If you want to learn how to do a deadlift with proper form, then you found the right article.
By the end of this post you will know just how to perform a deadlift in the correct way in the quickest way possible.
So let’s go over the basic way to do a deadlift:
- Stand over the barbell with the bar over the middle of your foot.
- Screw your feet into the floor.
- Bend over and grab the bar about shoulder width apart.
- Flatten your upper & lower back.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar.
- Drive through your heels and lift the bar.
- Come all the way through with your hips.
That’s it! Eight simple steps.
But as all of us know it is never that easy. There are always little unexpected problems that sneak their way into our training routines.
How we respond to these minor chaotic events determines how successful we will ultimately become.
After all isn’t the journey to success just us flirting with chaos? Aren’t we just trying to defy the odds?
Without hesitation, let’s jump right in and get to it.
Quickly before we begin, this is a very long post so please refer to the table of contents below and feel free to skip to a specific section if you are looking for something specific. Enjoy!
Mastering The Basics — You Need To Crawl Before You Walk
The eight steps you read above were the set up for the conventional deadlift.
If you don’t know what I mean by “conventional”, it is the standard type of deadlift that you see being performed in gyms all over the world.
The feet are between shoulder and hip width apart and the main muscle groups lifting the weight are the hips and lower back.
Here are the steps:
Stand Over The Bar. Look down at your feet and notice where they are. When looking, the bar should be cutting your foot in half.
Bend Over And Grab The Bar. Keep your legs straight and bend over to grab the bar. If you are doing this correctly you will feel a HUGE stretch in your hamstrings. Use either an overhand grip or a mixed grip. (We’ll get to that later)
Flatten Your Back. This is tough one. Try to make your upper and lower back parallel to the ground. The best way to do this is to pinch your shoulders together.
Bend Your Knees. Once the back is flattened, bend your knees until the shins touch the bar. This ensures a proper alignment of the bar when you pull it off the ground.
Drive Through The Mid Foot. Make sure when you begin the lift to push into the ground through your mid foot. Don’t push through the heels, that will make the bar move behind the midline balance point.
Lift. Now the fun part. Lift the bar off the ground while maintaining a neutral spine and locking the hips out at the top.
Make sure after you complete the steps above to lower the bar to the ground UNDER CONTROL.
Most of you do a great job with the initial lift but when you lower the bar, that’s when all of the trouble starts.
Lowering The Bar
The proper way to lower the bar is to bend your hips back first and then bend your knees. You want to really bend your knees once the bar moves past your knees.
This helps to ensure that the bar stays over the mid foot.
If the bar is really heavy and you are going for multiple reps then bending your knees first will make you go onto your toes. Which is how most back injuries happen.
When done the bar should be on the floor and be at a dead stop.
But don’t lose any tension. Keep tight throughout your body and repeat the lift by driving through your mid foot again.
This takes some practice so don’t rush it.
You have probably seen “that guy” who is bouncing the weight off the floor to boost his ego. Don’t be that guy.
While you may be able to lift more weight in the short term by doing this, it is literally going to hurt you in the long term. Slowly a back injury will sneak up on you when you least expect it.
With that said, be sure to PRACTICE your deadlift as much as possible. The only way you are going to learn how to do a deadlift properly is to practice as much as possible.
Start with light weight and perform a repetition and then work through the entire setup before EACH rep.
Full Detail Explanation Of The Deadlift
In addition to the 6 steps mentioned above, there are some other details that you should know.
Learning the basics of the deadlift is just the tip of the iceberg. The basics will help you lift a fairly decent amount of weight.
But if you want to lift the real big weights, then you are going to need to commit to fully mastering the deadlift.
Remember, you have to walk before you can run.
After you have gone through the basic 6 steps in the previous section, move on to the following steps below.
Line The Middle Of The Foot Up With The Bar. Same as the basics, nothing new here.
Screw Your Feet Into The Ground. Keep your toes pointed slightly out (~5-10 degrees) and try to rip the floor apart with your feet. This creates torque in the hips, which is the most important thing for lifting huge poundages.
Squeeze Your Glutes. While you are screwing your feet into the ground, you also want to squeeze your glutes together. It sounds stupid, but you will not believe how many people forget to do this. Squeezing the glutes helps ensure that you will use them during the lift.
Bend Over And Grab The Bar. Same drill as before.
Flatten Your Back. Again, make sure that your back is parallel to the ground. If you have posterior hip mobility issues, then you will have a hard time getting your hips back where they need to be. This will cause the lower back to round to compensate.
Take In A HUGE Breath Of Air. Before you bend the knees, breathe into your lower abdomen and push the air against your obliques. This creates a strong stable core that will help protect your spine. It will also help you lift more weight. This is what a lifting belt does for you.
Bend Your Knees. Same as before.
Drive Through Your Mid Foot. Get tight and drive through your mid foot. A lot of people flinch before the lift from anxiety and all of a sudden the lose their tension and let out all of their air. Don’t do that! If you lose tension you will miss the lift, or worse, get injured.
Lift. Get mad and rip that thing off the floor.
