6 Deadlift Variations to Add to Leg Day

If you're a fan of deadlifts, odds are you already know that they're great for shaping and lifting your rear. But the exercise actually works multiple muscle groups at once, doing wonders for your entire posterior chain, aka the muscles on the backside of your body.

Deadlift variations work all the muscles on the backside of your body, including your glutes. (Image: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/GettyImages)

The compound movement wakes up and strengthens weak, underused glute muscles — often a result of sitting all day long, says Samantha Ciaccia, certified strength and conditioning specialist and emergency medicine physician assistant. She adds that if you're not deadlifting regularly now, you should start ASAP to combat the effects of what's called gluteal amnesia, commonly referred to as "dead butt syndrome," which you definitely don't want.

Do them too much, though, and your body might grow accustomed to the move. "Just like any exercise, we adapt to movement, so we must keep making changes," says Morit Summers, certified personal trainer and creator of Brooklyn-based training studio Form Fitness.

Even small variations on the basic deadlift can work your muscles in different ways and, bonus, keep your workouts fresh. Varying exercises is key to staying challenged and sparking change in your body, agrees Kira Stokes, personal trainer and creator of the Stoked Method and the KiraStokesFit App and virtual training program.

Ready to keep those glutes guessing? Here, fitness experts share their favorite deadlift variations that'll spice up your training and set your buns ablaze.

1. Basic Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Before you take on more challenging variations, it's important to first master the mechanics of a basic deadlift, says Stokes. That means no rounded or arched back, protracted shoulders or looking toward the ceiling. The goal? To maintain a neutral spine and neck position.

When lifting, think about pushing into the ground with your feet rather than pulling the weight off the ground, says Ciaccia. This small tweak to your technique will help to activate your glutes and hamstrings even more.

To really get the best burn, focus on your mind-body connection, adds Stokes. "You must set an intention and truly mind your muscle, rather than just passing through movement," she says. For instance: Squeezing your backside? Visualize it as it's happening. Really think through each component of the movement upon execution.

  1. Stand with your feet outside your shoulders. Point your toes out slightly.
  2. Stick your hips back and bend forward to grab the barbell below with both hands, using an overhand grip.
  3. Sink your hips down, flatten your back and pull the bar off the ground until you're standing straight up.
  4. Lower it back down to the ground under control with your back flat.

2. Single-Leg Deadlift

Compared to traditional deadlifts, the single-leg variation focuses more on stability, says Summers. With one leg off the ground, you might feel a little shaky at first. That's OK. That means your core's working overtime to keep you from wobbling, resulting in a tighter midsection.

Unilateral exercises, which target one side at a time, can also highlight imbalances in your body, says Stokes. We all have one side that's weaker than the other. Single-leg work gives you the opportunity to focus on strengthening muscles that need it most, she adds.

Plus, you'll stabilize your hips by building up the butt muscle called the gluteus medius, which is particularly helpful for people with knee pain, says Summers.

  1. Stand on your right leg while holding a dumbbell at your side in your right hand.
  2. Keeping the right knee slightly bent, perform the deadlift by bending at the hip, extending your free leg behind you for balance or resting the top of your foot on a bench. During this movement, make sure your hips remain square.
  3. Continue lowering the dumbbell until your upper body is parallel to the ground.
  4. Keeping your back flat, return to the upright position.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

3. Offset Load Deadlift

For this deadlift, you want to have a different amount of weight on both sides of your body. "You can either hold a weight in one hand and no weight in the other, or use a lighter weight in one hand and a heavier one in the other," says Stokes.

An offset load challenges your stability by forcing you to keep your hips square and your back flat. It's also an intense core challenge, says Ciacca, who doesn't recommend this move for people with lower back pain, as it can be super taxing.

  1. Stand with soft knees, feet hip-width apart, with weight (or weights) by your side.
  2. Push your butt far back, keeping your back flat and spine neutral.
  3. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor, with your hips square.
  4. Keeping your core tight and the weight(s) close to your shins, push through your heels to stand up straight and squeeze your glutes.

4. Sumo Deadlift

No, this exercise isn't only reserved for larger men wearing next to nothing. The sumo deadlift is a variation of the classic movement where your stance is much wider and your feet are slightly turned out. Making this little adjustment helps you target different angles of your glute muscle fibers, says Summers.

"Standing wider also helps take the load off the lower back," adds Stokes, who recommends this variation for anyone dealing with back problems.

With this wider stance, you'll also be able to move a greater amount of weight. "By turning your feet out and grabbing the weight under your center of gravity, you shorten the lever length between your hands and hips," says Stokes. "This reduces the load, allowing you to pull more weight successfully."

Before you go too heavy, though, make sure you're not squatting. When executing a sumo deadlift, it's easy to move in an up-and-down motion versus a hingeing pattern, says Summers. In order to get the booty-lifting benefits, your form and technique need to be on point.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Point your toes out, between 30 and 45 degrees. Keep your knees slightly bent. The weight should be right in the middle of your legs.
  2. Stick your hips back and hinge forward to grab the barbell below with both hands, using an overhand grip. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Keeping your core tight, push through your heels and pull the bar off the ground until you're standing straight up. Make sure to squeeze your glutes.
  4. Lower it back down to the ground under control with your back flat.

5. Wall-Assisted Single-Leg Deadlift

This wall-assisted alternative may be the perfect option for a deadlift beginner. It reveals asymmetries between your legs and recruits smaller muscle stabilizers that keep your knees from shifting or ankles from wobbling, says Ciaccia. In the process, the movement helps to improve stability, making you less prone to injury.

  1. Grab a light-to-medium sized kettlebell and walk over to a wall.
  2. Stand facing away from the wall and hold the kettlebell with an overhand grip in front of your quads. Step your left leg approximately 1 foot away from the wall with your right foot flat against wall, so that your toes are touching the floor.
  3. Engage your core and hinge forward at your hips, pushing your glutes toward the wall. You'll feel a stretch in your hamstrings. The kettlebell will be lowering down toward the ground.
  4. Squeeze through the glutes and return to standing.

6. Staggered Stance Deadlift

A staggered stance gives you more stability than a single-leg deadlift while still offering the benefits of a unilateral exercise, says Stokes. In this grounded position you'll be able to lift heavier weights, boosting the intensity of the move.

  1. Start with your feet at shoulder-width distance holding dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in.
  2. Step the left foot about 6 to 12 inches backward. Throughout the movement, you'll be perched on your left toes. Weight should be equally distributed between both feet.
  3. Keeping the right knee slightly bent, perform the deadlift by hinging forward at the hip. During this movement, make sure your hips remain square.
  4. Continue lowering the dumbbell until your upper body is almost parallel to the ground.
  5. Keeping your back flat, engage your core and return to the upright position.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.
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