You can, in fact, have too much of a good thing — beer, pre-workout, and pizza (though the jury is out on this one). However, you can ball that kernel of wisdom up and chuck it out the window when it comes to deadlift variations.
As you probably already know, the deadlift is one of the best muscle- and strength-building exercises in existence (assuming you can deadlift with proper form). And there are so many deadlift variations — some that you know, some that you don’t — that you can easily find something tailored specifically to help you blow past deadlift-related sticking points, target your back, target your hamstrings, improve your clean & jerk, or prepare you for a strongman competition.
Below, you’ll find a long list of deadlifts, along with the purpose of the variation and how to do it so that you can expand your training repertoire. The standard deadlift is excellent and will never go out of style, but refer to this guide when you find yourself wanting something more.
Here are 24 deadlift variations that have been categorized for your convenience. Or, if you have the time, you can read through the entire list alphabetically.
- Conventional Deadlift
- Clean Deadlift
- Deficit Deadlift
- Pause Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift
- Single-Leg Deadlift
- Stiff-Leg Deadlift
- Banded Deadlift
- Dorian Deadlift
- Jefferson Deadlift
- Reeves Deadlift
- Reverse Band Deadlift
- Snatch-Grip Deadlift
- Suitcase Deadlift
- What It Is: A lifter uses an axle bar, which is typically two inches in diameter, for deadlifts instead of a standard barbell, which is half the size.
- Why Do It: The thicker bar forces the lifter to really squeeze the barbell, creating a lot more grip strength. Don’t expect to match your standard deadlift numbers with this variation — it’s very challenging. The axle bar deadlift is popular in strongmen competitions, but athletes are permitted to wear lifting straps to assist with their grip. Some say wearing straps defeats the purpose of the exercise. However, an axle bar is also more rigid than a standard barbell. No “flex” in the bar assures that the resistance remains consistent through each phase of the lift (where a heavily-loaded barbell would normally bend some before the plates leave the ground, making it easier to initiate the pull.)
- Sets and Reps: Because it’s so hard to grip, perform more sets and fewer reps. Start with six sets of three reps with a moderate load (moderate to what you can do on an axle bar, that is).
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- What It Is: This is a standard deadlift, but with a resistance band looped around the center of the barbell and under the lifter’s feet.
- Why Do It: Adding elastic tension to a deadlift makes the lift harder the further it is pulled from the floor. As the weight gets closer to lockout, the band tightens, tugging down on the bar and creating more tension. Don’t lift heavy here. Instead, figure out the amount of tension (in pounds) that the band you’re using provides, and subtract that number from your working weight in plates. Perform reps quickly and explosively (while maintaining good form) to increase overall power.
- Sets and Reps: Speed is the name of the game here. Use a light weight and do five to seven sets of two to three reps.
- What It Is: A strongman-specific deadlift. The athlete deadlifts a car, which sits on a platform with handles for the athlete to grab. The vehicle is typically half or three-quarters of the way on the platform, so the athlete never lifts its full weight.
- Why Do It: If you’re a strongman preparing for a competition and your gym has a car deadlift rig, then you should give these a shot. This a particular variation, and competitive strongmen should acclimate to the uniqueness of this movement.
- Sets and Reps: Varies. Competitions usually have lifters perform car deadlifts for max reps, so you’ll want to focus on volume. If you’re prepping for a competition, consult with your coach.
- What It Is: A weightlifting-specific deadlift variation that mimics the pull portion of the clean & jerk.
- Why Do It: To the untrained eye, the clean deadlift looks similar to the conventional deadlift (see below), but there are some key differences. For one, the athlete must use an overhand grip and position their hands on a barbell for a clean (which may or may not be the same as your conventional deadlift grip). Second, the hips typically start lower, as they would for a clean, compared to a standard deadlift. Unlike a standard deadlift where the back and hip extensors drive most of the pull, the weight in a clean deadlift is moved primarily with power from the legs. The shoulders and hips rise in unison, keeping the chest high as the weight comes off the ground. These adjustments train the muscles to function optimally for performing the clean & jerk.
- Sets and Reps: Treat these as a standard deadlift. You can do heavy sets, speed sets, or high-volume sets — as long as your form stays tight.
