The deadlift is one of the best overall body development exercises you can do. The key to deadlifting a ton of weight is learning how to do so in a way that suits your body’s mechanics.
People argue online about the specifics, but they miss the bigger picture — different people need to deadlift in slightly different ways because body shape, limb lengths, and joint mobility all play a role.
Working with world-class experts, my team and I spent 3 years developing a 46-lesson curriculum to teach you how to master the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift.
We call it The Big 3 Basics. It is our first video product. I’d like to share with you one of the 14 deadlift videos. To accompany it, I’ve put together this written guide to deadlifting.
Would I like you to buy that? Sure, if you think you’d find it useful. But my primary goal here has been to create a guide that you will take a ton out of regardless, one that stands the test of time.
VIDEO: HOW TO PERFORM A PROPER DEADLIFT
Here’s an overview of the steps involved in the deadlift.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROPER DEADLIFT MOVEMENT
In the deadlift, you pull the bar from the floor with both your hands. When you reach a fully standing position, you put it back down again.
- Stand behind the bar and adjust your stance.
- Pull your butt back and bend over.
- Grip the bar just outside of your shins.
- Pull the bar close to your legs and raise your chest.
- Hold your breath and brace your core.
- From this position, pull the bar up.
- Push your butt back and lower the bar.
From here, we’ll take a closer look at each part of the proper form for the deadlift movement.
HOW TO GET INTO THE CORRECT DEADLIFT STARTING POSITION
1) THE CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFT STANCE SETUP
Here are the main points of the deadlift stance setup:
Position yourself so that the bar is roughly over the middle of the foot. If you’re not sure, try placing the bar over the mid point of your shoelaces.
Place your feet about shoulder-width apart. Try a little wider or narrower to find the stance that allows you to push most firmly into the floor as you deadlift. If you’re unsure how wide your stance should be, take a stance that you would use for a vertical jump. Start with that stance width and try a little wider or narrower to find the positioning where you feel the strongest.
Adjust your toe angles. You can point your toes straight or outward a little. Try different toe angles and find the right combination with your stance width where you feel the strongest for your deadlifts.
Generally, the knees should point in the same directions as your toes. Pointing your knees slightly outward may also work well. But when you drive your knees out, the thighs may rub against the arms. This can interfere with your movement. If this happens, try a slightly narrower stance or try a slightly wider grip to find a position where you can move freely where your thighs don’t rub on your arms when you deadlift.
2) HOW TO BEND OVER (HIP HINGE)
Once your stance is set, bend over by pushing your butt back. Think about bending at the hips and lean forward. As you push your butt back, you should feel a stretch in the back of your thighs and your butt and should continue to do so as you deadlift properly.
3) THE PROPER DEADLIFT BAR HEIGHT
Normally, the deadlift is pulled from the floor, and so the height of the bar is determined by the diameter of the plates used. Typically, you’ll use 45 lb (20 kg) plates on each side, giving the bar a height of around 8 inches (22 cm).
If you are not strong enough to start with 45 lbs on either side when you first deadlift, you may have to use plates narrower in diameter. But this means the starting height of the bar is lower, making it more difficult to get the right starting posture as you grip.
In this case, put the bar on the safety pins of the rack, or put the plates on a step board or stack some plates sufficient enough so that you are starting from roughly the proper height.
4) HOW TO GRIP THE BAR
As you bend over, grip the bar. Take a wide enough grip to not interfere with the movement of your legs. Normally, gripping the bar just outside the shins works well.
There are two different ways to grip the bar in the deadlift: the overhand grip with both hands facing in and the mixed grip with one hand facing in and the other hand facing out.
The overhand grip is standard. The mixed grip allows you to hold onto the bar better.
When the bar is slippery or when the weight is heavy, you will need a strong grip to secure the bar in your hands. If you find it difficult to secure the bar with the overhand grip, the alternate grip might work better.
If you find it difficult to hold onto the bar properly during the deadlift, it may be a good idea to use straps.
If your grip causes pain, calluses, or peels the skin of your hand, instead of placing the bar deep in your palms, try placing the bar at the base of your fingers instead. This will help prevent calluses from developing, which will stop your skin from eventually peeling.
For more details, see Troubleshooting 1: The Grip.
BEFORE YOU START THE DEADLIFT
5) BRACE YOUR CORE
When you perform the deadlift, you should brace your core by increasing your intra-abdominal pressure. This way, you will stabilize your body better, which will enable you to lift heavy loads more safely.
If you have trouble properly bracing your core as you deadlift, here’s how to practice:
- Take a big breath as if you are storing air in your stomach. Then hold your breath and tense your entire abdomen. Contract your abs hard as if you’re preparing to take a punch in your stomach.
- Your stomach will feel hard to the touch if you have done this correctly. Your abdominal muscles will stabilize your torso.
