The Deadlift is one of the ‘big three’ compounds movements, with the others being the back squat and the bench press. What makes this movement different is that you lift from a ‘dead’ position each time (off the floor without a bounce) and you can use the most weight.
The deadlift is a complex exercise, but also a fantastic movement for muscle gain, fat loss and a staple for any gym routine. It fires up the posterior chain, and uses all the major muscle groups in the back, core and legs.
Due to the ability to load this movement heavily, a small range of motion and seeming simplicity of completing a ‘rep’, the deadlift is the move performed incorrectly most commonly. It is also very easy to injure yourself doing this move badly, and to tighten the lower back (impeding the rest of the session and activities following the session).
The deadlift, as with the back squat, relies heavily on good mobility. To improve your flexibility and aid mobility here are stretching routines for your lower and upper body, which you should aim to complete at least a couple of times per week.
How to Deadlift:
- Load the bar with full size or Olympic plates, and make sure the surface you are lifting from is appropriate; namely hard, levelled floor. If you are not strong enough to lift full size plates – and there are no lighter bumper plates – you can lift off platforms/blocks either side that bring the bar to a similar height to lifting with full sized plates.
- Wear flat/hard soled shoes or perform without shoes
- Step up to the bar, so the shins are within 2 inches of the bar, set just within shoulder width.
- From here grip the bar overhand, just outside shoulder width
- Keeping the arms straight, sit over the heels until the shins touch the bar.
- Pull on the bar to brace the back and upper body
- When you feel the back is straight and you are balanced, drive the floor away as with a leg press
- Once you pass the knees extend the hips to stand tall. Finishing the movement with the joints stacked one on top of the other; shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.
- Keeping the back straight, kick the glutes back and allow the torso to move toward the ground. Once you pass the knees sit down with the bar and reset.
- Breathe in and repeat.
Key Teaching Points:
- Use an overhand grip until you have mastered the technique. The mixed grip will engage the bicep and trap on the underhand side with most beginner and intermediate lifters – preventing symmetry and increasing the risk of injury.
- Breathe in before you lift, and breathe out at the peak, as you pass the knees on the descent or as you reset. Breathing out as you pull will disable good posture, as with squats and bench press.
- Keep the bar close to or touching the legs throughout the movement. This reduces the torque on the lower back, and will allow you lift more weight in a safer manner.
- Think of the deadlift as a leg exercise. The back simply has to remain straight against the weight, whereas the legs are driving the weight off the ground, and extending the hips so you stand tall. It is of course a fab back movement, but it is better to imagine it as a leg movement that is most effective with good posture.
- Keep the back straight throughout the movement; this means try to remove the hunch at the base of the movement, and try to stand tall at the peak (rather than pull the shoulders too far back/arch the back). When the spine is neutral/in a natural position we are most effective.
- Stare at the floor 2-3 metres in front of you throughout each rep, or at the bar if you are lifting in front of a mirror. This keeps the spine neutral and increases the likelihood of good technique.
- Use lifting straps or lifting hooks for heavier lifts where your grip fails. This allows you to lift more and prevents grip negating good technique. This article on hand/grip strength training is a good tool if your grip tends to let you down very often.
The deadlift is a great move to trial and master, given its ability to become a pillar of any training plan, and the fact it has so many effective secondary and accessory exercises based on it. It is a complex movement, which even we are constantly playing with, so don’t worry if it takes longer to nail than most moves.
However, if you cannot do deadlifts due to a chronic injury, machines are a great sub. Just remember that as with any movement you need to master the form, the tempo and then build the weight steadily over time. See more on training with a chronic injury here.