How to Deadlift with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide

How to Deadlift with proper form

How to Deadlift with proper form: pull the bar from the floor until you’ve locked your hips and knees. Keep your lower back neutral.

Proper Deadlift form starts with the weight on the floor. Pull the bar until you’ve locked your hips and knees. Return it to the floor by moving your hips back first and then bending your knees. Rest a second between reps and repeat. Do five reps total on the StrongLifts 5×5 program.

To Deadlift with proper form means with your lower back neutral. Rounding your lower spine during heavy Deadlifts is dangerous for your back. It squeezes your spinal discs and can cause injuries like herniated discs. Deadlift with your lower back neutral to avoid injury.

Proper Deadlift form increases effectiveness. Moving the bar in a vertical line shortens the distance the weight travels from floor to top. This increases how much you Deadlift. You’ll get stronger and build more muscle if you Deadlift with proper form.

This is the definitive guide to proper form on the conventional Deadlift

Introduction

How to Deadlift

How to Deadlift with proper form in 5 simple steps

How to Deadlift with proper form in 5 simple steps: walk to the bar, grab it, bend your legs until they touch the bar, lift your chest and pull.

The Deadlift starts with the barbell on the floor. Pulling from safety pins in the Power Rack is not a Deadlift but a Rack Pull. Starting at the top and then lowering the bar isn’t a Deadlift either. It’s a Romanian Deadlift. The “dead” in Deadlift stands for dead weight. Put the bar on the floor. Then follow these five simple steps to Deadlift with proper form…

  1. Walk to the bar. Stand with your mid-foot under the bar. Don’t touch it with your shins yet. Hip-width stance, toes out 15°.
  2. Grab the bar. Narrow, about shoulder-width apart. Arms vertical from the front-view, hanging just outside your legs.
  3. Bend your knees. Keep going until your shins touch the bar. Don’t move the bar. Keep it over your mid-foot.
  4. Lift your chest. Straighten your back. Don’t move the bar. Don’t drop your hips. Don’t squeeze your shoulders-blades.
  5. Pull. Take a big breath, hold it and stand up. Keep the bar against your legs. Don’t shrug or lean back at the top.

You’ve finished your Deadlift when you’ve locked your hip and knees. Return the weight to the floor by pushing your hips back first. Bend your legs once the bar reaches your knees. Don’t bend your knees first or you’ll hit them with the bar. Rest a second then do your next rep. Don’t bounce the weight off the floor, pull each rep from a dead stop. Deadlift sets of five reps every workout B on StrongLifts 5×5.

If you’d like a print version of these tips, download my Deadlift Tip Sheet. It’s a simple one page document that covers the most important tips to Deadlift with proper form. Print it, take it with you to the gym and review the tips between sets. This way you’re sure you’re Deadlifting with proper form so you don’t get hurt. To download my Deadlift tip sheet, click the link below…

Deadlift Form 101

How to Deadlift with proper form

How to Deadlift: hip-width stance, narrow grip with vertical arms, drag the bar over your legs you’ve locked your hips and knees.

Your build determines how your Deadlift will look like when you use proper form. People with short limbs and a long torso usually Deadlift with lower hips than guys like me with longer limbs and a short torso. Don’t mimic someone’s Deadlift form unless you have the same build. Follow these general technique guidelines instead. Then individualize your Deadlift form as you gain experience…

  • Bar Path: vertical line over your mid-foot when looking from the side
  • Barbell: on the floor, over your mid-foot, at the start of each rep
  • Stance: heels hip-width apart, narrower than on the Squat
  • Feet: whole foot flat on the floor, toes turned out about 15°
  • Grip: narrow, about shoulder-width apart, with the bar close to fingers
  • Arms: vertical when looking from the front, slightly incline from the side
  • Elbows: locked before and during the pull, until lockout. Never bent.
  • Chest: up to avoid back rounding, do NOT squeeze your shoulder-blades
  • Shoulders: in front of the bar from the side view, relax your shoulders and traps
  • Shoulder-blades: over your mid-foot when looking from the side, don’t squeeze them!
  • Head: inline with the rest of your spine, don’t look up, don’t look at your feet either
  • Lower Back: neutral, with a slight natural arch. But no rounding or excess arching
  • Hips: setup looks like a half Squat, hips higher than parallel. Don’t Squat your Deadlifts
  • Setup: bar over mid-foot, shoulder-blades over bar, straight line from head to lower back
  • Breathing: take a big breath at the bottom, hold it at the top, exhale then inhale at the bottom
  • Pulling: don’t jerk the bar off the floor, pull slowly while dragging the bar over your legs
  • Lowering: hips back first, bend your legs once the bar reaches your knees
  • Between Reps: don’t bounce, rest a second, lift your chest, breathe, pull again
  • Traps: let them hang, relaxed. Do not shrug or roll your trap muscles at the top
  • Lockout: lock your hips and knees. Don’t lean back at the top

If you’d like a print version of these tips, download my Deadlift Tip Sheet. It’s a simple one page document that covers the most important tips to Deadlift with proper form. Print it, take it with you to the gym and review the tips between sets. This way you’re sure you’re Deadlifting with proper form so you don’t get hurt. To download my Deadlift tip sheet, click the link below…

Lower Back Safety

Round vs. Hyper-extended vs. Neutral Back on the Deadlift

Left: flexion, lower back rounding. Middle: hyper-extension, excess arching. Right: neutral lower back.