The full detail setup has 3 extra steps compared to the basics. This means if you put in the practice work from the previous section, your already have 66% of the full technique under your belt.
If you tried to jump right into this first it would have been more frustrating for you to learn. It is better to walk through the simple steps first and then move on to the technical work when you are ready.
What Are The Main Muscles The Deadlift Should Work?
Most of the internet traffic tells you that the deadlift works your back and it should be done on back day.
I hate to break this to you, but the deadlift is not exactly a back exercise. It primarily works your hips.
Does the back get worked? Yes.
But is the back the main mover of the exercise? No.
Otherwise the main movers for this exercise are the glutes and the hamstrings. All of the other muscle groups the deadlift works mainly play the role of assistance and stabilization.
Here’s the full list of the muscle groups worked:
- Hips/Legs (glutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors, hip flexors)
- Back (spinal erectors, lats, rhomboids, traps)
- Arms (shoulders, forearms, biceps, grip)
- Abs (external and internal obliques, transverse abdominus)
- Neck Muscles
All in all there about 300+ muscle groups worked in total. The list above shows the order of most importance.
Since the hips are at the top of that list, that means you should seriously train your glutes and hamstrings if you want to deadlift bigger weights.
There is, fortunately, another exercise that will tackle ALL of these areas in one foul swoop. Can you guess what it is? It is the squat.
Well get to that later.
The Full Setup
Let’s take a look at the full setup starting from the starting position all the way to locking out the hips.
Foot placement is the cornerstone of the deadlift. If you don’t have your foot placement down correctly, guess what happens?
The entire movement is set up to fail.
Your feet are connected to the ground. They determine the future bar path when you lift the bar off the ground.
So the proper way to line your feet up for the deadlift is to line the bar up over the middle of your feet with your feet hip width apart. NOT shoulder width.
This ensures that the bar will move up in a straight line. The biggest problem most beginners make would be not pulling the bar up in a straight line.
This just creates more work for your grip and lower back, which is exactly what we DON’T want to do.
If you look down from above, the bar should look like it is cutting your foot in half.
On the other hand, if the bar is too far in front of your foot, then when you attempt to lift the bar it will drag you onto your toes. This disengages the glutes and hamstrings and instead puts the weight on the lower back.
Many lifters do this to avoid banging the bar into their shins. But I’ll tell you something, doing this is just too risky. Your wasting energy if you have to pull the bar up in a curved line.
Likewise if the bar is too close to your ankles, then the bar will be blocked by the knees when pulling it up. Thus, you will have to arc the bar around your knees and then back into your thighs at the top. Again, another curved line.
Pulling the bar up in a straight line makes the most mechanical sense because it wastes the least amount of energy.
So the key to finding the sweet spot for the bar is to look down at your shoelaces. Line the bar up over the knot of your shoelaces. This is the best spot to pull from.
Toes In Or Toes Out?
Most people prefer to point their toes out when deadlifting. It makes the bar path easier because you can move your knees out of the way.
If you have the bar over the mid foot, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Most lifters can get better hip/glute activation by facing their toes out during the deadlift.
I am certainly one of those lifters and I’m sure a lot of you are as well.
So as a rule of thumb, you can turn your toes out by about 5-10 degrees. Experiment and see what feels best for YOU.
Torque is a difficult concept to explain to people, but it is essentially angular force. Our bodies achieve motion from muscles which attach to bones via tendons. These tendons are like strings. Strings do not push, they pull.
So our entire body is a system of levers and pulleys. The hip joint, like the shoulder, is a ball and socket joint. This is the most unstable type of joint in the human body.
So when moving this joint, your main concern should be stabilizing the hip while deadlifting. How do you do that? With torque, of course!
The hip, like the shoulder, is stabilized the most when the femur is being externally rotated. This happens when the glutes are contracting (more on that in the next section).
But it is strongest when generating torque. So you need to generate torque in your leg by using the raptor claw technique.
Here’s how you do it:
- Dig your toes into your shoes
- Push your feet into the ground as hard as you can
- Spread the floor apart like you are trying to rip it open
When doing all of this, your feet should be completely still. You don’t want your feet to be moving during any of this.
If done correctly you will feel a spiral of tension from your foot all the way up into your hips. This spiral activates the deep hip external rotators.
These muscles help stabilize the hip during the deadlift.
But be forewarned, it takes some practice to get the hang of doing this. I suggest practicing this for several days before lifting any heavy weights.
Squeezing The Glutes
We talked about this briefly in the last section. You want to squeeze your glutes WHILE generating torque.
The glutes are the powerhouse of the deadlift and you want to maximize their effectiveness as much as humanly possible.
Before you bend over to grip the bar, you want to squeeze your glutes as hard as you can.
You want to squeeze them while standing because the hips are in full extension when standing. You can activate more muscle fibers from this position.
If you try to squeeze them when you are bending over, you will not be able to activate as many fibers because the psoas muscle will be contracting.
Bending Over/Flattening The Back
Next, you want to bend over and grab the bar.
You want to grab the bar with a rounded back. Then once you get your grip set, you lift your chest up and flatten your back.
This is done to generate maximal tension before pulling the bar. Tension allows power from the hips to transfer over into the arms and back to move the bar.
