Shin scraping is inevitable on Deadlifts. You must drag the bar over your shins. The closer the bar, the less lower back stress and the more you can Deadlift. Dragging the bar over your legs scrapes your shins. Protect them by Deadlifting in long pants. Don’t Deadlift in shorts.
Your shins shouldn’t bleed or hurt when you Deadlift. If they do, you’re Deadlifting with bad form. Setup with your shoulder-blades over the bar and the bar over your mid-foot. Pull the bar in a vertical line so it can’t hit your shins. Fix your form instead of Deadlifting with shin guards.
Bloody Shins from Deadlifts Isn’t “Normal”
Bloody shins from Deadlifts are like torn calluses: if they bleed everytime you Deadlift, you’re lifting with bad form. The solution isn’t to “man up”, wear tons of shin protection or stop Deadlifting. The solution is to Deadlift with proper form. My shins don’t hurt or bleed when I Deadlift. Nor will yours if you Deadlift with proper form. Bloody shins may happen occasionally. But they should be the exception, not the rule.
Some consider bloody shins badges of honor. Badges of ignorance. Bloody shins hurt everytime you hit them with the bar. Wounds turn into scars. The bar scrapes scars away next time you Deadlift. The wounds turn bigger, bleed and hurt. Deadlifting without the bar touching your shins doesn’t work, it stresses your lower back. Time off Deadlifting is no good either, it slows your progress. The best strategy is to avoid bloody shins.
Some shin scraping from Deadlifts is inevitable. You must Deadlift by dragging the bar over your shins and legs. This decreases lower back stress and increases your Deadlifts. My shins have vertical marks from Deadlifts. The skin where I drag the bar over my shins has turned darker. This is adaptation to the contact of the bar. It’s similar to building calluses on your hands. But my shins don’t hurt or bleed when I Deadlift.
Bad Deadlift Form Causes Bloody Shins
If you Deadlift with proper form the bar will never hit your shins. It will drag over your shins and scrape them. You may lose some hair and skin on your shins. But the bar won’t scrape your shins until they bleed. Nor will the bar hit and bruise your shins. Because proper Deadlift form keeps your shins out of the bar path. You can lift the bar without hitting and bruising your shins if you setup correctly for the Deadlift.
The proper way to Deadlift is by pulling the bar in a vertical line up. This is the shortest distance to move the bar from floor to lockout. It’s therefore the most effective way to Deadlift as well. To lift the bar in a vertical line, you must setup for Deadlifts with the bar over the middle of your feet. This is your balance point. Your shoulder-blades must be over the bar so you can use your legs to Deadlift the weight without hitting your shins.
Bad Deadlift form is pulling the bar from any position but your mid-foot. Most people pull the bar from their forefoot. Others setup with the bar to close to their shins. The bar will hit and scrape your shins until they bleed unless you pull from your mid-foot. Same if you try to Squat your Deadlift by setting up with low hips. Your shins will come forward and the bar will hit your shins. Fix your form and the bleeding will stop.
Top Deadlift Mistakes That Cause Bloody Shins
Mistake #1: Pulling From The Forefoot
The bar will hit your shins if you pull from your forefoot. Your body knows pulling from your mid-foot is more effective. It knows it’s shorter, less stressful on your back and better balance. If you pull heavy from your forefoot, the bar will move back to your mid-foot before it goes up. Instead of pulling in a vertical line, you’ll pull in a J-curve. That small horizontal bar movement hits your shins on every rep until they bleed.
Setup for Deadlifts with the bar over the middle of your foot. The bar can’t touch your shins yet when you’re standing in front of it. But it should be closer than you’re used to. Check your shoes: which lace is over the middle of your soles? With my Deadlift shoes, it’s lace five. Put whatever yours is under the bar every time you setup. You’ll pull in a vertical line over your mid-foot without hitting your shins with the bar.
Mistake #2: Setting up With the Bar Too Close
Your shins can’t touch the bar when you’re standing in front of it. This is too close. It puts your shins in the way of the bar path when you Deadlift. The bar has no other option than to hit, bruise and scrape your shins until they bleed. You should drag the bar over your shins and legs to the top. And you should setup with the bar against your shins. But standing with the bar against your shins before you even setup is wrong.
Same fix as for mistake #1: setup for Deadlifts with the bar over your mid-foot. Grab the bar and bend your knees. Keep bending until your shins touch the bar. Don’t push the bar forward or back, keep it over your mid-foot. If you setup right, you’ll have shoulder-blades over bar, bar over mid-foot and shins against bar. Pull from here and the bar will go in a vertical line up without hitting and bruising your shins.
