Blog
deadlift form

Deadlifts: How To, Muscles Worked, and Variations

If you’re looking to spice up your usual gym routine, then it's a great idea to learn the right deadlift form, and how to deadlift properly. Not only can this revolutionise how you view your gym routine, but there are numerous deadlift variations to ensure your schedule is always different.

So, whether you’re curious about proper deadlift technique and how to deadlift properly, or you’re wondering about the muscles worked in a deadlift, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about deadlifts and how to perform a deadlift.

We’ve also outlined some of the key deadlift variations to be aware of, and how you can implement them effectively and efficiently.

Contents:

But if you’re already confident in everything relating to exercise, and you’re well aware of how to deadlift, then perhaps a career in fitness could be your calling.

OriGym’s flagship personal training diploma is the industry leader, offering 7 days a week expert support, a wealth of personal training resources, ultra-flexible payment plans, and guaranteed post-course interviews at gyms across the country.

If you’re interested, download our FREE prospectus today, and explore more of what we offer, and how it could be ideal for you.

What Is A Deadlift?

While this may seem basic, especially as you’re likely looking for deadlift variations, or how to do a deadlift that can make all the difference in your workouts, but we feel it’s vitally important to address any misconceptions before we get started.

Put simply, deadlifts predominantly utilise a barbell (usually stacked on each side with plate weights), and test your strength and muscular endurance by making you adopt a specific form. 

Form for every deadlift variation is different (we’ll examine it in more detail later), but it often focuses on the muscles in the legs, back, and chest, as well as strengthening the core. 

You’ll bend at the hips, with your torso in line with the ground, ensuring that you grasp the bar with the correct barbell deadlift form (using both hands firmly). You’ll then  straighten up so that the bar is level with your hips. 

This is often done for a set number of repetitions, placing the bar back down in between each movement, and adhering to that same strict deadlift technique throughout.

If you’re serious about deadlifting, it’s worth learning more about how they can benefit you and your body - explore more in our guide to the benefits of deadlifts.

However, the technique for deadlift variations can change, which is why we’ve compiled a complete exploration of each of the deadlift alternatives we’ll examine, as well as what muscles that deadlift works, and deadlift tips and tricks to follow to ensure you’re completing it with the correct deadlift form.

How To Perform A Deadlift

Starting off simple, let’s first look at how to deadlift correctly, as well as proper deadlift technique, and the deadlift muscles that are worked as part of this exercise. This will provide you with the ideal base, especially if you’re new to deadlifting, or are just starting to explore deadlift alternatives.

Set UpTo achieve the correct deadlift position, you’ll need a bar, as well as any plate weights that you want to add to increase the level of difficulty. This needs to be placed on a sturdy surface to prevent slipping.

Most gym flooring will have specialised non-slip floors, but if you’re working out at home, it’s worth investing in a great home gym flooring surface.

Deadlift Starting Position

  • Start with the bar placed on the floor (or on small boxes/a squat rack if you don’t have plates on each side). Place your feet under the bar, so that it aligns with your laces.
  • Hinge at the hips, keeping your torso in line with the floor
  • Bend your knees slightly so that you’re able to reach the bar, and form a firm overhand grip (hands on top of the bar). Make sure that your hands are spaced shoulder width apart, as this will allow you the greatest amount of grip on the bar.
  • Ensure that your core is properly engaged. This is crucial, as it involves tightening and preparing your abdominal and stomach muscles for exercise, and can make all the difference, especially if you’re looking to use deadlifting forms as a way of losing weight. Click here to learn more about engaging your core.

How To Deadlift

  • Holding the bar firmly, inhale, and slowly bring the bar up to hip-level, straightening your back and shoulders as you do so
  • Exhale, and hold this position for around 1 - 2 seconds
  • Inhale, and lower the bar back to the floor in a controlled manner
  • Exhale as you reach your deadlift starting position
  • Maintain the slow ascent and controlled descent with each rep you complete.

Muscles Worked

Gluteus maximus (glutes), quadriceps femoris (quads), hamstrings, trapezius (upper back), lats (sides), and the erector spinae (lower back).

Common Mistakes To Avoid 

  • Bending Your Back - It is vitally important, especially when considering proper deadlift form, that you avoid overextending or flexing your back when you deadlift. This can cause serious issues, especially with spine or lower back problems.
  • Moving Too Quickly - Straightening your back too quickly can cause you to compress your spine, resulting in severe back pain. Make sure to control both your lift and your drop.
  • Improper Grip - It’s important to remember, with a deadlift exercise, that you’re holding a heavy weight. Ensure you grip the bar properly so as to avoid dropping it, or losing your grip and therefore affecting your form.

