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Which Deadlift Style is Best for You?8 min read
What Deadlift Style is best for you?
Following on from Mark’s excellent blog on High Bar v Low bar, I thought I’d help you decide what deadlift style is best for your individual training goals, body structure and strengths and weaknesses. This article will compare the Sumo and Conventional Deadlift, along with some undervalued benefits of the hex Bar Deadlift!
Conventional V Sumo Deadlift:
These are the two deadlift styles that you will see performed on a barbell. Conventional deadlift is the most popular variant you will see, performed with the hands outside the legs. Sumo deadlift is performed with the hands inside of the legs, it is more commonly seen within Powerlifting, but does have benefits for general populations too.
One of the big factors on which style will be most comfortable will be your individual hip structure. Everyone is built differently, and how your pelvis is built will determine which stance is the most natural and comfortable. If your hip sockets are located further forward you may prefer a conventional deadlift and a narrower squat stance, if your hip sockets are located further back, you will probably prefer a more abducted stance, such as a wider stance squat and Sumo deadlift.
All things being equal, conventional deadlift works the back extensor muscles harder than the sumo deadlift. Data from Stuart McGill comparing the two styles showed roughly 10% longer moment arm on the spinal extensors (meaning the muscles had to work 10% harder) and 8% increased shear force through the lumbar spine due to a more horizontal torso angle.
Whilst the sumo deadlift works the back muscles less, it stresses the quads harder, with around 3x a greater joint moment (Range of Motion) at the knee. The hip extension demands are fairly even between the two lifts, with several studies showing similar demands at key points of the deadlift, and almost identical glute and hamstring work between the two styles of deadlifting.
It’s worth mentioning range of motion, Sumo Deadlift is around 20-25% less range of motion than the conventional deadlift. If your goal is muscle hypertrophy, it’s probably a good idea to work the greatest pain free range of motion possible. From a strength/Powerlifting perspective, you won’t miss a lift because of the bigger range of motion, you will miss because of the weakest range of motion, so if you are better suited to conventional deadlift, you will not be stronger at sumo because of the smaller ROM.
From these points, there are a few takeaways we can make, from a performance perspective, choose the style that best suits your strength and weaknesses, for hypertrophy, choose the style that develops the musculature most efficiently for your goals, if you want to train the quads harder, sumo could be a better option, if you want to improve your back strength, conventional may be a better choice.
From a viewpoint of injury, if you want to work around a sore lower back, or find that being in a more horizontal torso angle is uncomfortable, then sumo would be better for you. If your knees are sore, then the conventional would be the best choice to reduce the joint moment at the knees.
Option 3: Trap/Hex Bar Deadlifts
The hex bar has numerous benefits for people who dislike Barbell Deadlifts. While the weight of a Barbell Deadlift is in front of you, a hex bar evenly distributes the load around you, making it a lot more comfortable on the lower back for almost everyone. There is more flexibility with the starting position, and you can adjust based off your individual needs and goals. If you want to target the back and posterior chain more, you can use a higher hip position, because the bar isn’t in front of you, you can also achieve a lower hip position, and utilise more of the quads, with less spine and hip extension demands (hex bar allows manipulation of the hip extensor moment arm, whilst barbell deadlifts do not).
One of the underrated elements of the hex bar, is the amount of force you can produce, and at what speed. From the same height as a barbell deadlift, a study by Lake (2017), found on average lifters using the hex bar Vs a conventional deadlift could lift 7% more load on the bar, produce 15% higher velocity (speed) and 28% higher Power output. They also spent 36% longer time accelerating the lift. This study highlights that if power and force production is your primary goal, as opposed to deadlift strength, then the hex Bar could be the way to go!
So how do you decide which style of deadlift is best for you?
If you want to lift as much as you can with a barbell, try both styles for a minimum of 6-8 weeks and see which one feels the strongest and the most comfortable. If you have pre-existing issues, or find one style is uncomfortable, try the opposite stance and see if you can load and progress the exercise in a way that will help you meet your training goals.
If both styles are uncomfortable, or you don’t enjoy deadlifting, the hex bar is a great alternative. If you play a sport and your training in the gym is geared towards power and speed development, not necessarily deadlift strength, the hex bar offers lots of benefits and takes away some of the downfalls of the barbell variants. If you don’t need to deadlift, but want to reap the rewards of the lift, the hex bar is for you!
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