Also it is important to remember to KEEP YOUR ELBOWS LOCKED OUT when gripping the bar.
If your bend your elbows, you cause a tension break in the movement. This will alter the exercise and place the weight on your lower back.
A lot of lifters do this as an unconscious bad habit. Make sure to check yourself and catch your self doing this.
Gripping The Bar
You want to grip the bar AFTER you bend over, but BEFORE you flatten your back.
When you grip the bar you have two options, an overhand grip or a mixed grip.
The tougher of the two is the double overhand grip. This is when both palms are facing down. In this position your grip is going to be challenged the most.
Typically this style of grip works best if you are trying to develop your grip strength. You also need to use this grip style when using straps.
The double overhand grip is used by some lifters because it is safer than the mixed grip. The mixed grip places the biceps at a greater risk for injury.
The mixed grip is when one hand is underhand and the other hand is overhand. This style of grip is the best for lifting the heaviest weight possible without using straps.
Your hands act as hooks with this grip style. It also help you stabilize the bar so it doesn’t drift when being lifted.
If you have to choose between the two, the mixed grip is the best.
Straps are also an option. They help you reach super maximal loads by compensating for your grip weaknesses.
To use straps, wrap them around the bar as tightly as possible and then pull on the strap like a motorcycle throttle to keep it secure.
The part wrapped around your wrist will anchor the bar to your arms to take pressure off your grip.
Straps are extremely effective, but they should be used sparingly.
Developing your grip strength is very important not just for your deadlift, but for your overall health. Especially your shoulders.
Don’t be that guy who uses straps for every exercise where your grip is slightly challenged. Only use them when absolutely necessary.
Bending The Knees
Once your back is flattened and your grip is secure, it is time to bend your knees.
All you have to do is bend your knees until your shins touch the bar. Once you actually pull the bar up this will keep the bar moving straight without having to move the bar around the knees.
Bending the knees also sets your hips into the right position.
You want your hips to be above your knees, but below your shoulders. You do NOT want to have your hips and shoulders parallel to each other.
The hips need to be below the shoulders. This ensures the glutes are gaining the most mechanical leverage.
Likewise, the shoulders need to be directly above the bar. You want to move the bar in a straight line when you deadlift. Keeping your shoulders directly above the bar ensures the bar will move straight.
Driving Through The Mid Foot
Now it’s time to start generating some lift.
You want to push into the ground by driving through the middle of your foot. Not the heels.
There is a lot of debate about which area of the foot to pull from. Some say the heels are the best place while others are saying the mid foot.
The truth is you want to pull from the mid foot. Your mid foot is the balancing point of the lift. If you pull through your heels, then you are going to be off balance.
Advanced lifters can pull the bar in different ways than a novice can because they have a deep understanding of both the movements and their bodies. So let them do what’s best for them and you do what’s best for YOU.
Now it’s time to make some movement. Keep the bar in contact with your body the ENTIRE TIME.
Do not move the bar in front of you, it is not a clean. The weight is going to be heavy and you want to gain the most leverage possible. The only way you can do this is by keeping the bar as close to your body as possible.
Keep your shoulders over the bar the entire time as you pull the bar up to your hips. You will notice the shoulders will naturally want to stay over the bar all the way to lockout.
While pulling the bar up, you want to keep the hips above the knees and begin the movement by leading with your chest first.
Once the bar moves past the knees begin pushing the hips forward until lockout. It is important to keep squeezing the glutes the entire time. Your hips and knees should lockout at the same time just like in the clean.
When the lift is complete, the spine should be neutral and the shoulders should be in alignment with the hips.
A common mistake during the lockout is hyper-extending the lower back at the top position. You can often see a lifter doing this by leaning back excessively.
This means the glutes are not properly engaged and the lower back and hip flexors are holding most of the weight. If you look carefully, you will notice that lifters who do this have a hard time locking out their knees because the hip flexors are overcompensating.
Lowering The Bar
The eccentric portion of the lift is where most people start to make mistakes, which is why I don’t like doing deadlifts for high reps.
Once lockout is complete you lower the bar by first unlocking the hips and pushing them behind you. While doing this you keep the bar against your body the entire time.
Next you unlock the knees just slightly and keep pushing the hips back. Once the bar is below the knees you can bend the knees. Again keep the bar against your legs the entire time.
Once the bar is on the ground you reset and start the next rep.
The biggest mistake most lifters make is just taking the path of least resistance and letting gravity do the work. No control is maintained over the bar and the bar path is all over the place.
I call this the free fall method. Usually the bar ends up in front of the mid foot balance point.
If you were just doing a single rep, then this would be no big deal, but most lifters are doing this with multiple reps. With each succeeding rep, the bar path gets worse and worse. This is the sure path to injury.
Always reset the bar at the end of each rep.
The other mistake lifters make is bouncing the bar off the ground after each rep. This make the deadlift easier because now you don’t have to overcome the inertia of the bar being dead weight.
But this defeats the entire purpose of the deadlift and serves only to work your ego. The dead in deadlift stand for dead weight. This means the bar has to come to a complete rest in the bottom position.
