Deadlift might be the lift linked to most back injuries. Today, I want to help you thrive when deadlifting. It is a lift that should be taken seriously, but does not have to be intimidating if you understand the movement.
The deadlift is a lower body compound pulling exercise. Simply put, it uses at least two joints that happen to be in the lower body to pull weight rather than push it.
Below is a video of the deadlift being done with a barbell (most common form) but it can also be done with dumbbells, a hex bar or kettle bells.
You can also do sumo deadlifts but for the sake of this article we will be discussing the conventional deadlift.
Seriously, remove your shoes so that you’re barefoot or in socks. You can deadlift in shoes IF they are flat, like the ones shown in my “5 most common squat mistakes + how to fix them” post.
You want to be connected to the floor, to quite literally grip it with your whole foot. This allows for optimal force production. You’ll grip the floor by making sure your heel, outside of the foot, ball of your foot and toes are all touching the floor, then aggressively press them into the floor making a “C” shape with your foot (like you’re pulling your arch off the floor). When I say “grip it and rip it”, the “grip it” has double meaning for the bar, AND your feet.
What is a proper height?
If you cannot pull with 45’s on each side (135lbs) or don’t have access to Olympic bumper plates, you need to elevate the bar so that you are pulling from the standard height. Say you have 25’s on each side (95lbs), the 25’s are smaller in diameter than the 45’s or Olympic plates. This means you’ll be pulling from a deficit (lower than standard height). You then need to put the ends where they weight is loaded on to elevated blocks or pull from pins inside a squat rack like shown below.
5lb bumper plates:
25lb olympic plates:
Pulling from the standard height is important for building consistency in the movement pattern. It also decreases room for error. When you pull from lower than normal, you automatically have to move the weight further and for a longer period of time. Not ideal when learning a movement. Limit that range of motion and master the skill from a consistent pulling height.
“Break the bar”, “pull the bar into you”, “shoulders down and back”. All of these are cues for keeping your lats engaged.
Engaging your lats helps to pack the shoulders in. I show a great drill for this in my “3 tips for the perfect push up” post. Packing the shoulder keeps the upper back from rounding. The upper back should not round until you are pulling maximal weight and even then, there is a safe and unsafe buffer zone.
Often, engaging your lats helps keep the bar over the center of the foot + ensures you’re actively pulling the bar into you the entire time.
THIIISSSS my friend is vital.
Having vertical shins via finding tension in the hammies makes the deadlift, a deadlift pattern, rather than a squat pattern. Yes, you’re pulling weight off the ground no matter what, but that does not mean you’re actually performing a deadlift…
As the knees creep forward over the toes (like a squat) the quads take the heat off of the hammies and the movement becomes for of a push than a pull. The quads are used in a deadlift, but it is predominantly a posterior chain exercise (backside of the body).
As you shoot the hips back and slightly up, you should begin to feel tension in the hamstrings. THIS, is your start position. See my set up video below. You’ll notice everything mentioned so far.
NO SHOES/FLAT SHOES. PROPER HEIGHT. OVERLY ENGAGED LATS. VERTICAL SHINS.
Hopefully you’ve noticed that you have yet to pull the bar off the ground with steps 1-4. That is because the set-up of the deadlift dictates so much about the movement itself. If you can master the set-up and stay tight through the movement, you will be off to a VERY solid start.
That brings us to the last step.
Your hips and shoulders should raise at the same time. Most commonly, people’s hips raise first, and the shoulders follow. Think more of a “bend and snap” effect. This approach tends to put more stress on the low back (lumbar spine) rather than the legs.
Once in the set-up position, everything stays locked and loaded. I like to think about pushing the floor away rather than pulling the weight off the floor. As you push the floor away, the hips and chest raise at the same time – opening the hip and knee angle, and closing the shoulder angle. See video demo below for a visual.
You reverse the same way you rose up. Hips drive back as the knees bend and shoulders drop forward. You should end in your exact starting position.
I didn’t mention bracing through your core. This is also vital for proper deadlift form…or any compound movement for that matter. Check out this article for more information!
I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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