- Start breathing out while still keeping the abs tense. If you gradually let the air out while keeping the abdominal muscles tight, you should feel pressure against your stomach from inside.
I recommend you repeat this cycle until you get a feel for bracing your core as you go through your deadlift setup. You should notice your strength and performance increase when you do this.
6) TAKE THE SLACK OUT OF THE BAR
When you are using a heavy weight, as you start to pull, the bar may bend a little before it leaves the floor. Be careful not to let this disrupt your proper starting position as you take your grip.
First, get into the starting position, grip the bar, brace your core, and push on the floor with your feet. When you do this, you will put tension on the bar, and the barbell will naturally bend a little.
When the weight is heavy, first take the slack out of the bar before you actually pull the bar off the floor. You should be able to deadlift more efficiently this way.
7) AN OVERVIEW OF THE DEADLIFT SETUP BEFORE YOU PULL
- First, bend your knees and drop your hips. Be careful not to push the bar forward with your shins or it can ruin your setup. Actively pushing the bar into your shins can keep the bar from rolling forward.
- Grip the bar.
- Keeping the bar close to your body, raise your chest.
- Keep your arms to your sides.
- Take a big breath and brace your core. This increases your intra-abdominal pressure.
- Lastly, plant your feet firmly into the floor so you can drive with your legs.
If you’ve followed the steps so far and got into the proper deadlift starting position, your whole body should be tight.
THE DEADLIFT MOVEMENT: PULLING AND LOWERING THE BARBELL PROPERLY
8) PULLING THE BAR (THE ASCENT)
When you’re in the proper starting position, initiate the pull by pushing hard against the floor. Pull the bar up until you’re standing nice and tall.
If you perform the deadlift correctly, the bar travels straight up from over the middle of the foot.
KEEPING A VERTICAL BAR PATH
When you pull the bar, your knees may get in the way, and you will be unable to lift the bar smoothly.
When viewed from the side, you can see that the knees come forward, and the bar moves around to avoid the legs. Compared to the proper form, the bar path is very different.
This often happens when the bar is placed too far forward in the deadlift starting position. When the bar starts too far ahead of the legs, the knees also tend to start too far forward also. And when the knees come forward, the hips will come down.
If you try to pull the bar from this position, the knees will get in the way and the bar will have to travel around the knees to avoid them.
The key to fixing this error is to not let the bar move forward in the deadlift starting position.
- Position yourself with the bar over the middle of your foot. Using the mid point of your shoelaces as a guide may be useful.
- Grip the bar and bend the knees until the shins touch the bar. Be careful not to push the bar with your shins.
- Being careful not to push the bar forward with your shins, pull the bar up.
This way, the bar will move up in a more natural path and is key to deadlifting properly.
9) LOWERING THE BAR (THE DESCENT)
To lower the bar for the last half of the deadlift, lean your upper body forward by pushing your butt back. The bar should go straight down. As you lower the bar, be careful to keep it close to your body.
If you find your knees getting in the way, start by bending at the hips. Think about pushing your butt back. Actively try to keep the bar close to your body. Keep your arms to your sides and keep your chest up.
When the bar passes your knees, let it down straight. This way, the bar should land over the middle of the foot.
When viewed from the side, you can see that the bar comes down in a straight line when performed properly.
These are the basic instructions on the proper starting position and the movement of the deadlift. Practice the deadlift with them in mind. As you execute each rep with care, you will develop your ability to repeat the same movement accurately, every time.
TROUBLESHOOTING THE DEADLIFT
PREVENTING LOWER BACK HYPEREXTENSION
When you lift the bar to the top position, your upper body may arch, or your but may stick out.
In either case, the lower back is hyperextended, and it can affect your performance and place undue stress on the lower back.
When this happens, try squeezing your butt at the top. This can keep your butt from sticking out and your lower back from hyperextending. You should be able to finish the deadlift movement where you are standing nice and tall.
PREVENTING BACK ROUNDING
Normally, the deadlift should be performed without rounding your back. Though you may see highly experienced lifters lift with a rounded back in powerlifting competitions, I recommend you learn to lift with a neutral spine (non-rounded back). When the back rounds, it can cause stress and lead to pain, particularly in the lower back.
Here are the steps to troubleshoot when your lower back rounds during the deadlift.
DECREASE THE WEIGHT
When the bar is heavier than what your strength can handle, you will not be able to maintain proper form.
To see if this is the problem, decrease the weight and see if you can perform the deadlift without rounding your back. If not, move onto the next steps.
ENGAGING GLUTES AND HAMSTRINGS PROPERLY
If the glutes and hamstrings are not fully engaged, your butt tends to shoot up, and your back will end up rounding. Let’s go over things you can do to fix this.
1) BE CAREFUL NOT TO PUSH THE BAR FORWARD DURING YOUR SETUP
If your glutes and hamstrings are not fully engaged as you deadlift, you may find that your shins push the bar forward before you pull the bar. In this case, the bar will move towards your toes, and it will be harder to keep your back straight.
