbell as seen in this picture:


5. Begin to drive your feet into the floor and “push the world away” as your maintain that neutral spine and lat activation throughout the entire movement.


6. Once at the top of the movement, reverse the above process and slowly lower the weight down by hinging forward.



Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The RDL is different from the conventional deadlift as it is primarily a hip hinge movement only with no leg drive from the floor. Typically the RDL starts from a standing position and is particularly useful when attempting to activate hamstrings and glutes. Studies have shown an increase in muscle activity of the hamstrings when performing exercises that holds the knees in a fixed and extended position.


1. To perform a RDL, the lifter will begin with the barbell in the hands at shoulder width in a standing position.


2. Take a breath in and brace your core as mentioned in the conventional deadlift and engage your lats by pulling your armpits to your pockets.


3. Unlock your knees to achieve a slight bend and push your bottom back behind you as if you were attempting to touch a well behind you.


4. You will begin to lower the weight as you complete step 3, ensure your maintain that slight knee bend throughout the movement and allow the movement to come from your hips as you hip hinge the bar down until your are parallel to the floor (see image below)


5. The aim is to bring the barbell down just below your kneecaps to your shins and you should feel a stretch in the back of your legs (hamstrings).


6. Begin to bring the weight back up the body by bringing your hips back to the centre to meet the barbell. Ensure the barbell remains close to the body throughout the movement and do not allow it to travel further from your centre of mass.



Snatch Grip Deadlift

The final variation is the snatch grip deadlift. This lift places you in a less than optimal position when compared to the conventional deadlift. The main difference here is the snatch grip is a slightly wider than normal hand position. This in short, lengthens the entire pull and allows the individual to bend down further into the lift requiring an increased amount of quadricep activation. This lift also finishes in a higher position on the hips which again helps to differentiate it from a conventional deadlift.

1. Place feet around hip width or around your conventional deadlift stance and angle your feet out slightly to allow you to clear your knee’s when lifting.


2. This movement should be performed with lifting straps to ensure a secure grip as this lift requires a wider than normal grip. A good tip is to grab the bar just outside of the grip rings.


3. Barbell should be positioned around the midfoot again and the starting position should be the same as the conventional deadlift with the shoulder blades over the barbell before you begin to lift.


4. Lower yourself down to the barbell with a hip hinge whilst maintain the vertical shins, you will find yourself squatting down deeper into a snatch grip deadlift.


5. Bring your shins to the bar and achieve a neutral spine, activate your lats by bringing your armpits to your pockets and brace your core.


6. Begin pushing the floor away from you and ascending to the top of the lift whilst attempting to bring your hips through to meet the barbell at the top.


7. Lower the barbell in the same manner you executed the lift and repeat.



If you have any further questions on which deadlift variation is best suited to you or your needs, please consult your trusted personal trainer or give us a call on 3061 7128.


Blog and videos by UQ Physiotherapy student undertaking clinical placement, supervised by principal physiotherapist, Winnie Lu.



Winnie Lu, B.Phty (Uni of Qld)


Principal Physiotherapist


Souths United Football Club Physiotherapist


Book an appointment with Winnie here.



References

Cholewa, J. M., Atalag, O., Zinchenko, A., Johnson, K., & Henselmans, M. (2019). Anthropometrical Determinants of Deadlift Variant Performance. Journal of sports science & medicine, 18(3), 448-453. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31427866

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683626/


Lee, S., Schultz, J., Timgren, J., Staelgraeve, K., Miller, M., & Liu, Y. (2018). An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts. Journal of exercise science and fitness, 16(3), 87-93. doi:10.1016/j.jesf.2018.08.001


Martín-Fuentes, I., Oliva-Lozano, J. M., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PloS one, 15(2), e0229507-e0229507. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229507


Schellenberg, F., Lindorfer, J., List, R., Taylor, W. R., & Lorenzetti, S. (2013). Kinetic and kinematic differences between deadlifts and goodmornings. Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology, 5(1), 27. doi:10.1186/2052-1847-5-27


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