Bad Form Causes Injury. All exercises have a higher risk of injury if you use bad form. If you Deadlift with your lower back rounded, you’re more likely to hurt yourself. Rounding your back compresses the front part of your spinal discs. This can result in back pain and herniated discs. Deadlifts don’t cause lower back injuries. Deadlifts with bad form do. The safest way to lift is always with a neutral lower back.

Belts Aren’t Bullet-proof. Belts don’t stop injuries from bad form. Lower back rounding or excess arching puts your spine at risk. Don’t wear a belt because your back hurts from lifting with bad form. If you get hurt with the belt, the injury will be worse because of the higher weights and the false sense of security. Master proper form first. Deadlift with belt to lift more weight. But never wear one to make up for bad form.

The Key: Lower Back Neutral. Keep the natural arch in your lower back when you Deadlift. Don’t let it round or you’ll compress the front part of your spinal discs. Don’t hyper-extend your lower back either or you’ll squeeze the back part. Excess rounding or arching during heavy Deadlifts will result in spinal injuries like herniated discs. Deadlift with your lower back neutral to keep it safe from injuries.

Good Form Is Strong Back. Gravity wants to bend your back when you Deadlift heavy. To keep it neutral, the muscles around your spine must work hard. The heavier the weight you Deadlift, the stronger your “core muscles” become. This gives your spine more protection and support. Add the vertical compression which increases bone density. Deadlifting with good form turns a weak lower back strong.

Good Form Is Less injuries In Daily Life. Most back injuries happen outside the gym. Yardwork with straight legs and a bent back isn’t safe. You must bend through your knees with your lower back neutral. This becomes automatic if you Deadlift with proper form each week. It also becomes easier because stronger legs from Deadlifts reduces the effort to bend them. Better form means less injuries in daily life.

First-time Fear

Start Light. Learn to walk before you run. Don’t try to Deadlift 200kg from day one. Good form is harder with heavy weights than light weights. Yet good form prevents injury. Start light, with 40 to 60kg on the bar (135lb max). If it feels good, add weight next workout. Slow but steady wins. It’s how thousands of people achieved 180kg/400lb Deadlifts within their first year of StrongLifts 5×5.

Focus on Form. Technique builds confidence. Confidence beats fear of injury. Wait with the heavy Deadlifts. First focus on lifting with proper form. Every time you Deadlift without getting hurt, your confidence grows. The fear of injury disappears because you were safe. Practice Deadlifts with light weights and proper form during your first workouts. Increase the weight as your confidence grows.

Videotape Yourself. Use your phone to videotape yourself from the side while you Deadlift. If your lower back isn’t neutral, fix it on your next set. If you can’t fix it, lower the weight, it’s too heavy. A skilled coach to check your form is best for fast progress. But if you don’t have one, videotape yourself to see what you do and compare with the tips here. Don’t look at mirrors or you’ll mess your Deadlift form and hurt your neck.

Keep Deadlifting. The best way to get better at Deadlifts is to Deadlift. First-time fear is normal, I had that too when I started to Deadlift. But doing another exercise instead won’t eliminate fear of Deadlifts. It won’t make you better at Deadlifts either. You don’t learn to ride a bike by driving a car. You learn by doing. Deadlift, Deadlift more and keep Deadlifting. That’s the shortcut.

Deadlift Videos

Here’s a video of me Deadlifting 210kg/451lb. Notice I setup with the bar over my mid-foot and against my shins. Shoulder-blades are over the bar, shoulders in front. The barbell drags over my legs from start to finish. My lower back remains fairly neutral. I Deadlift the first, lighter sets without belt and using the normal grip. I add the belt and switch to the mixed grip on the heavier sets.

Here’s a second video in which I Deadlift with proper form as part of the StrongLifts 5×5 workout B. You can hear me answer common questions about the Deadlift at the same time. Watch from 20:59 onwards for the Deadlift tips.

And here’s a video of my friend Mike Tuchscherer Deadlifting about 300kg at the StrongLifts London 2014 seminar. Mike is a powerlifting champion who previously broke the world record Deadlift. He’s Deadlifting exactly as explained in this article: bar over mid-foot, shoulder-blades over bar, shoulder in front of bar. His lower back stays neutral despite the heavy weights. Bar touches his legs at all times.

Deadlift Technique

Deadlift Stance

Proper Deadlift stance

Left: shoulder-width stance is too wide for Deadlifts, legs push against arms. Right: hip-width stance with vertical arms and plenty of space for your legs.

No Squat Stance. Heels shoulder-width apart is too wide for Deadlifts. Your legs will block your arms when you grip the bar. Creating space using a wider grip is not effective because it puts your arms at an angle. This increases the distance the bar moves and makes the weight harder. Put your arms vertical from the front-view. Deadlift with a narrower stance than on Squats so your legs don’t block your arms.

Hip-width Stance. The distance between your heels must match the width of your hips. If you have wider hips than me, your Deadlift stance will be wider as well. But don’t Deadlift with a shoulder-width stance like on the Squat. If you do, your legs will block your arms when you setup. Or you’ll have to grip the bar wider which increases the distance the bar travels. Hip-width stance is the most effective way to Deadlift heavy.

