So, you want to deadlift. Good! You obviously have goals, or you wouldn’t be here. There is no exercise that can top a deadlift for helping you burn fat, gain muscle, and get stronger. Of course, if you have been interested in learning how to deadlift properly, you don’t need me telling you why you should do it. What you need to know is how to do the movement without getting injured.
There are many kinds of deadlifts out there, but the king of them all would be the conventional deadlift, which is what I will describe to you how to do today. The conventional deadlift is a popular move across the board because it targets every part of your body. Because of this, you need to know the perfect set-up and master the technique.
We have a lot to cover in this how-to guide on deadlift technique, so let’s get started.
Why Should I Deadlift?
You should never underestimate the conventional deadlift. Never ever. Why?
The deadlift is a full-body movement that hits all the major muscle groups. Deadlifts can transform your body, whether you are male, female, young, old, a weightlifting beginner, or a competitor. If you deadlift, you can get stronger and fulfill your fitness dreams.
The benefits don’t end with total body training. Here is a glimpse at the benefits of doing deadlifts:
- Increased fat burning – Resistance training is ideal for ridding your body of fat, and since deadlifts are a total body exercise, you burn more fat faster than with isolated exercises.
- Better posture – The deadlift works the muscles in the core, adding to stability. You also work the back, helping straighten and lengthen the spine.
- Functional movement – The conventional deadlift is both safe and functional. Once you learn how to do the deadlift, you will be able to move with ease and can handle daily activities with less pain.
- Improved grip strength – Your forearms and fingers work incredibly hard to ensure proper lifting technique, and that increases your grip strength rapidly.
- Hormonal balance – When you start lifting heavy deadlifts, your body gets a dose of human growth hormone and testosterone, helping your muscles grow and get stronger.
- Better cardio health – Studies have found that 10 repetitions of deadlifts are enough to increase cardiovascular fitness.
- Injury prevention – The deadlift prevents injuries by strengthening the ligaments and tendons in the body and giving more support to the joints.
What is Proper Deadlift Form?
An important piece of the deadlift formula begins with the stance. Before even learning technique, you should have a general idea about what stance is good for you. The recommended method is to perform a simple vertical jump. Note the stance you naturally use. It’s the place where your body is comfortable, your center of gravity is in the right place, and you can generate a lot of vertical force.
Because, when you think about it, the deadlift uses the same movement you would use to do that vertical jump—minus the actual liftoff.
You might have to make some adjustments, but use the jump stance as a guideline. You might have to go wider or narrower. Look at some champions for example. Vince Anello and Lamar Gant both broke records with their heels nearly touching. Others, like Eddie Hall, Mark Felix, and Brian Shaw, all have much wider stances.
Once you find the ideal stance width, you look at toe angle. Turning your toes out slightly, about 15-degrees helps with getting the bar off the ground because you can generate more speed. Turned out toes shorten the glutes slightly, so you can activate the posterior chain much more readily. However, some people do better with their toes pointing straight forward.
With that in mind, perform the following 8 steps for a proper conventional deadlift:
- Step up to the barbell with your feet angled slightly outward and your feet in the proper stance distance. This might be hip-width apart, wider or narrower. You should see the top of your foot directly under the bar. If you’re wearing shoes, it’s lined with the middle lace.
- Bend over and grasp the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart. At this point, your legs are straight. The barbell should not move as your grip it.
- Bend your knees slightly so that the bar is almost grazing the shins. Think about sending the hips away from the knees to maintain a long spine.
- Find neutral spine. Engage your glutes and brace the core.
- Pick up the bar from the ground. Remember this cue: Press your feet down into the ground and use the back body—hamstrings, glutes, and your back muscles—to draw yourself up to standing.
- Continue pressing down through the heels. The barbell should naturally rise as you right yourself, running up along the shins to the knees.
- As the barbell passes the knees, you can start to push through the hips and stand up straight. Remember: Keep a neutral spine.
- Reverse the entire movement until the bar can return to rest on the floor.
Now, let’s break this down just a little farther.
During the initial set-up (steps 1-3), every ounce of your weight should be on the heel and arch of your feet. You should be able to lift your toes at any time and give them a wiggle. Having trouble feeling your feet? Go shoe-less or wear something flatter, like Converse.
When you are performing the lift, your entire body should move with the same speed. In other words, your butt shouldn’t move faster than the chest and vice versa.
Furthermore, while you are technically “lifting” weight, your arms are not moving. The arms stay straight throughout the entire movement. Let your legs, core, and back do the work.
To help you maintain those straight arms, let the bar stay extremely close or even in contact with your body as you straighten up and lower back down. That is why a lot of powerlifters have chalk stripes up and down their legs after doing deadlifts.
Lastly, never stop squeezing your glutes together.
How Many Deadlifts Sets & Reps Should I Do?
