How To Deadlift With Proper Form

by Caleb Lee on September 12, 2008

The deadlift is just about the best… but most underrated… movement if you want to build strength and gain muscle mass throughout your entire body.  This exercise  (like the squat) involves almost every muscle group in your entire body — that’s why it’s an integral part of DoubleYourGains 3-5 program.

What is a Deadlift?

It’s a simple exercise — take a loaded barbell and pick it up off the floor with your hands. It may be simple in concept but in performance and usage you want to make sure you are doing it correctly…

The video below is one of me performing a deadlift. Notice because I’m using 33lb weights on the bar, I put plates underneath so the bar is set at the proper height for the exercise (the height it would be if there were regular 45lb plates on the ends):

Types of Deadlifts

There are many types of deadlifts, here are just a few:

  • Sumo Deadlift – feet are wide out in stance, hands are gripping the bar on the inside of the thighs, similar to the way a sumo wrestler would stand…
  • Romanian Deadlifts – Feet point out, Back stays straight and legs are kept almost completely straight, there is a slight bend in the knees…
  • Straight Legged Deadlifts – very similar to romanian deadlifts, but legs are more straight, usually done with very low weight for hamstring and lower back emphasis…
  • Health Lift -- Pull starts at just below knee level, can use really heavy weights, also called “rack pulls”…

This article will focus on the most common, “regular” form of the deadlift. See the series of pictures below for an example of what a deadlift looks like step-by-step (click it to make it bigger):

Poundage is very important when doing deadlifts, but you should always keep proper form as your first priority.  If you are trying to jump start your muscle growth, then try doing the Barbell deadlift for a few months.  You will be amazed at the results!

You Gotta Learn To Grind

When doing a deadlift, you never want jerky movements while trying to get the bar off the floor. You have to learn how to grind (like The Clipse — sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

A good key to a proper deadlifting form is to concentrate on lifting with only your legs at first.  An excellent way to “see” this is by pushing your feet down and going right through the floor.  This may sound a bit wacky, but it really works.

“Are Deadlifts safe for my back?”

Do not round your back when you are just starting your lift.  This will place your back in a compromised position where it could get injured.

Timing is of utmost importance.  After you get the bar approximately 6 inches above your knees, push your hips and chest forward as you pull your shoulders back.  As you do this, you will also be locking your legs.

One thing deadlifts build is MAJOR back strength.  They teach you to keep your lower back rigid and erect against a heavy load.  This will carry over to real life and sports well when you have to lift something heavy off the floor.

This is also why deadlifts have a bad reputation: people injure themselves because they don’t lift with proper form.  When you round your back during a deadlift, this increases the risk of spinal disc injuries such as hernias.  Use proper form when deadlifting.  This article is designed to help you with your form.

Why you should deadlift

This exercise works your legs, back and forearms.  Deadlifts do not develop your legs like Squats do; your hips start higher.  That is a reason why you can stustitute squats for deadlifts in case of knee injuries.

  • Whole Body Exercise – the deadlift hits the majority of your muscles, especially the muscles involved with the squat and pulling motions (so it fulfills two movement patterns from the DoubleYourGains’ 3-5 program)
  • Back Strength — Your back stays straight while the weight of the bar tries to bend it. Keeping your back rigid builds back strength.
  • Leg Strength – Deadlift builds strength through your legs because they’re the primary mover
  • Grip strength – In order that it will not roll out of your hands, grip the barbell hard.  This will build forearm and grip strength.

Before you deadlift

You need to know these things before you start deadlifting to get the most out of this exercise…

  • Bar height – Bar should be mid shin level — the height it is with a 45lb plate on either side, if you can’t lift 135lbs yet, then put weights under each side till it’s the correct height. The photo below shows you how to set the weights up:

  • Barefoot/Lifting shoes - Deadlift barefoot or wear flat soled shoes (like chuck taylors), avoid running shoes or crosstrainers
  • No straps – Do not use straps for deadlifting. If your grip is weak, then deadlift more.  Switch to a baseball grip and use strength.