This is to work the muscles appropriately. Otherwise if you keep bouncing the bar, then the bar path will be all messed up and you will wind up hurting your back.
Never bounce and always reset after each rep.
How To Breathe During The Deadlift
You also need to know how to breathe properly for the deadlift. I talked about this in my Breathing For Stronger Abs article, but I’ll cover it again here.
When you breathe during heavy lifts, you want to breathe into your belly. Not into your chest.
Most lifters are chest breathers. This is completely wrong!
If you are out of breath it is very difficult to breathe into you belly, but after some rest you should be more than fine.
Simply inhale and imagine yourself pushing all of the air in your lungs down into the bottom of your stomach.
Then imagine pushing all that air against the exterior walls of your abdomen (aka your obliques). This creates a rock solid core that will not break and will support you during any heavy lift.
This same effect is also created by wearing a lifting belt. The belt goes around your belly button and you push your stomach into the belt when lifting. The belt pushes back and your core contracts as a result.
So why not just wear the belt all the time?
Good question. If you wear the belt all the time you will be setting yourself up for an injury. So many lifters try to wear a belt during every exercise imaginable just to lift more weight.
It works for a little while. But once the belt is taken off, your risk for a lower back injury skyrockets. Your body becomes used to the belt and adapts by “forgetting” to contract the abs without the belt.
So if you attempt heavy weight right after removing the belt, your abs will forget to contract properly. Thus, placing you at risk for injury.
The best strategy is to learn how to breathe properly by practicing. And only wear a lifting belt during your heaviest weights when necessary. That’s it.
What Do I Do In Between Reps?
Do not exhale at the top of the movement. Keep your core tight and keep your air in your belly.
The only time you want to exhale is when the bar is down on the ground as dead weight. Then you can exhale and take in another breath.
Exhaling at the lockout, or at any other time during the lift can be disastrous for your spinal health.
Letting all of the air out of your belly will destabilize you. Your body will literally flinch and try to throw the weight on any available muscles. For the deadlift, this will be the lower back.
Of course you should always be concerned for your safety, but you should be especially concerned for your safety during the deadlift.
The deadlift is probably going to be your strongest exercise off the floor and that means that you need to prioritize good form and safety.
The safest way to deadlift is with a neutral spine. What is a neutral spine? It is when your spine is completely straight. The best way to think of this is to imagine someone putting a string through the top of your head and pulling on it to straighten your spine.
The worst way to deadlift is with a rounded back or a hyper-extended lower back.
Remember the back is NOT the prime mover in the deadlift, the hips are. So if you want to stay safe, you will place as much of the weight as possible onto your hips.
Rounding the lower back places most of the stress on the spinal erectors. Likewise, so does hyperextending it. The lower back is in a compromised position with both of these two positions so it will not hold, it WILL break.
In order to support the lower back you must keep your core tight. For most of you this can be done by taking in a big breath of air into your belly and pushing it against the outside of your belly. Read my breathing for stronger abs article for more info.
If you want to make this much simpler, then you can just wear a lifting belt. A belt does the exact same thing for you.
How to use your belt:
- Simply strap the belt around your belly button
- Make it as tight as possible
- Push your belly against the belt while you lift
Just remember, the belt changes the mechanics of the lift slightly so make sure to use it a couple of times before attempting a max weight.
Other Technical Considerations
There are other things to consider with the deadlift. Like different body types and sizes AND different genders.
Now it should be of no surprise that individuals who are naturally bigger, i.e. endomorphs, can naturally lift more weight than an ectomorph (skinny guy).
That is just basic physics. An object with more mass has more kinetic energy. Simple.
Since endomorphs are bigger, they will have some advantages over smaller guys.
But smaller guys can still lift bigger weights. They just need to put in more time and volume than a endomorph does.
On the flip side, endomorphs need to train less than an ectomorph if they want to make more gains. Endomorphs have a slower metabolism and are more sensitive to stress responses.
To sum this up:
- Skinny guys need to train their deadlift muscle more often
- Heavier guys can get away with training less
- Guys in the middle can do more volume than endomorphs, but less than ectomorphs
Smaller guys and bigger guys can have mechanical problems with their deadlifts. Your deadlift form has a lot to do with the shape and structure of your body.
Tall guys have to setup differently from shorter guys and people with smaller hands will have a harder time gripping the bar than guys with bigger hands.
Here’s a brief summary of the main differences between body structures.
Taller guys will have a harder time keeping their backs flat because their deadlift will have a greater range of motion than a shorter guy.
To make up for this simply widen your stance. This will shorten the distance AND will make it easier for your hips to open up so your knees can get out of the way.
A wider stance will also help if you have a big belly. Big bellies will make it difficult for you to get into the proper position. Your belly will actually make contact with your knees.
In the squat, this is an advantage because you can bounce yourself out of the bottom position.
But this is not the case with the deadlift. You need to widen your stance to accommodate. Don’t go too wide, it’s not a sumo deadlift. Just go a little wider than hip width and experiment with the movement.
Short guys have a huge advantage over all other guys in the gym, they can lift more weight.
How is this possible?