Deadlift Reps and Sets

  • To train for muscular hypertrophy, we’d advise completing 8 - 12 reps for 3 - 5 sets using a heavy weight.
  • If you’re looking to train for strength, we would recommend completing less than 8 reps for 1 - 2 sets with as heavy a weight as you can lift. 
  • Or, if you’re wanting to develop muscular tone and endurance, then we’d suggest completing more than 12 reps for over 5 sets with a lighter weight, or one that is more manageable.

 

Deadlift Progression and Regression

To Make This Deadlift Easier (Regression) 

  • One way you can make your deadlift that little bit easier is lowering the weight of the plates you’ve stacked on each side of your barbell, ultimately making it easier to lift. Most plate weights will go as low as 2.5kg, which is ideal if you’re just beginning to look at deadlifting form.
  • If you’re struggling to hit the top of the rep range for your desired goal, you can always lower this if you’re happy with the weight you’re currently working with. This allows you to create a baseline to improve from, too.

To Make This Deadlift Harder (Progression) 

  • Once you’re comfortable with the weight you’re lifting, and you’re able to consistently complete the highest amount of reps in your range, you can make it more difficult by adding further plate weights to either side. Do this gradually, though, as this allows you to develop your deadlift technique as you increase the weight.
  • You may also want to increase your reps to the maximum amount for your goal, depending on your level of confidence with your deadlifting form. However, you’ll start to stagnate if you continue to do more without increasing the weight.
  • It’s also a good idea to slow your movements during your deadlift, as this increases the strain on your muscles, and allows you to prolong the time you’ll be utilising your muscles for.

The 14 Best Deadlift Variations

It’s vitally important to understand how to deadlift properly, especially when it comes to deadlift variations. We’ve compiled a list of our personal favourite deadlift types, alongside providing deadlift teaching points on everything you need to know about deadlift technique, good deadlift form, and the muscles a deadlift works.

 

#1 - Sumo Deadlift

One of the more popular deadlift variations, the sumo deadlift exercise adjusts the starting of the more conventional deadlift technique, and therefore changes the deadlift technique, and the muscles this deadlift works. 

Set Up: As with all deadlifts and deadlift variations, you’ll need a bar, loaded with any plate weights you want to use. This is usually placed on the floor, but you may find it easier to place the bar on small boxes, especially if you’re not using plate weights, or you’re just learning the proper deadlift technique.

Sumo Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Start with the bar on the floor in front of you (or on a small box, if you’re deadlifting without plate weights).
  • Engage your core. This involves tightening your abdominal muscles, so that they’re prepared for the exercise you’ll be undertaking.
  • Stand with your feet roughly twice your shoulder width apart, or as wide as is comfortable. Ensure that your feet are underneath the bar, roughly aligning with the middle of your foot, or where the laces would normally be.
  • Bend at the hips, with your arms directly below your shoulders, and form a sturdy grip on the bar. Bend your knees slightly to ensure that you aren’t straining to reach.
  • Grip the bar firmly with a mixed grip (one hand in an overhand position, and one in an underhand position).

Sumo Deadlift Execution:

  • Maintaining a firm mixed grip on the bar, hinge at the hips, and move the bar up towards your hips.
  • Once you’ve reached hip-level, hold the position for 1 - 2 seconds
  • Slowly return the bar to the floor, going through the same range of motion you used to lift the bar
  • Complete your chosen amount of reps, ensuring controlled movements throughout.

Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Gluteus maximus (glutes), hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), erector spinae (lower back), trapezius (upper back)

 

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Bending Your Back - As with the deadlift correct form, it’s crucial with a sumo deadlift that you ensure a neutral spine position throughout the exercise, as bending your back can cause serious issues and pain.
  • Bad Foot Position - The key difference between a sumo squat and more traditional deadlift form is the position of the feet, and in order to get the most out of sumo squats, we’d strongly recommend having your feet the correct distance apart.

 

#2 - Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

One of the more important deadlift variations, especially given its prevalence in strength training, as well as being an Olympic-level deadlifting form. It functions as the cornerstone of many intense workouts, and learning how to do a deadlift exercise of this nature can revolutionise your routines.

Set Up: Load your bar with your selected amount of weighted plates.

Romanian Deadlift Starting Position: 

  • Hold your bar at hip-level, with your shoulders back, your back slightly arched, and your knees slightly bent
  • Maintain a firm overhand grasp on the bar
  • Engage your core (tightening and strengthening your abdominal muscles).

Romanian Deadlift Execution:

  • Start the movement by inhaling, pushing your hips back, and lowering the bar slowly towards the floor
  • Maintain a straight back throughout, and try and keep the bar as controlled as possible, keeping it close to your body
  • Once you’ve reached the floor, exhale, and hold the position for 1 - 2 seconds
  • Inhale, and return to the starting position, ensuring that the bar is close to your body as this is a key aspect of this deadlift technique.
  • Complete your selected amount of reps for this deadlift exercise, maintaining the controlled movements as you do so.

