The deadlift is the ultimate total-body strength exercise, working every major muscle group and providing significant benefits for everyday life. Here are the best deadlift variations to shake up your gym sessions…

Looking to mix up your routine with some of the best deadlift variations? Along with the squat, the deadlift is the king of functional strength exercises. If your routine consisted of nothing more than squats and deadlifts, you’d build a strong, enviable physique that’s made to last.

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Crucially, the deadlift will strengthen your entire posterior chain: the name for the group of muscles that run up the back of your body. A strong posterior chain is essential for good posture, and from a more sporting perspective the posterior chain is fundamental to explosive, athletic movements.  

The conventional barbell deadlift is the obvious go-to, but there are other deadlift variations which can shift the emphasis slightly. Plus, for anyone with back issues, switching from a barbell to a pair of dumbbells can be a safer option. 

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As demonstrated by Shane O’Sullivan, founder of Hybrid Physique Coaching, here are three of the best deadlift variations to incorporate into your weekly strength-training routine…  


  1. Best dumbbell exercises for back workout
  2. Try this dumbbell-only leg workout
  3. Best shoulder press variations

Best Deadlift Variations

  1. Staggered-Stance Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 
  2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 
  3. Barbell Deadlift

Keep reading for full instructions on how to perform each deadlift variation.

Man performin start of staggered-stance deadlift - best deadlift variationsMan performing end of staggered-stance deadlift - best deadlift variations
1. Staggered-Stance Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The staggered dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a power accessory movement that works and benefits the posterior chain, glutes and hamstrings. Single-leg-focused movements like this help to correct faulty movement patterns, reinforcing proper hamstring engagement, while improving balance and stability – all of which can increase overall strength.  

How to do a staggered-stance dumbbell Romanian deadlift: 

  • Firstly, place one foot in front of the other, bending the back knee slightly and putting your weight over your front foot. 
  • With dumbbells in hand, hinge at your hips so your torso moves towards the floor.  
  • Keep your head, spine and pelvis aligned as you move. 
  • Use your rear foot to maintain stability and balance in a firm position on the floor. This allows you to overload the glutes. 
  • Then, bring the dumbbells beyond your knee to mid/low shin level, forcing a deep stretch in your glutes. 
  • Finally, squeeze your glutes as you come back up, extending your hips to lockout. 
Once you’ve mastered these deadlift variations, discover the best shoulder press variations

Man performing start of dumbbell romanian deadlift - best deadlift variationsMan performing end of romanian exercise with dumbbells
2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 

The Romanian Deadlift is one of the best lower-body deadlift variations that strengthens various muscle groups located along the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and lower back). As well as working the lower body, the dumbbell Romanian deadlift also targets the core, and is a safe movement for those who suffer from lower back pain. Plus, it’s a simple and effective movement that can be done with minimal equipment, and it’s also a great way to master the hip hinge. 

How to do a dumbbell Romanian deadlift: 

  • Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold dumbbells in both hands, placing them in front of your hips with palms facing thighs. 
  • Then, keeping your spine in a neutral position and squeezing the shoulder blades, start sending the hips back – imagine pushing your glutes back to the wall behind you. 
  • Keeping the dumbbells close to your body, lower them so they’re in front of your shins. Once they pass the knees, do not allow the hips to sink further. 
  • Maintain a neutral spine. Then, drive through your heels to fully extend hips and knees, squeezing glutes hard at the top. 

Man performs dumbbell deadlift - best deadlift variationsMan performing end of barbell exercise
3. Barbell Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is undoubtedly the king of lifts. A widely used compound movement, it builds lower-body strength, core strength and stability, grip strength and overall improved athleticism. The deadlift is a classic powerlifting movement that works the largest muscles groups in the body concurrently. Training the deadlift also prepares you for the functional activity of safely lifting objects off the floor in day-to-day life. 

How to do a barbell deadlift: 

  • Firstly, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with your mid-foot underneath the barbell. 
  • Keep your back straight, hinge your hips and bend over to grip the barbell with a shoulder-width grip. 
  • Next, bring the barbell as close to your body as possible to maintain control of the load.  
  • Look straight ahead – don’t put your head down. 
  • Lift your chest, keep your shoulders protracted back and maintain a straight back.  
  • Engage the lift, keeping the barbell close to the body. Fully extend your hips at the top of the movement.  
  • Then, slide the barbell back down, reversing the movement pattern for 1 rep.

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