Deadlifts come in a variety of flavours. There's the conventional, sumo, semi-sumo, romanian, stiff-legged, snatch-grip and many more. While there is no one variation that can be considered to be the “best”, it can be agreed that each one has their own specific uses. Athletes fare best when their training is tailored to their needs instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. In the case of weightlifters (or those interested in pursuing the sport of weightlifting), the deadlift variation of choice would be the clean deadlift.
The sport of weightlifting tests an athlete's ability to perform two competition lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. Both begin with the barbell on the floor but the latter sees the lifter adopting a stance similar to the conventional deadlift, before accelerating it off the floor and catching it on the shoulders in the bottom of a front squat.
This portion of the movement is known as the clean and requires a combination of speed, strength and technique. For a weightlifter, it's not about having the most strength but rather the ability to express it as precisely as possible. The technical demands of weightlifting movements often results in the process of learning and refinement being broken down in the stages. The first stage of the clean is typically trained via the clean deadlift.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
Unlike the conventional deadlift, the hips are noticeably closer to the ground. This allows for a position that is more conducive towards achieving a powerful extension of the legs and hips, and puts the lifter in a more favourable position for receiving the barbell. This setup also allows for a greater usage of the legs, which contain more fast-twitch fibres and are more capable of producing powerful contractions.
Setting up for the clean deadlift begins with taking a foot stance that is slightly wider than that of your conventional deadlift. As a result, your grip will have to widen as well. Squat down to the barbell (instead of hinging) and position your torso so that your shoulder joint is directly above the barbell. From here, grip the barbell,push off the floor and bring the barbell to just above the middle of your thigh. Fully extending the hips and knees is not required as one of the main purposes of the clean deadlift is to teach and reinforce proper positioning throughout the first pull (floor to mid thigh). Your goal during the clean deadlift is to maintain the starting position of your torso throughout the movement and to extend your knees and hips in tandem.
While the use of the clean deadlift is mainly technical in nature, it can also be used as a means to overload the clean movement as part of a progressive training routine. Since the clean mimics the start of the clean & jerk, it's important to build the strength necessary to lift the barbell off the floor and get it into position for the second pull (mid-thigh to extension). Outside the context of weightlifting however, the clean deadlift can be used as an alternative to conventional deadlifting if the goal is to pull from the floor in a manner that's less strenuous on the lower back.
Clean deadlifts are typically programmed in sets of five, although higher repetition sets can be used for non-weightlifting training. Regardless of the situation in which you apply it, remember that it is the execution that keeps the clean deadlift distinctly separate from the conventional deadlift. If you find your clean deadlift regressing into a conventional format, decrease the load and continue from there.