Utilizing the deadlift for Olympic weightlifting is an issue we get asked about often. It is a great question. We want by starting to identify the deadlift as either the conventional deadlift, the sumo deadlift, or, in theory, the trap bar deadlift.
The positions of the feet is where we will start. In the sumo position, we will have a wide stance, which is different from what we are looking for in the realm of Olympic weightlifting. There will be a little round in the thoracic spine with a shorter range of motion pulling.
Talking about the conventional stance, the bar will tighter to the body and the feet a little closer to where we will pull when snatching or cleaning. We will the knees clear back when pulling a very heavy deadlift. But we have to think about the best deadlifts in the world are going to be rounding their back initially off the floor with flexion that is stable and set. As the bar passes the knees there will be a hip extension to keep the bar tight and finish the big, heavy pull. We know that both of these styles of deadlifting will require a lot of the posterior chain, lower back, and the lats will get work done. These are all muscles that contribute very well to Olympic weightlifting. The lats helps keep the bar tight off the floor, keeping the knees back is a key concept, and utilizing the hamstrings is really important when talking about Olympic weightlifting, especially in the pull.
Discussing the trap bar deadlift, or hex bar deadlift, the stance is going to be similar to the pulling position of the Olympic lifts. The pull is going to be a bit more quad dominant. We like this movement because of the quad dominance and force being applied through the floor with hip flexion right away. It is not going to be as posterior chain dominant as the sumo or conventional deadlifts. Still, the lats and erectors will be trained to a point, but not as much as the traditional deadlift.
Relation To Olympic Weightlifting
We have to think about the snatch and clean and jerk. We have to know what we are looking for and what our technical model demands--the knees clearing back right off the floor, the quads and hamstrings loading at the same time for a solid co-contraction are similar to the movement of the conventional deadlift.
The co-contraction between the hamstrings and quads is paramount to a big, strong vertical finish. Hamstring dominant athletes on the finish may jump back. Quad dominant athletes on their finish may jump forward. This is a pivotal concept that has the deadlift being effective for Olympic weightlifting.
The clean requires athletes to be a little more quad dominant off the floor. Athletes will be quad dominant and posterior dominant pulling on that finish. The catch position will typically be much more quad dominant out of the hole.
When we think about deadlifting, we are thinking about the pull in the snatch and the pull in the clean. We know what muscle groups which will be utilized and they’re similar. But there are a few differences. The speed will be much slower on a heavier deadlift. The speed is going to be slightly altered and the patterning is going to be slightly different.
Should The Deadlift Be Used
Should the sumo, conventional, or trap bar deadlift be used to improve the pull in the clean or snatch?
First off, don’t use the sumo deadlift at all. Cross it off the list. It will make athletes tight in the hips and won’t transfer at all to the Olympic lifts.
The conventional deadlift, in our opinion, is absolutely worthless for Olympic weightlifting. There will come a point where the conventional deadlift will impeded on the technical precision needed in Olympic weightlifting.
We have to recognize that technique is paramount. Technique rules in the realm of Olympic weightlifting. Athletes can gain strength else where and through other types of pulls, such as a clean pull, snatch pull, snatch high pull, clean high pull, or snatch pull to a target. These are all pulls that enhance strength. We also believe pause squats enhance strength off the floor.
We don’t need the conventional deadlift to enhance pulling strength. Why? Because it is going to screw up the way the back is set up for Olympic weightlifting, and we are going to stay over the bar and typically rock back a little where the toes almost start to pop in the conventional deadlift. This shouldn’t happen in a pull with the snatch or clean.
The trap bar deadlift poses an interesting issue. For instance, athletes who have lower back issues or have problems getting heavier pulls in some ways, we have infrequently used trap bar deadlifts to maintain leg strength. It is also good for easing stress off the back. It isn’t that bad for Olympic weightlifting; however, we don’t recommend using it as primary movement for developing pulling strength, we only use it once a year or once every eighteen months.
Now, at times, really far out from a major competition, we don’t mind using a snatch grip deadlift or a clean grip deadlift. But. And this is a big but. We have our lifters perform the snatch grip deadlift or clean grip deadlift the exact same way they will perform the clean or snatch. We want the positions to be identical. It will not be the classical deadlift. We want a full application from the heel, toes, and middle of the foot.
Sumo is trash (for Olympic weightlifting). Conventional deadlift is a party trick if needed. Trap bar deadlift once in a while or an injured athlete needs it to maintain leg strength. Utilize the clean grip deadlift or snatch grip deadlift as long as they are executed exactly like the way we want our technical movements to be executed. Finally, it is much more effective, and transfers to a much higher degree, using snatch pulls, clean pulls, snatch pulls to targets, Taipei pulls, panda pulls. And don’t forget that pause back squats and pause front squats play a role in pulls off the floor and have crazy bang for their buck in regards to Olympic weightlifting.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.