How To Do Deadlifts Properly: (Your Definitive Guide)

If you want to know how to do deadlifts properly or want to improve on your current deadlift, then look no further.  This is the article for you

The Deadlift.  Easily the best and most productive movement you can do in the gym, and If I had to choose just one movement to do for the rest of my life, it would be the all mighty barbell deadlift.

Many people want to look and be strong but will avoid movements such as the deadlift.  Why?.  Because it’s taxing on the body and dam right hard.  I suppose it’s very similar to why many skip leg day.  I hope this isn’t you?

Many people assume the deadlift is just used to train and strengthen your back.  Now, of course, it’s fantastic and without a doubt the best movement you can do for overall back development, but it is also so much more than this.  You will work pretty much every muscle group in your body that you could wish to develop, build and strengthen.

It really is simple.  If looking strong, being strong, and building muscle is top of your priority list.  Than the deadlift is a must for you.

It’s a remarkable movement and by the end of this article, you will have all your questions answered and be able to get the very best out of this exercise.


Opinions, SO MANY Opinions

Female athlete in the starting position of a deadlift using a double overhand grip

I think the title says it all.  If you have ever attempted to seek help with the deadlift than you would no doubt have been bombarded with different opinions on the right and wrong way of doing this exercise.

Some will say to do the deadlift in a narrow conventional stance, and others will swear by only performing the deadlift in a wide sumo stance for best results.

Should you start the lift with your hips nice and high or should you sit into the movement more and start with your hips low.

Most will say your entire back should never round to avoid any injury, where there is a minority who believe some rounding is absolutely fine.

Have you ever been told to avoid the deadlift entirely?  I know many who have.  The reason being some people have the opinion that regardless of your form, you will eventually get injured.

Lastly what about the grip.  Some say you should only ever do them with both hands in an overhand grip, some say one hand should be over and one under and others are of the opinion you should always wear lifting straps to avoid any grip issues affecting the exercise.

By the end of this article, you will know how to deadlift with perfect form.

On top of this, I will answer all the most frequently answered questions regarding the deadlift.

Are you ready?  Then go and grab a protein shake, sit back and enjoy.


Muscles Worked With The DeadLift

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again.  If I had to choose just one exercise to do for the rest of my life, it would be the all mighty deadlift.

Of course the deadlift is by far the best exercise you can do for working your back, however, it targets so much more than that.

Apart from your chest, the deadlift targets almost all other major muscle groups in your body.

The main muscles include your Erector Spinae, Lats, Traps, Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads, calves, and forearms.  As you can see the entire posterior chain (back of the body) is being worked with this one movement.


How To Do Deadlifts Properly: The Form Guide

When learning to deadlift or simply when trying to improve your current technique, you can break the movement down into 3 separate phases.

The preparation phase (The Setup)

The is the phase where you initially set your body in the correct position to enable you to move as much weight as possible in perfect form.

The concentric phase (The rising portion of the movement)

Once you are in the correct starting position you are now ready to lift the weight until standing.

The eccentric phase (The Lowering portion of the movement)

Once standing with the weight still in your hands, it’s now time to lower the weight back down whilst maintaining good form.  This will then automatically put you in the correct position to perform the next repetition.

It’s now time to go through each phase one at a time and in more detail.  It’s incredibly important not to move from the preparation phase (the setup) into the concentric phase until you are 100% happy your starting position is correct and as described below.  This means you will be able to lift with confidence and avoid injury.


The Preparation Phase (The Setup)

  • As we are talking about the full deadlift here, it’s important to start with the bar on the floor.  Do not start with the bar raised up on safety pins inside the squat rack.
  • Whilst standing up, position your feet under the bar, so that the bar is across the middle of your feet, and very close to your shins.
  • Make sure your feet are placed in a position that’s just slightly in from shoulder width.
  • Point your toes out slightly but not too much.  This should be a comfortable foot position and provide extra stability.

These exact instructions may seem very precise, but it is incredibly important to get this part right as having the bar in the correct position will allow you to have maximum leverage as you start to pull the bar up.  If the bars starting position is too far away from your body, you will naturally feel like you are going to full forwards which will make it impossible to create any drive from your heels.