Foot Position

Proper Deadlift Foot Stance

Left: bar over forefoot, too far. Middle: bar against shins, too close. Right: bar over mid-foot, correct.

Bar over Mid-foot. Setup for Deadlifts with the bar over your mid-foot. If the bar comes over your toes, you can lose balance and get lower back pain. Bar too close to shins, you’ll hit them on the way up. Setup with the bar over your balance point, your mid-foot. This is the middle of your whole foot, not just what you see when looking down. Deadlift every rep in a vertical line over your mid-foot.

Remember The Lace. You’ll always setup with the bar over your mid-foot if you remember the lace above it. Take your right Deadlift shoe off. Draw a vertical line through its sole’s center. Remember which lace is over your mid-shoe by counting them. Fifth lace in my case but it depends on your shoe size/brand. Walk to the bar, look down and setup with that shoelace above the bar.

Feet Flat on The Floor. Don’t let your heels come off the floor or you’ll lose balance. Lifting your toes can fix this short-term but isn’t ideal. You have better balance if you keep your whole foot flat on the floor. The contact surface is greater. More balance is more safety, more bar control and more strength. Deadlift with your whole foot flat on the floor. This includes your heels, forefoot and toes.

Toes out 15°. If you have long thighs like me, this will help you push your knees out in the bottom position of the Deadlift. Knees out create spaces for the barbell to move up without scraping your shins. Toes out also let you engage your groin muscles (adductors) on the way up. More muscles working is more weight you can Deadlift, and thus more strength and muscle gains.

Deadlift Grip

Deadlift Grip

The proper way to grip the bar is low hand, not mid-palm. This prevents hand pain and torn calluses.

Grip The Bar Narrow. Go about shoulder-width apart. The bar hangs lower if your arms are vertical to the floor from the front. The weight moves a shorter distance and is easier to Deadlift. Narrow your stance to heels hip-width apart if your legs push against your arms. Don’t grip the bar wide or it will hang higher at the top and be harder to Deadlift. Grip it narrow, just outside your legs.

Use Normal Grip First. Grip the bar with both palms facing you. Once the weight is too heavy to hold in your hands, switch to the mixed grip – one palm facing you, the other facing away. Holding the bar like a baseball bat instantly boosts grip strength because it puts five fingers on both sides. Start with the normal grip for your warmup sets. Switch to mixed grip on your last warmup set and work sets.

Hold The Bar Low. Grip it close to your fingers. If you hold the bar higher, mid-palm, skin will fold under the weight. You’ll get excess calluses which can tear and prevent you from Deadlifting for days. Hold the bar lower in your hands, close to your fingers  This can feel weird and “weaker” if you held it mid-palm so far. But give it time and your grip will get stronger without the excess calluses.

Don’t Use Straps or Gloves. Straps will leave your grip weak instead of strengthening it. Gloves make the bar harder to grip because it increases its diameter. Gloves also don’t prevent calluses if you Deadlift heavy. And serious lifters frown upon people who use gloves. Use white knuckling, chalk and the mixed grip for a stronger grip. Avoid calluses by gripping the bar correctly and shaving your calluses of each week.

Arm Position

Proper arm position on Deadlifts

Left: elbows bent, high risk of elbow injury. Right: locked elbows with vertical arms. Safe and effective.

Lock Your Elbows. Never pull with bent arms. The Deadlift is not a curl. If you Deadlift with bent elbows, the weight of the bar will straighten your arms. This can result in elbow pain, elbow injuries, or worse, biceps tears. Straight arms keep your elbows safe. It also shortens the distance the bar moves because it hangs lower at the top. Pull with locked elbows. It’s the safest, more effective way to Deadlift heavy.

Think of Your Arms as Ropes. Any guy can Deadlift 180kg/400lb if he trains right for a year. But try to curl that same weight. Your arms will never be strong enough to lift what you can Deadlift using your stronger, bigger legs and back muscles. Let your arms hang. Think of them as ropes, your hands are the hooks. Tighten your triceps during your Deadlift setup to keep your elbows locked. Don’t try to curl the weight.

Arms Incline. Your arms must be slightly incline during your Deadlift setup when looking from the side. Vertical arms doesn’t work because this puts your shoulders over the bar. Shoulders over bar puts your hips too low, turning your Deadlifts into Squats. You’ll hit your shins/knees on the way up. Your shoulders must be in front of the bar, shoulder-blades over the bar. This puts your arms slightly incline.

Bar Position

Bar over Mid-foot. Setup for Deadlifts with the bar over the center of your foot. Your whole foot. Bar over toes doesn’t work because it will pull you forward and cause back pain. Bar too close to heels, you’ll hit your shins. Pull the bar in a vertical line over your mid-foot to the top. This is the shortest distance between two points, and the most effective way to Deadlift heavy.

Hip Position

deadlift-hips

Left: hips too low, bar will hit your knees. Middle: hips too high, lower back must work more. Right: shoulder-width over bar and mid-foot, hip are where they should be.

