I teach strength classes as Dane's Body Shop. The class programming is total body and on most occasions involves several types of deadlift variations across the week utilizing varying intensities and volumes. I believe these to be the best deadlift variations and use all of them, except the straight-leg deadlift (Jefferson Curl). I talked about the conventional deadlift and the sumo deadlift in a prior article and will brush over them again. As a side note; there is no naming convention (a convention in which the names of things are generally agreed upon,) so people name things at will. So I name them so as to help people know which exercise we are doing in class. So without further adieu the 6 greatest deadlift variations.  

1. Stiff-Leg or Semi-Stiff Leg Deadlift - The Semi-Stiff Leg Deadlift is done like a deadlift except with a higher hip position. It is similar to the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) except with the bar goes completely to the floor. I have seen Ed Coan demonstrate a similar movement to this on Youtube. In the variation that Ed Coach uses; he allows the bar to drift away from his body and out over the toes. So it is essentially a variation of a variation. I prefer to keep the bar as close to the body as possible; much like a deadlift. Some people call the semi-stiff leg deadlift an RDL; there is no naming convention, so you can call it whatever you like; see RDL below. I will go over the RDL further in a bit; some say they are done the same, except in an RDL the legs remained bent mimicking the power position in an Olympic lift whereas a semi-stiff leg deadlift the knees reach full extension at the top. Here is Mark Rippetoe demonstrating the RDL which is also used synonymously with the Stiff-Leg Deadlift or what I like to call the Semi-Stiff leg deadlift. 

2. Romanian Deadlift- Similar to semi-stiff leg deadlift except the bar doesn’t touch the ground; it stops about 2" from the floor; the movement also begins with the knees unlocked and they remain unlocked through the completion of the lift. According to Jim Schmitz the lift was" 'discovered' at {his} gym, The Sports Palace, San Francis 1990." (1) Nicu and his Coach Dragomir were there teaching some clinics while in the states for the Goodwill Games in the clinic at the Sports Palace" where Nicu was working out; he had just finished clean & jerks and the "he{...} proceeded to do {...} a combination stiff-leg deadlift and regular deadlift{...}" (1)

At this point, "someone watching asked what the exercise he was doing was. Nicu just shrugged his shoulders and said it was to make his back strong for the clean.  Dragomir also said the same; it was just a lift that Nicu had developed for his back and clean.  Well, then everyone was really interested and asked Nicu to demonstrate it with lighter weights and describe how to do it.  Someone taking notes asked what this lift was called.  There was a long pause and Nicu and Dragomir didn’t have a name, so I said, “Let’s call it the Romanian deadlift or RDL for short,” and every one agreed and there you have the birth of the RDL.  MILOpublisher and editor-in-chief Randall Strossen was there taking photos."(1) You can read the full article here

So there you have it; where the Romanian Deadlift came from allegedly and what it is. Here is a video from catalyst athletics in which greg Everett is demonstrating the RDL. The biggest difference to see here is the position assumed by the lifter; the legs remain unlocked or bent the entire time. In the previous video the legs are fully extended at the end of the movement. There is another video of Greg demonstrating the HERE.

3. Straight Leg Deadlift or (Jefferson Curl) - To be honest I have never done either of these lifts. The straight leg deadlift is done with straight legs fully extended unlike the semi-stiff leg deadlift or the RDL. This usually requires the use of a box and at that point looks more like the Jefferson Curl. Now like I said previously there are is no naming convention so some people use the same names for other lifts. I do not believe they are all the same lift. Straight leg is technically a stiff leg; I guess I could call it the straight-stiff leg deadlift as opposed to the semi-stiff leg deadlift. While searching I found Lyle McDonalds blog where he talks about the stiff-legged deadlift and has a picture of a woman rounding her back which would not happen with weights on due to shorter range of motion, it looks more like a Jefferson Curl as seen on Gymnasticbodies website. As I previously mentioned I do not use either of the lifts in my programming under load, I use them generally as a mobility aspect or as part of a movement prep, or performance prep (warm-up). 

4. Conventional Deadlift aka Clean Grip Deadlift - A conventional deadlift is the "king of lifts" according to some and a title I am not willing to argue with. There are a few types of deadlifts done with a clean grip; the conventional deadlift, in which the hips are high and the shoulders are directly over the bar with an almost vertical shin angle; depending on anthropometrics; below is a picture of a conventional deadlift set up; two lifters with two different body types. A clean "style" deadlift; which mimicks the positions necessary for a clean; shoulders in front of or over the bar and lower hips; which lead to a smaller shin angle. 


5. Sumo Deadlift - Feet are wider than the grip, powerlifters and weight-lifting enthusiasts, not for strongman or weightlifting. 

Coy Schneider of

5.2 I lied you can find some Olympic weightlifters doing a variation of the sumo deadlift although with a much closer foot position and called sumo clean pulls

6. Snatch Grip Deadlift aka wide grip deadlift - This is a lift down by Olympic weightlifters to strengthen the posterior chain and develop better positioning for the snatch. Outside of Olympic weightlifting I have read a lot about Coach Poliquin using it in his training programs specially from a podium. 

Here is Ilya doing snatch grip deadlift off of a podium with a drop, I do not like for general athletes to drop the bar unless at specific times in the training year, the eccentric is the best part of the lift. 


1.) Schmitz, Jim. "Jim Schmitz on the Lifts." RDL: Where It Came From, How to Do It. Iron Mind, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.