 

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus (glutes), erector spinae (lower back), trapezius (upper back), forearms.

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Loss Of Control - With the Romanian deadlift, it’s vital to ensure you keep control of the bar throughout the movement, as your deadlift technique here involves holding the bar to start with. Losing control can mean you drop the weight, which can be dangerous.
  • Bending Too Much - You need to have a slight bend of the knees and back during this deadlift variation, but bending too much can cause serious postural issues, especially if you’re using heavier weights. Learn more about the importance of having good posture here.

 

#3 - Kettlebell Deadlift High Pull

One of the more unconventional deadlift variations, as it doesn’t involve the more traditional bar with plate weights. It is, however, just as intense as other deadlift types we’ve looked at. Explore more in our guide to the benefits and uses of kettlebells.

Set Up: Choose your ideal kettlebell weight, and bring it over to your workout area. This can be as heavy or as light as you feel comfortable with, but as with most deadlifting forms, the more weight you use, the greater the results will ultimately be. 

Kettlebell Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, maintaining a straight back, and a slight bend in the knees
  • Firmly grasp your kettlebell by the handle with both hands in an overhand position, holding it at hip level.
  • Engage your core thoroughly.

Kettlebell Deadlift Execution:

  • Inhale and squat down, bending at the knees and ensuring that you keep your back straight by hinging at the hips
  • Ensure you’re holding the kettlebell firmly as you do so
  • As you come back up, move your arms up to form an “M” shape, maintaining a firm grip on the kettlebell. Your elbows should be level with your ears at the peak of your movement. Exhale.
  • Inhale, and return your arms slowly to a neutral position. Exhale once you reach the deadlift starting position.
  • Complete your selected amount of reps and sets for this exercise.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Trapezius (upper back), deltoids (shoulders), adductors (upper legs), quadriceps (quads), rhomboids (upper back), glutes, hamstrings.

Common Mistakes To Avoid: 

  • Moving Too Quickly - This is an exercise that requires careful control, especially as you’ll be bringing the kettlebell up to face-level. Lacking control or careful monitoring of your movements can cause serious issues, especially if you’re using a particularly heavy weight.
  • Improper Form - With all deadlifts and deadlift variations, it’s hugely important to make sure that you maintain proper form, following each step carefully to ensure that your body is correctly positioned. Incorrect deadlift form can lead to strains, pain and more serious injury, especially when using heavy weights.

 

#4 - Deficit Deadlift (Underhand Grip)

The deficit deadlift is often not included in workout regimes, but it can be just as challenging as more traditional deadlift techniques. We’ll learn more about how to perform a deadlift exercise of this nature, as well as the correct deadlift form.

Set Up: Place a weight plate flat on the floor. Set up your bar in front of the plate, ensuring that it’s a suitable distance away so that you can place your feet under the bar. You’ll be standing on this plate to complete your deadlifts.

Underhand Deficit Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Stand on top of the weight plate you’ve previously placed on the floor, with your feet roughly hip-width apart, or as far apart as the plate will allow.
  • Bending at the hips, crouch down and place your hands in an underhand grip on the bar, holding it firmly.
  • Your knees should be bent, and your glutes should be pushed out.
  • Fully engage your core.

Underhand Deficit Deadlift Execution:

  • Grip the bar firmly, using an underhand grip.
  • Inhale, and stand up slowly, extend your legs and back until you’re holding the bar at hip-level.
  • Exhale, and hold this position for around 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Slowly lower the bar back to the floor, inhaling and pushing out your glutes and bending your knees to place the bar down. Exhale as you reach a neutral position.
  • Complete your chosen amount of reps.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Glutes, quadriceps (quads), erector spinae (lower back), adductors (upper legs), hamstrings, soleus (lower legs).

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Improper Grip - Because you’ll be performing this deadlift variation on top of a plate, it’s vital to keep a firm underhand grip on the bar, especially as your footing may not be as sure as it would have otherwise been.
  • Moving Too Quickly - As with all deadlifts and deadlift variations, it’s important to control how quickly you complete the movement, especially as doing it too quickly can cause injury.

#5 - Deficit Deadlift (Overhand Grip)

Our second deficit deadlift technique involves using a different grip on the bar in order to exercise different muscles, and provide you with increased control and support. Understanding key deadlift variations is often crucial to creating an effective cross training workout.

Set Up: Similarly to our previous deadlift variation, place a plate weight on the floor, directly in front of your bar and weights. Remember that you’ll be standing on this plate to complete your deadlift, so make sure it’s at an appropriate distance from the bar.

