The Definitive Guide On How To Deadlift

andy-bolton-deadlifting-exercise-with-proper-techniqueGood day there, people who want to learn how to deadlift!

When I do the deadlift, I constantly check my technique/form so it can be as perfect as it should (I am a perfectionist). 

I always take notes whenever I learn something new and believe me, reading for so many years has put me into a place where there is really nothing new to learn on how to properly do the deadlift.

There are many people trying to learn how to deadlift but they have problems finding a complete resource to learn from. I say this because of what I see daily in commercial gyms: people doing this movement with horrendous technique that my bad hurts even if I only watch them.

There are so many dangers in a badly executed barbell deadlift that it would take me a book to detail it. Putting it simple, if you deadlift without learning the proper form, you will invariably wreck your back sooner or later.

You want to avoid that.

Seeing that I couldn’t find a complete deadlift tutorial showing the proper technique and the common mistakes, I decided to do an in depth complete deadlift guide.

Deadlift is the best back strength builder compared to any other exercises and it is really a simple movement after you learn it the right way. 

You simply pull the bar from the floor with the arms straight and up the legs until it gets past your knees after which you will finish the lift by locking knees, shoulders and hips.

The deadlift is an essential part of any training routine and should be implemented as the main back exercise and squat assistance exercise.

The Barbell Deadlift Exercise

The deadlift is a move in which you are required to produce force from a dead stop and that’s from where the name was formed.

As a side note before we start learning the proper deadlift form step by step, I must say that deadlifts are hard. Maybe the hardest exercise that you will ever do, and that’s why most people don’t like to do them. But the benefits they give you are just too many to leave this exercise on the reserve bench.

Muscles Targeted

  • Spinal Erectors
  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Lower Back
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower Back
  • Calves
  • Lats
  • Abdominals/Obliques
  • Upper/Middle Trapezius

How To Deadlift Tutorial Step By Step

Before you start practicing the technique, you should know that the bar should be loaded with a very light weight. I can’t stress enough on this aspect.

We, men, are the ones that screw up this part because we tend to rush forward, and try to move big weights as fast as possible. When you first learn a movement, don’t be temped by this desire to progress faster and start with a light-medium weight.

1. Setting The Appropriate Height

how-to-deadlift-with-the-starting-weight

Find two 5-10 lb plastic plates with the height similar to a 45 lb plate which usually has the height ~17 inches or 45 cm (these are the standard Olympic plates). If you don’t have access to those kind of plates, you can put some 10-20 kg plates under the plates on the bar to get it higher.

You can also try to get the proper height by setting the bar in the power rack at an approximate height.

Simply put, the height from the floor to the bar should be approximately that of a 45 lb plate.

2. Selecting The Starting Weight

The starting weight should be light enough so if your form is incorrect, nothing bad will happen to your back.

The general rule is that no matter what your body constitution might be, never select a weight bigger than 135 pounds. Trying with 40-60 kg is the right spot for most men and women. Women should try with the lower range.

3. Starting Stance

In these many years of perfecting my barbell deadlift, I saw many recommendations regarding the proper foot position. Believe me, they were all different.

What I found out that is optimal for most people is that the width between heels should be approximately 8-12 inches or similar to a flat vertical jump with the toes slightly pointed outwards.

deadlift-feet-position

If you are wondering why stance is narrower compared to the squat, the obvious difference is that the squat starts from top to bottom, while a proper deadlift starts from the bottom-up.

Knee and hip mechanics form the starting stance. You also need to take a narrow grip on the bar to get the desired pulling efficiency.

Take a look at the picture above how I set my feet in relation to the bar.

bar-over-the-middle-of-the-foot

When you try to get into the starting position, you should make sure that the bar is 1-1.5 inches close to your shins which will put the bar directly over the middle of your feet.

This is the optimal starting position for every human on the planet because the most efficient bar path would be the one in which the bar sets off the ground, stays over the middle foot all the way up and down, keeping a perfect vertical line as much as possible.

deadlift skeleton tutorial2

A top view should look like this:

overview-of-the-foot-position

Toes should always be pointing out with at least 15 degrees and up to 30 degrees. You want to do that because you want to also involve the external adductor and the adductor in the movement.

4. Deadlift Grip Position

After getting the stance right, the deadlift grip setting is quite easy.

At first, you should always grip the bar double-overhand with thumbs around it. 

The optimal grip width will be automatically created by keeping your hands as close to your legs as you can BUT avoid rubbing them against the legs as you go up.

