Exercise Name:
Name: Deadlift
Muscles Worked:
Primary: Spinal Erectors
Secondary: Back, Calves, Forearms, Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps
Function: Strength
Mechanics: Compound
Force: Pull
Main: Barbell
Ancillary: Weight Jack (optional)
Optional: Chalk, Wrist Straps, Weight Lifting Belt
Experience: Beginner
Rep Range: 3-8
Training Tempo: 2 – 0 – X – 1
Related Exercises:
Variations: Stiff Leg Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Hex Bar Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Unilateral Deadlift
Alternatives: Good Morning, Glute Ham Raise, Cable Pull Through, Hip Thrust

Instructions with Pictures

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • With barbell on floor, stand with middle of feet below bar; shins approx. 3 inches from touching bar.
  • Assume a hip width stance with feet angled outward.
  • Flex hips to lower torso just above parallel while flexing knees until shins touch bar.
  • Grasp barbell with a shoulder width mixed grip (one hand over, one hand under); touch insides of forearms to outsides of knees.
  • Lock elbows, lift chest up and bring shoulders back to straighten back.
  • Pull against bar (without lifting it), keeping hips high, to create tension throughout body.
  • Shoulder blades, barbell and mid-foot should be vertically aligned from a side view.
  • Maintain a neutral spine throughout the deadlift motion.

2. Concentric Repetition

  • Extend hips and knees to pull bar up until standing upright with hips and knees locked.

3. Midpoint

  • Don’t pause after you lockout.

4. Eccentric Repetition

  • Flex hips and knees to drop hips back/down while lowering torso and barbell, until back in the starting position.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the motion for desired number of reps.
  • For best results, I recommend staying within the 3-8 rep range on the deadlift.

Common Deadlift Errors to Avoid

Mistake: Solution:
Rounding lower back If you’re rounding your lower back, chances are you simply need to reduce the load. Or you may be pulling with your back (see error #4) instead of using your glutes and hams to generate hip drive. Also, you may need to tighten your core by breathing correctly (see tip #2) and flexing your abs (see tip #7).
Varying bar placement in starting position The position of the bar in the starting position should be the same on the first rep as it on all the following reps (i.e. bar over the middle of your feet, with shins touching). People often have the perfect bar position on the first rep, but place the bar too far in front of them on the following reps. This causes bad form on the rest of the set, because each rep starts from the wrong spot.
Holding bar away from body Start every rep with the barbell in the same position (see above). Pull the bar up in a straight vertical line, keeping it close to your body. Ideally, it should be sliding up and down against your legs at all points in the motion (but don’t cheat by resting it against your thighs).
Pulling with lower back Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to do the pulling by driving your hips forward. This (plus extending your knees) naturally brings you into the fully upright lockout position. Don’t worry, your lower back muscles get worked very hard, incidentally.
Not locking out If you fail to lockout, you fail to complete the rep. Plus, you won’t be able to lower the weight with proper form. So, be sure to drive your hips forward until they’re fully extended, directly above your ankles; and straighten your legs until your knees are locked. Lastly, don’t exaggerate the lockout by hyperextending your lower back.
Hyperextending neck Keep your neck neutral. That is, hold head in line with spine at all times. Don’t tilt it up to look forward when in the starting position. And don’t look down when in the lockout position, either. Use the 3 points of contact to achieve proper head/neck position (as well as correct overall spinal position).

Deadlift Tips

  1. Always warm up. Even if the deadlift isn’t the first exercise in your weight lifting routine, you should do a few warm up sets (~3-5 sets) before your work sets. This is a must for safety and performance.
  2. Use the Valsalva maneuver breathing technique. Breathing this way bolsters lower spine support (and therefore enhances safety) while allowing you to lift noticeably heavier loads.
  3. Keep hips high and back in the starting position. This maximizes the tension in your hamstrings, which then allows you to exert the greatest amount of upward force against the bar for the lift off.
  4. Use the 3 points of contact test to check if your back is straight: If you lay a long stick along your back, it should touch your tailbone, between your shoulder blades and the back of your skull.
  5. Push through your heels. This is the most efficient direction for transferring your strength into an upward motion.
  6. The shoulders and hips should rise/descend at the same rate when the bar is traveling between the floor and the knees on the positive/negative rep, respectively.
  7. Intensely flex, and push out, the abdominals to boost your core strength and stability. Note: You’ll be doing this already if using the Valsalva maneuver properly (see tip #2).
  8. Drive hips forward by squeezing your glutes like you’re trying to crack a walnut between your cheeks! Seriously. This cue ensures that you activate your gluteal muscles sufficiently in order drive hips forward. If you have poor glute activation and hip drive, your body compensates by hyperextending your lower back.
  9. Keep the bar tight against your body the entire time. I mentioned this in the errors section, but it’s pretty important, so here it is again: Start with it touching your shins and slide it up your lower legs, past your knees and onto your thighs. Keep it touching your body as you lower the weight as well. This should go without saying, but don’t try to support the weight on your legs.
  10. Don’t ignore the negative (eccentric) rep. It’s way too easy to ignore properly executing the negative repetition. Lots of people just plunk the weight down sloppily. This is not so much of a safety hazard as it is a performance inhibitor, since you have to readjust your body and bar position before the next rep. The correct method is to lower it in a straight vertical line, sliding it down the legs, to the starting position.
  11. Wear long pants, tall socks or shin guards to prevent shin scrapes and bruises. Long pants and tall socks are fine when starting out and using lighter weight. Shin guards are most useful when you start deadlifting heavy weight (or if you’ve just got sensitive shins).
  12. Wear flat, hard-soled shoes or go barefoot. This provides a solid surface, which gives you stability. And it keeps your feet flat (as opposed to having raised heels), which allows you to keep your hips back and drive through your heels with maximum efficiency.
  13. Improve your grip to increase your deadlift. If your grip fails before the rest of your body, your progress will slow or become stagnant. Here are some quick fixes and long-term solutions to help with grip:
    • Use lifting chalk for a firm and dry no-slip grip.
    • Wear lifting straps to reduce the grip strength required to hold the bar (but don’t neglect grip/forearm training).
    • Add (more) forearm exercises (e.g. wrist curls, wrist extensions) to your routine.
    • Implement grip strength training into your program.
  14. Experiment with different grip styles, including overhand, underhand and hook grip. But always use the same grip width (shoulder width).
  15. Take your time and start light when learning how to deadlift. Too many guys get injured because they add too much weight, too quickly. You don’t have to master the technique before progressively adding weight to the bar, but your form should be decent enough that you don’t snap your shit up.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

Deadlifts are an amazing exercise for lifters of any experience level who want to achieve at least one of the following objectives:

  • Improve strength and muscular development of the posterior chain.
  • Increase strength and mass of lower body in general.
  • Develop core strength in the lower back and abdominals.

You should avoid or be cautious with the deadlift if you have lower back problems.

About the Author Alex

Hey! My name is Alex, and I'm the owner and author of King of the Gym. I started this website back in late 2009 during college, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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