Revisiting Fundamentals: How to Deadlift
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Health and Wellness

Revisiting Fundamentals: How to Deadlift

What you need to know to get stronger and better at the deadlift

Revisiting Fundamentals: How to Deadlift

This is my second article in a series on how to properly perform some of the fundamental exercises in the gym. This week I will be talking about and instructing the proper form for the deadlift.

The deadlift is an incredible full body exercise. When performed correctly, it’s not just your back that gets a workout, but your legs and glutes as well. The deadlift is great for increasing strength, but can also be used for developing a larger and thicker back. Unfortunately, the deadlift is another one of the most common exercises that is performed incorrectly.

If you break the deadlift down into its simplest form, it is just picking up a weight off the floor and standing up, just like the squat is just squatting down and standing up with weight on your back. However, when this simple exercise is done incorrectly, it can lead to injuries that can hamper your progress and keep you out of the gym. Let’s start from the ground up and analyze how to properly perform a deadlift.


The starting stance for a conventional deadlift is what we would call an athletic position. It’s the position your feet would be in if you were about to perform a standing broad jump or vertical jump. This is very similar to your stance for a back squat, and some people may use the exact same stance for both. Often you will see someone with a slightly narrower stance than what I am describing, and that is just up to personal preference. This athletic position is just a starting point. When your deadlifting skills become even more advanced, you can move into something called the sumo stance deadlift. The stance for a sumo deadlift is much wider than the conventional stance, and there is a much wider distribution of foot width with the sumo stance deadlift. A good rule of thumb when pulling sumo for foot placement is that your shins should be at 90 degrees when you first start your pull. For the sumo stance deadlift, you will also point your toes slightly outward, and this also varies depending on your hip mobility and preference (more on sumo squatting further down).

A note on footwear:

The stability for a deadlift comes from your feet. Therefore, you need a firm and stable contact with the floor when performing a deadlift. You also want to be in a pair of shoes that are lower to the ground, which lessens the distance you have to pull the bar. As a beginner it is not very big deal, but as you start to advance and start getting better at deadlifting, it is a good idea to invest in a pair of sturdy flat soled shoes. They also make great workout shoes in general. The lack of cushion in a good deadlifting shoe compared to a pair of running shoes helps with the transfer of energy when you deadlift, and keeps your feet stable and planted on the ground. Anything with a hard and flat sole works. The most popular shoes you will see in the gym is a good old pair of Chuck Taylors.

Grips and Straps:

Your grip should be just outside your legs on a conventional deadlift, and your arms should remain perpendicular to the bar when performing a sumo deadlift. You have a few options for grip when performing a deadlift. You can pull with the normal double overhand grip, however, this becomes harder as the weight goes up. The next option for grip is the overhand underhand or alternate grip. This is the most popular grip for deadlifting and makes it easier to pull heavier weight.

The third way you can grip and pull a deadlift is with straps. Straps are a great way to lift a heavier weight that you would not normally be able to move due to grip strength. Straps can also be a dangerous trap if they are overused. If you only deadlift with straps, your grip strength will start to weaken, and you will become more dependent on the straps. It is a good idea to start without straps, and only throw them on when you start to get into your heavier working sets.

If you find yourself using your straps too frequently, there are other ways to increase your grips strength. My favorite exercise for grip strength and forearm hypertrophy is something I call the "Coan Hold." I saw it in a video with one of the greatest powerlifters of all time, Ed Coan. To perform this exercise, load up a standard barbell in a rack with 115lbs, maybe a bit heavier if you have a stronger grip strength. Grab the outside of the rack with one hand, and grab the barbell in the middle with the other. Lean away from the barbell and lift it off the racks, holding it at your side. You can either hold onto the bar for time or go to failure. Either way, it is a great exercise to improve grip strength and grow your forearm.

The Pull:

Before pulling the bar make sure that you “take out all the slack” from your stance. Everything about your stance at this point should be tight. Your arms should be straight, and not lose. Your back should be braced, and you have taken your last breath. If you are using a belt you can brace against it. Keep in mind that the belt is just like straps, overuse it and you can weaken your back. Engage your lats by thinking about bending the bar toward your body. Even though the deadlift is a pull, the proper cue for performing a deadlift should be to think about pushing the floor away, not pulling the bar up. As the weight leaves the ground, squeeze your glutes and start to bring your hips forward. As you pull the bar up it should remain as close to your body as possible. Many high-level dead lifters wear really high socks as they drag the bar up. Others just live with scarred up shins from so many pulls. Either way, make sure that the bar stays close to the body. The farther away from the shins it gets, the more power you lose. Your back angle should not change until the bar passes your knees.

Flat Back vs Bent Back:

The most common mistake when it comes to deadlifting is pulling with a rounded back. Rounding your back takes power away from your legs and can cause injury. When you are performing warm-ups or a higher rep deadlift workout, it is very important to keep a flat back. When you start to pull much heavier weight, weight close to your 1RM, your back will inevitably start to round. This is just what happens. Even the most elite powerlifters and strongmen in the world pull their max deadlifts with a somewhat rounded back, but I guarantee that they practice good form at lower intensities during their workouts. Build up your back strength with the proper form at a lower weight before you try any heavy deadlifting that causes your back to round.

The Lockout:

As you stand up with the bar in your hand it is important not to hyperextend your lower back. Stand straight up with the bar in your hand. After completing your rep, lower the bar back to the ground in a controlled manner, but not too slowly. It should be a controlled fall along the same path that you pulled the bar up. For your next rep, you may decide to get back into the starting position as quickly as possible to perform another rep, or take the time to stand up, reset, and then perform another deadlift.

Sumo vs. Conventional:

I’ll end this piece on a quick note about pulling sumo versus pulling conventional. Picking between the two is a matter of choice, but it is important that the one you pick fits your body best and keeps you healthy and continuing to grow stronger. Pulling sumo is very common in the powerlifting community. By pulling sumo you shorten the distance that the bar has to travel to the lockout, and often, people can sumo deadlift more weight than they can deadlift conventionally. When you are talking about sports specificity, or the deadlift's benefits crossing over to other exercises like a clean, it is better to perform a conventional style deadlift which is more closely resembles the first part of a clean. The sticking points for both lifts also are different. A conventional deadlift is fast off the floor and slower to lockout, while a sumo deadlift is slow off the floor and faster to lockout

Regardless of what you style, you choose the best type of deadlift is the one that keeps you getting stronger, and lifting longer and healthier in the gym.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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