After a while, when bigger weights are involved and the double-overhand grip is not strong enough to hold the bar, change it to an alternating grip: one overhand and one underhand.

Now comes the tricky part: getting into the proper position.

Imagine you are doing stiff legged deadlift and you lower yourself down by bending over at the waist without lowering the hips.

Take a grip on the bar but don’t move it!

I recommend against moving the bar because it should always stay over the middle of your feet no matter what.

Don’t get the bar out from that position!

Gripping the bar the right way

Just take a look for a moment to see what happens in case you grip the bar in the wrong way:

calluses-formation-picture-when-deadlifting-with-the-wrong-grip

This is the wrong way to grip the bar:

wrong-way-to-grip-the-bar

This is the correct way to grip the bar:

the-correct-way-to-grip-the-bar

There are also some people that are always using straps to secure their grip so they can move big weights but I am against this practice for the simple fact that grip strength should always be trained without the use of straps.

You will never develop your grip strength if you are constantly using straps!

There is a saying: “The body can’t move what the hands can’t hold”.

Your body will not put all its resources in getting the bar up if you can’t hold the weight properly.

If you hold the bar as I explained, your grip strength will catch up to your progression in lifting bigger weights – this is true if you don’t use straps.

I will continue with the most important cues that should get you in the proper position.

5. Continue With Knees Forward

After you secure the grip, bend at your knees and drop them forward until your shins touch the bar but not move it.

Remember: DON’T move the bar!

Again, don’t move the hips, just bend from your knees. Your shins and knees should move forward BUT hips stay neutral.

After you successfully got in the position by touching the bar with your shins, freeze your hips there and stop there.

Next, you should shove your knees out a little bit and that will probably make them touch your elbows .

6. “Chest Up” Cue

Now, the setup is almost done and the last thing that needs to be adjusted is your chest position.

This is dead simple simple but most people forget to get their chest up, and initiate the lift with a rounded upper back. Keeping the chest down is dangerous when you start lifting bigger weights.

Using the upper back muscles, squeeze the chest up but maintain the shins to the bar position (don’t move the bar).

Get your ribcage up by rotating the chest between your arms, upwards.

Your body has adjusted into the best position for its type.

7. Eye Position

Again, this is an area where many people are doing mistakes because they just stare up at the ceiling. That is wrong. Hyperextending your neck while lifting up a weight screams for trouble. You don’t want to injure yourself or your cervical area.

After you get into the correct position, stare forward to about 12-15 feet. Get your chin back and keep the neck in line with your spine. In that position, your neck is in a normal anatomical position.

8. Shoulders Position

If you did the first 7 steps right, the shoulders position relative to the bar should be slightly in front or over the bar.

Let’s take a recap on how to deadlift before we dive straight into executing the movement:

  1. Set the height – similar to a 45 lb plate
  2. Select a proper starting weight
  3. Get the stance right – 8-12 inches between heels
  4. Grip the bar the right way
  5. Bend at your knees until your shins touch the bar (don’t move the bar)
  6. Get your chest up
  7. Set the proper eye position (12-15 feet in front of you)
  8. Check your shoulders position

This picture should sum the deadlift starting position pretty well:

the-correct-way-to-deadlift

9. Initiating the pull

I have separated the pulling part of this deadlift tutorial from the downwards part just so you get a better view of how it should look when you correctly perform this exercise.

In the final position of the pulling part, looking from the side view, you should see yourself in a normal anatomical position with the eyes slightly pointed down, knees and hips fully extended, and shoulders back.

The start of the pulling part. Before you start pulling the bar, make sure these are checked:

  1. Chest is up
  2. Back is straight
  3. Eyes 12-15 feet forward
  4. Tight back
  5. Weight is over the middle foot
  6. Take a big breath (do the valsalva maneuver)
  7. Drag the bar up your legs

Don’t forget to keep the bar touching your legs all the time, and never let it go in front of you. I say this because in case you let the bar get in front of you, it will change the center of gravity and will get the weight on your toes. 

You have to avoid letting the weight get on your toes because it will make the move inefficient.

Try to imagine a vertical line that the bar should take and always keep the bar over the middle of your foot.

In case you initiate the movement, and the bar gets away from your shins, try to get the weight back from your toes over the middle foot and restart the movement.

You will finish the movement by lifting your chest up and lock your hips and knees. Do not shrug your shoulders back or up!

This is how you should look from a side view when you get the bar up:

standing-straigth

The Down Portion Of The Barbell Deadlift

Getting the bar down, is exactly the opposite of getting it up.

