Proper technique on Deadlifts is crucial to lift big weights, gain muscle and avoid injuries. Yet there are guys who have been Deadlifting for 5 years and who are still making dumb mistakes, waiting for an injury to happen. Worse, these guys pass on bad Deadlift advice to new lifters who don’t know the difference.
Here are 13 Deadlift mistakes, including many I made when I began Deadlifting a decade ago, that you better avoid unless you want to look really stupid.
1. Doing Deadlifts Top-Down. By walking the weight back out of the Rack, and doing each rep top-down as it was a Squat or Bench Press. Why do you think it’s called a DEADlift? Because you’re supposed to start from the floor.
2. Not Hitting The Floor on Each Rep. By doing Deadlifts from the safety pins of your Power Rack (these are Rack Pulls) or by not touching the floor on each rep (Romanian Deadlift-style). Either way, this mistake is like not hitting parallel on Squats or not touching your chest on the Bench Press: you’re doing partials.
The bar should always touch the floor between reps when you Deadlift. Again, it’s called DEADlifts.
3. Wearing Gloves. Gloves add inches to the bar which kills your grip strength. Worse, they don’t prevent callus formation anyway. What will: Deadlifting with a correct grip – bar NOT in the middle of your hand, but close to your fingers – and using chalk (if your gym doesn’t allow it, get liquid chalk).
4. Rolling Your Shoulders. Guaranteed way to destroy your shoulders. Never roll them at the top of your Deadlifts. Just pull the weight from the floor, lock your hips & knees, and keep your shoulders back & down. If you want bigger traps, increase your Deadlift and eat more so you actually gain weight.
5. Standing Too Wide. Deadlifts are NOT Squats. If your stance is too wide, your legs will get in the way of your arms on each rep. You could Deadlift with a wider grip, but then you’ll have to pull the bar higher which makes the same weight more challenging. Simply narrow your stance to give your arms room.
6. Starting With Your Hips Too Low. You’ll keep hitting your shins and the bar will end up too much in front of your body (which is more stressful on your lower back and less effective for strength). Again, Deadlifts are NOT Squats – start with your hips higher so your shoulder-blades are directly over the bar.
7. Hitting Your Knees. If you break your knees too early on the way down, you will hit them (which obviously hurts) and the bar will end up too far in front of your body for your next rep (see #6). Lower the weight by pushing your hips back first and only bend your legs once the bar reaches knee level.
8. Curling The Weight. Starting with flexed elbows and then straightening them right before you pull is useless – there’s no way you’re ever going to curl what you can Deadlift unless your work weight is too light. Keep your elbows locked by squeezing your triceps so you don’t end up ripping your biceps tendon.
9. Deadlifting In Running Shoes. Any shoe with air or gel filling doesn’t work for Deadlifts because its sole is compressible – it’s unstable, causes power loss, and messes with your technique. Get shoes with hard soles like Chuck Taylor’s or Deadlift barefoot like I do (closer to the ground = more weight).
10. Looking Up. Usually to check your Deadlift technique in the front mirror. Problems: your hips will end up too low (see #6), you can twist your neck, and the mirror only gives info about the front plane. Stop looking in the mirror, keep your head inline with your torso and check your technique by taping yourself.
11. Pulling Instead of Pushing. Deadlifts are a pull, but since you have to use your hip muscles it’s better to think of them as a push. So instead of pulling all the weight with your back, push through your heels, force your hips forward once the bar reaches knee level, and squeeze your glutes at the top.
12. Hyperextending Your Back. Repeatedly leaning back at the top is as bad as Deadlifting with a round lower back – you will get a hernia. And unless you’re competing and want to make sure that the judges see you locked the weights, there’s no need to lean back. Just stand tall with locked hips and knees, done.
13. Stiff-legging The Weight. Starting with your hips sky-high, the opposite of mistake #6. This, a Stiff-legged Deadlift, is more stressful on your lower back and less effective for strength because you’re not using your legs. Deadlift with your hips lower so your shoulder-blades end up over the bar.
Finally, do not waste your energy worrying about what other guys in your gym are doing. If they ask you for advice, give it. If not, mind your own business and lead by example by making sure that you’re Deadlifting with proper technique.