Mistake #3: Hips Too Low
Deadlifting with low hips puts your shins more incline. It puts your shins and knees in the way of the bar. It also pushes the bar over your forefoot. With heavy weights, the bar will move up in a J-curve. It will move back against your shins before going up. With light weights, the bar will move up in a C-curve up over your shins and knees. In both cases the bar hits and bruises your shins until they bleed.
Deadlifts aren’t Squats. Hips low, below your knees like on a Squat, doesn’t work for Deadlifts. The proper Deadlift setup looks like a half Squat. And your build determines where your hips should be. My long thighs put my hips higher when I setup for Deadlifts. Forget about hips and focus on bar over mid-foot, shins against bar, shoulder-blades over bar. Your hips will be where they should be and you’ll stop hitting your shins.
Mistake #4: Stance Too Wide
Deadlifting with a wider Squat-like stance puts your shins against the knurling of the bar. The more aggressive the knurling, the more it will act like a cheesegrater and scrape the skin of your shins until they bleed. Deadlifting with a wide stance also puts your legs in the way of your arms. You have to grip the bar wider to create space. But this increases the distance the bar travels. It makes the weight harder to Deadlift.
Setup for Deadlifts with your stance hip-width apart. Match the distance between your heels with the width of your hips. The smooth part of the bar will touch your shins. As you can see in the image above, the knurling of the bar never touches my shins when I Deadlift. This reduces shin scraping during Deadlifts. Your arms will be vertical and straight without pushing against your legs. This is more effective.
The knurling will touch your shins if you’re a bigger guy with wider hips. World Champion Andy Bolton sets up for Deadlifts with a wider stance that puts his shins against the knurling of the bar. He’s bigger and has wider hips. He also needs a wider stance to create space for his belly. If you’re that big, Deadlift in long pants to protect your shins. Get a less aggressive bar if you can. If you’re of average size like me, hip-width stance works.
How to Deadlift Without Bruising Your Shins
Setup with the bar your over mid-foot, shoulder-blades over bar, bar against shins. Videotape yourself from the side. It must look like a half Squat. Pull the bar from your mid-foot in a vertical line up. Drag it over your legs. This will scrape your shins and may pull hair away. But it shouldn’t bleed. Lower the bar by pushing your hips back first. If you do it right, the bar will land over your mid-foot, ready for your next Deadlift rep.
If you have long thighs like me, setup with your feet out 15°. Long thighs put your shins more forward. It puts them in the bar path which increases shin scraping. Setup with your feet out. Pull the bar while pushing your knees to the side. This keeps your shins back and out of the way of the bar. You scrape and bruise your knees less. You also increase effectiveness by keeping the bar slightly closer. This helps increasing your Deadlift.
Shin Protection for Deadlifts
The simplest way to protect your shins against scraping is to Deadlift in long pants. If you Deadlift in shorts, the bar will scrape your shins and turn them red. This will hurt so you’ll react by Deadlifting without the bar touching your legs. But that’s harder on your back and less effective. The bar must touch your legs when you Deadlift. Wear long pants to protect your shins. Anything that doesn’t restrict movement works.
Deadlift socks are similar to what soccer players and skiers wear. They protect your shins from Deadlifts by putting a small layer between the bar and your shins. Deadlift socks seems most useful for high rep Deadlifts (cfr Crossfit). More reps is more fatigue. Technique goes downhill which increases shin scraping and bruises, hence Deadlift socks. I’ve never used them. I just wear long pants and pull my regular socks up.
Deadlift shin guards are like Deadlift socks but with extra padding for protection. They look like what kickboxers or soccer players wear. The thicker padding will protect your shins more. But that extra layer between the bar and your shins will make it harder to keep the bar close. Your shins will be safe but you might get lower back pain instead. Deadlift shin guards look more like a band-aid solution for bad Deadlift form.
Keep it simple. Deadlift in long pants, pull your socks up and use proper form. Your shins shouldn’t need more protection than this because shin scraping will be limited. Deadlift socks can be handy if you must Deadlift in shorts when it’s too warm for long pants. I don’t recommend Deadlift shin guards because their excessive padding could encourage Deadlifting with bad form instead of fixing it.
What To Do If Your Shins Bleed
Cover your shin wound with ducktape. Put it vertically over your shin to make the surface of your legs smoother. This will make it harder for the bar to scrape the scar away when you drag it over your shin. Ducktape won’t protect shin scars against bad form though. If you hit your shin on every rep by setting up wrong, the bar will pull the scar away. The wound will bleed, turn bigger and take forever to heal. Proper form first, always.
Some people protect shin scars by cutting a water bottle in two and putting it behind their socks. I don’t like it for the same reason I don’t like shin guards. Long pants, long socks and ducktape is enough to protect shin scars from Deadlifts. Excessive shin padding can encourage bad Deadlift form. Pain and injuries are your body telling you you’re doing it wrong. Let pain guide you to fix your Deadlift form. Don’t cover it up.