5 Must-Try Deadlift Variations
Want a bar-bending deadlift that will shatter every PR you've ever had? Check out Cory Gregory's deadlift-variation plan that will help you get it!
Name: Cory Gregory
Weight: 185-190 lbs, 175 contest
Education: Exercise Specialist Degree: Columbus State University; NESTA Fitness Coach; CrossFit Level 1-Westside Barbell certified
Occupation: Co-Founder MusclePharm
Contest History: Competed in 14 bodybuilding shows over 20 powerlifting meets
Athletic Background: High School Basketball
Up until recently, I was always pretty disappointed with my deadlift number. It was stuck at 400 pounds for a long time, and unfortunately the bugger just didn't seem to want to budge. So, I made the commitment to stack some plates and boost my strength. A year later, I pulled 500 pounds off the ground weighing in at 190. Mission accomplished!
You want a big deadlift number? You can't just sit there wishing for it; you have to put in the work. It wasn't easy, but with training frequency and variation I was able to increase my deadlift total by nearly 100 pounds.
Here's the plan that I followed. Stick to it and you'll develop the strength and power necessary to deadlift the hell out of a heavy-ass bar!
Cory's Deadlift Plan
Once per week for the next five weeks, you're going to dedicate a day to deadlifting, but you won't be hitting conventional deadlifts each week. Instead, you'll run through the following five deadlift variations, knocking out one variation per week. During each deadlift workout, you'll work up to a one-rep max (1RM) or set of max reps.
You'll follow your deadlifts with a 5-set superset of glute-ham raises on the glute-ham developer (GHD) and leg curls. Then, you'll complete a superset of weighted crunches and toes-to-bar. You're focusing on your posterior chain here, so you'll have to hit your lats and upper back on a different day.
Here's what your deadlift day template looks like:
- Deadlift Variation
Work up to 1-rep max or a set of max reps
Here are the five deadlift variations you'll be doing for the next five weeks. Remember, you're only going to do one variation per week. Start the first week with Variation 1, and then plow through the remaining variations in the successive weeks.
Variation 1 Deficit Deadlift
I can't stress how beneficial the deficit deadlift was for activating my legs. Because you have to pull the bar through a greater range of motion, proper leg drive is essential. Without it, you're not going to move the bar very far. Deficit deadlifts helped me to finally grasp the concept of "leg-pressing the floor." But once I got it locked in, this movement really took off.
Less than a year ago, 335 pounds was nearly impossible for me to do. But, through dedication to practicing this variation, I can now deadlift 455 without a belt. I'll take that kind of progress any day, and I'm sure you would too.
Variations 2 and 3 Conventional and Sumo Deadlift
The efficacy of one deadlift style over another is unclear. Deadlift style can be based on several factors, including comfort, muscle involvement, and personal preference. For example, several studies have reported greater recruitment of the quads during a sumo deadlift compared to a conventional deadlift.1,2 With that in mind, I like to vary my deadlifting stance to iron out all of my weak points. My conventional deadlift used to be a lot weaker, and that's something I've really hammered out over the past year.
Doing my Squat Every Day program—which you can follow on Instagram daily and soon as a complete trainer on Bodybuilding.com—has helped me feel stronger in a conventional deadlift stance, but I think the majority of my improvement came from just doing deads over and over. The more comfortable I got, the better my overall deadlift performance felt. Yes, I brought up my weak points and strengthened my quads and lower back, but just going to this stance played a big part in my 100-pound increase.
If you're already a good sumo deadlifter, then using this variation will feel good. If you're not accustomed to using that stance, then you might feel a little uncomfortable. Just keep working at it. Remember to utilize your hips and glutes!
Variation 4 Bands and Chains
Bands and chains put added tension and weight at the top of the deadlift, which forces you to concentrate on the lock-out position. Lifting with bands and chains on the bar will also require some extra stability from your posterior chain and core. If you practice deadlifts with bands and chains, you'll feel much more stable when you're doing straight weight. Research has even suggested that combination training using free weights and resistance bands may be better for improving lower-body strength and power compared to free weights alone.3
It's crucial to attack this style of deadlift with the same type of aggression you would for a regular one-rep max. Push yourself on these and I'm positive you'll be impressed with the carryover.
VARIATION 5 Max Reps
This is what I like to call the "let's see what you got" deadlift variation. Plain and simple, deadlifting for high reps is pure brutality. But, it's where you truly learn about yourself as a lifter and discover just how hard you're able to push.
Believe me, it's easy to stop after 3 or 4 reps of heavy deads, but what I want here is a killer 10-rep set that crushes any 10-rep mark you've ever hit before on deadlift. Try to rip off as many as you can in a row because it gets much harder if you're taking a couple seconds to reset after each rep. I'm not big on bouncing the weights off the floor, so make sure the weight is dead-stopped before you pick it back up.
I think pushing myself with max rep sets was an important part of increasing my deadlift. The mental part of the iron game is often overlooked, but loading the bar with weight you think you can only hit 2-3 times and then getting 8-10 reps can make you feel like Superman. So go deadlift like him.
- Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Moorman 3rd, C. T. (2002). An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(4), 682-688.
- Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Welch, C. M., Kayes, A. V., ... & Andrews, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(7), 1265-1275.
- Anderson, C. E., Sforzo, G. A., & Sigg, J. A. (2008). The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(2), 567-574.