The deadlift is arguably the best display of true strength and power in barbell training. There is no means of “cheating” the deadlift, you cannot miss depth and there are no spotters waiting to help you push through lock-out. You can either pick the weight up off of the ground, or you cannot. There are very few things more satisfying than pulling a heavy weight from a dead stop off of the ground.
Some beginning strength athletes steer clear of the deadlift out of the misconception that it is dangerous. The truth is that the deadlift, correctly performed, is entirely safe and will be one of your biggest assets in attaining Amazonian size and strength. We’ll demonstrate deadlift form from start to finish, and help you figure out whether it might be better for your leverage to use a conventional deadlift form, or the wider-stanced sumo deadlift form.
The deadlift is a true full-body movement. Your forearms and biceps must be very strong, with grip to match, to hold heavy weight and not allow it to slip. You will need powerful shoulders and traps to keep the upper back tight and pulled back as you stand up with the barbell. A stable core and posterior chain is absolutely necessary to act as a lever and keep your body tight as you pull the weight up.
Deadlifts are also very basic, functional movements. In day to day life we may pick up boxes, move furniture, or carry heavy shopping bags without thinking too much about the way our bodies are moving, when really we could be employing proper deadlift technique to be safe with our bodies and give ourselves the extra boost of proper leverage. Internalizing correct deadlift form has enormous crossover to allow you to move more easily through the world.
As a disclaimer, if you have a pre-existing back injury or other condition you should proceed very cautiously and consult a physician before performing weighted deadlifts.
Before you deadlift, consider your footwear. It is best to lift with a flat-soled shoe, or ideally barefoot, because this most closely mimics the body’s natural patterns of movement. Any cushion in your shoebed is wiggle room for slopping your ankle about and winding up with an injury. Additionally, the closer your foot is to the floor, the more you shorten your bar path. Original design Chuck Taylors, Vibrams, wrestling shoes, or any flat-foot running shoe are good choices for powerlifting footwear. If your gym will allow it or if you are training at home, consider deadlifting barefoot (or in socks with grips). Barefoot training is advantageous both because it keeps the foot in a natural position and because it reduces your range of motion to the bare minimum, which will translate into a more effective pull.
Use a broomstick or similar lightweight pole to teach yourself proper deadlift form before going into the gym and throwing plates on a barbell. It is important to learn good technique first rather than grooving in poor deadlift form. By starting off with good form, you will be able to progress much more quickly and safely.
Begin by approaching the bar and standing approximately 1-2” back with your feet at shoulder width and toes pointed out. It may be necessary to play around with the width of your stance in order to figure out the best stance for your particular leverages. Pointing your toes out will help your knees track over your toes rather than collapsing inward.
Focus on widening your chest by retracting your shoulder blades to create a completely flat back from your neck and shoulders through your hips. One of the keys to a strong deadlift is maintaining this table top back throughout the entirety of the lift. Try to keep this open chest and reach down to grasp the bar with a supinated (double overhand) grip. Your forearms should be directly outside of your shins for the shortest range of motion and strongest pull.
Pull the slack out of the bar by pulling the shoulder blades back and your chest down to the bar, keeping your back flat. With the bar pulled taut, pull your body down to the bar by bending first at the knees and then the hips, and sitting back into the bottom of the deadlift. Continue pulling until your hamstrings feel tight. Then, thinking about pushing the ground away from you, propel your body back up and stand up as fast as possible. You should feel the power start at your feet and move through your quads and finally through your glutes to finish with a strong hip drive at lockout.
There are a few common and easily avoidable errors with the conventional deadlift. Your arms should remain locked out through the duration of the lift. Engaging the bicep through bending at the elbow during deadlifts is one of the main causes of bicep tears in powerlifting. However, this is easily avoidable through maintaining straight elbows and removing the bicep from the equation as much as possible. Keeping the upper back flat and tight as you finish the lift will also help in maintaining neutral arms.
Your back should remain flat throughout the duration of the lift, and the power and drive should come from the legs and glutes. One of the most common deadlift form errors is to shift emphasis from the legs to the back by allowing the upper back to round and the shoulders to come forward. This is caused by not pulling the slack out of the bar and/or not maintaining a rigid flat back. A good way to remedy this is to back down in weights until you are able to attain proper form, and then building your way back up slowly. The absolute best way to deal with this is to focus on proper form from the very beginning, and move up in weights cautiously and only as long as you are able to keep good technique.