It’s a fact – not everyone can deadlift a straight bar from the floor. Whether we’re talking conventional or sumo deadlifts, not everyone can do them properly or safely. This could be a result of previous injuries or current mobility issues. Whatever the problem, I’m confident the vast majority of trainees can find a deadlift variation that suits their current level of ability.
When someone says “deadlift” this is typically what they’re referring to as it’s the most common variation; it’s also known as a conventional deadlift.
And here’s a demonstration of a sumo deadlift. (Keep in mind not all sumo deadlift styles look the same. Some people have their feet much wider or even closer than I do in the video below).
But what should you do if you can’t properly or safely perform a conventional or sumo deadlift but you still want to pull some heavy weight and work your back, hamstrings, and glutes?
That’s where these two variations come in handy: rack pulls and trap bar deadlifts.
These are two of my favorite deadlift variations for people who can’t, or just don’t want to, pull a straight bar from the floor. Typically these are easier to learn and still allow you to pull some heavy weight, so don’t think you’re missing out completely should you forgo the more common deadlift variations. If you’ve been having trouble with your deadlifts or you want to try some new variations, then give these a try.
This is usually the deadlift variation I use with my clients who are deadlifting for the first time, and for those who just haven’t nailed proper form on conventional deadlifts from the floor. Here’s a video demonstration:
I suggest setting up the bar so it’s about 2-3 inches below the kneecaps, as shown in the video above. Some people have the bar right at or slightly above the kneecaps, but I think that limits the range of motion too much and uses more back and less glutes and hamstrings. You’ll need to use a power rack with adjustable bars or you could elevate the plates on a platform. Both work well. It should also be mentioned that you’ll be able to use more weight than you would if you pulled the bar off the floor, due to the decreased range of motion.
I recommend using sets of about 5-7 reps at first. This way you get to use a challenging, heavy weight (because the reps are low) but it’s not so heavy that you risk your form breaking down. Keep your chest up and stick your butt back as you go down to grab the bar. Squeeze the bar tightly, keep your arms straight, and squeeze your glutes as you thrust your hips forward. Be sure to keep the bar against your body the entire time and stop the motion when you’re standing straight up. Do not hyperextend your lower back. Watch the video above if you’re still uncertain of proper performance.
Trap Bar Deadlifts
This is my other favorite variation for teaching someone to deadlift for the first time. Here’s a video demonstration before we get into the details of how to perform trap bar deadlifts properly:
Notice in the video that I’m using the high handles. You can also use low handles which increases the range of motion, but most people do well with the higher handles when first using this deadlift variation.
Stand in the middle of the trap bar. The middle of your feet should be lined up with the sleeves of the bar (where the plates are loaded).
Stick your butt back as you go down to grab the handles, keep your chest up and arms straight while squeezing the bar tightly. Drive your feet into the ground while pulling up. Actively thrust your hips forward and squeeze your glutes hard at the top. Your butt and shoulders should rise at the same time. Don’t let your butt shoot up before the weight comes off the floor.
For the most part I recommend trainees keep the reps around 5-8 when just starting with trap bar deadifts. If you’re an intermediate to advanced trainee and no stranger to deadlifts, then you can also do lower reps (1-3). I only recommend working in this rep range for individuals who are certain their form is spot on. Intermediates and advanced trainees can also experiment with higher rep sets (10+) for a tough physical and mental challenge. High rep trap bar deadlifts are one of my favorite challenges.
If you’ve been struggling with conventional and/or sumo deadlifts, or you want some much needed variety in your deadlifting arsenal, then give those two variations a try. Let us know how you’re doing with these, and ask any questions in the comments below!