Here’s how to Deadlift with proper form:
- Stand with your mid-foot under the barbell
- Bend over and grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip
- Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar
- Lift your chest up and straighten your lower back
- Take a big breath, hold it, and stand up with the weight
Hold the weight for a second at the top, with locked hips and knees. Then return the weight to the floor by moving your hips back while bending your legs. Rest a second at the bottom and repeat. Do five reps on the StrongLifts 5×5 program.
Your lower back must stay neutral to avoid injury. Rounding it during heavy Deadlifts is dangerous for your spine. It puts uneven pressure on your spinal discs which can injure them. Always Deadlift with a neutral lower back – maintain the natural inward curve of your lower spine.
The fastest way to increase your Deadlift is to improve your form. By pulling more efficiently, you can use more muscles and Deadlift heavier weights. This results in more strength and muscle gains. The best way to improve your form is by practicing Deadlifts with proper form.
This is the definitive guide to proper form on the conventional Deadlift
The “dead” in Deadlift stands for dead weight. So every rep must start on the floor, from a dead stop. You don’t Deadlift top-down like on the Squat or Bench Press. You start at the bottom, pull the weight up and then return it to the floor. Here are the five steps to Deadlift with proper form…
- Walk to the bar. Stand with your mid-foot under the bar. Your shins shouldn’t touch it yet. Put your heels hip-width apart, narrower than on Squats. Point your toes out 15°.
- Grab the bar. Bend over without bending your legs. Grip the bar narrow, about shoulder-width apart like on the Overhead Press. Your arms must be vertical when looking from the front.
- Bend your knees. Drop into position by bending your knees until your shins touch the bar. Do NOT let the bar move away from your mid-foot. If it moves, start from scratch with step one.
- Lift your chest. Straighten your back by raising you chest. Do not change your position – keep the bar over your mid-foot, your shins against the bar, and your hips where they are.
- Pull. Take a big breath, hold it and stand up with the weight. Keep the bar in contact with your legs while you pull. Don’t shrug or lean back at the top. Lock your hips and knees.
Return the weight to the floor by unlocking your hips and knees first. Then lower the bar by moving your hips back while keeping your legs almost straight. Once the bar is past your knees, bend your legs more. The bar will land over your mid-foot, ready for your next rep.
Rest a second between reps. Stay in the setup position with your hands on the bar. Take a big breath, get tight, and pull again. Every rep must start from a dead stop. Don’t bounce the weight off the floor or you’ll pull with bad form. Deadlift sets of five reps every workout B on StrongLifts 5×5.
Main Deadlift Cues
Your build influences how proper Deadlift form looks like for you. If you have short thighs with a long torso, you’ll usually setup with lower hips than someone with long thighs and a short torso like me. So don’t mimic someone else’s Deadlift form (not even mine) unless you have the same build.
Use these cues instead and you’ll Deadlift with proper form. They work whether you’re young or old, beginner or advanced, short or tall, skinny or fat, weak or strong, male or female. Try them.
- 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 width: narrow, hands about shoulder-width apart
- Grip: thumbs around bar, bar close to fingers, both palms facing you
- 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
- Lower Back: neutral – the normal inward curve. No rounding or excess arch
- 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
- 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 at the bottom, repeat
- Way up: don’t jerk the bar off the floor, pull slowly while dragging the bar over your legs
- Way down: hips back first, bend your legs mostly 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. Don’t shrug or roll your shoulders at the top
- Knees: push them to the sides on the way up, lock them at the top
- Shins: touch the bar with your shins during your Deadlift setup
- Lockout: lock your hips and knees. Don’t lean back at the top
Deadlifts work your whole body. Your legs are the prime movers. Your back muscles keep your spine neutral. And your arms keep the bar in your hands. But since the weight is heavier than on any other exercise, every other muscles has to work too. Otherwise you can’t Deadlift the weight.
The Deadlift is more for the back than the legs compared to Squats. But every muscle works when you Deadlift heavy. That’s why Deadlifts are a full body, compound exercise – they work several muscles at the same time. Here are the main muscles Deadlifts work…
- Legs. Your hamstrings and glutes straighten your hips. Your quads straighten your knees. Your calves straighten your ankles. The range of motion is smaller than on Squats since you start in a half Squat position. But the weight is heavier and starts from a harder dead stop.
- Back. Your back muscles contract to keep your spine neutral while gravity tries to bend it. Your lats keep the weight close to your body so it doesn’t drift away. Deadlifts are the best back-builder because they work your whole back with heavier weights than any other exercise.
- Traps. Your trapezius muscles contract to keep you shoulders in place and transfer force to the bar. Even your shoulders and chest muscles contract to add support. The heavier you Deadlift, the harder your traps work, the bigger they become. You don’t need to do shrugs.
- Abs. Your abdominal muscles and obliques contract to support your lower back. The heavier your Deadlifts, the stronger and more muscular the become. Eat right and they’ll show.
- Arms. Your hands hold the bar tight. This strengthens your grip and forearms. But everything upstream tightens as well during heavy Deadlifts, including your biceps and triceps. They don’t bend but work isometrically, like your lower back, to hold your body in position.
The Deadlift is the best exercise for your back. Add Barbell Rows and maybe Pullups and you don’t need more to build a v-shape back. Go heavy and you can build a great physique doing just two to three exercises per workout. This is why StrongLifts 5×5 is so effective.
All exercises can hurt your back if you use bad form. The most dangerous mistake on the Deadlift is to pull with a bent lower back. This puts uneven pressure on your spinal discs and can cause bulged discs, pinched nerves and other back injuries. Don’t Deadlift heavy with a rounded lower back.
The safest way to Deadlift is with your spine neutral. Setup with the normal inward curve in your lower back. Maintain this position while you pull the weight off the floor to the lockout. The pressure on your spinal discs will be even. This decreases the chance of injuring your lower back.
Many people have improved their bad back with Deadlifts. Dr Stuart McGill Phd says your spine is like the mast on a ship – the rigging holds it firm so it can’t buckle. Your trunk muscles around your spine are that rigging. They hold your spine firm so it can bear heavy loads safely and pain-free.
The Deadlift can turn a weak back strong by strengthening your trunk muscles. It also increases back endurance and builds safe movement habits. Here’s how it does this:
- Gravity pulls the bar down when you Deadlift. Your trunk muscles contract to fight this force so your spine doesn’t bend. The heavier the weight you can pull with a neutral spine, the stronger your trunk muscles become. The stronger they are, the more they support your spine.
- Stronger muscles last longer. The same movement takes less effort from your stronger trunk muscles. It takes longer to tire your back. You can therefore lift longer with a neutral spine. And since your back is in a safer position more often, you’re less likely to hurt it.
- Deadlifts are practice for picking up weight by bending through your legs with a neutral spine. Repeating this in the gym builds safe movement habits that transfer to daily life. You’re less likely to hurt your back when picking up something at work for example.
Deadlifts have a risk of injury like any other physical activity. The best way to increase safety is by using proper form. Start light, use proper form, and slowly add weight. Your trunk muscles will get stronger as the weight increases. This will build a stronger back that is harder to injure.