The deadlift is considered one of the four best exercises to have in your routine whether you want to build muscle, increase strength, burn fat, or improve overall physical fitness. This compound movement targets several major muscle groups including the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, lower back, calves, abdominals, and hip flexors. It also improves your grip and forearm strength.
As incredible as this exercise is, all too often it’s performed incorrectly. Let’s take a look at our deadlifting checklist, which can help you learn how to deadlift or improve your current form.
Deadlift Checklist: Set-up
Before you start pulling, it’s important to have a strong set-up and foundation. If you’re just starting out with the deadlift, you can elevate the bar by propping it up on weight plates or using a deadlift wedge. If you’re comfortable with using weight, begin with one weight plate on both sides. Now step up to the barbell, look down, and set up accordingly:
Stance and Feet: On the barbell, you’ll find there is a pattern of rough and smooth parts. You’ll align your feet with the first set of smooth parts nearest to the center, and this will give you a hip-width stance. You may need to adjust depending on your frame. For example, if you have wide hips, you may need a slightly wider stance. Once you have your feet in place, turn your toes out slightly. Then roll the barbell as close to your shins as you comfortable can.
Grip and Arm Length: With your feet and stance ready, bend at the knees and take hold of the barbell. Make sure your hands are on the rough part of the metal just outside of your knees. Your arms should not be in the way of your legs. If they are, you may need to readjust your stance from above. Take an overhand grip and do not bend your arms.
Shoulders and Shoulder Blades: Relax your shoulders and do not pinch your shoulder blades together. We highly recommend doing this next to a mirror so you can look at your form. From a side point of view, you should be able to draw a straight line from your shoulder blades to the barbell to the middle point of your feet.
Chest and Head: Keeping in mind where your shoulders should be during the deadlift, you’ll want to keep your chest up. However, you don’t want to put your chest up so much that your hips drop behind you. Rather, you want your chest to prevent your back from rounding too much in either direction. It really helps to relax the shoulder blades to ensure the chest doesn’t overextend. Keep a neutral gaze where your head follows your body throughout the movement.
Lower Back and Hips: Continuing with the point above, you’ll want a neutral and straight spine. Avoid rounding or arching your back. If your chest is up and your shoulders are at the proper point, your lower back should naturally go into the correct position. Again, check your stance in the mirror. As for your hips, keep them higher than parallel. Do not let them drop as you would with a squat.
Executing a Deadlift
Now that you’re all set and ready to go, let’s breakdown what you should be doing in order to properly execute a deadlift.
Pull: When you pull, have a friend check your form. Every repetition that you perform must start and end on the floor. You’re pulling the weight from a dead stop; this is why it’s called a deadlift. You will be pulling in a straight vertical line with an overhand grip and straight arms. Take a deep breath then pull the barbell up slowly but do not use your arms to pull the bar. The barbell should touch your shins but not drag against them. Take care not to hit your knees on the way up.
Lockout: Once the barbell is at your thighs, you’ll naturally feel your hips moving forward. Embrace this feeling and lock out your hips, tightening the glutes, and pausing at the top of the movement. Do NOT lean back as this will hyperextend your back and increase your risk for injury.
Descend: Again, you’ll want to focus on moving the bar in a straight vertical line, meeting your shoulder blades and middle of the foot. Exhale your breath as you slowly lower the barbell back towards the ground by reversing the movement. Begin to push your hips back but do not bend at the knees until after the barbell has passed them. Lower the bar back on to the ground, and do not slam it down or bounce it.
Next Rep: Take a moment to readjust your form before starting the next rep, focusing on relaxing the shoulder blades, straightening the back, and putting the chest up. Don’t take too much time though. Once your form is perfect, begin the next repetition.
Quick Tips to Improve Your Deadlift:
Here are several things to consider to make your deadlifting easier:
- You may want to chalk up your hands as you use more and more weight.
- You can use an alternating grip if you find that your grip starts to fail before your major muscles or use lifting wrist straps.
- Stretch your hamstrings before and after the exercise.
- If you are limited range of motion, consider starting with Romanian Deadlifts then advancing to Smith Machine Half Deadlifts then to a Traditional Deadlift.
- Record yourself performing the deadlift to ensure you are following the form above.
- If you’re completely new to weight lifting, we would highly recommend hiring a personal trainer for one month to learn and master the correct form of all foundational exercises.
Do You Want to Start Deadlifting?
What questions do you have about deadlifting? Have you started by using this guide? What was your experience like? Did you improve your form?