Hip Position Depends on Build. People with long thighs/short torso like me usually setup with higher hips than guys with short limbs/long torso. Your hips might look too high/low to someone else but be correct for your build. The proper way to check if you have proper hip position is by drawing a line from shoulder-blade to bar to mid-foot during your Deadlift setup. If this line is vertical, your hip position is correct.

Don’t Squat Your Deadlifts. Deadlifts aren’t Squats. If you lower your hip below your knees, your shins and knees will be in the way. You’ll hit them with the bar on every rep and they’ll bleed. You’ll also get back pain because the bar is too far from your center of mass. Setup with your shoulder-blades over the bar, bar over mid-foot. Your hips will be where they should, and you’ll stop hitting your shins/knees.

Use Your Legs. Pulling with high hips and straight legs turns Deadlifts into Stiff-legged Deadlifts. Your hips, glutes and lower back must do all the work because your knees can’t help. Lower your hips during your Deadlift setup so your shoulder-blades are over the bar, bar over mid-foot. This engages more muscles, saves your lower back and increases your Deadlift.

Head Position

Proper head position on Deadlifts

Left: looking up, bad for neck and can cause excess lower back arching. Middle: looking at feet, rounds the upper-back. Right: head neutral, straight line head to hips.

Head Inline with Torso. Videotape yourself from the side when you Deadlift. Your setup should show a straight line from the top of your head to your lower back. Deadlifting with your head neutral prevents neck injuries because there’s no spinal disc compression. This technique can feel weird at first, it did for me years ago. But you’ll get used to it by doing it more. Don’t look at your feet but keep your head neutral.

Don’t Look Up. Raising your head during your Deadlift setup (maybe to check your form in the mirror facing you) lowers your hips. It turns your Deadlifts into Squats. You’ll hit your shins and knees with the bar. You’ll also get neck pain because looking up stresses the spinal discs in your neck. This can lead to neck injuries like herniated discs. Deadlift with your head neutral, not up.

Ignore Mirrors. Checking your form in the mirror forces you to look up. This causes bad form and neck pain. Especially if you Deadlift aside from the mirror and turn your head. Deadlift facing the mirror away. If you can’t, fix a point at the bottom of the mirror and look “through” it. The best way to check your form is to videotape yourself from the side. Unlike mirrors, you’ll see the bar path and without hurting your neck.

Shoulder Position

Proper hip position on Deadlifts

Left: shoulders over the bar, hips are too low, you’ll hit your shins and knees. Right: shoulders in front of bar, shoulder-blades over the bar, correct position.

Shoulders in Front of The Bar. Setup with your shoulders in front of the bar when looking from the side. Shoulders over bar doesn’t work. Your hips will be too low, as if doing Squats. This put your knees too far forward, and your shins incline. You’ll hit your shins and knees when you pull. Scraped, bloody shins will follow. Proper Deadlift setup form is shoulders in front of the bar, shoulder-blades over the bar.

Back Position

Proper back position on Deadlifts

Left: flexion, lower back rounding. Middle: hyper-extension, excess arching. Right: neutral lower back.

Lower Back Neutral. Keep your lower back neutral from start to finish. Neutral means natural curve in your lower back. Excessive rounding or arching of your lower back compresses your spinal discs and can results in injury. Especially when Deadlifting heavy. Some advanced Deadlifters pull with their lower back rounded. But you may not get away with it. Always keep your lower back neutral.

Lift Your Chest. Easier to keep your lower back neutral when your upper-back doesn’t round. Easier to keep your upper-back from rounding when you lift your chest. Some advanced Deadlifters round their upper-back to lower their shoulders, decrease the distance the bar moves and Deadlift heavier weights. You might struggle to keep your lower back neutral when your upper-back rounds. So lift your chest.

Deadlift Setup

Proper Deadlift setup

Left: bar over mid-foot. Middle: vertical line shoulder-blades to bar to mid-foot. Right: straight line head to hips, no rounding or excess arching.

Bar over Mid-foot. Walk to the bar and put the middle of your feet under it. Use the lace over the center of your shoe as a reference point. Don’t pull the bar from your forefoot or you’ll lose balance and hurt your lower back. Don’t stand with the bar against your shins or you’ll scrape them on the way up. Setup with the bar over your balance point, your mid-foot. Pull from here in a vertical line to the top.

Shoulder-blades over Bar. Setup with your shoulder-blades over the bar. Shoulder-blades further in front puts your hips too high and turns Deadlifts into Stiff-legged Deadlifts. Shoulder-blades lower drops your hips, turns Deadlifts into Squats and results in scraped shins. Videotape yourself from the side. If you have a vertical line from shoulder-blades to bar to mid-foot, you’ve setup correctly for the Deadlift.

Shoulders in Front of Bar. If shoulder-blades over bar is proper Deadlift setup form, your shoulders must be in front of bar. Shoulders over bar doesn’t work because it drops your hips. It turns your Deadlifts into Squats. It puts your shins and knees in the way of the bar. You’ll hit and scrap them on the way up. You’ll get back pain because the bar is further from your center of mass. Setup with your shoulders in front of the bar.

Shins Against Bar. Setup with your shoulder-blades over the bar, the bar over your mid-foot and your shins against the bar. Do not stand with your shins against the bar before you setup. If you do, the bar won’t be over your mid-foot. It will scrape your shins on the way up. Only put your shins against the bar when you setup. Your shoulder-blades will be over the bar and your mid-foot. Your hip position will be correct.

