The Seated Deadlift

The Seated Deadlift

Building strength, power, speed, and work capacity requires a training method that consistently delivers stimulus capable of producing positive training adaptations for the athlete. Training an athlete to reach their full athletic potential takes more than just the basic barbell exercises. An athlete must select optimal exercises programmed to target specific special strengths and improve athletic traits and sports performance.  

Over the years, Westside Barbell has created or popularized many training methods and movements. Never one to approach strength training with a closed mind, Lou understood that improvement required innovation and made sure the athletes he worked with had the means necessary to improve. From the box squat to the Reverse Hyper, Lou's forward-thinking nature helped improve the sports performance of countless athletes. 

One of these movements included an exercise called the seated deadlift, often referred to as the chair deadlift. The seated deadlift intends to improve hip strength while simultaneously refining the sumo deadlift technique. Much like the box squat improves competition squat strength and technique, the seated deadlift introduces an apparatus that provides similar benefits for competition deadlift strength and technique.

Whether an athlete is focused on strength or conventional sports, special exercises such as the seated deadlift help improve sports performance by delivering optimal training stimulus in a specific manner. Below, we will discuss how the seated deadlift can increase lower body strength, specifically target the hips, and improve the sumo deadlift technique.    

What are Seated Deadlifts?

The seated deadlift is a lower-body exercise variation used to improve hip strength and deadlift technique. When performed correctly, it targets the superficial and deep gluteal muscles, adductor muscles, iliopsoas group, and abdominals. Depending on how the exercise is programmed, it can be used to build or test strength and technique.

The seated deadlift is a great way to introduce the sumo deadlift to beginner-level athletes. It allows an athlete to slow down the sumo deadlift, focusing on technical execution. This often results in athletes building strict technique and competency that helps enhance exercise benefits and lower the risk of injury. 

The seated deadlift is also a helpful training variation for intermediate and advanced athletes. With these athletes, it can be used to further refine technique or to target specific hip-related weaknesses. The seated deadlift can provide worthwhile training stimulus no matter how advanced an athlete may be. 

Here are a few of the common seated deadlift variations used at Westside Barbell:

Sumo Barbell Seated Deadlift

This is the most common variation of the seated deadlift, performed sumo-style with a barbell. With the sumo-style seated deadlift, we can effectively target the hips while focusing on achieving an upright torso position during our sumo deadlift setup. Additionally, the sumo-style positioning also helps introduce the quads into the movement. 

This exercise is typically performed for 3 to 5 sets of 1-3 repetitions and can also be performed using accommodating resistance. 

Conventional Barbell Seated Deadlift

The conventional seated deadlift is our second most common variation of the seated deadlift. This variation is useful for targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and mid and low back. Similar to the sumo seated deadlift, the conventional seated deadlift can also be used to teach optimal torso positioning when performing a conventional deadlift. 

This exercise is typically performed for 3-5 sets of 1-3 repetitions and can also be performed using accommodating resistance. 

Kettlebell/Dumbbell Seated Deadlift

When performing this variation, athletes will use kettlebells or dumbbells to perform the seated deadlift. This exercise can be performed using a sumo or conventional stance. Although the training device may change, the execution will mimic the sumo or conventional seated deadlift. This variation is most commonly used as a repeated effort accessory exercise. 

This exercise is typically performed for 2-4 sets of 5-8, 8-10, or 10-15 repetitions.

Typically, the sumo and conventional seated deadlift are used to develop strength and refine technique. At Westside, we typically work between 1 and 3 repetitions when performing these variations, focusing on the strict execution of each rep while training at a meaningful level of intensity. The sumo or conventional seated deadlift is often used as a primary accessory exercise. 

The kettlebell/dumbbell seated deadlift is a great way to build lower body muscle mass and work capacity. This exercise aims to adhere to the strict movement standards of a seated deadlift while performing multiple sets of 5-8, 8-10, or 10-15 repetitions. Athletes can work at higher repetition counts if deemed necessary for conditioning. 

