Leg Day? Try a deadlift.
Strength training gurus love to say there’s only one way to perform a lift, and that all other techniques and variations are either wrong or ineffective. Such a philosophy is shortsighted, and this article will show how intelligent variation can build a bigger, stronger, bulletproof body.
First, every body is unique, and the best form for a lifter is the one that best suits his or her unique limb lengths, body segment proportions, tendon attachment points, muscularity, and injury history.
Second, the form that a lifter uses is heavily predicated on his or her overall goals. These goals might include hypertrophy, in which case it’s possible to accentuate tension on a particular muscle; strength, in which case it’s possible to perform a lift in a manner that maximizes leverages; or transference, in which case it’s possible to execute an exercise in a manner that best transfers to another lift or sporting action.
And third, all lifters should purposely perform lifts in a variety of ways in order to build well-rounded and maximal strength. Stubbornly sticking to a particular form or variation that isn’t right for you, no matter how popular it is, will eventually lead to injury. It’s akin to forcing a square peg through a round hole.
Principles of Movement, Not The Tools You Move
With any exercise, first consider the movement pattern and understand the optimal mechanical process of the exercise. Only then do you consider loading the exercise. The tool you choose to load the exercise must be subordinate to optimal mechanics, rather than something that changes the mechanics.
For instance, in the bench press you are wise to first understand and own a proper push-up. From there you are better equipped to lie on a bench and optimally handle a substantial load in the horizontal push. And, you may find that the conventional barbell restricts you in a way that does not allow for optimal shoulder function. According to Nerd Fitness, there is no benefit in either being hardheaded or in completely forgoing the exercise. You simply look at the other tools available, such as dumbbells, and go for a solution that permits the movement pattern to be loaded with minimal, if any, impairment.
The barbell squat is a similar situation that has a few high quality alternatives, and outright substitutes, to serve you when there’s a mechanical issue with the bar. There’s a difference in “good technique” and contraindication due to one’s intrinsic mechanics. There are certainly individuals who need their technique assessed, corrected, and coached. However, there will be times that even with optimal technique there’s mechanical contraindication for an individual, as put by Health.com. Consistent joint pain either during or after a training session reveals an issue to acknowledge.
The deadlift, with its aforementioned classification as foundational, is an even more imperative exercise to find a way to load the movement pattern without pain or significant compensation. I say significant due to the fact that there is no such thing as 100% perfect technique. The point is, you want a loading option that does not create an injurious environment that can be discerned rep by rep. Common sense yes, but an issue that frequently gets ignored in the name of training legalism, which the barbell is “prime minister”.
Top Athletes Vary in Exercise Form
All powerlifters look markedly different when they squat, deadlift, and bench. Just take a look at the various powerlifting world record holders, strongman champions, top Olympic weightlifters, and even the best bodybuilders on the planet – you’ll see that their techniques with the big lifts vary drastically.
They’ve all taken the time to figure out the style of each lift that caused the least pain and injury, maximized their leverages and performance, and/or allowed them to best reach their particular goals. What’s hilarious is that many of these top strength and physique athletes “break the rules” according to various experts, making it difficult to find merit with any hard rules in lifting mechanics.
As Barstarzz founder Edward Checo has shown us before, the top lifters have also taken the time to figure out their favorite exercise variations. The top bodybuilder might prefer rack pulls over full-range deadlifts because they’re safer on his low back, but still might hammer his entire posterior chain. The top powerlifter might perform low bar squats and sumo deadlifts in competition, but prefers high bar squats and conventional deadlifts in training until a month out before the meet since they better build his lifts.
The average strongman might tell you that he gave up low bar squatting years ago to preserve his shoulder health, but that he still front squats every week. An olympian lifter may prefer the Romanian deadlift and high-bar full squat as assistance lifts, whereas the top powerlifter might prefer the deficit deadlift and high box squat. You get the picture.
Useful Barbell Variations of Squats and Deadlifts
We realize most don’t have access to specialty bars, so we’re only including traditional barbell variations. However, there are dozens of incredible variations that use the rackable cambered bar, safety squat bar, or Dead-Squat™ Bar, to name a few.
Deep Back Squat: High Bar Versus Low Bar
Though the difference might appear subtle, the high-bar squat exhibits less forward trunk lean and therefore places more stress on the quads. Conversely, the low-bar back squat increases trunk lean and places more stress on the hips. According to MensFitness, Strong quads are critical for proper squat performance, as are strong hips. You should incorporate both types of squats into your training arsenal.
Eight Different Deadlifts
1. Sumo Deadlift
Using an extra-wide stance switches the primary muscles used. The lower back doesn’t work as hard, and the hips, hamstrings and quads pick up the slack. It’s a great way to improve mobility—a benefit not often associated with heavy lifts.
2. Deficit Deadlift
Deficit Deadlifts involve standing on a small box or a plate to increase the distance the bar travels as you lower it to the ground, thereby moving you through a greater range of motion. It’s more challenging to pick up the bar from this position, so you won’t be able to lift as much weight; however, it’s a fantastic way to increase strength and even improve your conventional Deadlift.
3. Block Deadlift
This is the opposite of the Deficit Deadlift. You elevate the bar on blocks, plates or rack pins to reduce the range of motion. This allows you to lift more weight, challenges your nervous system and develops the top part of your Deadlift.
4. Dumbbell Deadlift
You won’t build max strength or get huge just by using dumbbells. But the Dumbbell Deadlift is a great variation for learning the exercise. You can also perform it for high reps during conditioning circuits or finishers to build endurance in the muscles on the backside of your body.
5. Romanian Deadlift
The RDL is a variation of the conventional Deadlift in which you sit your hips back and lower the bar down your shins. You might not be able to touch the bar to the ground because of limited hamstring flexibility. It shifts the focus from your lower back to your hamstrings and glutes.
6. One-leg RDL
The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift is one of the best ways to eliminate muscle imbalances in your glutes and hamstrings on the left and right sides of your body. It also improves balance, stability and core control.
7. Snatch-Grip Deadlift
This is the same as the conventional Deadlift (or other variations), except you change your grip. When you use an extra-wide grip, your back and traps work harder to hold the weight. You also increase the range of motion of the exercise, so it functions similar to Deficit Deadlifts
8. Trap Bar Deadlift
The Trap Bar Deadlift is easier to perform than the standard Deadlift because you stand in the middle of the weight instead of holding it in front of your body. You can perform all of the Deadlift variations mentioned above with a Trap Bar, except the Dumbbell Deadlift.