Straight Line Head to Hips. Proper Deadlift setup form is head inline with your torso, chest up and lower back neutral. Don’t look up or at your feet. Keep your head neutral. Lift your chest but don’t squeeze your shoulder-blades or you’ll increase the distance the bar moves. Pull with your lower back neutral. Maintain its natural arch. No excess rounding or arching or you’ll compress your spinal discs.

The Pull

deadlift-pull

The pull: bar moves from the floor to the top in a vertical line. Bar drags over legs. Lower back stays neutral.

Push The Floor Away. Imagine you’re doing the Leg Press. Lift the bar off the ground by pushing your feet through the floor. Once the bar reaches your knees, lockout the weight by thrusting your hips forward. Don’t try to Deadlift the weight using your lower back only. Don’t try to “pull it back”. Use your hips and glutes muscles. Stand up with the weight by pushing your feet through the floor.

Don’t Jerk The Bar. Start slow. Take the “slack” out of the bar before the bar leaves the floor. Pull on the bar until it touches the top of the plate holes. Maintain tension while taking a big breath. Now push your feet through the floor to Deadlift the bar. Don’t jerk it off the floor or you risk pulling with bent elbows and get injured. Pull slowly in the bottom, with locked elbows. Once the bar reaches your knees, accelerate!

Keep The Bar Close. Drag it over your shins, knees and thighs to lockout. If the bar doesn’t touch your legs during the Deadlift, you’ll get back pain. If it doesn’t stay over your mid-foot, you’ll lose balance. Hold the bar close to your center of mass, against your legs. Wear long pants or pull your socks up to avoid shin scraping. Aim for a vertical bar path over your mid-foot when looking from the side. This is proper Deadlift form.

Bar Path

Perpendicular Line. The shortest distance between two points is a straight vertical line. The bar will move in a vertical line over your mid-foot if you Deadlift with proper form. Any horizontal movement is stressful on your lower back and ineffective. If you lift the weight in a J-curve, you’ve setup with the bar too far away from your shins. Put it over your mid-foot before you Deadlift any weight.

Lowering The Bar

How to lower the bar on Deadlifts

Left: lowering the weight by bending the knees first, hitting them on the way down. Right: lowering the weight by moving the hips first, bar doesn’t hit knees.

Move Your Hips First. Lower the bar by pushing your hips back first. This keeps your knees back so the bar doesn’t hit them on the way down. If you bend your knees first, they’ll come forward. The bar will hit and bruise your knee caps. Move your knees out of the way by pushing your hips back first when you lower the bar. Do not hyper-extend your lower back. Keep it neutral by maintaining its natural arch.

Bend Your Knees Next. Once the bar has passed your knees, bend them. The bar will land over your mid-foot, ready for the next rep. If you bend your knees first, the bar will hit them and land on your forefoot. Pulling from here is bad for your lower back because its further from your center of mass. Hips back first, neutral lower back. Bend your knees once the bar passes them. Keep the bar close, over your mid-foot.

Lockout

Proper Deadlift Lockout technique

From left to right: leaning back at the top, hyper-extension of the lower back (excess arching) and shrugging at the top. Far right: standing tall with chest up, relaxed shoulders and neutral back.

Don’t Lean Back. Hyper-extending your lower back at the top is bad for your spine. It compresses the back of your spinal discs. This can cause injuries like herniated discs. Powerlifters often lean back in competition to show judges they’ve locked the weight. You don’t need to do this, and it’s safer for your spine if you don’t. Lock your hips and knees at the top, done. Don’t hyper-extend your knees.

Stand Tall. You’ve finished your Deadlift rep when you’ve locked your hips and knees. Standing with a heavy weight in your hands but unlocked hips and knees is not stable. You could collapse under the weight, and the rep doesn’t count. Stand tall with locked hips and knees. Lift your chest but keep your lower back neutral. Hold the bar over your mid-foot and you’ll have proper balance.

Wait At The Top. Dropping the bar quickly can mess with your starting position for your next rep. The bar can land over your forefoot instead of mid-foot. Hold the bar for a second at the top before lowering it. Hold it 5 to 10 seconds on your last, heavy set of the day to build grip strength. Hold your breath at the same time. Then lower the bar under control but not slow. Drop it over your mid-foot.

Relax Your Shoulders. Your legs move the weight when you Deadlift, not your shoulders. Relax your shoulders at the top. Let them hang. This lowers the distance bar to floor. Shorter distance results in a more effective Deadlift, more weight, more strength and more muscle. Do NOT shrug or roll your traps at the top. This could injure your neck. Keep adding weight on the bar and your traps will grow bigger.

Breathing

Breathe at The Bottom. Before you Deadlift the weight, take a big breath and hold it. This protects your lower back by increasing pressure in your abdomen. Your blood pressure will increase. But it will return to normal after your set. And the stronger muscles you build by Deadlifting heavy will decrease your blood pressure because they put less demand on your heart. Take a big breath at the bottom, hold it, then pull.

