Axle Deadlift vs Barbell Deadlift – Which Is Best for Strength, Muscle Mass, and Fitness?

The deadlift is one of the most strength-based movements in all of strength and fitness posts. When developing a lifter’s pulling abilities, coaches have a wide selection of deadlifting variations to use, each offering benefits other variation may not.

In this article, we will compare and contrast two of these deadlift variations, the axle deadlift vs barbell deadlift, and shed some light on which is best for key deadlifting performance attributes and sport specific development.

Axle Deadlift

In a previous article we discussed the axle deadlift and how it can improve grip strength, pulling performance, and increase technique in the pull. The axle deadlift has a lifer perform a deadlift (sumo or conventional) using an axle bar (larger in diameter than standard Olympic barbell). Below, the axle deadlift is demonstrated.

Barbell Deadlift

The barbell deadlift is very similar to the axle deadlift, however the athlete uses a standard Olympic barbell (either conventional or sumo style). The muscular demands and technique is very similar, however there are slight differences that are discussed in the next section. Below is a demonstration on how to perform the barbell deadlift.

Axle Deadlift vs Barbell Deadlift

Below are seven (7) programming aspects coaches/athletes should be aware of when determining if the axle or barbell deadlift is their best deadlifting option based on sport and performance goals.

Maximal Strength

When looking to build a strong deadlift, both movements can be very effective. That said, loading is a large training stimulus for increasing deadlift performance, and therefore using a barbell may allow them to train with heavier loads at higher volumes (as the larger bar can limit grip and the amount being lifted). While the axle bar can help to improve grip strength (see below) and in turn help with maximal strength, a lifter should work with a barbell regularly if they are truly concerned with maximal pulling strength.

Muscle Hypertrophy

Much like the reasoning behind the using barbells vs axle bars (or at least more frequently) in the development of the deadlift, coaches and athletes can also use barbells to allow for less limitations in grip strength in the deadlift. When grip is limited, such as in the axle deadlift, it may be difficult for a lifter to train enough volume for the hamstrings and back (since they are limited by grip strength/failure). Note, that both deadlifts can produce serious muscle gains, making it the decision of the coach to determine if it is advisable to allow grip to be a limiting factor (rather than muscle fatigue).

Grip Strength

The axle deadlift increases grip strength greater than the barbell deadlift due to ehe lifter having to grasp a much thicker bar diameter. When performing axle deadlifts, a lifter cannot typically get their entire hand around the bar and therefore most keep the forearms maximally contracted to reist that weight from rolling out of the hands. In doing so, the liver can increase grip strength, forearm hypothy, and neural drive (all can boost barbell deadlifting performance as well).

Back Development

Both movements can increase back development. The barbell deadlift often is able to be performed with heavier loads, and can have a  greater impact on overall muscle hyerpory via increased training volume and intensity. The axle deadlift can also force greater back tension and strength due to the lifter having to contract harder to support the lack of grip on the larger diameter of the axle bar.

Related: Romanian Deadlifts

Powerlifting and Strongman

Powerlifters must deadlift using a standard Olympic barbell in competition, and therefore should fully understand and practice how to lift with a barbell in training. That said, they can benefit greatly from including the axle deadlift into training programs to boost pulling performance and grip/forearm strength. Rotating the two within training programs is often done in most competitive powerlifting and Strongman programs during various stages of their training cycles.

Olympic Weightlifting

Deadlifting in the sport of Olympic weightlifting comes in the way of snatch/clean pulls/deadlifts (which are slightly different than regular conventional deadlifts). In the sport of Olympic weightlifting, the standard Olympic barbell is used, which is the primary reason a lifter must train with a barbell rather than an axle bar. Technique is often altered when not using a barbell in this sport, so the carry over may not be as beneficial for those looking for high-sport specificity outcomes. That said, the axle deadlift could be used to develop grip strength, however would also entail additional pulling volume that may conflict with weightlifting programming. I find it best to perform farmers carries or deadlifts without straps if grip strength is an issue for Olympic weightlifters.

Functional Fitness

Functional fitness athletes can benefit from including any deadlifting movement into their training programs, as grip strength and pulling performance are key for their sport and optimal fitness. Coaches and athletes can determine which deadlift variation is key based on the specific strength, hypertrophy, or grip strength demands of the athlete (or based on their needs/weaknesses).

Maximize Your Deadlift Strength

Take a look at the below deadlifting tips and articles to maximize your deadlift abilities.

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