Best Deadlift For Glutes – 6 Glute Development Variations

The conventional deadlift is a popular compound exercise that will fire up many of your posterior chain muscles, these are the muscles located on the back of your body.  

Because the deadlift is a multi-joint exercise, they are one of the more difficult movements to pull off but, when done with proper form, they’re one of the best exercises for making significant strength gains and building muscle.  


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Gone are the days when they were viewed as just a powerlifting movement and the significant benefits they offer mean they’ve become a staple exercise for many people, including those whose primary goal is glute development.  

However, given the many types of deadlifts, deciding on the best deadlift for glutes requires some insight.  

So, stick around if you’d like to find out more about the different deadlift variations, like the Romanian deadlift and sumo deadlift, and how they can help you achieve optimum glute growth.  

How To Properly Activate Your Glutes In The Deadlift

Typically, the traditional deadlift has always fallen into the category of being either a back or a leg exercise, and it’s often debated as to whether this hip hinge movement should be done as part of back training or on leg day.  

sumo deadlift exercise

This is because of the significant demands it places on many different muscle groups.

Some people feel more muscle activation in their lower back, whereas others may notice more recruitment in their hamstrings and glutes.  

But the truth is, any deadlift exercise can be done as part of your back, leg, or glute training.  

But how does a deadlift specifically work the glutes?  

Well, three key factors will determine how much emphasis is being placed on your glutes when performing a deadlift, and these are your starting position, how much weight you’re lifting, and your technique.  

Let’s consider these in more detail.  

While it’s often suggested that the best deadlift foot placement for glute activation is to adopt a wider stance, this can minimize the glute stretch at the bottom of the exercise and shift more of the tension onto your quads.  

When your feet are positioned far apart this prevents your glute max from fully lengthening meaning that it cannot produce the most amount of force.  

When performing a deadlift the best foot placement to create the most tension through your glutes is to assume a narrow stance with your toes pointing forward.  

With any deadlift variation, the greater the weight load the more that your glute muscles will take over from the hamstrings to assist with straightening your pelvis.

However, how much weight you can pull will also depend on the type of deadlift you’re doing.  

For example, the Romanian deadlift (RDL) involves a shorter range of motion by not letting the bar touch the ground between reps.

This means you’ll need to stick to a relatively light weight so you don’t strain your lower back or erector spinae muscles.   

On the other hand, when performing a conventional barbell deadlift you can opt for lifting much heavier weight, therefore working your glute muscles more intensely.  

It’s worth noting that how you hold the bar could impact how much weight you can deadlift.  

You can limit the rolling of the barbell by adopting what’s known as a mixed grip (sometimes called an over-under grip) where one hand is in the overhand grip position and the other adopts the underhand grip position.  

If you’re lacking in grip strength, it’s a good idea to throw in some exercises specifically to work on the strength of your hands, fingers and forearms.  

When you think of advanced lifters like powerlifters, you may notice they use a lot of explosive power when pulling the weight from the floor to lock out their hips at the top of the deadlift.

They’ll briefly hold this position before dropping the bar back to the ground.  

That’s because their main focus is on overall strength and lifting as much weight as possible rather than muscle development. 

Performing deadlifts in this way is perfect for increasing your strength as you’ll likely be lifting heavy weights, but you’ll be missing out on increasing muscle size to your glutes and hamstrings.  

Lowering the barbell during a deadlift is known as the eccentric phase of the exercise (or negative) and is when the muscles lengthen.  

By doing this slowly and with control you’re resisting the weight load against gravity which will elicit a much better stimulus to muscles in your lower body, especially your glutes.  

No matter what glute exercise you’re doing, whether it’s hip thrusts, squats, or deadlifts, don’t forget to squeeze your glutes as hard as you can at the top of the movement.  

This helps to encourage a better mind-to-muscle connection and further contracts the muscles for increased hypertrophy.  

An important point to consider though is to keep your spine neutral.  

Don’t be tempted to shift your pelvis forward as you squeeze as this could result in unnecessary arching of your lower back which can affect your technique and may result in injury.  

The Best Deadlift For Glutes

Let’s now take a look at some of the best deadlift variations that you can try out as part of your glute strength training.  

The sumo deadlift involves adopting what’s known as a sumo stance which essentially means a wider stance foot placement where your feet should be positioned as wide as possible with your toes pointing outwards.  

With the wider stance, the hips are positioned closer to the barbell at the start of the lift.

This results in less hip flexion, a smaller range of motion, and therefore less stretching of the glute muscles, particularly the gluteus maximus, compared to other variations with a narrower stance.

This reduced stretch can limit the activation and engagement of the glutes throughout the range of motion, potentially compromising the effectiveness of the exercise for glute development.

That being said, while the sumo is not the best deadlift for glutes, it still activates them to a fairly significant degree, particularly the gluteus medius and maximus.

It can also be a better option if you want to work your back muscles less as you are forced to adopt a more upright position.  

sumo deadlift variation

Primary Muscles Worked: Quads & Adductors

Secondary Muscles Worked: Glutes, Hamstrings & Upper Back 

The stiff-legged deadlift involves keeping your legs straight throughout the entire range of motion.  

To ensure optimal glute activation during the stiff-legged deadlift, you should focus on driving through your heels and squeezing the glutes at the top of the movement. 

Another good tip is to maintain tension in the glutes throughout the exercise as this can help to maximize muscle recruitment leading to better glute gains.

