I love the Deadlift, but many fear it and think they will hurt their back. With a tight focus on good form, proper technique through the entire lift (both up and down), and a consistent approach; you really have nothing to fear and a lot to gain. The Deadlift and the Squat are two of the best lifts for activating muscle growth throughout your entire body. Well worth learning how to do them well.
You know what I love so much about the Deadlift? For me, it’s the one lift where I can go all out, max effort, with very little risk associated with a failed rep. If I fail on a rep, I just let the bar drop. No big deal. It is so easy to bail on a failed Deadlift rep. Bailing on a Squat when you’re deep in the hole is no fun at all. Losing control on an Overhead Squat feels like the bar might come crashing down on you or pull you over backwards. Bailing on a Military Press, Push Press, or Split Jerk is scary as hell with that heavy bar overhead. Bailing on a Bench Press sucks when that bar crushes down on your chest. But, like I said, if a Deadlift rep is too much, just let the bar drop back to the ground. Love it.
I really like Mark Rippetoe’s training and technique videos on YouTube. He has some very useful ones for the Deadlift. I also like the advice from Stronglifts too. Despite the title of the article, Why I Hate the Deadlift, that article on Elite FTS has some great videos and tips from the experts. All good stuff for learning how to lift better.
Advice on Setting Up
- Step up to the barbell and stand with your feet under the bar, so that the bar is right above the center/middle of your feet. It should be very close to your shins but not actually touching.
- Unlike the Squat, for the Deadlift your feet should be a little less than shoulder-width apart with toes pointing just a little bit out
- With a very slight bend to your knees, bend over and reach straight down with your arms to grip the bar, with your arms just outside of your knees.
- Your butt is still up in the air. You are not squatting down yet.
- Grip the bar overhand so that your arms are vertical and perpendicular to the floor. Some people switch to a mixed over and under grip on super heavy lifts. Squeeze the bar hard to activate your muscles!
- Now, bend your knees and lower your butt down a bit until your shins touch the bar.
- Your shoulders should be directly above the bar. Do not let your shoulders drift in front of/ahead of the bar and do not be sitting back so far that your shoulder are behind the bar.
- Look up from the bar and look straight ahead, neck in a neutral position. You should not be looking up or down.
- Lift your chest up, but do not squeeze your shoulder-blades back (unlike the Squat).
- At this point, your neck and back should be forming a straight line down to your hips, at an angle. Your back should not be rounded (i.e., humped), especially your lower back.
- Now, right before you initiate the actual lift, pull the slack out of the “system”. What I mean by this is that you want your whole body tight and under tension. So, that means starting to stand up every so slightly with your legs to make your arms pull tight and lock out while gripping the bar hard. The bar is still firmly on the ground, but now every muscle in your body should be tight and your arms are locked to act as levers during the lift that will begin with your legs.
Advice for Lifting Up
- Take a deep breath into your belly and hold it, pushing your belly out. This stabilizes and protects your back. Plus, holding your breath helps you keep your whole body tight during the lift.
- Start lift with your legs only, keeping arms locked straight out and maintaining the angle of your back. You are not “pulling” the bar from the floor with your arms at all. Do not bend your arms, unless you like tearing a bicep muscle!
- Lift the bar slowly and steadily from the ground and keep the bar close to your body. Get used to the bar scraping up your shins. That’s normal. Don’t like it? Wear pants or knee socks on Deadlift day.
- You should feel as if you are pushing your feet down through the floor to pull the bar up, not lifting the bar with your arms.
- You should feel like you are leaning back to the point that you would fall over backwards if the weight was not there to counterbalance you.
- You can accelerate your pull as the bar clears your knees and starts scraping up your thighs.
- As you clear your knees and your legs are straightening out, drive your hips into bar and you can start lifting your torso up and standing up straight.
- Squeeze your glutes and quads at the top to help the lockout.
- You will end with the barbell roughly at your waist, with your shoulders up and back normally as if you are just normally standing up. Do not exaggerate and pull your shoulder blades back or lean back. This will hurt your lower back and/or shoulders.
Advice for Putting Bar Back Down
- You should still be holding your breath and your body should still be tight and under tension. Do not breathe out or relax your core muscles.
- Simply reverse the steps of the lift to put the bar back on the ground under control.
- Keeping back straight, bend over at the waist to slowly lower the bar below your knees. Keep the bar close to your body at all times.
- Now you can start bending your knees to let the bar slide down your shins to the floor.
- Even if you are doing multiple reps, I don’t believe in bouncing the bar off the floor or letting it just drop. It should only drop if you need to for a failed rep.
- With the bar on the floor, breathe out and take another deep breath if you are doing another rep.
Things to Avoid
- Do not have any slack in your arms at any point during the pull, even right before you start (e.g., bent elbows).
- Do not “jerk” the weight from the ground. You will get injured that way.
- Do not try to pull the bar at any point with your arms. This is not an arm exercise. They are just levers for holding the bar, while your legs and back do the work.
- Do not let your hips rise during the lift while your back stays leaned over. You should maintain that straight angle in your back, while the legs are pushing.
- Do not let your back round over during the lift (related to previous point). You will hurt your back and it means the weight is too heavy for you. If you feel your back rounding because you are not able to stand up straight, bail on the rep.
- Do not lean back at the top. You will see some people lift that way, with an exaggerated lean back at the top and finish of the lift. Do not do that. Do not squeeze or pull your shoulder blades back. Again, you will get injured that way.
- Do not look up or down. Keep your head and neck in a neutral position.
- Do not bounce the weight off the ground when doing multiple reps. It lets slack get into the “system” (e.g., your arms) and it’s cheating!
- Do not breathe out at the top of the lift. Doing that will let your body relax, muscles relax, and that’s when you get hurt.
There you have it! It seems like a lot to think about and remember, but just keep setting up consistently and lifting consistently for each and every rep. Lift the light weight like it’s heavy and the heavy weight like it’s light. Keep working on your deadlift and enjoy how strong it makes your whole body!