Start the movement by unlocking your hips and shoving them backwards. Let the bar slide down your legs and keep the knees locked as much as you can until the bar passes them. After the bar passes your knees, unlock them to finish the move.

Take a look at the picture bellow and notice how I start the downward position. I start by first bending at the hips.

downwards-position

Don’t unlock the knees before the bar passes them because that will mean you will also lose the tight lower back arch.

Again, look for a vertical path for the bar and keep your lower back locked in extension whole the time.

A good practice that also helped me, would be to check every little detail from your setup before you start pulling the bar. Think about how everything should be and tighten yourself in the right way.

This picture should sum the starting position:

proper deadlift exercise

Looking over the little details of a deadlift technique:

Keep Your Arms Straight Every Time

Having your arms straight when performing the proper deadlift form is the best way to reinforce a good technique. You don’t want your arms to get involved in the movement.

Not only keeping your arms bent will put unnecessary stress on your elbows and biceps, but doing so will also increase the distance the bar has to travel until the lockout.  This means you are creating additional movement required for the bar to get in the locking position. You will also risk your elbows and biceps health.

Bouncing The Weight

Many people like to bounce the weight off the floor when doing deadlifts. This is wrong because you are not effectively training your starting strength.

It is called a deadlift because it should always start from a dead stop. 

Don’t bounce the weight!

Breathing The Right Way

This is also an area where many people are doing it wrong. They start the movement by taking a big breath in, lift the bar, and at the top of the movement exhale for a moment before inhaling back to lower the bar on the ground.

Don’t lose the abdominal support for the spine when all the weight is up in the air. Restart the valsalva maneuver when the weight is safely down on the floor without any danger of hurting our back.

The correct way to breathe:

  1. Take a big breath when you start the movement (use the valsalva maneuver)
  2. Pull the weight up and lower it down controlled (keep the breath in)
  3. Exhale when the weight is on the floor
  4. Restart from point 1 for the next repetition

Raising The Bar The Right Way

Some lifters are simply doing the starting portion of the deadlift in a wrong way, and never realize it.

Raising your hips faster than the shoulders is a common problem that usually happens when you either jerk the bar up in the attempt to move more weight or your quadriceps/glutes are weak so the hamstrings take over the movement.

In this scenario, you are literally stiff-leg deadlifting the weight.

You should push with your legs but remember to keep the shoulders ascending the same way as the legs and don’t leave them “behind”.

Your shoulders and hips should raise at the same time because that will help you keep a proper torso angle until the bar will pass your knees.

Finishing The Lift Flawlessly

The correct way to finish the movement is by locking your chest and bringing the hips, knees, and your lumber spine in extension at the same time.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t shrug your shoulders up at the top of the movement
  • Don’t overextend your back at the top of the movement
  • Don’t exaggerate hip extension at the top of the movement
  • Don’t keep your knees unlocked
  • Don’t exhale until you set the weight down for the next rep
  • Don’t try to set the bar down too slowly – you can set it down at a faster pace because the important part is the starting and concentric part
  • Don’t use weights/platforms under your heels
  • Don’t raise your hips quicker than shoulders

The biggest mistake you can make when you deadlift is to bend your back. NEVER BEND YOUR BACK when you deadlift!

don't-bend-your-back-when-you-learn-how-to-do-the--deadlift

I also selected a few videos that show the proper way to do a deadlift and this will help you visually to reinforce the theory behind a proper barbell deadlift technique/form.

My advice is to look carefully at every step they take in performing the deadlift.

NOTES ON THIS VIDEO: You should ignore when he says you should start with alternating grip. I say this because when you start deadlifting, the correct way to reinforce your grip strength is to keep a double overhand grip as much as possible.

You will use the alternating grip when the weights get too big for you to be able to hold the bar with the normal double overhand grip.

Use the double overhand grip as much as you can, and switch it with alternating grip only when you are not able to hold the weight anymore.

Now that you’ve seen how a proper deadlift form should look like and you also learnt all the technical aspects of a proper deadlift technique, let’s see how you SHOULD NOT perform this movement.

And one of the most famous ones straight from “Diesel Weasel”:

Next time you enter a gym, you will know more about how to do a proper deadlift than most of the people there.

Now I want you do to something for me:

I know there are many people that have the desire to learn how to deadlift but they simply don’t have the right material to learn the right technique.

I would appreciate if you can share this with your friends and with anyone that might benefit from reading this.

Also, what are the corrections you’ve made to your technique after reading this article?

Leave a comment bellow (It’s free ;) ).

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Comments

  1. Trish@knowtrish says:

    the videos of diesel wiesel are funny as hell !!!

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