The Difference Between Deadlifting with Low and High Hips

Dorian asked:

My coaches tell me when you Deadlift your hips must be low, below your knees like a Squat, and explode. When you pick it up the bar must go up against the shins. Right now my shins are filled with scabs. I want to know: am I doing Deadlifts right?

Deadlifts are NOT Squats. Your hips must be much higher in the starting position of the Deadlift. How high depends on the length of your limbs, but they should never be below your knees like when hitting parallel on the Squat. Your hips shouldn’t be too high either because then you’d be doing stiff-legged Deadlifts and you have better leverages (more weight) with conventional Deadlifts.

Check the starting position of 2 of the world’s best Deadlifters – Andy Bolton, first man to Deadlift 1000lb, and Konstantins Konstantinovs, former world record holder for the raw Deadlift with 939lb. Look where their hips are:

World class Deadlifters Andy Bolton and Konstantin Konstantinov know that the Deadlift doesn't start with the  hips below the knees like on the Squat.

World class Deadlifters Andy Bolton and Konstantin Konstantinov know that the Deadlift doesn’t start with the  hips below the knees like on the Squat.

The fact that your shins are full of bruises is proof that you’re Deadlifting wrong. If your hips are too low, the bar will hit your shins on every single rep because they’re in the way. To make room for the barbell to travel upwards in a straight line, you simply have to raise your hips so your shins end up less incline.

Keep in mind that starting with your hips too low on the Deadlift is not efficient for strength. Your coaches may think it’s better to start with your hips lower in order to “explode”, but tape yourself and you’ll discover that you’re raising your hips before the bar even leaves the floor. And when you do, the bar will lose contact with your legs which makes the Deadlift harder. Can’t pull big this way.

Again, the exact position of your hips during Deadlifts depends on the length of your limbs. Here’s the easy way to find out where they should be:

  • Bar over center of your feet – stand in front of the bar with the barbell right above the center or your feet. I always Deadlift barefoot (closer to the ground is more weight) but if you wear shoes, remember which laces are under the bar so you pull consistently from the same position.
  • Shoulder-blades over the bar – grab the bar and lower your hips until your shins touch the barbell. Your shoulder-blades will be right above the bar when looking from the side. Do NOT check this in the mirror, you could tweak your neck. Just ask someone for feedback or tape yourself.
  • Head neutral - if your head is up because you want to check your form in the front mirror, your hips will usually end up too low. So keep your head inline with the rest of your spine, and – again – do not check your technique in the mirror. Tape yourself or ask someone for feedback.

Look at the picture of Bolton & Konstantinov again and you’ll notice that the barbell is directly under their shoulder-blades in the starting position of the Deadlift. The bar is against their shins, their shoulders are in front of the bar, and their head is down. Konstantinov’s upper-back is very round (allows for a bigger pull, but I advise against this because most guys will not be able to keep their lower back straight) yet his lower back is flat so it’s perfectly safe. I’ve pulled 500lb raw at 165lb body-weight and my form is exactly like Andy Bolton’s.

Bottom line: don’t trust whatever some personal trainer or coach says. The Deadlift is NOT a Squat – your hips have to be higher for maximal strength and so you don’t bruise your shins on each rep. Pass on the word.

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