- What It Is: This is the OG of deadlifts — when people say deadlift, this is the variation they’re most likely talking about. Keep your feet close together, hands outside the knees, back tight, and then grip it and rip it. Almost all athletes use the conventional deadlift to improve their raw strength and power.
- Why Do It: The conventional deadlift is a pure expression of hip hinge strength. Whether you’re a professional athlete or an average Joe, you hinge your hips — both in and out of the gym. The deadlift strengthens this universal movement pattern to reinforce proper mechanics. It will make you stronger in just about any other exercise and grant you a host of other science-backed benefits.
- Sets and Reps: There are a lot of options here. To build strength, try working up to five sets of five reps.
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- What It Is: A deadlift variation that has the lifter stand on bumper plates to increase the range of motion of the exercise. Deficit deadlifts can be done with various bars — axle bar, trap bar, Olympic bar — and with a sumo, conventional, or clean stance.
- Why Do It: The longer range of motion makes the pull much harder. There are two common sticking points that lifters encounter in the deadlift — the initial pull off of the floor and locking the bar out at the top. For anyone who struggles with the former, pulling deadlifts off the floor will feel easier after practicing with an extended range of motion.
- Sets and Reps: You can sub in deficit deadlifts for your main deadlift strength work. Or, you can complete your deadlifts and treat deficit deadlifts as an accessory. If you’re doing deficit work after standard deadlifts, switch up the intensity level — if you just pulled heavy, then do a couple of high-rep (eight to 10) sets; if you went light, do a few heavy sets (three to five reps).
- What It Is: This particular exercise is named for six-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilder Dorian Yates. It has the lifter lower the bar to just below their knees to keep tension on the lower and upper back muscles.
- Why Do It: If you’re a bodybuilder or anyone focused on building a bigger back, this particular variation takes the glutes and hamstrings out of the equation (mostly) so that the back muscles are doing most of the work. Yates would also go very heavy with this variation and don lifting straps, so his grip wasn’t limiting.
- Sets and Reps: Do two sets of max reps with a moderate to heavy load.
- What It Is: A conventional deadlift that has the lifter hold a pair of dumbbells at their side instead of a barbell. Because dumbbells are more compact, the lifter pulls through a longer range of motion, similar to a deficit deadlift.
- Why Do It: You can’t lift as heavy with this variation, but the dumbbell deadlift is still worth doing. It is a great exercise to teach or reinforce proper deadlift mechanics, can be done for high reps (since the load is relatively light), strengthens the grip, can correct movement imbalances, and, because they’re more “squatty,” they also target the quads to a greater degree.
- Sets and Reps: Use dumbbell deadlifts as an accessory exercise. Start with three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
- What It Is: A deadlift performed on a 10-foot long barbell. The extra length creates a lot of flex, meaning the barbell warps as the lifter pulls on it. This bending lowers the bar’s center of gravity, making the deadlift easier to initiate but harder to lock out.
- Why Do It: There’s no reason to make this deadlift variation a part of your routine unless you’re specifically training to pull on an Elephant Bar. That said, the novel stimulus from the longer bar can teach you how to better brace and stabilize your core during all other deadlift variations.
- Sets and Reps: Do five to six sets of two to three reps.
[Related: 4 Barbell Exercises You Should Try Adding Bands To]
- What It Is: A strongman-specific deadlift. The athlete deadlifts a frame — a large steel or wooden box with neutral-grip handles on the inside. These are typically performed at strongman competitions and for reps.
- Why Do It: Unless you’re prepping for a strongman event, there are not many reasons why you should try this variation. Also, unless you work out at a strongman-specific gym, you most likely won’t have access to a frame. That said, it’s always fun to try new exercises, and the novelty of the movement will expose you to a new stimulus. (If there’s an experienced strongman or strongwoman at your disposal, don’t be afraid to ask them for tips.)
- Sets and Reps: How many sets and reps depends on the rules of your show. Since frame deadlifts are usually done for higher reps, do a few sets of max reps after your standard deadlifts or on an event-specific day.
- What It Is: The Jefferson deadlift is one of the more odd-looking deadlifts you’ll encounter. The athlete straddles the bar, so it’s centered underneath them, bends down to pick it up with one hand on each side of the body, and then lifts it until it’s just below the groin when standing.
