The deadlift is a potent muscle and strength building exercise second only to squats. There are two primary deadlift variations:
- Conventional deadlift. A conventional deadlift is performed with your feet approximately shoulder width apart.
- Sumo stance deadlift. A sumo stance deadlift is performed with a very wide foot stance.
To find out which deadlift stance is best for you, check out the following guide: Comparing Sumo And Conventional Deadlifts.
In muscle building split workouts, deadlifts are generally placed in back workouts (on back days). Deadlifts heavily tax the traps, upper back, lower back, abs, as well as the hamstrings, hips, glutes, quads and forearms. In fact, there are very few muscle groups not impacted by the deadlift.
Inexperienced lifters often view the deadlift as a leg press while holding a barbell. Attempting to perform the deadlift as a leg press, or as a leg exercise, is an incorrect approach and will lead to poor deadlift form and the possibility of lower back injuries.
How To Deadlift: Proper Deadlift Form And Set Up
It is rare to see beginning lifters practicing with solid deadlift form. Far too many trainees lift at a mechanical disadvantage with their hips up, performing the deadlift more like a Romanian deadlift or stiff-leg deadlift.
To deadlift properly, follow these guidelines:
- Feet. Position your feet about halfway under the bar. From a side view it should look like the bar is running directly through the middle of your feet. Looking down, it can be difficult to gauge if your foot position is correct, so ask for guidance from another lifter or video tape your deadlift set up.
- Stance. Your feet should be at a comfortable and natural width, but not too wide. Toes can be pointed just a hair outward, but you should not deadlift pigeon-toed.
- Grab the bar. With your feet properly in place, reach down and grab the bar with either a double overhand grip, or an alternating grip. An alternating grip will allow you to hold more weight.
- Sink your hips. Sink your hips until your shins touch the barbell. You want to feel like your hips are in a natural and powerful/maximal position of leverage, so you may need to raise or lower them. If you start the deadlift with your hips too high you will be at a mechanical disadvantage and will tax your lower back. Starting with your hips too low will also cause you to lose your leverage and power.
- Head. Next, you want to make sure your eyes are at least look directly ahead. During the deadlift your body will follow your head. If you start the deadlift while looking down, there is a good chance your hips will lift up causing you to lose form and lift with your lower back. This is a very common deadlift mistake.
- Back. Make sure your back is not rounded. You do not want to start the deadlift with a rounded back.
Deadlift: Performing The Lift
Now that you are in a proper set up position, it is time to perform the deadlift. Do not try pulling the bar up. Though the deadlift is often called the pull, lifters who mentally focus on pulling the bar off the ground often raise their hips too high at the start of the lift. This causes the deadlift to be performed like a Romanian deadlift. It is a bad leverage position, and can strain the lower back.
Instead of pulling on the bar, concentrate on standing up with the bar in your hands. Standing up is a natural movement, and by keeping the deadlift as natural as possible, you will tend to keep better leverage and form throughout the lift.
Start this standing up movement with the head. Lead with the head. At the same time, concentrate on lifting your head up while standing up with the bar. The body will follow the head.
As the bar rises above the knees, focus on thrusting the hips forward. (In the same manner you would perform a sexual-type thrust). Many deadlifts fail at lockout because lifters are still “pulling” on the bar. At lockout, focus only on:
- Standing up. Again, a natural movement.
- Driving your hips. Thrust your hips forward.
Remember, the deadlift is not really a pull. Pulling objects off the ground is not a natural movement, but lifting them off the ground is.
Are Deadlifts Dangerous?
Are deadlifts a dangerous movement? They are no more dangerous than any other compound exercise performed with poor form.
Day in and day out, gyms rats across the world bounce barbells of their chest while bench pressing, or continue to use the knee-destroying half-squat.
The biggest mistake you can make is trying to perform deadlifts from an unnatural position. Read and re-read the form tips presented in this guide and practice them with a light weight. Start the deadlift with the hips in a position of strength and maximal leverage, and stand up (leading with the head) instead of pulling.
If something feels wrong, it probably is. Video tape your deadlift session and have experienced lifters on the Muscle and Brawn forum critique your form.
Mark Rippetioe Deadlift Set Up
Deadlift Without Wrecking Your Back