It is because they have less distance to travel compared to taller guys. As a result, shorter guys will always be naturally stronger due to sheer mechanical leverage.
This is a big advantage for the deadlift. But it does have it’s drawbacks.
Short people can get away with cheating the form and setup much easier than a taller guy can. In the short term, this will not seem like a big deal, but in the long term this can be disastrous.
The temptation to bounce the weight off the floor and/or not fully engage the hips can wreak havoc on your spine.
I personally know several lifters who are shorter in stature (5’4”) who deadlift regularly with heavy poundages. One of them is already going to a chiropractor for back and neck problems. He’s only 23!
No matter how tall or short you are, there is no excuse for bad form.
Just like being short has it’s advantages, so does having big hands. It all has to do with grip.
Having bigger hands allows you to get a better grip on the bar. So naturally you will have an advantage.
But keep in mind this does not guarantee instant success in the deadlift. You will still need to practice and reinforce good technique.
Having small hands will make deadlifting much harder. Smaller hands have a much harder time getting a good grip on the bar.
This makes the bar appear to have a bigger radius than it does, which is more taxing on your grip.
It is not the end of the line though. I know many lifters with smaller hands who can lift pretty impressive weights. But the do need to use straps and chalk more often than lifters with larger hands.
Spend time working on your grip (more on this later) and your deadlift will progress.
Let’s also not forget gender differences between lifters.
Women will have much lower total numbers then men will on average. This is primarily due to one specific reason. Muscle mass.
Women have about two thirds as much muscle as a man does. That may not sound like too much of a difference, but it makes a HUGE difference when it comes to lifting.
This will make the total amount of weight lower for a woman than for a man, on average. Although there may be some outliers.
Another thing to consider is the Q-angle of the hip. Women have wider hips than men do because of childbirth. This places their knees under more potential for injury than men.
Usually you can spot this as valgus collapse. This is when the knees cave inward during the deadlift. It is more common in squats, but it happens in deadlifts as well. Valgus collapse can cause a tremendous amount of knee problems including an ACL tear. Which is why there are more female athletes with ACL injuries than men.
Also grip strength may be an issue for women because women typically have smaller hands than men do.
And, as the previous section told us, smaller hands give your grip less mechanical leverage.
The deadlift has been associated with the word injury over the years. Unfortunately, many of these people who were injured were never coached properly.
Many deadlift injuries are actually completely avoidable. Almost ALL of them are the result of bad form.
Most average gym goers think their form is solid but when the weight gets “heavy” they get injured. This is from bad form.
So make sure you really practice your technique.
Here are some of the most common injuries:
- Lower Back
This is by far the most common one. The lower back takes most of the injuries from deadlifts purely because of it’s position in the body.
The hips are supposed to move the bar off the floor, if the hips (glutes) fail to engage properly during the lift, then the lower back muscles will try to take over and do the work.
You can see this in individuals with a rounded back.
The other and more dangerous type of bad form is the arched back.
Why is this so dangerous?
Because not only is the lower back in a compromised position, but also because the psoas muscles are trying to lift the majority of the weight.
The psoas muscles attach on the lumbar vertebrae. If they are pulling too tightly on the spine, they will cause your glutes to disengage, the abs to disengage and will more likely than not get you injured very quickly.
It is much more sneaky than the rounded back because it can be tough to spot through clothing. Especially if you live in colder areas in the winter.
So what do you do to prevent lower back injuries during the deadlift?
- Make sure you take in a big breath of air and brace your core.
- Make sure the bar is over the mid foot balancing point.
- Keep the bar against your shins and thighs the whole time.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Keep squeezing the glutes.
If you fail to do any one of these 5 coaching cues, you put your lower back at risk for injury. There is no way around cheating your form to lift big numbers.
You have to really practice your technique with lower weight FIRST and then progress to heavier weights.
When you are deadlifting, try to catch yourself doing any of these mistakes and if you do, stop and reset yourself.
Another area susceptible to injury is the neck. The neck is at the top of the spine so it gets worked in the deadlift.
This is quite normal, but some lifters get into the habit of looking up towards the ceiling when deadlifting. This puts a huge strain on the neck. Many lifters experience neck pain and exertion headaches from doing this.
When you deadlift, you want to keep your spine completely neutral. That also includes the neck as well.
Try to imagine a hook coming out of the top of your head and a piece of string looped around that hook. Now imagine someone pulling on the string to elongate your spine. That’s how you should be during the deadlift.
Looking up while deadlifting will also cause your lower back to hyper-extend as well. The spine is all one unit so moving it in one area has consequences in other areas of the spine.
In this case it is the lower back. The lower back becomes hyperextended and placed in a compromised position when looking up.
Fortunately this is a simple fix. Looking up is just a bad habit that you need to correct. Just practice the string technique described above and you should be able to correct this with time.
If you want to learn how to train your neck for strength training, be sure to read my neck training article for more info.
Another common problem area from deadlifts are your feet.
Strangely enough there are quite a few foot injuries that occur from deadlifts. It is not very common but you will still see it happening if you stay in the gym long enough.
Some injuries are from stress fractures. This happens from heavy weight in both deadlifts and squats.