Depending on how heavy you are lifting, you came aim between the 1-6 rep range for heavy weight. If you are lifting a lot of weight, anything above 6 reps at once can become too taxing on your low back and could lead to injury.
As you increase weight, do fewer reps. For instance, you may have 5 working sets with 3 reps. Do a simple warm-up before applying the training weight. As for your training weight, that should reflect your 1RM (one-rep max). Deadlift newbies should always aim for 50-60 percent of their 1RM, while more advanced lifters can max out (90-100 percent of the 1RM).
Different Deadlift Grips
Getting a decent grip on the barbell is key to proper deadlift technique. If you can’t hold onto the bar, you’re not going to be able to lift it.
That is where the three different deadlift grips come in handy. Get it?
- Double Overhand Grip: Both palms are facing towards the body. This is the safest grip and is the grip beginners should always use.
- Mixed Grip: One hand is gripping the bar with an overhand grip, and the other hand is gripping underhand (palm facing away from the body).
- Hooked Grip: Thumbs go under the fingers and is sometimes more preferable than mixed grip.
Here’s the thing: Mixed grip has disadvantages and should never be attempted by an inexperienced lifter. Mixed grip places uneven stress on the shoulders, can cause problems in the bicep of the underhand palm, and it can make you lift unevenly.
So, why use it?
Experienced lifters commonly use mixed grip to lift heavier weight. As you lift, you will notice how the bar wants to slip out of the overhand grip. When you use a mixed grip, you lock the bar into place, preventing any potential failure during a heavier lift.
What about hooked grip? One thing stops people from using it more often: It hurts. A lot. Pressure is being placed on the thumb. Some people don’t like the pain that comes with the hooked grip and so they avoid it completely. That said, it is used as a substitute for mixed grip since you are using overhand grip and locking the bar in place with your thumb.
Keeping the proper deadlift technique in the back of your mind, it’s time to see how the muscles work in this ideal posture. If you know what muscles you are working, you will be able to utilize them more efficiently. Since deadlifts work the entire body from bottom to top, you should understand the chain of movement anyway.
The deadlift is not a squat. It is not meant to work the posterior chain only. While the movement does target the hamstrings and glutes muscles, it also moves into the upper body. Here are the main muscles that the conventional deadlift works:
- Legs: Starting from the feet and ankles, hitting the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and even deep into the hips with the hip hinge, the deadlift gets everything. Although the range of motion is more acute than with squats, you need to engage everything in the posterior chain systematically.
- Back: The erector spinae along the spine, the lats, and the rhomboids are working to keep your core tight, spine long, and shoulder blades contracted into the spine.
- Trapezius: The traps also contract to keep the shoulders from winging out and work to stabilize the shoulders and chest muscles as you rise to stand. The more often you deadlift, the more you work your traps. Say goodbye to shoulder shrugs.
- Abdominals: In order to support the back, the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, and obliques all pull tight like a corset.
- Arms: By holding the bar tightly, grip and forearm strength is increased. As you lift higher, the weight shifts into the biceps and triceps, working the muscles isometrically.
What happens if you have a bad back? It’s an understandable concern. While most exercises pose the risk of injury with bad form, the weight that you are attempting to lift with a deadlift can make it seem rather dangerous. That is why the single most essential step is to care for your spine. Uneven pressure on the spine can cause herniated discs, pinched nerves, or other problems.
You should always work with a neutral spine. If you don’t know how to find neutral spine, you should practice that first. Don’t round the back or allow your tailbone to flip upward, giving your back a concave appearance.
The other issue is hyperextension. Over-extension could injure the hips. Remember that you need to lock the lumbar spine with the extension and keep it that way. Contract the glutes if you need assistance with maintaining a neutral spine.
Your neck should also never break the line. By looking up, you put pressure on the cervical spine.
Deadlift Assistance Exercises
For those just starting out or wanting to add exercises that will help perfect your deadlift, here are some assistance exercises. You can use the following movements before and after deadlift sets and reps or as a way to warm up for deadlifts:
- Good mornings
- Romanian deadlifts
- Rack pulls
- Leg curls
- Kettlebell swings
- Barbell roll-outs
You will notice that some of these exercises, like the pulling ones, will not affect your deadlift directly. The pulling will assist your body with preparing the muscles to pull up heavier weight. Other exercises, like Good Mornings and Romanian deadlifts, train your body like a deadlift but are slightly less difficult to perform.
The deadlift is a cornerstone weightlifting movement that is useful in more than powerlifting competitions. With deadlifts, you can transform your physical appearance and strength. Whatever your goal may be, there is a deadlift for you—but learning how to properly perform a conventional deadlift is an absolute must for anybody who wants to lift heavy. Keep this article in mind, and your deadlifts will be successful from the start.