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Deadlift variations

If you're new 'round here, you'll quickly learn deadlifts are one of my all-time favorite moves to do personally, as well as teach. Shout out to a co-worker at my first training job for teaching me the proper mechanics of deadlifting. With that said, deadlifts have multiple variations that can be helpful depending on a persons goals and abilities.

Most common variations seen in KATHLETICS training programs:

Conventional Deadlift

Sumo Deadlift

RDL (Romanian Deadlift)

Single-Leg Deadlift

Kickstand RDL

Hex-Bar Deadlifts are also one of my go-tos for training programs, but I understand many people don't have one readily accessible.

Although each of these variations are similar by pulling the weight off the ground while simultaneously pushing your feet through the ground, each variation has its own flare with what muscles are more/less engaged.

Conventional Deadlifts focus on full body engagement from stabilizing with the lats, core, quads, shins, and feet, to contracting with the primary movers: glutes and hamstrings. Conventional Deadlifts require a stance with feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and toes straight forward.

Sumo Deadlifts also require full body engagement, but have a heavier focus on glutes and abductors, with a more upright chest (vs Conventional). The stance in a Sumo Deadlift will have feet outside of shoulder-width with toes angled out. The stance width will vary on comfort and power efficiently produced by the lifter.

RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts) are similar to Conventional Deadlifts in stance, aiming for hip- or shoulder-width apart with toes straight forward. RDLs have a heavier focus on hamstrings by keeping the knees directly over the ankles throughout the hinged motion, creating more of a stretch in the hamstrings at the bottom of the exercise and a contraction through the hamstrings at the top. It's important to remember to keep the back flat throughout this exercise to avoid feeling the low back.

Single-Leg Deadlifts are just like Conventional Deadlifts except with one leg instead of two. This is an excellent exercise for those trying to improve balance and build unilateral strength and endurance. You can find these in almost every program I offer unless there is a specific reason not to.

Kickstand RDLs are the middle ground between RDLs and Single-Leg Deadlifts. It's a unilateral exercise that still provides stability by using a leg for stability while the other leg does the work.

Take a look at the video below to further identify the similarities and differences between the deadlift variations.


Katharine Moustakes
Hey, friend!

I'm Katharine.

I'm a personal trainer, running coaching, and nutrition coach who's stoked about lifting, the outdoors, summit snacks, and my dog.


I understand that fitness is not your whole life. Fitness is a PART of your life. I approach training in a way that adds value to your life and longevity, so you can enjoy being active whether you're romping around in the mountains, playing with your kids, or signing up for your first 10K race.

I'm here to meet you where you are, so you can train safely and effectively, and gain strength and confidence both in the gym and on the trails.

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