If you find this happening, focus on keeping the bar over your laces. You can also position weight plates to keep the bar from moving. This way, you will not be able to push the bar forward with your shins. Though the sumo deadlift is pictured, the same applies to the conventional deadlift.
2) KEEP YOUR SHOULDER BLADES OVER THE BAR
If you’re in the proper deadlift starting position, your shoulder blades will be over the bar, and your shoulders will be in front of the bar.
If you push the bar forward, you will start pulling with your shoulders behind the correct position. This is bad.
When you pull from the proper setup position, it’s easier to exert force with your hamstrings and glutes, and this will likely clear up your form. You can also try pushing through your heels.
3) TRY MORE EXTERNAL ROTATION
You may find that your back rounds even though you are not pushing the bar forward in the deadlift starting position.
If this applies to you, try turning your toes further out or try pushing your knees further out before you lift the bar. This may enable you to engage your glutes better and keep your back straight throughout the movement.
FIXING THE HIP HINGE
1) PRACTICING THE HIP HINGE WITH NO WEIGHT
USE YOUR HANDS TO PUSH INTO YOUR HIPS
Stand tall and put your hands at your hips, at the base of your thigh bones.
Think about pushing your hands into your hips. Make sure you keep your back straight. As you push your butt back, you will reach a point where you cannot lean forward any further. You should then feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. From this position, you stand back up by pushing your hands out with your hips.
USE A WALL TO LEARN TO PUSH YOUR BUTT BACK PROPERLY
If you are not sure you are moving your butt back correctly, you can practice the movement using a wall.
Stand upright with your back facing a wall. Position yourself about half a foot away from the wall. Put your hands at your hips, and then push them into your hips as you push your butt back. Keep your back straight without rounding. This way, your upper body will naturally lean forward.
When your butt touches the wall, stand back up.
When you have a feel for how to push your butt back, take a little more distance from the wall. This time try about one foot away, so roughly double the previous distance.
The farther away from the wall you are, the farther forward you can lean your upper body. You will start to feel your hamstrings stretch at this point.
Repeat this movement until you get the hang of how to push your butt back as you setup for the deadlift
USE A BENCH TO KEEP YOUR KNEES FROM COMING FORWARD
You can also practice bending at the hips for the deadlift setup using a bench. Along with the drill using the wall, it can be a useful tool to learn the movement.
Position yourself in front of a bench. This will keep your knees from moving forward as you practice pushing your butt back.
Repeat this a few times and try to get a feel for how to bend at the hips without moving your knees forward.
USE A BROOMSTICK TO PRACTICE THE HIP HINGE
As you get more familiar with bending at the hips, practice the same movement using a broomstick.
Take a grip wider than shoulder-width to hold the stick at the right level. Push the stick into your hips and push your butt back. As your upper body leans forward, be careful to keep your back straight.
If you are bending at the hips to lean forward, the stick will get caught in the hips. You should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
Keep repeating this drill until you get the hang of the movement.
2) PRACTICE THE HIP HINGE WITH A BARBELL AND A LIMITED RANGE OF MOTION
As you get a feel for how to push your butt back during the setup, I recommend you practice the movement with a loaded bar. As you add weight, you should feel the tension in your glutes and hamstrings more easily.
First, limit the range of motion by setting the safety pins at around mid thigh level. Remember to follow the same steps shown in the video at the top showing how to deadlift properly:
- Set your stance.
- Push your butt back and lean forward.
- Grip the bar. Bring your arms close to your body and stick your chest out.
- Feel for tension in your glutes and hamstrings.
- Take a breath and brace your core.
- Pull the bar and stand up straight.
- Push your butt back and bend over, then put the bar back on the pins.
- When the bar is on the pins, stop the movement and reset your starting position.
- Make sure you’re in the proper position before lifting the bar again.
When you can comfortably perform the movement without rounding your back, start lowering the pins gradually. Generally, 2-4 inch (5-10 cm) increments work well. How low the pins should eventually go will depend on the person, but lowering to at least just below the knees is a good target for most people.
Try using around 50% of the weight you normally deadlift off the floor.
3) PRACTICE THE HIP HINGE WITH A KETTLEBELL DEADLIFT
A kettlebell is a handy tool for practicing the hip hinge. It doesn’t contact your knees or thighs, and so you may find it easier to focus on the movement.
It’s best if you can position the kettlebell at the same height as a barbell. (Stack plates if the kettlebell handle is too low.) This way, the movement is similar to the barbell deadlift, and it can be good practice to learn how to use your hips. Feel for tension in your glutes and hamstrings as you practice.
PROPER DEADLIFT FORM FAQ
Thank you for reading. I hope you have found this deadlift technique guide useful. If so, please consider sharing it with a friend who might also. 🙏🏻
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