 

Overhand Deficit Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Stand on top of the weight plate you’ve previously placed, with your feet approximately hip distance apart.
  • Bending at the hip, reach down and place your hands on top of the bar, gripping it firmly with an overhand grip. 
  • Make sure to keep your knees soft, bending gently as you reach down for the bar.
  • Ensure your glutes are pushed out as you bend at the hip.
  • Engage your core.

Overhand Deficit Deadlift Execution:

  • Gripping the bar, inhale and start to straighten yourself up, starting with your hips and knees.
  • Bring the bar up to hip-level, pushing into the plate with your feet to ensure the bar lifts correctly.
  • Once you’ve reached hip-level, exhale, and hold the position for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Inhale before slowly lower the bar back to the floor, hinging at the hips, pushing out your glutes and bending your knees return to the starting position.
  • Exhale as you reach a neutral position.
  • Complete your chosen amount of reps for this exercise.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Glutes, quadriceps (quads), erector spinae (lower back), adductors (upper legs), hamstrings, soleus (lower legs)

 

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Loose Grip - Having too loose a grip on the bar can be detrimental, especially to both your progress, and proper deadlift form. Ensure you’re always in control of what you’re lifting.
  • Overbending - This can be a serious issue, especially if you don’t adhere to the correct deadlift form. You risk pulling a muscle, or more serious injury, especially if you bend too much from your back - the bending should be a gentle movement from the hips.

 

#6 - Deficit Deadlift (Mixed Grip)

Our final alternative for the deficit deadlift technique involves a mixed grip, ensuring that you have complete control over the bar, and can therefore enjoy the benefits that come with learning how to deadlift properly.

Set Up: As with our previous deficit deadlifts, you’ll need to place a weight plate on the ground, in front of your bar and weights. Make sure it’s an appropriate distance away, so that you can put your feet under the bar. This is a key component of all deficit deadlifts, and one that characterises this deadlift variation.

Mixed Grip Deficit Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Place your feet firmly on the weight plate about hip-width apart, making sure that the bar is over the middle of your feet, roughly where your laces are.
  • Bending at hips, reach down towards the bar, keeping your knees soft so that they bend easily and effectively.
  • Take your right hand, and firmly grasp the top of the bar in an overhand grip.
  • Take your left hand, and firmly grasp the underside of the bar in an underhand grip.
  • Make sure that your core is engaged.

Mixed Grip Deficit Deadlift Execution:

  • Ensure that you have a firm grip with both hands, one underhand and the other overhand.
  • Inhale, and gently push through your heels to achieve a standing position, keeping a neutral spine position.
  • Make sure to fully extend the hips, as this is where the majority of your pushing force will come from.
  • Once you’ve fully extended, exhale, and hold the bar at hip-level for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Inhale, and slowly lower the bar back to the floor, bending at the hips again to ensure a neutral spine position. Exhale once the bar has reached the floor again.
  • Complete your chosen amount of reps for this exercise.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Glutes, quadriceps (quads), erector spinae (lower back), adductors (upper legs), hamstrings, soleus (lower legs)

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Improper Spine Position - Having a non-neutral spine can mean that your back takes on additional pressure, which can in turn cause some of the more common weightlifting injuries or strains. Always ensure your spine is in a neutral position before, during and after any deadlift, or any of the deadlift variations we’ve looked at.
  • Rough Movements - It’s important, with all deadlift types, to ensure that your movements are smooth, and that you don’t rush through them. This can cause additional strain or stress to be put onto the muscles you’re working, or you could lose some of the key structure of your deadlifting form.

 

#7 - Rack Pull (Underhand Grip)

Our next deadlift variation involves the use of a squat rack, which acts as a platform from which to complete your deadlift. Most gyms will have one of these key pieces of kit, but if you’re looking to exercise in a home gym, OriGym have compiled a complete report on the best squat racks.

Set Up: Place your bar and weights on the squat rack, so that you can easily access the bar. We’d recommend placing it on the lowest bar of your squat rack, as this means you’ll be able to fully experience this deadlift variation’s benefits.

Underhand Rack Pull Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Stand in a shallow squat position, with your feet shoulder width apart. This provides you with a stable base to lift from.
  • Maintaining a neutral spine, bend at the hips and extend the arms.
  • Place both hands under the bar, forming a firm underhand grip.
  • Ensure that your core is properly engaged.

Underhand Rack Pull Deadlift Execution: 

  • Inhale and push through your heels, rising to achieve a standing position.
  • As you rise, bring the bar to rest against your hips. Make sure to extend your hips so that you aren’t straining yourself to try and bring the bar close. Exhale. 
  • Inhale, and start to return the bar slowly to its original position, resting it on the squat rack bars. Exhale once the bar is back to a neutral position, and placed securely on the squat rack.
  • Complete your chosen number of reps for this deadlift exercise.

