By Kalyanasundaram Divya

THE DEADLIFT. Welcome back to the discussion of the Holy Grail compound movement. Continuing off of my article last week on the conventional barbell deadlift, this week I’m covering two other variations of a barbell deadlift; the Sumo Straight Bar and Trap Bar Deadlift. If you didn’t read it, it only hurts my feelings a little bit, but follow the link below to read it before continuing on:

  • Link:

The main reason to read that article first is to gain more of a background on the deadlifts purpose, benefit and main focus points. To avoid repeating an entire article this one will not cover the basic principles of the deadlift, rather I’ll cover some variations!


Think about that question above for a moment. What notion brought you to either learn or improve a deadlift? Maybe you are a competitive athlete who wants that edge up on the competition. Or an average gym-goer looking to polish a movement pattern, a powerlifter chasing a state record, or you might look to set up the bar for the first time to give it a whirl. Whichever persona you most closely associate yourself with; there are a series of questions to assess before pulling some iron from the floor…

  1. What is your main goal?: Is it fat loss, hypertrophy, power, strength, functionality, other?
  2. Can you keep a flat back and braced spine?: If you have some trouble getting into proper position you should progress from hip hinge practice, to banded, then add in barbell implements
  3. Is your goal to smash some heavy weight and break personal records?: Then sumo and trap bar deadlifts will be right up your alley.
  4. Are you looking to target your hamstrings, glutes, or quads?: Conventional deadlifts target the posterior chain, sumo deadlifts engage primarily hamstrings, and trap bar deadlifts utilizes the quads.

The question “which deadlift is best” is extremely loaded, and you will get a ton of different answers with their respected reasoning. The best anything for someone can result from a combination of so many factors, leaving freedom to explore. Let’s start with the comparison between conventional and sumo since they both involve a straight barbell. If you have long arms and a short torso, conventional will suit your body style best. Likewise, a long torso and short arms give you an advantage for sumo style. Trap bar, however, is versatile for all body types due to standing within the bar with the load around you


Continuing off question number 4 above, strength and mobility both play a role in which deadlift fits your criteria. No matter which variation, you must maintain a neutral spine and flat back. Hence the bold, not bracing the trunk and spine can lead to lumbar flexion with a load and can lead to real serious injury, I mean look at this:


That living room training dojo is going to turn into a memorial service for his spine really soon. Drop the weight load, grab a camera or a trainer, and put the ego aside to save yourself pain and injury. Anyway, back to proper execution. The largest issue with deadlifting occurs when lifters don’t have enough mobility to get execute the lift effectively and safely. The conventional deadlift is better suited for strong glutes, hamstrings and lower back muscles with fair mobility in the ankles, hips and shoulders. Sumo style is a bit easier to learn versus conventional. It is generally easier to get into proper position , with the largest limiting factor being groin flexibility. Sumo targets the quads and adductors while requiring a huge amount of adductor flexibility. Finally, since trap bar is the “easiest”, and I use that term lightly because the deadlift is still an advanced movement. It allowed the lifter to be in more of a ‘squat/hinge hybrid’ it utilizes both quads and hamstrings, upper back, and especially the glutes at lockout due to the more upright starting position. You can apply more force and power with a trap bar because of the weight placement in comparison to the force you supply against the load; in other words, since you stand inside of the bar with the weight around you, you are pushing the weight with more force and muscular recruitment versus a barbell in front of you. The handles place our arms in a neutral position (requiring little to no advanced mobility), and develop a hinge pattern without adding shear stress on the lumbar spine.

Less Mobility = Trap Bar Trap Bar Mobility Demand = Conventional

Alright, now that we have covered some groundwork, let’s get some chalk rubbing and iron grippin’. Last week I covered the set up and execution of conventional style, so I’ll just go over Sumo and trap bar today.
Sumo Barbell Deadlift

1. Place the bar 2” in front of you with your feet wider than your hips and toes pointed outwards about 45º

2. Take in your breath, tilt your belly button slightly up to your chin, lock your ribs down and focus (more air = more tension = more force applied)
3. Bend at the hips like sitting back in a chair, let your hands travel straight down to the bar and grip at shoulder width. This will create tension in the hamstrings and load them like a spring
4. Pull the slack out of the bar: I like to tell my students to imagine bending the bar in half to activate their lats, and rotate the crease of sumo side toptheir armpits forward. This will help pull yourself into an even better starting position to lift
5. Squeeze and spread the floor apart with your toes to engage your lower half
6. Shift your weight slightly onto your heels and drive your knees out.
7. Try to wedge your hips closer to the bar, or pull the bar into your shins and raise your chest up. A good cue here is to ‘show me the logo on your shirt’ to emphasize this
8. Spread the floor with your feet to initiate bringing your hips forward and begin to stand up. This will drive your torso backward as you MAINTAIN TENSION.
9. Continue to squeeze your glutes and spread the floor until you lock your knees and hips out with the bar finishing just below your hips.
10. To bring the bar back down, just push your hips backward and allow it to travel just in front of your shins; same path up, same path down.
11. Be a total badass*

Trap Bar Deadlift
1. Step inside the bar with your feet under your hips, toes either straight or pointed out 15ºt bar bottom side
2. You should stand equidistant within the bar, so center yourself as if you were Saturn with a ring around you
3. Take in your breath, tilt your belly button slightly up to your chin, lock your ribs down and focus (more air = more tension = more force applied)
4. Drive your hips back and then with some more bend in your knees to grip the bar, somewhat like a mix of a squat and deadlift. This is because trap bar utilizes more anterior chain (quads) than other forms
5. Grip the handles evenly and with your knuckles facing the sides of your lower leg
6. Again, take the slack out of the bar by engaging your lats and imagine t bar top sidebending the bar
7. Lift your chest and press into your feet, activate your hamstrings, glutes and quads
8. As you press into your feet, engage your legs while driving your hips forward
9. SQUEEZE YOUR BUTT LIKE YOU’RE TRYING TO HOLD IN A FART! As funny as it is to think about it’s a completely fool proof method to give you a rock solid lockout position
10. Don’t let your shoulders sag forward as you stand, keep your upper back locked in and tension
11. Once you lockout at standing, push your hips back and allow the bar to return to the floor

Whether you are a beginner, novice, veteran, or an expert, there is a variation that will always fit your needs and goals. There is always room to experiment to find which you enjoy, but each has their pro’s and con’s, so do not religiously commit to only one form. By using all variations in moderation, you can create an ultimate powerhouse of compound movement grooving, plus build some nice buns in the process. Now get out there and give some of these a shot! Stay tuned next week when I bring you;

Bulletproof your Back for Safer and Stronger Lifts!

  • Link to Orca 28 Day Challenge!!

Link to the Video!!

Find YOUR Style to Deadlift