Benefits of Seated Deadlifts

The primary benefit of the seated deadlift is refining the deadlift technique. Whether pulling sumo or conventional, the chair deadlift can be used to drill technique and positioning at the most critical point of each lift—the starting point. When performing a deadlift, the lift is made by achieving an advantageous starting position. 

The seated deadlift helps an athlete learn to elevate the torso while bringing the hips forward. This demand will help develop the strength and rigidity necessary to establish and hold stable positioning in the sumo or conventional deadlift when initiating the pull. These improvements will quickly lead to improved torso posture and speed off the floor. 

The kettlebell or dumbbell seated deadlift can also improve lower body muscle mass and work capacity. By performing multiple sets at higher rep counts, athletes can use repeated effort training to effectively target lower body muscle groups while improving conditioning. Each rep must be performed with strict technique, ensuring the seated position is correctly achieved, which helps to increase the demand placed on the athlete. 

No matter the athlete's needs, the seated deadlift can be implemented to improve lower body strength, muscle mass, or technical execution. When executed correctly, this exercise provides meaningful stimulus and is a smart addition to any athlete's training plan. 

Performing Seated Deadlifts Correctly

While the seated deadlift can provide a worthwhile training stimulus, this is only possible if the exercise is performed correctly. As stated above, the seated deadlift forces an athlete to achieve strict positioning during the movement, so athletes must take time to learn proper exercise execution. 

Here are the steps to performing a seated deadlift:

Step One - Sit on the Chair and Grip the Bar

The first step to performing a seated deadlift is to sit on the chair or box and grip the barbell. If we perform the seated deadlift using a sumo stance, we typically use a wider stance and a slightly forward shin angle. If we go with a conventional stance, we will sit in a position similar to that achieved just as the barbell breaks contact with the ground. 

Once we have achieved proper hip positioning on the chair or box, we will grip the barbell. Grip positioning will depend on the style of the deadlift, but no matter the style, we want to focus on a tight grip with the arms directly on the inside (sumo) or outside (conventional) of the legs. 

Step Two - Brace the Trunk

Once the athlete is seated correctly and the grip is secure, we will then brace the trunk. The trunk brace procedure for a seated deadlift is no different than any other trunk brace procedure. We want to breathe into and expand the diaphragm, inflating the trunk to stabilize and support the spine. 

Step Three - Raise the Torso

Now that we are properly positioned on the chair or box and have the barbell securely gripped with a strong brace, we can initiate the movement. To begin the chair deadlift, we want to raise the torso to achieve what would be considered optimal torso positioning during the beginning phase of sumo or conventional deadlift. 

This part of the movement is critical and helps athletes learn to achieve proper torso positioning as they initiate a sumo or conventional deadlift. At Westside, we typically perform 1-2 torso raises before standing up. These torso raises are usually held for two counts each raise.

This means that one complete rep requires an athlete to raise the torso disciplined and controlled 1-2 times for a two-count each before completing the actual deadlift. Once the athlete has achieved 1-2 disciplined torso raises, we will move on to the next step. 

Step Four - Stand Up 

As we raise the torso, the first raise will be held for a two-count and then lowered to the ground. We will then initiate the second torso raise, hold for a two-count, and complete the concentric movement as explosively as possible. While we want to be as explosive as possible, we want to ensure athletes maintain strict execution throughout the concentric portion of the lift. 

If performing multiple reps, we will return to the seated position with our grip maintained and run through the steps again. 

Seated Deadlift vs. Traditional Deadlift 

When it comes to improving lower body absolute strength, the traditional deadlift is the best option. However, if an athlete wishes to improve as rapidly as possible, we must introduce exercise variations into the mix. The seated deadlift is an excellent exercise variation to assist in refining deadlift technique and improving lower body strength. 

Just as we use the box squat to build the competition squat, we can use an exercise variation like the seated deadlift to build the competition deadlift. Similar to how the box squat forces an athlete to focus on exercise execution and strict movement with the squat technique, the seated deadlift can offer the same for the competition deadlift technique. 

