Conventional, Sumo, Romanian, Trap Bar, Single-Leg: What Deadlift Variations are Best?

Conventional, Sumo, Romanian, Trap Bar, Single-Leg: What Deadlift Variations are Best?

Deadlifts are like bubbly water: There are so many brands these days, it’s hard to know which one to choose.

But when you dig a little deeper—although the concept of the movement is the same for all variations of deadlifts in that they build posterior chain and core strength—their subtleties become evident, and can make a big difference. Just like the very carbonated Bubly water versus the light bubbles characteristic of the timeless San Pellegrino: Different strokes for different folks.

Let’s take a closer look at some deadlift variations and the benefits of each:

Conventional Deadlift


The conventional deadlift is your classic deadlift, done with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart, shins touching the barbell. Performing it correctly means hinging at the hips, all the while keeping a straight, neutral spine throughout the movement, and then squeezing your glutes together as you extend into a standing position.

Some of the benefits include:

  • For many lifters, it’s the deadlift version that will allow them to lift the most amount of weight, thus it’s often the best deadlift variation for building strength. 
  • It uses your back, hips and hamstrings more than other deadlift variations, such as the sumo deadlift which involves more quad engagement.
  • Various other muscles are challenged by the conventional deadlift, including your erector spinae, levator scapulae and rhomboids.
  • The hip to shoulder-width stance has carryover to athletic positions, teaching force production through the feet.

Sumo Deadlift 

The Sumo deadlift is just like the conventional deadlift, but it requires taking a much wider stance with your feet (and turning your feet outward a bit) than the conventional deadlift, and then gripping the bar inside your legs and feet.

Some of the benefits include:

  • It allows a lifter with tight hamstrings to maintain a neutral spine more easily than the conventional deadlift.
  • It’s more comfortable for those with long torsos compared to their legs.
  • Depending on a person’s anatomical structure, it might allow them to lift more weight.
  • It places less stress on the spinal erectors than a conventional deadlift.
  • It involves more quads and glutes than the conventional deadlift.

Trap Bar Deadlift


The trap bar deadlift involves positioning your body inside a trap barbell, keeping your feet shoulder width apart and gripping the handles on the bar. From there, the same principles apply as do in a conventional and sumo deadlift: Hinge at the hips, maintain a neutral spine and squeeze your glutes at the top of the lift. The lifter may also choose to perform a more squat-dominant pattern, with greater knee flexion.

Some of the benefits include:

  • It puts less potential strain on the lower back than other forms of the deadlift.
  • It limits hyperextension of the spine.
  • It reduces the range of motion so it’s useful for those with mobility limitations.
  • It’s great for novice lifters to help them develop proper bending mechanics.
  • It’s great for Olympic weightlifters, as it places the lifter in more of an upright position, like they would be during a clean.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) 


The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a deadlift that maintains a higher hip position and rigidity in the knees, thus removing the quads more so than other versions of the deadlift. It begins at the top of the lift, with a hip to shoulder width stance position. From there, send the hips back until you feel tension in the hamstrings (the weight does not need to go all the way to the ground as it does in a conventional, sumo or trap bar deadlift), all the while keeping the hips high and the spine neutral.

Some benefits include:

  • It’s a great way to isolate the hamstrings over the quads.
  • It’s a useful way to help reinforce proper bending mechanics.
  • It’s an effective way to target both the hamstrings and lower back, helping to build strength that can translate to the conventional deadlift (if that’s the lifter’s weakness).
  • It can help reduce injuries by helping the lifter gain more core and lumbar control, as well as hamstring and glute strength.

Single Leg Deadlift 

The single leg deadlift starts in the standing position, like the conventional RDL and requires the lifter to bend at the hips, all the while standing on one leg, while sending the second leg behind them.

Some benefits include:

  • It’s a useful way to improve balance, stability and overall body control.
  • It’s ideal for building single leg strength.
  • Unilateral exercises can reduce intensity and help manage fatigue.
  • It’s a great way to iron out left-to-right muscle imbalances.
  • It may be an effective accessory exercise for the glutes and hamstrings.


From deadlifts to bench press to pull-ups: the best exercise variations are always relative to the individual. What gets you results might not be the best exercise for the person lifting next to you.

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