We will be introducing the 10 best deadlift exercises for strength building and muscle mass. These variations are all you need to know for any deadlifting workout routine.
These deadlift selections covered are used by top powerlifters and bodybuilders as a strong foundation for the other exercises in their routine. Deadlifts are the most important weightlifting exercises you can do, as well as the most dangerous.
This guide will help get your deadlift routine off to a safe and effective start. Here are 10 ways to deadlift properly:
Correct Deadlift Form Is #1
There are more than 10 deadlift variations that you can choose to perform. Regardless of what muscles they target and what their purpose is, there are some general guidelines that you should follow for all of the variations. Otherwise, the details of each technique are described under the relevant section. The common tips to follow are:
- Always look straight ahead. (Don’t look upwards or downwards.)
- Make sure your feet don’t lift from the ground. (Maintain thorough contact on toes and heels.)
- Tense all of your muscles during deadlifts. (Flex your lower back, upper back, chest and core.)
- Some people overarch their back as much as others bend it forward. Keep it neutral.
- Don’t drop the bar from the utmost position. Lower it down in a controlled manner, otherwise, you risk injury as well as ruining the form of your next repetition.
- Inhale at the bottom of the movement, exhale at the top, or throughout the movement.
- Wear long, thick pants if you want to protect your shins. Consider using straps as well.
For more instructions, check out our article on How To Deadlift Properly. Next we will get into more detailed deadlift instructions directed for each of these 10 deadlift movements.
The 10 Best Deadlift Exercises for 2021 and Best Deadlift Variations
These are the best deadlifts for muscle gains, strength, core, and muscle mass used by both athletes and amateurs.
Most of these function as deadlift barbell exercises, but can also be done with kettlebell or dumbbell sets. The best way on how to increase your deadlift is to work these into your back and leg workout exercises.
The conventional deadlift is a muscle building and the best strength building exercise requiring the activation and use of several muscle groups. It is the easiest deadlift variation to perform and usually, all beginners start here. Even though this should be the best deadlift workout for beginners, it’s the most important deadlift exercise variation for any weightlifter.
Some advanced athletes and coaches recommend that a gym-goer should have been actively working out for at least 6 months before performing deadlifts. Some lifters prefer alternating their palm direction with each set. Others prefer both palms facing their body. It’s up to you.
How to do a Conventional Deadlift:
- Get in a shoulder-width apart stance. Place the barbell so that it crosses right over your shoelaces.
- Perform a hinge movement, starting from your hips. Push your glutes back and grab the bar slightly wider than the position of your feet.
- At this point, your hips should be almost parallel to the floor. Inhale, and pull the bar.
- Keep your shoulders back at all times and your core tight.
- Ensure that the entirety of your foot is on the ground at all times.
- Pull up, and return the bar to the floor with the same speed, without dropping it.
The sumo deadlift requires a wider foot stance and is usually the go-to choice by many athletes who want to relieve a part of the tension that deadlifts place on the lower back. In this variation, the arms of the lifter are innermost to the legs, right the opposite to the conventional deadlift. The Sumo deadlift alternative is considered easier in terms of strength requirements and allows you to lift more weight than the conventional deadlift.
How to do a Sumo Deadlift:
- Place your feet wider than your shoulders. Your toes should also be facing slightly outwards in both directions.
- Your arms should freely be able to grasp the barbell below without hitting your knees.
- Your back should be flat, and your shins perpendicular to the ground, in a vertical position.
- Tighten your back muscles, cores and quads, squeeze your glutes and keep your shoulders back. Breathe in, and then pull in a vertical motion.
- The majority of the power comes from your legs. Exhale while pulling up.
- When you have successfully lifted the weight, don’t let it bring your chest down. Keep flexing all muscles and drop it with a controlled speed. Repeat.
This isn’t a deadlift variation that you spot in every gym. Unlike all other deadlift variations, the main function and idea here is to stress the upper muscles of your body. Especially the upper back. It is most commonly performed by MMA fighters, boxers, wrestlers, and other types of martial artist sport fighters. To perform it, you need to hold the barbell not with your hands, but with your elbows.
How to do a Zercher Deadlift:
- Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. (Wider than the conventional deadlift method.) Your toes should be pointing outward, like in the Sumo deadlift. But your feet shouldn’t be as wide.
- Make sure that your crotch is right above the center of the barbell, then move an inch backward. Squat and hinge yourself forward, so that you can place the bar between your forearms and biceps muscles.
- In order to properly place the bar, make fists and run them below the bar. You can either keep your arms crossed at chest level or separated.
- Flex all the muscles that you can possibly think of, aside from your neck.