  • Next, we are looking to put our bodies into a half squat position.
  • Before even thinking about bending down, I want you to take as big a breath as you can in through your belly.  When doing this your belly button will squeeze in closer to your spine.  Make sure you are standing up nice and tall with your shoulders squeezed back and your chest pushed out.
  • It’s now time to start moving down towards the bar.

It’s important to initially move down toward the bar slowly so you can feel all the correct muscles working and concentrate on the form.  As you perfect the technique, you will naturally be able to bend down toward the bar at a slightly quicker pace.

  • Imagine you are starting to lower yourself down when doing a squat.  You want to slowly lower down by bending at your knees whilst pushing your hips backwards.  The same technique used when doing Romanian deadlift.  Whilst doing this, make sure you have a slight arch in your lower back and your shoulders pulled down.  As said above, you are now putting yourself into a half squat position.  If you are not feeling tightness through your hamstrings at this stage, it means you are most probably not pushing your hips back properly.

Feeling the hamstrings working and becoming tight through this phase is really important, as when you drive upwards and your hips start to rise, your shoulders will naturally follow and the weight will instantly come off the floor.

A common mistake many beginners and advanced lifters make is taking their hips far too low.  What this means is they will essentially be squatting the weight back up.  If your hips are to low in the start position, it means they will have to rise up first before the weight starts to move off the ground.  This is incredibly inefficient and will waste energy. 

  • Next comes the hands.  Make sure your hands are placed in an overhand position on the bar either side of your shins.
  • There should not be any bend in your arms.  They need to remain locked.
  • This is a part many get wrong.  Make sure you squeeze your arms into your side.  Imagine you have some golf balls in between your armpits and you don’t want them to fall.
  • Finally, keep your head and neck in line with your spine (natural position).  Don’t look down or up.

Get the preparation phase right and you will already be adding extra lbs to your lifts.  It’s now time to look at the rising phase.

This is what it should look like

female athlete showing how to do a deadlift properly by being in the correct set up position


The Concentric Phase (The Rising Portion Of The Movement)

  • Whilst keeping your back slightly arched, your arms straight and squeezed into your side, shoulders squeezed back and down and your head in a natural position, you now want to drive your body up whilst at the same time slightly back.  Do this by really pushing through your heels.

It’s really important to keep your lower back slightly arched.  DO NOT let your lower back round at all.  If you struggle to keep your lower back rounded when you start to move the weight it could be a sign of weak hamstrings.  This can be corrected by learning and performing the Romanian Deadlift in perfect form.

  • Your hips and shoulders should be moving at the same time.  As explained above, your hips should not be moving upwards before your shoulders.  This is a sure sign you have dropped your hips to low into the starting position.
  • If all the above is done correctly, the bar will now slide up your shins (this is a reason many powerlifters wear shin guards).
  • The bar will continue to move up in a straight line over your knees.
  • Once the bar is over your knees you need to push your hips straight into the bar.  At this stage, you will continue to feel your hamstrings working incredibly hard.
  • Just to remind you again.  Make sure your back is slightly arched, head in a natural position and shoulders squeezed down and back.
  • Also, remember to keep those abs braced and tight.  As if someone is about to punch you in the stomach.
  • Once at the top of the movement you glutes (bum) should be squeezed and tight.

DO NOT over exaggerate the lean back at the top of the movement.  You just need to imagine trying to hold a pencil between your bum cheeks by squeezing the glutes and pushing your hips forward.

Phase 1 and 2 complete.  Now, let’s move onto phase 3.


The Eccentric Phase (The Lowering Portion Of The Movement)

So basically you are going to mirror exactly what you just did on the rising phase.  Simple as that.  Okay maybe it’s not quite as simple, the main reason being after you have shifted all that weight up, you are going to be slightly more tired than at the very beginning of the movement.  So just make sure you quickly think about the correct form before taking the bar back down.

  • The lowering phase of the deadlift shouldn’t be done to slowly.  It should only take two seconds max.  However, this doesn’t mean you should just be dropping the bar in any way you like.  Your form when lowering should be equally as perfect as when raising the bar.
  • Before you have any bend at the knees, you should start by pushing your hips backwards.
  • Keep pushing your hips backwards and let the bar run down your thighs and over your knees.
  • Once you start to push your hips backwards, you can then start to put a slight bend in your knees.
  • Keep doing this until the bar reaches the floor.

Remember, maintain a slight arch in your spine, shoulders squeezed back and down and keep your head in a neutral position throughout.

