What Kind of Deadlifter Are You? - Silver Wolf Crossfit

What Kind of Deadlifter Are You?

By Marcus Walker

The deadlift is a functional movement that seems very simple in theory. Imagine you are at a picnic and a gust of wind makes you drop your plate of chicken wings. Now the Geneva Convention states that you have 5 seconds to pick up those wings, or else they need to be discarded. Unless you have discovered levitation, you are probably going to employ some form of bending and picking. Let’s face it, if you discovered levitation you wouldn’t be reading this; you’d be off fighting crime or playing tricks on your friends by moving their houses.

There are many different styles of deadlifts; from snatch grip to stiff-legged, but the two we are going to discuss today are the traditional deadlift vs. the clean deadlift. First, though, let’s discuss some history.

The name ‘deadlift’ was first coined back in the 1700s when people actually thought zombies roamed the earth. Gravediggers would lift dead bodies for multiple reps, to ensure that they didn’t move and were in fact, dead. I probably just made all of that up, mostly because deadlift means lifting dead weight, which is not nearly as entertaining. What is entertaining, though, is the two very similar forms of deadlifts and how we might we accidentally combining them.

Traditional Deadlift

The traditional deadlift starts with the feet about hip-width and grip right outside the hips. The goal of this lift is to keep the bar in a straight path to efficiently move a load. He should have his hamstrings taut, like a fully drawn bow string. He should also want to focus on pushing forcefully through the heels, while maintaining his serious face.

Clean Deadlift

Even though Mr. Serious Face switched to dumbbells, his clean setup should be similar to a bar. His feet should still be about hip-width apart, with shoulders over the imaginary bar. The main difference between the clean deadlift vs traditional is weight distribution and hips. In a clean deadlift, the lifter should shift most of their weight to midfoot which is more conducive to an explosive jumping position. Go ahead and try jumping from your heels, I’ll wait….. Take a look again at the two lifters and compare their hip positions with the clean and the deadlift. Notice how high his hips are with the traditional deadlift as opposed to lower hips with the clean deadlift?

Why the differences in the two start positions? Good question, so glad you asked. The answer is based on the bar’s final destination.

The endpoint for the bar in a traditional deadlift is at the hips. We want to make sure our glutes and hamstrings are primed to move heavy loads in a straight path, because physics. The endpoint for a clean deadlift is technically also the hips, but we treat it like it should end in the rack position as with a traditional clean. If you were to trace the bar path of a clean, it would resemble an ‘S’ because the bar has to clear our knees then they re-bend to get into the power position. The destinations are different, thus the journeys are different.

So which one is the best? Boy, you’re full of good questions today, and the simple answer is….it depends.  If your goal is to move the most weight possible, then the traditional deadlift is optimized for that goal. If you would like something that would translate better to Olympic lifting, then the clean deadlift is for you. However, we are Crossfitters here, so variance is key.  So the easy answer is, both.  

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