Hold Your Breath at The Top. Don’t exhale on the way up or at the top. If you do, you’ll lose pressure in your abdomen. This is dangerous for your lower back during heavy Deadlifts. Hold the weight for a second at the top while holding your breath. If you feel like passing out, you’ve waited too long at the bottom before pulling. Taking a big breath is the go signal. Big breath, hold it, pull. Don’t wait forever.

Between Reps

Get Tight. If you lowered the bar with proper form, the bar landed over your mid-foot. Wait a second to get your body tight before doing the next rep. Keep your hands on the bar. Lift your chest. Head neutral. Take a big breath. Hold it. And pull. Repeat for five reps on StrongLifts 5×5. If you’re more advanced, try to break the bar and engage your lats at the bottom to increase tightness.

Don’t Bounce. Deadlift DEAD weight, from a DEAD stop. Don’t drop the weight and bounce it back up. You can’t maintain good form if you bounce and could hurt your lower back. The goal is that you Deadlift the weight alone. Not get the bar from floor to mid-shin thanks to the rebound off the floor. Start each rep from a dead stop. Rest the bar for a second on the floor between reps. Don’t cheat your Deadlifts.

Common Issues

Lower Back Pain

Deadlifts with round back vs. arched back vs. neutral back.

Deadlifting with your lower back rounded or hyper-extended can result in spinal disc injuries. Deadlift with your lower back neutral.

Straighten Your Lower Back. Deadlifting with a neutral lower back is safest for your spine. Pulling with a round lower back is dangerous because it compresses the front part of your intervertebral discs. Excess arching of your lower back is bad for the same reason – it compresses your discs as well, but the back part. Deadlift with your lower back neutral. Maintain its natural carve. No excess rounding or arching.

Note that some advanced Deadlifters pull with with a rounded lower back. This shortens the distance the bar travels, gets it closer to their body and increases how much they can Deadlift. But round-back Deadlifting isn’t recommended for less experienced lifters. Some lower back rounding is okay during PR attempts. But 90% of your Deadlift reps should be neutral lower back to keep it safe from disc injuries.

Use Your Legs. Don’t try to Deadlift the weight using your lower back only. The Deadlift is more than a back exercise. Your lower back’s main job is to stay neutral while you pull. Your hips and knees lift the weight by straightening. But you can’t straighten them if you start with straight legs and high hips. Setup with lower hips so your shoulder-blades are over the bar and your mid-foot. This saves your lower back.

Don’t Pull, Push! Instead of thinking of the Deadlift as a pull exercise, try pushing. Get the bar moving by pushing your feet through the floor. As if you were doing the Leg Press. Once the bar reaches your knees, lockout the weight by thrusting your hips forward. Pushing through your feet can reduce back pain from trying to pull the weight back. It can also fix Deadlifting with stiff legs from raising your hips too soon.

Keep The Bar Close. The further the bar from your center of mass, the more lower back stress. Don’t start with the bar over your forefoot. Put it over your mid-foot and pull it in a vertical line to the top. Don’t let the bar drift from your legs. Pull it to your body and drag it over your shins, knees and thighs until lockout. Wear long pants or pull your socks up to avoid shin scraping.

Don’t Lean Back. Finish your Deadlift by locking your hips and knees. Don’t lean back at the top or hyper-extend your lower back. This compresses the posterior part of your spinal discs which can result in back injuries. Some competitive powerlifters lean back to show judges they locked out the weight. You don’t need to do this. Keep your lower back neutral at the top of your Deadlifts.

Lower Back Rounding

Deadlift Lower Back Rounding

Don’t let your lower back round like this or you’ll hurt your spine. Keep your lower back neutral.

Lift Your Chest. People with less body awareness often can’t keep their lower back neutral if their upper-back rounds. Lift your chest and notice how this straightens your upper-back and your lower back which is connected. Setup for Deadlifts by raising your chest before you pull. Rest between reps by pausing for a second at the bottom and lifting your chest again. Don’t pull with your chest collapsed.

Arch Harder. The general rule is no excess arching of your lower spine because it compresses your spinal discs and can cause injury. But if your lower back has less natural arch and more rounding, try arching it harder. Pull your lower back to the ceiling while lifting your chest. This will help reduce lower back rounding. WARNING: ignore this Deadlift cue if you already have enough natural arch in your lower back.

Hips Raise Too Fast

Use Your Legs. Hips raising too fast means you don’t use your legs. You’re straightening your knees before the weight leaves the floor. This puts you in a stiff-legged Deadlift position with your lower back doing all the work. It’s ineffective for Deadlifting heavy because you’re not using the most amount of muscles to lift the weight. Use your legs by lifting your hips and chest at the same time.

Think Pushing. Don’t Deadlift using your lower back only. Use your hips and knees. Start your Deadlift by pushing your feet through the floor. Don’t raise your hips before the bar leaves the ground. Lock your hips by squeezing your glutes and hamstrings. Keep pushing through the floor until the bar reaches your knees. Then thrust your hips forward to lockout the weight. Keep the bar close, over your mid-foot, the whole time.

Hitting The Knees

Stop hitting knees on Deadlifts

How to stop hitting your knees: don’t bend your knees first on the way down. Move your hips back first. Only bend your knees once the bar reaches them.