 

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Erector spinae (lower back), gluteus maximus (glutes), hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), soleus (lower legs).

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Non-Neutral Spine - Having a non-neutral position for your spine (overextended, or twisted awkwardly, for instance) can cause serious issues, especially if you’re lifting particularly heavy weights. Always ensure you’re in a neutral position, and that your legs take the bulk of your weight.
  • Improper Grip - This is of the utmost importance when you’re lifting heavy weights. Make sure you’re gripping the bar tightly, and have complete control over the bar before attempting to lift it.

 

#8 - Rack Pull (Overhand Grip)

Our second variation of the well-renowned rack pull deadlift technique involves the use of a squat rack to provide a stable platform to place your weights on before lifting. 

Set Up: Place your bar onto the squat rack, ensuring that you can easily access it, and that you have space around you to move. As in the video example above, we’d suggest putting the bar on the lower rung of the squat rack, as this provides a much more manageable platform.

Overhand Rack Pull Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent and your spine in a neutral position, holding a shallow squat. 
  • The bar should be on the squat rack, in an accessible position.
  • Extend your arms and place both hands on the top of the bar, forming a firm overhand grip.
  • Fully engage your core.

Overhand Rack Pull Deadlift Execution:

  • Inhale, and extend your body by pushing through your heels, maintaining that strong overhand grip on the bar.
  • Push out your hips to give extra thrust, helping to move the bar up to hip level.
  • Once at hip-level, exhale, and hold the pose for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Inhale before gently returning to your starting position, placing the bar down on the squat rack. Exhale as you place the
  • bar down.
  • Complete your chosen amount of reps for this exercise.

 

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Erector spinae (lower back), glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), soleus (lower legs)

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Improper Grip - It’s absolutely vital to maintain a proper grip on the bar, especially if you’re lifting heavier weights, or you’re uncertain with deadlifting. Make sure to firmly grasp the bar always, ensuring that you’re in control of your lift.
  • Spine Position - It’s crucial to make sure that your spine stays in a neutral position, as twisting or altering this could lead to strains or injury.

 

#9 - Rack Pull (Mixed Grip)

Another deadlift variation based around the rack pull, this involves a mixed grip to ensure a much more stable platform to base your deadlifts around, as well as providing you with additional control.

Set Up: Place your bar (along with any additional weights) onto the squat rack. This not only provides a sturdy platform for you to place the bar back down on, but it also elevates the bar that extra bit you might need to get going.

Mixed Grip Rack Pull Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Your bar should already be placed on the squat rack, so that it’s easily accessible.
  • Approach the bar, and get into a shallow squat position. This involves your feet being shoulder-width apart, bending at the hips, and keeping your knees soft and flexible.
  • It’s vital here that you maintain a neutral spine (i.e. not in an unnatural position), and extend your arms.
  • Ensure that your core is fully engaged.
  • Place your right hand on top of the bar in an overhand grip, grasping it firmly.
  • Place your left hand underneath the bar in an underhand grip, grasping it firmly.

Mixed Grip Rack Pull Execution:

  • Gripping firmly with both hands, inhale and start to lift the weight.
  • Push through your heels to bring the bar up to hip-level. Extend your hips to generate additional thrust that helps with moving the bar.
  • Once the bar is at hip-level, exhale and hold the position for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Inhale, and slowly bring the bar back down to the starting position, maintaining a neutral spine as you do so. Exhale once you reach a neutral position.
  • Complete your selected amount of reps for this exercise.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Erector spinae (lower back), glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), soleus (lower legs)

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Improper Grip - Especially in a mixed grip deadlift, having the right grip is incredibly important. It provides you with much more control and stability when it comes to lifting.
  • Locking Knees - This can be dangerous, especially as inflexible knees can mean you put extra strain on your legs without allowing them to be flexible and absorb the shock of the workout. Always ensure your knees are soft, and able to flex properly.

----

Enjoying our deadlift tips and tricks? Here’s 3 more articles you may find useful:

 

#10 - Sumo Rack Pull (Underhand Grip)

A deadlift variation that offers the best of both worlds, combining the sumo squat position with the added benefits of a squat rack. Let’s explore the proper deadlift form for this variation, as well as the muscles worked in this deadlift.

Set Up: Place your bar onto the squat rack, and affix any additional plate weights properly. This is integral to ensuring you can perform your exercise with perfect deadlift form.

Underhand Sumo Rack Pull Starting Position:

  • Place your feet under the bar, further apart than shoulder distance, and pointing your toes outwards. You can use the squat rack legs as a way to determine distance, as demonstrated in the video.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position (meaning your back isn’t bent or twisted awkwardly) and bend at the hips, extending your glutes.
  • Extend your arms fully, and engage your core.
  • Place both hands under the bar in an underhand grip, and grasp it firmly.