When programming these exercises, the traditional deadlift will typically be used as a main or primary accessory exercise. Seated deadlifts will always be programmed as a primary or secondary accessory exercise, considering they are focused on positioning and technical execution rather than high-intensity exercise. 

Common Mistakes and Tips

The most common mistakes athletes make with seated deadlifts involve raising the torso. To execute a seated deadlift rep, an athlete must elevate the torso twice for a two-count, followed by the concentric movement. Often, athletes load too much weight on the bar or become lazy and achieve weak torso elevation during the two holds. 

Athletes must focus on strict holds at optimal torso elevation to yield the most significant improvement. This will help strengthen the positioning and create mental reference points for the athlete to ensure the technique is optimal when performing a standard deadlift. 

Another mistake athletes make during the seated deadlift is having the barbell too far away from the shins. When performing a standard deadlift, we often want the barbell to split our foot in half if we look down at the barbell and the feet. However, with the seated deadlift, we want to start with the barbell closer to the shins. 

This will allow the athlete to grip the bar and achieve a proper vertical torso position without having to worry about extending the torso or leaning forward to bring the bar into the shins. 

The final mistake we will mention is cutting the hold times short before the concentric portion of the lift. We want to achieve static holds for a solid two-count each time we perform a torso raise. This helps improve strength, particularly with the trunk muscles as well as the mid and lower back. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How does the seated deadlift differ from the standard deadlift?

A: The seated deadlift is a special exercise used to improve standard deadlift strength and technique. Improving the standard deadlift is the overall goal; the seated deadlift is a tool used to achieve that goal. 

Q: What muscles are targeted during the seated deadlift?

A: This exercise will target the superficial and deep gluteal muscles, adductor muscles, iliopsoas group, and abdominals. The muscles of the mid and lower back can also benefit. 

Q: How should seated deadlifts be used in a training plan?

A: If used to improve strength and technique, we will perform 3-5 sets of 1-3 repetitions. If used as an accessory exercise to improve muscle mass and work capacity, we will perform 2-4 sets of 5-8, 8-10, or 10-15 repetitions. 

Q: Should conventional sports athletes use seated deadlifts?

A: Absolutely. The seated deadlift is a great way to introduce and teach the deadlift. It also improves the strength and work capacity of lower body muscle groups that play a vital role in sports performance. 

Q: Can we use seated deadlifts as a max effort variation?

A: While possible, we would not recommend using the seated deadlift as a max effort variation. The movement would likely limit the training weight an athlete can use, ultimately limiting the exercise intensity and the effect the exercise can have when seeking to improve absolute strength. 

The Right Tool for the Job

As athletes work through a Conjugate Method training plan, many different exercise variations can come into play. Unfortunately, this level of choice and programming customization often overwhelms athletes regarding how to use our training methods and common exercises properly. However, there is a method to what seems to be madness.

Every exercise we select during a training program has a purpose. Whether the purpose is to improve absolute strength, explosive power, muscle mass, or work capacity, there is a reason the exercise was selected. At Westside, we don't choose random exercises; we choose exercises that deliver the training stimulus the athlete needs at that specific time. 

If you are an athlete struggling with deadlift technique, trunk or torso weakness, or want to add a challenging accessory exercise into your training routine, the seated deadlift can be a great option. Following the movement and programming tips above, athletes can successfully use the seated deadlift to solve lower body weakness and deadlift execution errors. 

Optimal Conjugate Method training depends on a coach or athlete's ability to choose the right tool for the job. This will allow specific training adaptations to be made when necessary and allow training to remain productive long-term. Remember, the most optimal programming occurs when the coach or athlete develops the ability to identify weaknesses and select the right tool to solve the issue.


Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk is the Digital Content Manager at Westside Barbell and a Conjugate Method strength coach. Training and studying under Louie Simmons over the past decade, Burley has attained the experience, knowledge and understanding necessary to master the Conjugate Method.

Read more articles by Burley

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.