Stress fractures are caused by repetitive damage to the metatarsals of the foot. This usually happens in runners and athletes who do a lot of jumping.
Over time this repetitive stress will eventually lead to the stress fracture. The fracture can occur anywhere and anytime under weight bearing activity. Including deadlifts and squats.
Another injury that can happen to the feet, believe it or not, is plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis is a common injury that happens to runners when their Achilles tendon is too tight.
But it can sometimes occur in lifters when excessive pressure is put on the Achilles tendon.
In the deadlift, this occurs either when the majority of the weight is kept on your toes, while keeping your heels down. And it can also occur when your knees are too far forward, but this is much more common in the squat. In the deadlift, the former is usually the cause.
Your feet anchor you to the ground and they are the base of the lift. Problems at the feet will cause problems in the rest of the body.
All of these problems can be avoided with proper deadlift form and with proper restoration. If you fell something sketchy, stop and try to analyze what is going on.
Sandwiched between the hips and the feet are the knees, so there is still a slight potential for injury here.
The most common problem has to do with a poor bar path. When a lifter holds the bar too far in front of the body, he inevitably has to arc it back towards his body. Sometimes this can smack right into the knees.
Although not a major injury, it still really hurts. Correcting your bar path will fix this. Maybe an ice pack too.
Another hidden problem with the deadlift is valgus collapse. Valgus collapse is when the knees bow inward.
This is usually the most common problem with the squat, but it can also happen during the deadlift as well.
It is very tricky to look for but you can see it if you have a coach, lifting buddy or a video camera in front of you.
Valgus collapse is usually the result of weak arches in the feet. If you have a collapsed arch, then your knees will naturally want to cave inward.
When the knee bows inward it inhibits the glutes and throws the hips off balance, which can cause damage to the spine and sacrum.
To correct this problem, be sure to strengthen your arches. If you don’t know how to do this, be sure to read my collapsed arch article to find out how to do it.
At the same time, drill down your deadlifting setup and really make sure to screw your feet into the floor to generate torque. This will help support the arches and activate the glutes.
Common Form Issues
There are many things that can go wrong with your deadlift. Fortunately most are relatively easy to spot.
The problem is more for all of you solo lifters out there. You guys are by yourselves and you don’t have an extra pair of eyes to watch yourself.
My advice to you guys is to get a friend to workout with you when you lift heavy so you can get verbal feedback on how your form looks.
Another thing you could do is take a video recording of yourself. With smartphones, there is no excuse. You don’t have to lug around any fancy equipment, you just need your phone.
Just approach someone in the gym and ask them to record you. More likely than not they will say yes. And there you have it.
In the following sections I have listed the most common form issues that occur in the deadlift. Check your current form to see if you are doing any of these.
Bouncing Your Reps
This is one of the most common issues you see with the deadlift.
Bouncing the reps is a way to chest the exercise for more repetitions for volume work. If a particular weight needed to be done for many reps, what is the easiest way to rep out the deadlift?
Obviously you would want to add a ballistic stretch component to it. In other words you would bounce it.
Part of what makes deadlifts so hard in the first place is overcoming the inertia of dead weight. The deadlift is the only one of the three big lifts that start with a concentric motion first (the overhead press does this too).
Both the squat and bench press start with an eccentric component and end with a concentric component. This gives a stretch reflex before the concentric. In other words, free elastic energy.
Since the deadlift doesn’t give us the advantage of free elastic energy we are secretly looking for ways to cheat up more reps. Bouncing solves this problem.
But bouncing sacrifices our safety for weight, which is stupid.
When you bounce, the bar is going to move forward of the mid foot balancing point. This is going to pull you onto your toes, which is going to compromise your lower back.
Between each rep you need to let the bar come to a complete rest. Each rep should be from dead weight.
Hyper-Extending At The Top
When the rep is coming to lockout, you do not want to lean back, or hyper extend at the top. The spine should be neutral and the head, shoulders and hips should be in a straight line.
If the back is hyper-extending at the top, then the glutes are not engaged, this means the hip flexors and hamstrings are holding all of the weight. You can tell someone is hyper-extending their lower back because their knees are bent as well.
What causes this? There are a number of causes, but it is usually from poor glute engagement.
It’s time for an experiment. Stand up and squeeze your glutes as hard as you possibly can. Now try to round your lower back while squeezing your glutes. Can’t do it right? That’s the magic of the glutes.
When the glutes don’t fire properly during the deadlift, your lower back and hip flexors will attempt to take over and hold the weight. When these muscles contract, the hips go into anterior pelvic tilt. The hips cannot lock out in anterior pelvic tilt so the lower back hyper-extends to compensate.
This places an unbelievable amount of pressure on your discs. When the discs are under pressure and squeezed like this, they are at greater risk for bulging or slipping out of place.
If you are hyper-extending at the top, then you must consciously work hard to squeeze the glutes when deadlifting.
Bending The Elbows
You want to think of your arms as hooks. They grip the bar and hook the bar to the spine like a crane. But that’s all the arms do. They just hook and hold on.
Yet there are so many lifters out there who are still bending their elbows. I know it would be cool, but let’s get something straight. You are NOT going to curl 315 lbs. So keep the arms straight.