Underhand Sumo Rack Pull Execution:

  • Inhale, and push upwards using your heels, keeping your spine in a neutral position as you do so.
  • Extend the hips to provide additional thrust and stability.
  • Once the bar is level with your hips, exhale and hold the position for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Inhale, and slowly lower the bar back to the squat rack. Once the bar reaches the squat rack, exhale.
  • Complete your selected number of reps.

 

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Erector spinae (lower back), glutes, hamstrings (click here to explore more about hamstring stretches and exercises), quadriceps (quads), soleus (lower legs)

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Improper Foot Position - One of the main sticking points for this exercise is often the foot position. They need to be extended beyond the shoulders, and the toes need to be pointed outwards. 
  • Spine Position - It’s crucially important to maintain a neutral spine throughout this exercise, as twisting or moving your back can be detrimental, and cause unnecessary injury or pain. 

 

#11 - Sumo Rack Pull (Overhand Grip)

A further variant of the sumo deadlift exercise, this deadlift alternative is combined with the incredibly beneficial rack pull, and makes use of the overhand grip to create a comprehensive deadlift variation. 

Set Up: Place the bar onto the squat rack, ensuring it’s in an accessible position, and that you have plenty of space around you to complete this deadlift variation.

Overhand Sumo Rack Pull Starting Position:

  • Approach the bar, and stand with your feet wider than shoulder distance apart. You can utilise the edges of the squat rack if you’re unsure of where to put your feet, and some of the best deadlift socks will provide additional grip when you’re moving your feet to these positions.
  • Point your toes outwards at a 45 degree angle.
  • Ensure that your spine is in a neutral position, and not bent or “hunched over”. 
  • Completely engage your core.
  • Hinge from the hips, and firmly grasp the top of the bar with an overhand grip, holding tightly.

Overhand Sumo Rack Pull Execution:

  • Inhale, and push up through your heels, maintaining a neutral spine, and ensuring that you lift predominantly with your legs.
  • Extend your hips outwards, as this provides the extra bit of thrust you may need to lift the bar up fully.
  • Exhale, and hold this position for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Lower the bar gently, inhaling as you do so, maintaining a controlled manner as you place the bar back on the squat rack. Exhale once you’ve placed the bar down.
  • Complete your selected number of reps for this deadlift exercise.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Erector spinae (lower back), glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), soleus (lower legs)

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Foot Position - It’s imperative that you position your feet correctly, as this is one of the key elements of this deadlift variation, and what makes it a sumo deadlift. Improperly placing your feet can mean you don’t see gains in the right places, or that you find it more difficult to perform this deadlift technique.
  • No Control - Maintaining control when bringing the bar back down not only helps you understand the exercise more, but it also gives you the opportunity to put extra pressure on your muscles, which is integral to your strength journey. 

 

#12 - Sumo Rack Pull (Mixed Grip)

A mixed grip sumo rack pull is often a challenge for even the most experienced deadlifters, and learning the correct deadlift form is a key part of the process that can help you master how to deadlift.

Set Up: Put your bar onto the squat rack, ensuring that you’ve got easy access, and that there is enough room around you.

Mixed Grip Sumo Rack Pull Starting Position:

  • Approach your bar, and place your feet underneath it, keeping them wider than shoulder width apart. 
  • Point your toes outwards, at a 45 degree angle.
  • Bend at the hips, extending your arms fully, and maintaining a neutral spine as you grip the bar.
  • Ensure that your core is engaged.
  • Place your right hand on top of the bar in an overhand fashion, gripping it tightly.
  • Place your left hand underneath the bar in an underhand position, maintaining a firm grip.

Mixed Grip Sumo Rack Pull Execution:

  • Maintaining a firm, mixed grip with both hands, inhale and push through your heels to straighten up your body position.
  • Thrust outwards with your hips to provide additional strength, and give you that extra boost to get the bar to hip-level.
  • Once the bar is at hip-level, exhale and hold that position for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Inhale, and slowly lower the bar back to the squat rack. Once the bar reaches the rack, exhale. 
  • Complete your chosen number of reps.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Erector spinae (lower back), glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), soleus (lower legs).

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Bent Back - It’s crucial to maintain a neutral spine position when completing these deadlifts and deadlift variations, especially as moving your back awkwardly can cause serious issues, such as slipped disks.
  • Improper Foot Position - With a sumo squat, it’s vital that you place your feet in the correct position. Not only does this allow you much more control over your movements, it’ll also ensure that you see the results you desire from your deadlifting.