Way Down: Hips Back First. Lower the bar by moving your hips back first. Don’t bend your knees first or you’ll hit them on the way down. Create space for the bar by keeping your knees back. Do this by moving your hips back first until the bar reaches your knees. Do not hyper-extend your lower back, keep it neutral. Once the bar reaches your knees, bend them so the bar goes back to the floor.

Way Up: Bar Over Mid-foot. Setup for the Deadlift with the bar over your mid-foot. If the bar is too close to your shins, they’ll block the bar and you’ll hit your shins/knees when you pull. Same if you turn your Deadlifts into Squats by starting with your hips too low. Low hips puts your knees more forward, shins more incline. Keep them back by setting up with your shoulder-blades over the bar and your mid-foot.

Scraped Shins

How to stop scraping shins on Deadlifts

Left: low hips put your shins more incline, you’ll hit them on the way up. Raise your hips until your shoulder-blades over the bar. Right: bar over mid-foot or you’ll scrape your shins.

Don’t Squat Your Deadlifts. Proper Deadlift setup looks like a half Squat. Don’t lower your hips to your knees. If you do, your knees will come forward. This puts your shins incline and in the way of the bar. The bar has no choice but hit your shins on the way up. Keep your shins back and out of the way by raising your hips. Shoulder-blades over the bar, bar over mid-foot puts your hip where they should.

Bar Over Mid-foot. If the bar is too close to your shins, you’ll hit them on the way up. Create space for the barbell by putting it over your mid-foot. Check your gym shoes for the lace right above the center of your soles. Put this lace under the bar when you setup for the Deadlift. Don’t set the bar over your forefoot or close to your shins. Put it over the center of your whole foot, and pull from there to the top.

Wear Long Pants. If you Deadlift in shorts, you’ll scrape your shins, pull the hair from your legs and keep it at distance on the next rep because it hurts. But dragging the bar over your shins, knees and thighs is more effective for Deadlifting heavy. It’s also less stressful for your lower back. Protect your shins by Deadlifting in long pants. Pull your socks up for even more protection. The bar must touch your legs.

Weak Grip

Proper grip on Deadlifts: normal vs. mixed grip

Left: normal grip, both palms facing you. Right: mixed grip, one palm facing you, the other away. Switch to the mixed grip when you can’t hold the bar with the normal grip.

Use White Knuckling. Grip the bar hard until your knuckles turn white. The bar is less likely to move in your hands if you grab it tight. You’ll also recruit the surrounding muscles more – your forearms, biceps, triceps and shoulders. This boosts grip strength (principle of hyper radiation). Wrap your thumbs around the bar. Grip it as hard as you can. If you’re knuckles turn white, you’re doing it right.

Chalk Your Hands. Get gym chalk like gymnasts and rockclimbers use. Not baby powder or blackboard chalk. Magnesium carbonate. Chalk your hands on your last warmup set and work sets. This absorbs sweat, increases friction and boosts grip strength. Chalk also fills up your skin folds so less get trapped under the bar. This reduces calluses. If your gym forbids chalk, get liquid chalk (or join a real gym).

Switch to Mixed Grip. Grab the bar like a baseball bat. Face your dominant hand up, the other down. You now have fiver fingers on both sides of the bar. The normal grip puts eight fingers one one side, two thumbs the other. That’s why your thumbs always fail to hold the weight first. Switch to the mixed grip on your last warmup set and work sets to increase your grip strength.

Hold That Last Rep. Hold the bar for 5 to 10 seconds at the end of your last, heaviest Deadlift rep for the day. Then return it to the floor. Holding the weight longer than needed increases timer under tension in your grip. Deadlifting the same weight for five reps will become easier on your grip because you’ve trained holding it for twice that long. This is the simplest, most effective way to increase grip strength for Deadlfits.

Torn Calluses

Proper Deadlift grip: gripping the bar mid-palm vs. close to fingers.

Left: gripping the bar mid-palm, skin folds under the bar and will cause more/torn calluses. Right: gripping the bar low, close to the fingers. Less skin folding and calluses with this grip.

Grip The Bar Lower. Deadlift with the bar low in your hands, close to your fingers. If you grip the bar mid-palm, skin will fold under it because of the downward pull of the weight. This results in more and bigger calluses. Big callusses tear and bleed. If you have big hands like me, you must grip the bar lower because you have more palmskin that can fold. It will feel weird and weaker at first, but you’ll get used to it.

Shave Your Calluses. Get a pumice stone. Shave your calluses every week while you shower. Don’t be aggressive or they’ll tear. Shave the bulk off, done. If you don’t take care of your calluses, they’ll grow too big and tear. Or you’ll play with them when bored and tear them that way. You can’t not have calluses, it’s a byproduct of lifting . But you must shave them each week so they don’t turn into giants and tear.

Treat The Wound. If you tear a callus, cut the flap and trim it close to the wound. Smooth the edges to level it with the rest of your hand. Don’t cut deep or you’ll weaken the skin around the wound and risk tearing that later. Soak your hand in warm, salty for ten minutes. Wait five days before Deadlifting heavy again. When you do, cover the callus with athletic tape for extra protection while it continues to heal.