  • You will now be back in your half squat position and ready to attack the next rep.

Avoid bouncing the weight off the floor between reps.  Many call this the touch and go method.  In my experience that little bounce although will help with getting the weight up, it can often make you lift in less than perfect form.

To really improve your deadlift power, it’s important to reset at the bottom of each rep.  This includes your breathing.

Master all three of these phases and you will see a noticeable difference in your deadlift numbers.

I’m now going to answer some frequently asked questions.


Frequently Asked Questions

Below are 3 of the most frequently asked question clients come to me with.

What grip should I use when deadlifting?

The answer to this question will be different for everyone depending on whether you are a beginner or advanced dead lifter, what rep range you are working in and whether you have good or bad grip strength.  Below are some of the most common grips used.

Double overhand grip

Overhand underhand grip

Hook Grip

Double overhand grip using straps

If you are a beginner I would always start with the double overhand grip as taught above.  This is by far the most comfortable grip and will help strengthen your forearm muscles, which are essential for a good deadlift.

Do I need to wear a belt when deadlifting?

A man wearing a white t-shirt doing up a deadlifting belt around his waist

Wearing a belt is definitely not essential and for a complete beginner, I would learn the movement raw (without a belt) to start with.  However, it has been shown in studies wearing a belt will help you lift more weight, rise with the bar much more powerfully and help complete more reps in each set than without one.  Liting more weight will, of course, help you build more muscle faster over the long term.

Many people will be shouting at the screen.  “BUT WHAT ABOUT WORKING YOUR CORE“?  I can totally understand this, as I also once believed if you constantly wore a belt when deadlifting you would get a decreased activity throughout your core, therefore, affecting the amount of strength you could build from this movement.

However, many studies have now shown this not to be the case and muscle activation will either be the same as when wearing a belt or even increased, but never less.

I struggle holding onto the bar.  How can I fix this?

The first thing you need to do is to make sure you are doing the deadlift exactly as described above.

If this is a case then and you are struggling to grip the bar from the word go, then you probably have weak forearm muscles.  If you manage fine but struggle towards the end of the set, then this will improve over time, but a quick solution would be to add chalk onto your hands.

Also, make sure you are getting through the reps efficiently.  Use the guide above and make sure you explode powerfully into the rep and lower at a good pace.  No more than two seconds lowering the weight.  This will ensure you are not wasting grip strength by performing the set to slow.

Although you could use straps or do an overhand underhand grip, in which both will help you grip onto the bar, I personally would not do this knowing your forearms need strengthening.  These are grips you can use once you are already strong in the double overhand grip.

Losing grip can often affect the overall form of the deadlift so below is a nice and simple method for really increasing the strength through your forearms.  No, it’s not wrist curls.

The method is simple and straightforward

  • Set the pins/arms in a squat rack at around knee height.
  • Place the barbell on the pins
  • Position your feet slightly in from shoulder width and hands in a double overhand grip slightly wider than your shins (as when doing a normal deadlift).
  • Raise the bar up (this should be a few inches distance max from the pins when standing up straight) and hold on for around 25 to 30 seconds.
  • You should be near failing towards the end of the set.  If not then add more weight.
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of this after your training session.
  • Increase the weight each time you can reach 30 seconds when doing the first set.
  • If you manage to hit 30 seconds on the first set but not on the next two, due to upping the weight, this doesn’t matter.
  • Do this 2 or 3 times a week.

How To Do Deadlifts Properly Key Takeaways

  1. The deadlift is one of the, if not the best exercise you can do for building muscle and strength in nearly every muscle in your body.  Especially muscles of the posterior chain like the lower back, lats, hamstrings, glutes and calves.  Make sure you learn how to do deadlifts properly.
  2. Use the teachings above to establish excellent deadlifting form before trying to lift too heavy.  Learning to deadlift properly from the get-go will massively benefit your lift in the long term.
  3. Always start off deadlifting using the double overhand grip.  This will enable you to build excellent forearm strength
  4. Wearing a belt will only assist and improve your deadlift.  There are no negative side effects to wearing a belt.
  5. If your back is rounding during the movement, this may be down to weak or tight hamstring, and in some instances both.  Learn the Romanian deadlift to rectify this problem.

If you enjoyed reading this article and also found it helpful then please share on your social media.  If you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to leave them below.


 

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