 

#13 - Sandbag Deadlift

One of the more specialised deadlift variations on our list, this involves a sandbag rather than a more traditional bar. There are a multitude of benefits of sandbag training, and learning how the correct sandbag deadlifting form can open you up to entirely new options for your routine, as well as further deadlift alternatives.

Set Up: Place the sandbag on the floor in front of you, with the handles facing upwards so you can grip it properly. 

Sandbag Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, adopting a shallow squat pose.
  • Ensure that you maintain a neutral spine position as you bend at the hips, extending your arms fully to reach for the sandbag.
  • Hold the sandbag with a neutral but firm overhand grip, holding the straps on each side.
  • Ensure that your core is fully engaged.

 

Sandbag Deadlift Execution: 

  • Holding the sandbag firmly, inhale, and push upwards through your heels, lifting the sandbag as you go.
  • Extend your hips fully forward, bringing the sandbag level with your hips.
  • Exhale, and hold the sandbag at hip level for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • First inhale, and then slowly lower the sandbag back to the floor. Once the sandbag reaches a neutral position, exhale.
  • Complete your selected number of reps for this exercise.

Sandbag Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Abdominals (abs), obliques (sides), rhomboids (upper back), trapezius (upper back), latissimus dorsi (lats), hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), glutes, erector spinae (lower spine).

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Bent Back - It’s vital that you keep a neutral spine as you hinge at the hips to pick up the sandbag as part of this deadlift variation. Bending or twisting your back can lead to unnecessary strain or even injury, especially if you’re lifting a particularly heavy weight.
  • Improper Grip - A sandbag can be incredibly heavy, and is a completely different shape to a more conventional bar. It’s crucial that you firmly grip the handles provided, as this not only allows you to achieve correct deadlift form, but it gives you control over both the lift and the descent.



#14 - Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift

The final entry on our list of deadlift variations is much more unconventional than other deadlift types, especially as it only involves one hand. However, kettlebells can often present new and exciting opportunities to work specific muscle groups.

Set Up: Place a kettlebell on the floor, on the side you wish to exercise. Make sure that it’s close to your feet, as you’ll be reaching down to pick it up, and it’s important that your arms are not overextended. 

 

Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift Starting Position:

  • Stand in a shallow squat position, with your feet shoulder width apart. 
  • Make sure to hinge at the hips, maintain a neutral spine, and extend your arm fully to reach down to the kettlebell. This should be the arm on the same side as the kettlebell.
  • Grasp the handle of the kettlebell with an overhand, neutral grip.
  • Ensure that your core is fully engaged.

Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift Execution:

  • Inhale and push upwards through your heels, extending to a standing position, and grasping the kettlebell firmly in an overhand grip.
  • It’s absolutely essential here to maintain a neutral spine, meaning that you don’t bend or twist awkwardly.
  • Extend your hips outwards to gain additional thrust.
  • Use your opposite arm to provide more balance.
  • Exhale, and hold the kettlebell in place for 1 - 2 seconds.
  • Slowly return to the starting position while inhaling, touching the kettlebell to the floor. Once the kettlebell touches the floor, exhale.
  • Complete your chosen number of reps.

Deadlift Muscles Worked:

Abdominals (abs), obliques (sides), rhomboids (upper back), trapezius (upper back), latissimus dorsi (lats), hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), glutes, erector spinae (lower back)

 

Common Mistakes To Avoid:

  • Moving Too Quickly - It’s vital to maintain control over the kettlebell as you move it upwards and downwards, especially as (unlike most deadlifts and deadlift variations) you’ll only be gripping the weight with one hand.
  • Non-Neutral Spine - Having a twisted or improperly positioned spine can lead to serious issues, such as herniated discs, or other back problems. It’s crucial to ensure you maintain a neutral spine position, and bend at the hips rather than arching your back.

 

What Muscles Does A Deadlift Work?

Unfortunately, this is a question that doesn’t have one single answer. As we’ve just explored, there’s numerous deadlift variations that all work different muscle groups, and therefore it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact muscles you’ll be working when you complete a deadlift. 

However, one trend that we’ve noticed as part of our deadlift teaching points is that deadlifts predominantly work the glutes and quads, with a recent scientific study finding that deadlifting is among the most beneficial exercises for strengthening the glutes.

This is predominantly down to correct deadlift form, and the emphasis it places upon the upper legs, and the glutes. By performing each deadlift (as well as deadlift variations) with perfect deadlift form, you’ll start to see significant improvements in those areas in particular.

However, it’s crucial that you check the muscles worked for any deadlift you’re planning to include as part of your workout regime, especially as certain deadlift variations can work different areas.

Take, for instance, the RDL (or Romanian deadlift). While this still positively affects the glutes and quads, it also places significant pressure on the hamstrings, lower back and traps, meaning that muscles develop in that area.