- Focus not on lifting the barbell, but lifting your chest, without moving your arms too much. Also, ensure that your armpits are pressed together to your body.
- Lower the barbell in a controlled manner and repeat the exercise.
The main difference between a conventional deadlift and a smith machine is that here your range of motion isn’t as flexible. A smith machine deadlift would be recommended only if you lack a proper barbell or heavy dumbbells to perform the lift. The reason for that is the inclined (non-vertical) line of movement of the bar, which is contrary to the idea of performing a vertical deadlift.
How to do a Smith Machine Deadlift:
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower the smith machine’s barbell to the lowest possible level and go behind the bar. It is a good idea to wear long and thick trousers to protect your shins. (You will know which way to stand because most smith machines are either vertical or have a slight tilt toward the side you must stand on.)
- Hinge yourself forward, until you can’t hinge any further without moving your knees then move your knees around an inch forward and grab the bar slightly wider than where your feet are.
- Keep your chest forward, and shoulders back. Pull, tense all your muscles and push with your legs.
- Maintain a flat back, neutral spine position, perched chest, and shoulders back posture.
- When you lift the barbell up, lock your muscles, and squeeze your leg muscles.
- Lay the barbell on the ground in a controlled manner and repeat.
The Romanian deadlift can be seen in almost any gym. Not only is it almost as easy to perform as the conventional deadlift, but it also puts a very strict emphasis on your hamstrings. A great benefit of the Romanian, or sometimes also called stiff-legged deadlift is that you don’t need to put a ton of weights on the barbell for it to become an effective muscle-building exercise.
How to do a Romanian Deadlift:
- Place your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your legs straight and hinge at your hips. Maintain your shoulders pulled back and your spine straight, not overarched.
- Grab the barbell as you would while performing conventional deadlifts.
- Tense your muscles, maintain your legs straight throughout the whole movement.
- Lift the weight by hinging back from your hips. Squeeze your glutes, hamstrings and quads.
- Repeat by lowering down the weight in the same controlled manner.
The single-leg deadlift can initially be performed without weights so that you can get a good idea of what exactly the proper form of the movement looks like. It is usually performed by athletes when they either lack the full equipment of a gym and have a kettlebell or dumbbell at their disposal, or when they want to increase their core strength.
How to do a Single Leg Deadlift:
- Place your feet straight below your hips. Start with the weaker leg. Shift your entire weight on.
- Move the other leg backward, without moving your knee. Use your hip for the entire movement, and don’t bend the leg.
- If you are standing on your right leg, lower your right arm toward the ground, mimicking holding a dumbbell or a kettlebell. Do the same for the other leg.
- Tip your torso forward like a pendulum, while lifting your leg in the opposite direction.
- Perform the movement until the plane of your back, hamstring, and lifted leg, becomes parallel to the floor.
The snatch grip deadlift can be performed for two reasons. When performing the snatch grip deadlift, athletes are either trying to improve their snatch strength and form, or they are aiming to limit the tension in their lower back.
This deadlift variation puts more emphasis on the upper back. They are sometimes used by Crossfitters.
How to do a Snatch Grip Deadlift:
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart, slightly narrower or wider, depending on preference and height.
- Squat until your hips are parallel to the floor.
- Grab the bar on the outermost placement lines that are indicated on it. (If there are none, that would be slightly wider than a traditional bench press grip.)
- With a straight back, neutral spine, and retracted shoulders, pull the weight up by pushing the ground with your legs.
- Keep your muscles and core tense throughout the entirety of the movement.
- Lower the barbell to the ground in a controlled manner. Repeat. This is one repetition.
The trap bar allows for the majority of the deadlift variations above to be performed with it, instead of with a traditional barbell. It greatly relieves lower back pressure, because the center of mass lies within your body due to the form of the trap bar.
An interesting observation here is that most athletes are able to lift a heavier weight in a trap bar than with a conventional barbell. It’s also easier on your shins and knee scrapes.
How to do a Trap Bar Deadlift:
- Get inside the trap bar. Place your legs in your desired position. (Either for a conventional deadlift or for a Romanian deadlift. Sumo isn’t an option here.)
- Follow the general tips listed above. For either: Conventional Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, or Snatch Grip Deadlift
- Avoid caving your knees in by pushing them outward throughout the movement. (Very common mistake with most beginners while performing trap bar deadlifts.)
The Rack Pull Deadlift is a deadlift variation that allows you to put on a ton of weight. No endurance or cardio here, just a straight up power move. Due to the much shorter range of motion, this exercise allows for your back muscles to get more engaged in the movement than your hamstrings.
Rack pulls, when performed correctly, put an emphasis on both lower back muscles, as well as upper ones. For this one, you may want to deadlift with straps.
