How To Deadlift

7 03 2013
Look at that mustache and tell me deadlifting isn't awesome.

Look at that mustache and tell me deadlifting isn’t awesome.

Ah deadlifting. My favourite exercise in the world. I’ve often argued that it is best pure indicator of strength, because it’s so elegantly simple: either you can pick it up, or you can’t. Grip it, and rip it. I can’t really argue with those who prefer the squat, but I’m a naturally gifted deadlifter and have always struggled with squatting (relatively).

The thing about deadlifting is that it’s gotten a bad rep as a “dangerous” exercise. Frankly, anything can be dangerous if done improperly. The trick to tackling the deadlift is to be properly warmed-up and to stay within your means. Due to the nature of the exercise though, the margin for error (between a successful lift and an injured back) is relatively slim.

Do I condone deadlifting? Absolutely. I think everyone should do squats and deadlifts. These exercises use the whole body and have a place in almost any program, whether your goal is to get strong, lose fat, or improve your health. Eric Cressey gives a ton of valuable information about deadlifting in this article (and Cressey knows his stuff). Here is my personal guide on how to incorporate deadlifting into your life.

Good choice.

Good choice.

1) Proper footwear: When deadlifting, you want your feet flat on the ground, literally. Best-case scenario- you lift without shoes. Some gyms don’t allow this, but if you can get away with it, make it happen. Otherwise, choose footwear that has a hard, flat sole. Old school Converse All-Stars are a good choice. I currently lift with Adidas Sambas and they are amazing. I’ve also lifted with Adidas Adipure (“toe shoes”), and I found them to be very good as well (just make sure they are snug!). DO NOT wear shoes with bulky/soft soles. Most running shoes are a bad choice. Shoes like the Nike Shox and Reebox Zig are horrible choices.

Bad choice.

Bad choice.

2) Proper form: It is paramount that you stay tight, keep your back arched and your chest out, and control the movement while deadlifting. Being slack and allowing the bar to move you is a recipe for injury. The starting position for a deadlift isn’t all that different from the bottom position in a squat. Again, I would recommend mastering this before beginning to deadlift- if you can do this, you’ll be able to get into a nice starting position for deadlifting. Key points:

– Feet roughly shoulder width apart

– Toes pointing straight ahead or slightly out

– Knees bent with the bar tucked against your shins

– Hands gripping the bar roughly shoulder width apart

– Weight back on your heels (not the balls of your feet)

– Back arched

– Chest out

Remember that this is primarily a leg exercise, not a back exercise- your legs will move during the lift, but you want your back to stay in a strong, static arch. Your hips will be a bit higher than when in the bottom of a squat, and your arms are not to be bent- they are extended to the bar and braced for weight. Breathe deep, stand up, breathe out, lower the weight. Repeat. Here is a guide to proper deadlifting form, along with some videos and a ton of extra information the that casual gym-goer should ignore.

This is how you injure yourself badly. Do NOT attempt this, even jokingly :

3) Start with trap bar deadlifts: A trap bar looks like this:


If your gym has one of these, make sure you start deadlifting with it. A trap bar takes some of the “danger” out of the deadlift because it enables you to get into a proper starting position without having to worry about the bar being in front of your legs- you stand inside the trap bar, so you are perfectly centered and can execute the lift without being forced out of position by the bar.  Before touching a barbell you can also strengthen your posterior chain (hamstrings/glutes/back) by doing some dumbbell deadlifts.



4) Grip: Once you have moved to the barbell, you will almost surely start with a double overhand grip. Once you are comfortable with the exercise and start adding weight, you’ll notice that grip becomes an issue. At this point (and this may sound silly), just concentrate on really gripping the bar as hard as you can; if you concentrate on doing this, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to lift the weight. Eventually the weight will be too much for a double overhand grip and you’ll have to adjust by using a switch grip (one overhand, one underhand) and/or by using chalk and/or by using straps. Some gyms don’t allow chalk; I say do whatever you want, just be respectful with your use (don’t be excessive and make a mess everywhere, just use what you need). If you have to use straps, I recommend you start working on your grip strength, because it is clearly lagging behind the rest of your strength.

Those are the main pointers that I would give. Everyone has different levers,  so everybody’s deadlift will look different. Don’t spend time watching professional deadlifters; they’ve been doing it so long that they can aggressively rip the bar off the ground and get away with some pretty questionable form. If you mimic these deadlifting techniques, you’ll likely wind up hurt. Use your head, keep the movement controlled, and stay within your means; the gains will come a lot faster if you’re doing things right.

Again, this exercise is a great strength-builder, but also a great fat-burner. Use the power wisely. For more information on deadlifts, don’t hesitate to send me a message!

Happy pulling!