- Why Do It: The unique barbell position will train anti-rotary control (your ability to resist rotation) as the barbell may twist to one side. Also, compared to other deadlifts that train anti-rotation (the suitcase deadlift and any other single-arm variation), the Jefferson deadlift can be loaded up with a lot of weight. The unique setup may be less stressful on the back since you’re centered over the bar.
- Sets and Reps: Try three sets of six reps. Lift the bar slowly and with control.
- What It Is: As the name implies, this is a deadlift done with either one or two kettlebells. The lifter can hold one bell by the handle (or horn) between their legs or hold two kettlebells at their sides (like the dumbbell deadlift).
- Why Do It: The kettlebell deadlift is a great variation for beginners — it teaches proper deadlift mechanics and is done with light weight. Also, if you’re someone who prefers kettlebell training, then you’ll better acclimate to holding and lifting a kettlebell.
- Sets and Reps: Try four sets of 15 reps.
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- What It Is: A deadlift performed on an elevated surface, like bumper plates or lifting blocks. It’s the opposite of the deficit deadlift. This is also referred to as the silver dollar deadlift and is a popular strongman variation.
- Why Do It: If you have trouble locking out your deadlift, then you’ll want to try the partial deadlift. The higher starting point enables the lifter to pull more weight than usual, allowing them to adjust to handling heavier loads, specifically at the top of the lift.
- Sets and Reps: Since you’re working with heavier weight, start with three to five sets of two to three reps.
- What It Is: The lifter pauses at a specific point of the range of motion, usually at the middle, right below the knees.
- Why Do It: There are two main reasons lifters love pause deadlifts. They increase the time under tension and difficulty of the movement without adding weight, and are also another way to address sticking points at the bottom of the deadlift. Starting a pull, abruptly stopping, and then starting it again all within a few seconds is hard. It also forces the lifter to produce lots of force and power, which carries over to non-pause reps.
- Sets and Reps: Go light with these and focus on logging a nice long pause (three to five seconds). Do two to three sets of five reps.
- What It Is: A deadlift variation invented by movie star and two-time Mr. Universe Steve Reeves (Hercules, Goliath). The athlete deadlifts by gripping the weight plates (preferably the kind with handles built-in) instead of the shaft of the barbell. Pro tip: If you’re using multiple 45-pound plates, place a five or 10-pound plate between each, so there’s space for your fingers.
- Why Do It: To target your lower back and hamstrings. The long-armed grip of the Reeves deadlift forces you to hinge forward more than you would during a conventional or sumo deadlift, so your hips will be higher. This high-hip position means that your spinal erectors (low back) and hamstrings are more engaged. Do not lift heavy with this variation until you’ve mastered the movement.
- Sets and Reps: Start with two sets of eight reps and then slowly add more sets.
- What It Is: A deadlift variation that has the lifter loop bands around either end of the barbell and to the top of a power rack. The bands add dynamic resistance to the movement, making it easier at the bottom and harder at the top (when the tension dissipates).
- Why Do It: To improve your lockout strength and acclimate to handling ultra-heavy weights. It’s a bit of a pain to set up but allows you to work with loads higher than your true one-rep max, making this variation useful in the right contexts.
- Sets and Reps: Do more sets and fewer reps. Try five sets of two to three reps.
- What It Is: A standard deadlift where the lifter begins in a standing position and lowers the bar to mid-shin level, stopping before the weights touch the floor.
- Why Do It: Stopping just short of the ground facilitates constant tension on the hamstrings and lower back, translating to more overall development in these areas. You also won’t have a chance to relax your grip between reps, so expect to develop some serious grip strength. If your goal is pure hypertrophy, you can wear lifting straps to ensure grip strength isn’t a limiting factor — you don’t want to leave gains on the table because you can’t hold onto the bar.
- Sets and Reps: Treat this as an accessory exercise, performing it later in your workout. Start with three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
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- What It Is: A deadlift that is performed on one leg, with either a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a bar in a landmine base.