How to do a Rack Pull Deadlift:
- Select the position you want your rack. (Below knee, above knee level, or in the middle of your thigh.) The lower you place the rack, the harder the movement and the greater the range of motion. Be advised to start at the highest point and work yourself down the ladder. Also have in mind that the lower you put the rack, the more you involve your leg muscles in the equation.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Grab the bar slightly wider than your feet position with your palms facing your body.
- Tense your back, chest, and core muscles. Keep your shoulders retracted and pull the weight upwards in a vertical manner.
- Lower the barbell until it hits the rack in a controlled manner.
The deficit deadlift is the exact opposite of the rack pulls deadlift, because it increases the range of motion of the conventional deadlift. The most common approach to increasing the range of motion is to step on something as tall as 2 – 4 inches.
Your hips should never end up higher than your shoulders in any part of the movement. Remember that rule, and use it to regulate the height of the thing you step on. Get some additional stretch, but don’t push it.
How to do a Deficit Deadlift:
- Place your feet in a shoulder-width apart position, and make sure your shins are around 1 inch away from the barbell.
- Grab the barbell slightly wider than the position of your feet.
- Touch the barbell with your shins.
- Squeeze all your muscles and focus on flexing your chest, core, back, lower back, and glutes.
- Lift the bar, as close as possible to your legs and body.
- Release it in a controlled manner and repeat.
Beginner Deadlift Workouts
How to incorporate the Deadlift Exercise into your Workout Routine
Most beginner athletes typically incorporate deadlifts in their workouts as a part of their leg day or their back or pull day. Don’t overdo it with your beginner deadlift variations
Depending on your workout scheme, if you have experience of at least 6 months in the gym, you can incorporate deadlifts once per week. Make sure to start with the conventional ones either with a barbell or a trap bar.
When to do a Conventional Deadlift
When you choose to perform deadlifts as part of your back routine or pull-day routine, make sure to place the exercise at the beginning of your workout, right after a thoroughly performed warm-up.
Placing the deadlifts at the end of the workout poses danger of injury and bad form, especially for beginners and even for intermediate athletes.
When to do Romanian Deadlifts
Beginners can place Romanian deadlifts as the second or third exercise during legs day, after Squats or Leg press. They are a great way of stressing your hamstrings. On the other hand, make sure to perform only one deadlift exercise per week.
If you want to do both Romanian deadlifts and conventional ones, what you can do is alternate them each week.
Sets and repetitions
A traditional approach for a beginner would be to perform 3 to 5 sets of deadlifts in case of conventional deadlifts, or 3 sets of Romanian Deadlifts.
The ideal rep range for muscle growth and strength would be between 10 and 12 reps.
Advanced Deadlift Workouts
How to Incorporate a Deadlift Workout Routine
Bodybuilders, powerlifters, and strongmen incorporate deadlifts in a very different manner in their workouts. If your main goal is achieving power, you can perform deadlifts as the sole exercise in your pull day workout. This is the best deadlift workout for power and mass.
Strongman and powerlifter routines
|1 x 10 – 12 deadlift||30 – 40 % of maximum|
|3 x 6 – 8 deadlift||70 – 75 % of maximum|
|2 x 5 deadlift||80 % of maximum|
|2 x 3 deadlift||90 % of maximum|
|2 x 1 deadlift||95 % of maximum|
Exemplary strongman or powerlifter deadlift workout for strength
In order to perform this workout, warm up thoroughly and rest 2 minutes or more between sets. For the heavier sets, use a belt and straps, in order to ensure the safety of your joints and spine.
Bodybuilders incorporate rack pulls, conventional deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts in their bodybuilding routines. They usually perform all of these movements during the same week but on a much larger volume per set, depending on their current goals.
Since your main purpose won’t be to achieve the deadlift world record, most bodybuilders will only deadlift one or two days a week. They tend to keep a more well rounded leg workout to build leg muscles evenly.
Keep in mind when scheduling your deadlift routine, that this is a compound workout. You will be hitting several different muscle groups at one time. This is another reason that you will want to give your muscles adequate rest time between deadlift days.
Best Deadlift Exercises for Gains – Wrap Up
Whichever deadlift variation that you decide to focus on, the most important rule is to perform them correctly and with proper form. This can either be the single most dangerous exercise for you or the best strength and muscle building exercise you ever used.
Another rule of thumb is not to do back-to-back deadlift days as this can only result in injury and reduced results. Rotate these “best” deadlift exercises into your weekly exercise routine properly and for beginners, no more than once a week.
If you have any further questions or comments on the best deadlift workouts and variations, please leave a message below and we will respond.