Preparing To Deadlift

So that you will get into a proper position, do not move the bar.  Walk to the bar and position your feet correctly.  Then grab the bar and deadlift.

  • Foot stance – stance is slightly wider than shoulder width apart, similar to squat stance, bar should be over the middle of your feet (see the picture below)…
  • Bar position – Bar should be up against your shins, no further than 4 inches from them…
  • Grip width – Keep you width wide enough to clear your legs but not too wide, 20 inches is about right…
  • Gripping the bar -  grip the bar closer to your fingers instead of your palm to minimize callouses and increase grip strength (see the picture below)…
  • Straight arms - – Keep your arms straight, flexing your triceps helps…
  • Baseball Grip — For more grip strength, use a baseball grip/alternating grip like the picture below…
  • Chest up – Keep you chest up to keep your back straight and keep it from rounding…
  • Look up and ahead –keep your eyes slightly looking up (the picture below shows you the correct starting position)…
  • Mental Checklist – You can use my ten step mental checklist each time before you deadlift to make sure you’re doing all the above correctly.

How to do the first part of the lift (Concentric) – picking it up

Do this exercise by pushing up from the heels and bring your hips forward.  If you deadlift correctly, you will feel the most stress in your upper back, hamstrings and glutes.

  • Maximum Tension – Get it by breathing deep, holding your breath and flexing all your muscles from your toes touching the floor to gripping the bar as hard as you can.
  • Bar against the shins – Pull the bar up in a straight line.  The closer the barbell is to your shins, the better it will be.  However, don’t scrape your shins.
  • Shoulder blades over the bar – These should be placed directly over the bar.  Your hips will be at the correct height.

  • Push from the heels – Here is a simple trick – curl your toes up.  This will automatically put the weight on your heels.
  • Keep bar close to you – During the whole exercise, keep the bar in contact with your entire body.  The closer the bar, the less stress you will put on your lower back and the more weight you will be able to deadlift.
  • Squeeze your glutes/tighten your abs – Bring your hips to a forward position by pushing from the heels and squeeze you glutes hard.  This will prevent pulling with your lower back.
  • Lock the weight - This exercise ends when your knees and hips are locked.  There is no need to roll the shoulders or hyper-extend the lower back. See the picture below…
  • Keep It Crisp — a proper deadlift is crisp and mechanical. (Once again, the ten step mental checklist for deadlifting will help here)

How To do the second part of the lift (eccentric) – lowering it.

Lose no time in bringing the weight down.  Do it in a controlled manner.   This is the rule:  Unlock the hips first and then the knees.

  • Don’t try to slow it down – just go down WITH the weight, don’t try to control it.
  • Chest up, look forward – If you do not do both of these, it will make your back round.  Keep your chest up, shoulders back and look forward at all times.
  • Bar close to you - Keeping the bar in contact with your thighs, let the bar reach knee level.  It will be friendlier on your back this way.
  • First the hips and then the knees – Flex at your hips first to return the bar below knee level.  Then bend the knees until the bar is back on the floor.
  • Reverse the lift -- think of just going in reverse, it will help you.

Here’s a great article by Mark Rippetoe called “A New, Rather Long Analysis of The Deadlift” (which is quite accurate) to help you out even more. And the video below is him giving some more pointers on deadlifting:

Start deadlifting today to get the results you want. Need a good program? Try the DoubleYourGains’ 3-5 Program — the deadlift is a key part of this program and you’ll discover the other exercises you should do with it as well.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

gilbert July 27, 2009 at 6:00 pm

and deadlifts off blocks built the hamstrings go heavy. dead will buil lower back traps and grip .


Christopher Miland November 20, 2009 at 12:35 am

Just to let you know, Your Deadlift Instructional Video has been removed by the user


Caleb Lee November 24, 2009 at 6:27 am

@ Christopher: thanks man, I’ll try to fix it …


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