In the deadlift, everything from your feet to your hands are connected in something called a kinetic chain. This means there is a line of tension from the feet to the hands that transmute force.
If there is a break in any part of this chain, then the whole kinetic chain is compromised. Even something as simple as bending the elbows will do this.
So what actually happens when the elbows bend?
The kinetic chain from the hands to the upper back is broken, so now when the bar is lifted, all the weight from the bar is now going to be dumped on the lower back.
Also there is the risk of tearing your bicep. In the sport of strongman, a bicep tear is the most common injury your likely to see. There are many things that can cause this for a strongman, but for a novice lifter, it will most likely be the deadlift.
When the elbows are bent, the bicep is going to be under tension. This is more prominent in the mixed grip vs. the double overhand grip.
If the bicep is under tension from a heavy barbell while being slammed into the ground, it can tear very easily. The tension from the barbell is compounded by the force of the shock and the tendon just snaps.
So do yourself a favor and just keep the arms straight.
Jerking The Bar
You don’t ever want to jerk the bar! Jerking is one of the most dangerous things you can do when deadlifting.
The bar should be pulled off the floor gradually with tension. This means you generate tension from the start with a strong setup and then once your kinetic chain is strong you can explode off the floor.
It is a process that is heavily dependent on great technique. Elite lifters often refer to this process as pulling the “slack out of the bar”. They are describing the process of generating tension from the setup.
Pulling the slack out of the bar is literally like lifting the bar while it is still on the ground. The bar isn’t actually moving, but you can see the tension on the bar. With heavy weight, you will see it as the bar actually bending before the lift even happens.
Now I have to point out that there is a huge difference between exploding off the floor and jerking the bar off the floor.
Exploding is moving as fast as possible in a CONTROLLED manner. Jerking on the other hand is attempting to complete a movement as quickly as possible regardless of how sloppy it is done.
When exploding, although the bar is moving fast, the form is top notch. Every muscle group that is supposed to be trained is being trained.
The jerk will most likely work the lower back because the hips will shoot up too quickly. This will literally dump all of the weight on the lower back.
If you find yourself jerking, force yourself to lift the bar slowly. Even if it means lowering the weight significantly. Lower the weight and gradually climb your way back up to heavy weight with good form.
Don’t work your ego, it’s not worth it. Your ego only cares about looking good in front of other people. And trust me your not going to look so good when you have a broken back.
Your feet may anchor you to the floor, but your hands anchor you to the bar. And the main thing keeping all of this in tact is your grip strength.
As we age out grip gets weaker normally, but it doesn’t have to be this way. It is usually from being under used.
In today’s world, we really aren’t required to have a strong grip to make it through the day. This is especially true for those of us in white collar jobs.
But this is a shame. Having a strong grip will not only add some serious weight to your deadlift, but it will also increase all of your upper body lifts. Plus it will help help your shoulders healthy and strong.
The Law Of Irradiation
Having a strong grip activates more muscle fibers in the shoulder girdle, which results in lifting more weight. It also supports and protects the shoulders because all the little stabilizer muscles are being activated.
Your grip also has a profound effect on your nervous system. Research has shown that by squeezing something as hard as possible, you actually activate more muscle fibers in your arms in general.
This is known as the law of irradiation. To demonstrate this, make a white knuckle fist with one of your hands while trying to keep your other hand open.
You will quickly notice that your other hand will want to make a fist as well. This is the law of irradiation. It simply says that the more “juice” you fire into the nervous system, the more output the nervous system is going to give you back.
Now think about how much this will help your deadlifts.
Most lifters will just grab the bar and hang on for dear life while lifting it. I would not advise this. Instead when you perform your deadlifts, squeeze the bar as hard as you possibly can.
This will activate more of the musculature in the upper back.
Use A Mixed Grip
Also be sure to use the mixed grip, as mentioned above. The mixed grip will allow you to gain better control over the bar.
With a mixed grip, the bar has less of a chance of drifting on you. It is more likely to stay in place and move up in the mid foot bar path.
With a normal double overhand grip, the stability of the bar is largely dependent on the stability of your upper back. It requires you to pinch your shoulder blades much harder.
But the intensity that you can pinch is largely dependent on your grip strength. And the double overhand grip is very taxing on your grip compared to the mixed grip.
But the double overhand grip is not obsolete. It has a huge benefits for your grip, as will be discussed in the next section.
But you do not want to use a mixed grip for all of your sets. The mixed grip causes a shift and imbalance in the musculature of the upper back.
Therefore, you need to incorporate some of the double underhand grip into your workouts. This will help balance the shoulders.
But how do you do this?
The simplest, and best, way to do this is through your warmup sets. The warmup sets are light and will help build some grip strength and activate the deep musculature of the upper back.
Here’s how you can structure your sets using this method:
Working up to a max set of 3 reps @ 405 lbs.