Bar Won’t Move

Use The Mixed Grip. If your grip can’t hold it, you can’t lift it. Switch from normal to mixed grip. What you can’t Deadlift with the normal grip you’ll be able to Deadlift with the mixed grip. Rest five minutes after failing your last set. Then try again with your dominant hand facing up, other hand facing down. Like grabbing a baseball bat. Use chalk if you aren’t yet. Try to Deadlift the weight now.

Push Harder! The hardest part is often getting the bar moving off the floor. Once the bar has left the floor, the rest of the movement can be easier. Don’t give up to quickly if the bar doesn’t move. Keep pushing. First get tight when you setup for Deadlift. Bar over mid-foot. Shoulder-blades over bar. Shins against bar. Take the slack out of the bar. Big breath. Hold it. Now push your feet through the floor as hard as you can. Keep pushing!

Drop The Weight. If nothing works, the weight is too heavy for today. Lower the weight and try again later. Don’t take big jumps but slowly work your way up. Adding 2.5kg on the bar four weeks in a row is better than trying to hit a 10kg PR in one workout. Be the turtle not the hare. Go for small consistent wins, not big wins with greater risk of failure. Creating momentum will boost your confidence in the gym.

Individualization

Tall Guys

The Mountain Deadlifts

“The Mountain” is 2,06m (6’9″) and Deadlifts 420kg/980lb. His form follows this guide: bar against legs, shoulders in front of bar, narrow grip, vertical arms, chest up.

Many Strong Deadlifters Are Tall. Brian Shaw is 6’8″ and Deadlifted 400kg (880lb). Terry Hollands is 6’6″ and Deadlifted 435kg (959lb). Zydrunas Savickas is 6’3″ and Deadlifted 410kg (900lb). “The Mountain” from “Game of Thrones”, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, is 6’9″ tall and has Deadlifted  420kg/925,9lb. Notice on the above picture how his Deadlift technique follows the tips in this guide.

Height Doesn’t Matter. The length of your limbs does. Deadlift form looks different for people with long legs/short torso than people with short legs/long torso. But your setup doesn’t change regardless of how tall or short you are. Bar over mid-foot, shoulder-blades over bar. If you hit your shins, the bar is too close or you’re Squatting your Deadlifts. These are technique issue you can fix. Don’t use height as an excuse.

Big Guys

Andy Bolton and Benedikt Magnusson Deadlifting

Andy Bolton and Benedikt Magnusson have Deadlifted 1000lb weighing +350lb. Their form follows this guide: shoulder-blades over bar, bar over mid-foot, neutral lower back.

The Two Best Deadlifters Weigh +350lb. Andy Bolton was the first guy to Deadlift 1000lb. He weighs 350lb. Benedikt Magnusson has broken Andy’s world record by Deadlifitng 1015lb. He weighs 172kg/379lb. Being big didn’t stop either of them to Deadlift heavy. Notice in the above picture how their Deadlift form follows the tips in this guide: shoulder-blades over bar, bar over mid-foot, lower back neutral.

Stand Wider. Create space for your belly by standing with your heels wider apart. Shoulder-width apart like on the Squat will be too wide. But hip width will be too narrow because your belly will get in the way. Stand with your heels inbetween hip-width and shoulder-width apart. Setup for Deadlifts with your toes out 15° out. Then get down and push your knees out. This will further create space for your belly.

Small Hands

Don’t Make Excuses. Small hands are a disadvantage for Deadlifting heavy. You can’t overlap your fingers with your thumbs as much so they’ll fail faster. And you’ll get more calluses because your hands aren’t big enough to grip the bar low, close to your fingers. But this shouldn’t stop you from Deadlifting 180kg/400lb. Use chalk, mixed grip, work your grip strength. Get a thinner women’s bar if you must. But don’t make excuses.

Women

Deadlift Like Men. Proper Deadlift form for women is same as for men. Stand with your heels hip-width apart. Setup with the bar over your mid-foot. Bend your knees until your shins hit the bar. If your shoulder-blades are over the bar and mid-foot before you pull, you’ve setup with proper form. There’s nothing you should do differently than men when you Deadlift. StrongLifts 5×5 will work for you too.

Get a Women’s Bar. Men’s barbells weigh 20kg/45lb and have 28mm diameter. Women’s hands are smaller than men on average. This makes a men’s bar harder to grip because less thumb overlaps your fingers. Get a smaller 15kg women’s with 25mm diameter. You’ll be able to hold on the weight longer when pulling heavy. And you’ll be able to hold the bar lower in your hands which means less skin folding and calluses.

Keep Your Lower Back Neutral. Women tend to hyper-extend their lower back more than men when they Deadlift. Different hip anatomy plus high heels results in more anterior pelvis tilt in women than men on average. There’s more lordosis. But Deadlifting with your lower back hyper-extended compresses your spinal discs. Avoid disc injuries by Deadlifting with your lower back neutral. Squeeze your abs.

Feedback

If you have a Deadlift question I didn’t cover in this Deadlift technique guide or have suggestions to improve it, please don’t hesitate sending me your feedback. Just go here.

Deadlift Tip Sheet

I’ve put together a Deadlift Tip Sheet covering the most important tips to Deadlift with proper form. Print this one page document and take it with you to the gym so you can review these tips between sets. It’s important you Deadlift with proper form so you lift heavy weights without hurting yourself. To download my Deadlift tip sheet, click the link below…

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