Which Deadlift Variation is Right for You

The deadlift or any other hip hinge variation is a great foundational movement in any good program. As long as an athlete or client can perform with good technique and pain-free, it is an important movement to incorporate.

Often times, one variation may may not be suited well for one person, but can be a perfect option for another. Options can include:

Conventional


Sumo
 

Trap Bar
 


Finding the right variation can be key for athletic performance as well as to decrease risk of injury.

Let’s discuss some options for finding the right variation for you.

1. Mobility Demands

Whether you want to perform the conventional or sumo deadlift, there’s a certain amount of pre-requisite mobility demands that someone must possess in order to perform the lift.

One must possess:

Sufficient Thoracic Spine Mobility

Sufficient Hip mobility

To make sure you have sufficient thoracic mobility, perform the Quadruped Thoracic Mobility Assessment.
 


Sufficient thoracic spine mobility would be the trunk at 50° or approximately halfway between horizontal and vertical. For hip mobility, sufficient hip extension and hip internal and external rotation mobility is also needed.

To assess for adequate hip extension, perform the Thomas Test.

The thigh should be parallel to the ground, knee comfortably bends to 90 degrees and the knee is in line with the thigh.

To assess for adequate hip internal and external rotation mobility, check your passive mobility.
 

We like to see 40 degrees of hip external rotation and 30 degrees for hip internal rotation mobility.

If you have limitations in hip internal rotation mobility or hip extension mobility, you may have difficulty performing conventional deadlifts due to the hip flexion demand as well as the demands for the position of the lower leg.

Try performing the sumo deadlifts or a trap bar deadlifts if you have these limitations.
 

If you have limited hip external rotation mobility, the sumo deadlift may be difficult to perform due to the mobility demand that is needed for the lower body. You can try performing modified sumo deadlifts with a narrower stance/decreased toed out position, conventional deadlifts, or a trap bar deadlift.

If you have limitations in both hip internal and external rotation, it may be difficult to perform sumo or conventional dead lifts. The trap bar deadlift might be a better option for you.

2. Technique

Even if you have sufficient mobility in the aformentioned areas, being able to perform a lift with good technique is vital. For some, it can be very difficult and challenging to perform a conventional deadlift with proper technique such as a neutral spine, etc. 

For me, I have a difficult time performing conventional deadlifts. Therefore, sumo and trap bar deadlifts are a better option for me. If you have improved your mobility and can access those ranges of motion, but still have difficulty performing a lift with good technique, try another option.

If you can’t perform conventional deadlifts with good technique, try sumo or trap bar deadlifts.

If you can’t perform a sumo deadlift with good technique, try performing a conventional or trap bar deadlift.

3. What’s your goal?

At the end of the day, what is your goal with training?

If your goal is to compete in a powerlifting meet, then performing conventional or sumo deadlifts from the floor is necessary as a deadlift from the floor is a major component of any powerlifting meet.


If you are looking to perform a sport at a high-level, it may not be necessary to perform a conventional or sumo deadlift. Therefore, a trap bar deadlift or an elevated version of a sumo or conventional deadlift might be a better option due to fewer mobility demands and less of a risk for injury.  If you are looking to find the right deadlift variation for you, make sure to assess:

Mobility

Technique

End goal

Not everyone is made and able to deadlift from the floor or with a particular variation. Find the one that’s right for you where you can perform it well, with good technique, and pain-free.

Andrew Millett