It’s important to avoid rounding the lower back as this can shift the emphasis away from the glutes and increase the risk of injury.  

Maintain a flat back and keep your chest upright.  

It’s worth noting that stiff leg deadlifts with lighter weight allow for a better stretch to your hamstrings (except the biceps femoris short head).  

To increase the engagement of your glutes you should deadlift with heavier weights.  

But be careful of your form.  If you’re not that flexible start with lighter weights.  

dumbbell stiff leg deadlift

Primary Muscles Worked: Hamstrings & Erector Spinae

Secondary Muscles Worked: Glutes

The conventional deadlift is a full range of motion exercise that works pretty muscle every muscle in your body.  

It involves adopting a feet shoulder-width stance and lowering the barbell to the ground in between reps, this allows you to deadlift the maximum amount of weight.  

But does this make it the best deadlift for glutes?

When the barbell is on the ground you need to generate force by pushing through your heels to raise back up to a standing position.  

At the bottom of the exercise, tension is placed on your spinal erectors, glutes, lower back and hamstrings with a little recruitment from the quads.  

But, in the case of lifting with a significant amount of weight, there isn’t much focus on the eccentric contraction.  

After all, it’s much harder to perform a negative rep and lower the barbell slowly when you’re deadlifting with a heavily loaded barbell.  

conventional deadlift on weightlifting platform

Primary Muscles Worked: Hamstrings & Back Muscles

Secondary Muscles Worked: Glutes & Hip Extensors

The Romanian deadlift, also known as the RDL, is a lot like the conventional deadlift but without lowering the barbell all the way to the floor.  

This results in less knee bend and hip flexion which helps to put more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings making it one of the best deadlifts for glute development.  

Because you don’t lower the bar to the floor this helps to keep constant tension on the muscles throughout the eccentric phase.  

This means that even though you can’t lift as much weight as something like the sumo or conventional deadlift, your muscles remain contracted until you reach the top of the movement making it a hugely effective exercise for muscle growth.  

Studies have shown that greater muscle hypertrophy is achieved during the eccentric phase of a lift as opposed to the concentric phase.

romanian deadlift

Primary Muscles Worked: Glutes & Hamstrings

Secondary Muscles Worked: Lower Back & Hip Extensors

The single-leg deadlift is usually performed with light weight dumbbells or just body weight.  

It’s a unilateral exercise meaning you’ll be working each leg in turn.  

This is great for working on muscle imbalances and also improving your core strength as you’ll need good balance and flexibility to perform it.  

While it’s not the best option for glute development, as it’s a functional exercise, it’s still a great way of improving your mobility, balance and hamstring flexibility making it a useful addition to your leg-day routine.  

Primary Muscles Worked: Glutes & Hamstrings

Secondary Muscles Worked: Lower Back & Hip Extensors

Any variation, whether it’s the sumo, conventional or Romanian, can be performed as a deficit deadlift.  

What this essentially means is performing the exercise with your feet elevated on something like a couple of weight plates or a step-up box.  

What this does is increases the range of motion thereby elliciting a greater contraction of the muscles.  

You’ll need a fair amount of mobility in your hips, knees and ankles to be able to perform a deficit deadlift but it can be an excellent exercise for addressing any weaknesses you may have when performing other deadlift variations.  

While it’s a great way of promoting strength to your posterior chain muscles, the larger range of motion results in more hip flexion which can put more stress on your lower back.

The Worst Deadlift Variation For Targeting the Glutes

If building big, strong glutes is your overriding goal, the deadlift that you’ll want to avoid is the trap bar deadlift.  

This deadlift variation involves using a hex bar (or trap bar as it’s sometimes called) as opposed to a regular deadlift barbell.  

That’s not because we think it’s a poor exercise.  

In fact, it’s a great exercise for those who want to minimize the load on their lumbar spine and in some cases, it can even be a good alternative for some squat variations, including the standard back squat as it can increase overall force production.

So what makes it a poor choice for developing your glute muscles?

As with a regular deadlift, a trap bar deadlift will work your whole posterior chain but the centered position of the barbell means that your torso maintains a more upright position.  

What this does is limit the recruitment of your lower back and glutes and instead puts more emphasis on your quads and upper back. 

Top Tips For Building Big Glutes With The Deadlift

  1. Adopt a hip-width foot stance with your toes pointing straight ahead.
  2. Stick with a lighter weight so you can focus on slow and controlled reps. 
  3. Lower the barbell as slowly as possible for greater glute activation. 
  4. Maintain a slight bend in your knees to recruit more of your glutes and less of your hamstrings. 
  5. Squeeze the glutes at the top, while they’re not fully contracted in this shortened position, it can encourage mind-muscle connection. 
  6. Always focus on good technique to prevent injury.

Final Conclusion: Best Deadlift For Glutes

Now that we’ve addressed the best ways of activating the glutes when doing a deadlift and discovered more about the most popular deadlift variations, we can conclude that the best deadlift for glutes is the Romanian Deadlift with a focus on the eccentric phase of the lift.  

The constant tension that remains on the glutes throughout the entire exercise results in a much greater muscle stimulus when compared to other variations.  

However, while it’s a great choice for building your glutes, it’s important to consider that any type of deadlift you perform should suit your mobility and flexibility.  

For example, if you suffer from tight hamstrings you’ll want to start with variations like the sumo and focus on hamstring flexibility exercises.  

On the other hand, if you decide to focus more on increasing strength, then the conventional deadlift will allow you to lift more for improved strength gains.  

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