Explore more on effectively building muscle with our guide to the benefits of whey protein powder.

Whether you’re considering the correct deadlift positioning, or you’re wondering about how deadlift muscles are worked, it’s vitally important to fully understand the deadlift variation you’re undertaking, and how it can affect your body.

Is Deadlifting Good For Weight Loss?

When we start our individualised exercise journeys, many of us consider weight loss to be an ultimate goal. Whether that’s burning specific types of body fat, or shedding excess calories, losing weight is often a huge motivation for exercising.

And following the right deadlifting technique can be incredibly helpful in that process, especially in terms of speeding up the metabolism, and transforming our body image into one that we’re more satisfied with.

When we complete a deadlift exercise (or perform any of the deadlift variations), we activate multiple muscle groups at once, which can trigger more significant calorie burn, as well as activating our metabolism, meaning we shed calories and fat even when we’re not exercising.

The deadlifting technique can also improve our cardiovascular health, meaning that, as we progress and become more confident with deadlift variations, we’re able to do more, and push ourselves that bit further each time.

In fact, a recent study found that deadlifting can have significant positive effects on our overall health, including our cardiovascular health.

Ultimately, because a deadlift is a compound exercise (meaning it targets multiple muscle groups at once), you’re targeting multiple areas of your body, and simultaneously working on them, meaning you’re likely to see results quicker and more effectively.

Can Deadlifting Be Bad For You?

While we’ve predominantly focused on the correct way to deadlift, and some of the key deadlift tips, it’s also important to consider whether deadlift training can have negative consequences, too. 

Sadly, as with all forms of exercise, there is an inherent risk of injury or strain when you’re learning how to do a proper deadlift, especially if you’re immediately using heavy plate weights as part of your deadlifts or deadlift variations.

If you don’t adhere to the correct deadlift form (we’ve outlined the ideal deadlifting form for each of the deadlift alternatives in our previous sections), you can cause serious injury to your back, legs, and glutes, as these are the muscles that take the majority of the strain.

You’ll also need to ensure a firm grip when undertaking any deadlifts or deadlift alternatives. Studies have shown that improper grip can be hugely detrimental, causing injury to the arms, and reducing the overall effectiveness of deadlifting. 

Understanding the dangers of the incorrect deadlift form is a key part of deadlift safely and effectively, but it can also make all the difference in other exercises, too. Explore more in OriGym’s comprehensive exploration of the benefits of good posture.

However, this is the only real danger to deadlifting, and by adhering to good deadlift form, and following the deadlift tips and tricks we’ve laid out above, you can enjoy all the advantages of the different deadlift variations, as well as learning one of the key fitness skills in how to deadlift properly.

Before You Go!

Our guide aimed to provide you with everything you needed to know about how to deadlift, as well as the deadlift variations you should include to ensure you’re seeing the best results possible.

Whether you were seeking out the perfect deadlift form, or just looking to mix up your workouts with different deadlift types, we’ve provided everything you need to know to get started, and fully experience the benefits of the deadlift muscles that are worked during these variants.

But, if you’re already confident in all things deadlifting, then perhaps a career in fitness could be your next step.

OriGym’s internationally recognised personal training diploma provides everything you need to kickstart a successful career in exercise, with 7 days a week expert guidance, a wealth of resources and materials, free examination resits, and guaranteed post-course interviews at national gyms.

Click here to download our FREE comprehensive prospectus, and explore more of what we offer, and how it could be ideal for you.

References:

  1. Distefano, L., Blackburn, J., Marshall, S., & Padua, D. (2009). Gluteal Muscle Activation During Common Therapeutic Exercises | Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Retrieved 21 July 2021, from https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2009.2796
  2. Vecchio LD. The health and performance benefits of the squat, deadlift and bench press. MOJ Yoga Physical Ther. 2018;3(2):40-47. DOI: 10.15406/mojypt.2018.03.00042
  3. Kapicioglu M, Bilgin E, Guven N, Pulatkan A, Bilsel K. The Role of Deadlifts in Distal Biceps Brachii Tendon Ruptures: An Alternative Mechanism Described With YouTube Videos. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. March 2021. doi:10.1177/2325967121991811

Written by Chris Allsobrook

Editor

Chris is a former English teacher, turned content editor. He holds a first-class honours degree in English Language and Creative Writing from the University of Central Lancashire, before going on to complete his teacher training, and obtain a PGCE at Liverpool John Moore’s.

Chris is a keen runner and is currently undertaking both his fitness instructing and personal training qualifications here at OriGym. 

Outside of fitness, you’ll often find him gaming, watching the football, cooking, or spending time with his family.

Download Your 16 week Home Strength Training Programme

Download Your 16 week Home Strength Training Programme