How to choose a deadlift type?

How to choose a deadlift type?

Which type is best suited to your client: the octagonal bar, sumo, raised, Romanian ...?

By Pierre-Luc Dubé


The deadlift is one of the most complete and functional movements to be found in the repertoire of muscle exercises. Nevertheless, it remains a complex and technical movement that many individuals do not master.

There are many variations of the original deadlift (octagonal bar, sumo, raised, Romanian, etc.) How do you choose which one will help a client progress more and which one will allow him to achieve his goals while minimizing the risk of injury? Individual mobility and biomechanics, the purpose of using the deadlift, and an individual’s motor control are things to consider before selecting a good variant of the exercise.

First of all, it is important to check whether the client has the necessary mobility to assume the basic deadlift position. Movements of the ankle, hip and spinal structures are most often problematic. In addition to the difficulty in assuming an optimal starting position, a client with a lack of motility may have their muscle recruitment affected by the poor position. It must be remembered that the body, even if it is not able to perform a movement, will still find a way to do so. In addition, the biomechanical and morphological variants found in the population can exacerbate the problems related to mobility.

Next, you have to know what the purpose behind using the deadlift is. Do we want to develop strength, hypertrophy or create energy expenditure? Indeed, some variants are more restrictive on the musculoskeletal system. The choice will not be the same if the desire is to do 1 maximum repetition in opposition to 50 repetitions. In addition, some variations will have a greater effect on energy expenditure when the implication of greater muscle mass is involved. Along the same lines, one must also take into consideration which muscle groups are to be stimulated. Although the deadlift is an exercise primarily working the posterior chain (gluteus maximus and hamstrings), it is possible to promote the involvement of the anterior chain (quadriceps) by using certain variations.

Finally, optimal muscle recruitment is necessary in order to get the most out of the movement. For example, a person with poor gluteal or hamstring activation capacity will transfer more load to the lumbar extensors. Beyond muscle activation, you have to look at the strength and endurance of certain muscle groups, such as trunk stabilizers (rectus abdominis, transverse, latissimus, lumbar extensors, etc.) If clients are not unable to maintain the back in a neutral position, stress and forces will be placed on other structures. This point becomes critical at high intensity, as the increased load correlates with increased force production in the lumbar extensors and abdominals. Thus, insufficient sheathing capacity increases the risk of injury.

In summary, before putting any type of deadlift into a routine, you must first ask yourself the questions “Who? ” and “why?” behind the use of this movement. Does the client have the capacity to do this and what is their goal? It is possible to adapt the movement while establishing a logical progression through the training planning. So, the solution is not always to abandon the exercise in favor of another, but rather to help our clients to gradually assimilate and integrate the driving force (s) necessary for its completion.


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