- Why Do It: Single-leg deadlifts reinforce proper hip hinge mechanics and enhance balance and coordination. They also help sort out muscular imbalances between sides. Do single-leg deadlifts without weight to start. Once you feel comfortable with the movement, hold a weight in one hand and kick that same leg back.
- Sets and Reps: Start with two sets of eight reps on each side.
- What It Is: A deadlift performed with a wide grip — the same grip one would use for a snatch — and is more back-focused than other deadlift variations.
- Why Do It: The snatch-grip deadlift mimics the initial part of a snatch, so Olympic weightlifters perform this variation frequently to improve their posture and strength off the floor. Even if you don’t practice Olympic lifting, the extreme grip width forces you into a position that seriously engages the lower back, while maintaining a hold on the bar itself torches your upper back and forearms.
- Sets and Reps: Start light with these. Do three to four sets of five to six reps.
- What It Is: This deadlift variation has the lifter stagger one foot back — not so far that it looks like a split squat, but just so the toes of the back foot align with the heel of the front foot.
- Why Do It: Think of this as the Lite version of the single-leg deadlift. The staggered stance greatly reduces the balance demand while still placing most of the tension on one leg, making it a great unilateral movement for beginners.
- Sets and Reps: Do three sets of eight to 10 reps on each leg.
- What It Is: The stiff-leg deadlift (SLDL) is similar to a conventional deadlift, but with three key differences — the hips start higher, the shins are vertical, and the knees are set behind the elbows.
- Why Do It: the stiff-leg deadlift places more focus on the lower back and hamstrings, two primary movers in all deadlifts. Powerlifters and other strength athletes use stiff-leg deadlifts to train those muscles in hopes of bolstering their conventional and/or sumo deadlift. Note: This is not a Romanian deadlift. The two variations may look similar, but in the SLDL, the movement begins on the floor, and the plates touch the ground on each rep.
- Sets and Reps: Start with three sets of eight to 12 reps.
- What It Is: The suitcase deadlift has the athlete hold a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell at one side of their body and performs a hip hinge.
- Why Do It: Holding a weight in only one hand will cause your torso to twist to that side. By actively resisting this throughout each rep, you should see much higher engagement from your core musculature. The offset loading also specifically trains stabilization of the spine, which should translate to other compound movements.
- Sets and Reps: Do three sets of 10 reps on each side.
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- What It Is: The sumo deadlift may be among the most controversial variations on this list. Many lifters decry sumo as “cheating” since the wide-stance shortens the range of motion, allowing the lifter to pull more weight. However, the sumo deadlift is not cheating.
- Why Do It: In addition to possibly pulling more weight, the extreme leg position in the sumo deadlift engages the leg musculature differently than a conventional deadlift — more legs and less lower back, making it friendly towards anyone working through an injury. While not every athlete can pull more with sumo, it’s worth experimenting with at least once if you train or compete in powerlifting.
- Sets and Reps: Same as conventional deadlifts.
- What It Is: The lifter uses a trap bar — a hexagonal-shaped frame with neutral-grip handles and sleeves on either side. There are different trap bars, but the standard model has higher handles, reducing the range of motion slightly.
- Why Do It: Trap bar deadlifts tend to be more mechanically efficient since the weight is aligned with the athlete’s center of gravity instead of in front of it. Also, pulling with a neutral grip is easier on the elbows, shoulders, and wrists. These two alterations allow most people to pull more weight more comfortably. Also, if you’re tall (think over 6’2″), partial deadlifts and trap bar pulls may be a better option — you have a longer way to pull the weight, so shortening the range of motion will even things out a bit.
- Sets and Reps: Trap bar deadlifts can be substituted for any other deadlift movement, with sets and reps kept the same.
More Deadlift Content
It should go without saying that not every lifter needs to utilize every deadlift variation on this list. While keeping most of your exercise routine focused on the same goal is wise, it is never bad to have extra tools at your disposal to accommodate an injury, encourage new muscle growth, or change things up for fun.
If these 24 variations weren’t enough, then feel free to satisfy your appetite with these deadlift-related articles from BarBend:
- 11 Deadlift Benefits That Are Backed By Science
- The Heaviest Deadlifts Ever Pulled
- 6 Core exercises That Will Improve your Squat and Deadlift
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