February 18, 2020
"There is no reason to be alive, if you can't do a deadlift"Jón Páll Sigmarsson
Picking up something heavy, and putting it down again. Often seen by many as the true measure of a person's strength.
So cripplingly painful if you get it wrong.
Here we will go other underlying basics to lifting that damn weight of the floor, locking that out, lowering it down to the floor then looking round expecting a cheer from the onlookers of.....
0.... Newsflash. It's 2020 and everyone was too busy doing glute kickbacks whilst simultaneously posting the footage to Instagram and sipping a can of zero sugar BCAAs.
Here I'm going to go through the basics of the deadlift, adapted from the wonderful Greg Nucklous, how to deadlift: the definitive guide.
Pretty impressive huh. Whilst this article may not get you to pull the world record of 500kg that Eddie Hall has, you will probably be able to apply some of these tips to increase your poundage.
The article will be split into 2 sections.
1. The basics of your deadlift set up
2. Executing the lift
1. The basics of your deadlift set up
1a. Decide whether you want to pull conventionally or sumo
- The ins and outs of this debate merit it's own article and is far beyond the scope of this, so I suggest watching this video to help you decide (4 mins long) available here Sumo vs Conventional... make your own choice!
For context I have tried both over my 10 years of performing deads. I prefer conventional but have tried sumo for a number of years.
Below is a visual comparator of Ben and yours truly pulling using varying styles.
1b. Feet stance and width
- ASSUMING you are going to pull conventionally, A good way to find out where your bodies strongest point is to jump vertically onto a box or bench, and see what position gives you greatest power. This is going to be the most effective position.
- If you don't want to do this, start just about hip width apart and then experiment with wider or narrower stances. If you are carrying a little bit of extra timber (no judgement here as I'm writing this polishing off 3 bagels to hit my 4000 calories for the day) a wider stance might be better.
- ASSUMING you are going to pull sumo, this will require a much wider stance with the hands outside the feet, with your shins should be roughly perpendicular to the floor
- Let your stance determine how far you need to rotate your feet and find a position that is comfortable and doesn't overly stretch your groin. A general rule of thumb is that the wider your stance, the further you will have to turn your feet out.
1c. Grabbing the bar
- There are many different variants to gripping the bar (double over-hand, over/underhand, hook grip or double overhand with straps). This article will go into detail about 2 I have had success with.
- Over-underhand: this is the grip I'm using in the above picture. This allows you to grip heavier weights because there is less chance of the bar rolling in your hands. Force is being applied from each direction. This grip can increase the risk of bicep tears so possibly consider alternating which hand is over/under every couple of weeks or so.
- Gripping the bar as hard as you can will also help with this grip.
- Double overhand with straps: this is essentially the same as doing a mixed grip, but you're not having to work your grip as hard as the straps are doing this for you.
- For this you would approach the bar as you would with a double overhand grip, and then wrap your straps around the bar; I like to think that I am revving a motorcycle a couple of times until they are super tight.
- I've used this, particularly for sumo style. There are pros and cons to using straps which again, is out of the scope of this article.
- Make sure you take a deep breath into your diaphragm before you attempt to lift this mutha. This is going to help you in the long run.
- Another way to do this is to think "I am about to be punched in the stomach, better take a deep breath and tense up".
I wouldn't recommend actually getting punched in the stomach before a deadlift, just to be clear.
1e. Setting up in front of the bar
- There are a million ways to skin a cat, and a couple of different ways to approach the bar when you're in the zone. I'll cover off two that have served me well here:
- Tension in the hamstrings: approach the bar and get your feet into position as per point 1b. the bar should be about an inch in front of your shins.
- bend over and grab the bar, sticking your booty back and only bending your knees very slightly
- this will give you some tension on your hamstrings. Then sink your hips into position and pull them lower as you extend your back,
- take a deep breath
- find a spot ahead of you, focus on that and pull!
- Grip and Rip: as simple as it sounds. Approach the bar, take a deep diaphragmatic breath and grab it one motion.
- This technique is NOT advised if you are brand new to deadlifting as it's the quickest way to a herniated disk. I would only recommend this if you are confident that you are keeping solid form throughout the lift.
2. Executing the lift
2a. Finding the right balance
- The key to finding the right balance is going to be subtly different for everyone.
- You don't want to lean too far forwards because then this will result in your shoulders becoming rounded like a rainbow.
- You don't wan to lean too far back because then you might fall over.
- You want, like Goldilocks, a position that is just right. To find this you can pick up the bar in your normal position, with a reasonably light load (50%) of your 1 rep max and lift it about 2 inches off the floor. Do this a couple of times until you find the position where your balance feels good.
2b. Head position
- The short answers here is that as long as your head is reasonably static throughout the lift and your not turning do your buddy whose filming this and smiling, you should be fine whether you look forwards, or let your head naturally fall down.
2c. Bar path
- Keeping the bar above the middle of your feet is going to be the goal here. To help you do this, you can tense your lats as you a picking up the bar, this will help to keep the bar close to you and reduce the pressure on your hips, hamstrings and lower back.
- Tensing your lats will also help to keep your bath path above the middle of your feed - happy days!
2e. Be aggressive
- I don't mean you should be shouting at people as they walk into your eyeline, or pumping your chest like you've just scored a touchdown at the Super Bowl, but you do need to focus on being aggressive when you pull the bar up.
- You want to make maximum force generation when you're trying to get the bar off the ground.
- Thinking "push the floor away as hard and as fast as possible" is a useful cue for this.
2d. Chest up
- Keep that chest up is one of the things I learned at the start of my deadlifting career. This helps because it keeps the spine stiff.
- This also helps you to extend your thoracic spine. Combined with tensing your lats this gets you into a very stable position.
2e. Locking out
- You're at the top of the lift, don't screw it up now!
- To finish the lift, your spine, hips and knees need to be straight.
- When you are near the lockout position, think "Shoulders back, hips forwards". This will help to get you into a strong lockout position.
- There is no need to lean too far back, as this will increase your risk of injury for no real benefit.
2f. Lowering the damn weight
- Typically, people make two mistakes here.
- They let the bar drop without any control: this is just letting gravity do the work for you. Focus on lowering the bar with control as the eccentric portion will be key for maintaining hypertrophy.
- They round their shoulders and back: This can often happen when you stray from the desired bar path, and the bar goes too far forward. Focus on keeping the bar close to you on the eccentric portion of the lift.
- Focus on "chest up, hips back"
2g. Getting ready for the next rep
- Good news is, if you've lowered the bar under control you will be better positioned to go again as your muscles and nervous system will be more activated after a meaningful eccentric portion.
- To go again, just focus on the cues we've discussed:
i) Bar over the mid point of your foot
ii) Chest up
iv) Push the floor away
v) Be aggressive
vi) Hips forward and shoulders back at lockout
vii) Lower under control
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