The deadlift in all its forms is an absolute staple lower body strength exercise, and today we’re looking at the clean deadlift vs deadlift. What exactly is it that makes them different? And which is the right lift for you? We’ll be covering:

Let’s jump straight in…

Clean Deadlift: A Demonstration

Here’s a short 60-second video I put together demonstrating the clean deadlift with key technical cues and things to focus on:

Convention Deadlift: A Demonstration

And here’s a short 60-second video I put together demonstrating the conventional deadlift with key technical cues and things to focus on:

Clean Deadlift Vs Conventional Deadlift: What Are the Differences?

1) Clean deadlift vs deadlift start position

One of the first things you’ll notice is that the clean deadlift and the conventional deadlift have different start positions. The clean deadlift has lower hips and shoulders ever so slightly more forwards, whilst the conventional deadlift has a higher hip position.

Strength coach demonstrating conventional deadlift and clean deadlift

2) Clean Vs Conventional Deadlift Weight Distribution and Balance

Another key difference, closely related to the first point, is your back angle and posture in the clean vs conventional deadlift.

In the clean deadlift you’re aiming to stay over the bar for much longer, keeping your shoulders above or slightly in front of the bar, and your balance over your midfoot.

In the conventional deadlift, your weight distribution starts midfoot but moves further backwards, almost towards your heel. Your shoulders also move slightly backwards, and you don’t try to stay over the bar in the same way.

Looking for An Olympic Weightlifting Programme?

classic weightlifting programme

I’ve put together a 13-week classic weightlifting programme.

It utilises the best evidence-based practice and focuses on the exercises, sets and reps proven to work, whilst cutting out the fluff and filler.

It also comes with full instructions, Q&A access, and a guide to auto-regulation/individualisation.

You can learn more about the programme by clicking right here.

3) Working Muscles in the Conventional Deadlift Vs Clean Deadlift

The higher hip position in the conventional, a.k.a powerlifting, deadlift allows for greater activation of posterior chain muscles (hamstrings and glutes)

Working Muscles in the Conventional Deadlift Vs Clean Deadlift

The lower hip position used in the clean deadlift brings more quadricep work into the movement. You’ll still use your hamstrings and glutes, just not quite as much as in a conventional deadlift.

As one switched-on reddit user put it: “by starting with low hips, you’re essentially turning the conventional deadlift, almost into a deficit deadlift.

4) Scapula Retraction vs ‘Lats to Pockets’

In the clean deadlift you’re aiming to keep your scapula (shoulder blades) retracted and your upper back tight and upright.

In the conventional deadlift you’re aiming to reduce range of motion as much as possible, so the cue “lats to pockets” is used to reinforce scapula depression (shoulders blades down) almost like you’re pushing your ribcage down to your hips.

5) Clean Deadlift Vs Deadlift Weight Used

You’ll lift less total weight in the clean deadlift than in the conventional deadlift. Having a lower hip position recruits less hamstring and glutes, and less total muscle recruitment means less total weight lifted.

This is why every deadlift world record is set using a conventional (or even sumo) pull, instead of with a clean deadlift set-up.

Person lifting heavy weights

What Is The Point of a Clean Deadlift?

Since you lift less weight in the clean deadlift you might be wondering what the point of a clean deadlift actually is. The point of a clean deadlift is to strengthen the pull of the clean in the exact same positions that you will be in when performing a clean and jerk.

So you can think of the clean deadlift as an olympic weightlifting-specific strength movement.

But Why Does the Clean Deadlift Have to Be Different?

Just like when we mentioned above…

“the clean deadlift needs to exactly mirror the positions of the clean in order for it to have the best carryover.”

If you perform a regular conventional deadlift with higher hips, this won’t be similar enough to the clean to have maximal carrover.

To get geeky with you for a minute, the conventional deadlift moves your weight distribution and centre of balance too far backwards and allows you to straighten your legs too much, so that it makes it difficult, or even impossible to properly execute the second pull (triple extension) that accelerates the barbell.

If you want to feel this for yourself, try performing a conventional deadlift (or even an RDL) followed immediately by a vertical jump with the bar. You’ll see right away how those positions don’t mesh together properly.

Should I Use the Clean Deadlift or the Conventional Deadlift?

Whether you should use the clean deadlift or conventional deadlift depends on your training goals:

  • If you want to build general strength: Use the conventional deadlift as it allows you to lift more total weight.
  • If you want to compete in powerlifting: use the conventional deadlift as it allows you to deadlift more weight.
  • If you want to improve your olympic weightlifting: Use the clean deadlift as it strengthens the clean and has the best sport-specific strength carryover.

Clean Deadlift Vs Deadlift Shareable Infographic

Here’s a short summary of everything we’ve talked about today. Feel free to save it, print it, and share it. It’s yours.

Character strength and conditioning. Clean deadlift vs deadlift

Next Steps

1) Hopefully you’ve found the article useful, if you did, consider joining my mailing list for weekly programmes, workouts and weightlifting tips.

2) Feel free to share the article with anyone you think would benefit

3) If you want to find out more about my weightlifting coaching options, or pre-written weightlifting programmes, you can check out the links there.

‘Til Next Time


Strength coach

Alex Parry, MSc, BA

Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.

His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.