- Warmup Set 1 — 5 reps @ 135 lbs
- Warmup Set 2 — 5 reps @ 225 lbs
- Warmup Set 3 — 3 reps @ 275 lbs
- Warmup Set 4 — 3 reps @ 315 lbs
- Warmup Set 5 — 1 rep @ 345 lbs
- Warmup Set 6 — 1 rep @ 385 lbs
- Working Set — 3 reps @ 405 lbs
Try your best to use a double overhand grip during all of the warmup sets. It gets tough above 315 lbs. This is usually when most people experience grip problems with a double overhand grip.
But try your hardest to keep your grip. Also make sure you are fully griping the bar. Your hand should be wrapped all the way around the bar and squeezing it as hard as possible.
How To Increase Your Grip Strength
This is a old favorite grip exercise and is a favorite in the calisthenics community.
All you need is your bodyweight and something you can jump up and hold on to. Preferably a pull up bar.
Make sure you wrap your hands FULLY around the bar. Most lifters just follow the path of least resistance and hang on their fingertips. This will NOT effectively work your grip.
Your hands need to be fully wrapped around the bar.
Once your hands are secure, all you have to do is just hang there for as long as possible.
Make sure that you are squeezing the pull up bar as hard as you possibly can.
You want to start out by hanging for at least 1 minute with just your bodyweight. Throughout the minute if your hands end up slipping onto your fingers, jump off the bar and end the set.
Hanging on your fingertips are not the kind of grip work we want.
Once you can hang on for 1 minute, you can start to change up your hanging protocol.
Here are some fun variations for you to try:
- Hang for 3-5 minutes with just bodyweight.
- Add 25-45 lbs of extra weight and hold on for 45 sec – 1 min.
- Hold on with just one hand for as long as possible.
- Hold onto a fat bar, or use FAT GRIPZ.
The possibilities are endless and you are only limited by your imagination.
A rack hold is when you set the bars, or j-hooks, just a little bit below waist height. Then you simply pick up the bar and hold it for as long as you can.
Remember when I told you earlier that you would need to use that double overhand grip? Well now is the time.
You want to make sure that you hold onto the bar with a double overhand grip and that you hold it for as long as possible.
Your hands should be fully wrapped around the bar and you should be squeezing the bar as hard as possible.
Don’t go too crazy with the weight! Keep it light to start with. You’ll be surprised with how difficult this exercise really is.
Start out with 30 second holds and then try to hold for 60-90 seconds.
Gradually increase the weight. When adding weight, only use big plates (25, 35, 45, etc.). Don’t bother to go with smaller plates. Just put in the time with the bigger weights and this should do the trick.
Another incredible way to boost your grip strength is by using grippers. Grippers are an old school method for increasing grip strength.
A gripper looks like a metal nutcracker with a spring coiled around it.
Grippers work your grip crushing strength, which is how hard you can squeeze something. With rack holds and dead hangs, you are working grip endurance. With grippers you are actually working your grip strength.
Simply hold the gripper in the middle of your hand with your fingers wrapped around one end and your thumb around the other and just squeeze as hard as you can.
Both ends of the gripper should touch together when fully squeezed. If the grippers don’t touch, then it is an incomplete rep.
You can use grippers just like any other weight training exercise. That is, doing sets of 10-12 reps, or even 3-5 reps for stronger grippers.
But the problem is most grippers out there are mass market products with very weak grip resistances. Not nearly enough to pack any punch with your deadlift.
After trying many grippers, I have to say that the best, and toughest, out there are the Captains of Crush Grippers by IronMind.
These things have 10 different strengths and sizes, starting with the guide all the way up to the number 4.
The guide is the easiest and is more or less equivalent to your typical gripper you will find in a sporting goods store. The number 4 on the other hand is so tough that it is the equivalent of crushing a brick in your bare hands. Only a small handful of people worldwide can actually close it.
If you don’t already have a pair of Captains of Crush Grippers, be sure to get yourself a pair.
Link to Amazon: Captains of Crush Grippers
This is my favorite of all the grip exercises. So forgive me if I am a little biased.
Farmer carries are fantastic for boosting your deadlift. Actually, farmers carries are not just good for boosting your deadlift, but they are a great exercise in and of themselves.
Your forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, upper back and of course your grip are all getting one kick ass workout from these.
Farmers carries are simply a rack hold with dumbbells while walking. So you grab the heaviest pair of dumbbells you can find and you walk for a specific distance with them. Simple!
It is one of the easiest exercises to instruct, but probably on of the most difficult to perform.
Holding dumbbells is not what makes them difficult, although it doesn’t make them any easier. What makes farmers carries so difficult is the walking.
When you are standing still, the weight is just hanging out by your side not doing anything. But when you walk, the weight is going to try to swing back and forth like a pendulum because of inertia.
Now not only do you have to hold the weight, but you also have to stabilize it. The only way to do that is to squeeze harder. Otherwise you are going to drop the dumbbells.
Your typical deadlift will not challenge you anywhere near this much, grip wise. This is why farmers carries are such a useful exercise.
The best way to perform farmers carries is in a circuit like manner at the end of your workouts.
Find a 40 yard section of your gym where you can walk in a straight line and perform the following:
- 6-10 rounds
- 20 yard intervals
- 45-60 seconds rest between each round
You can also make this more difficult by walking 20 yards down and 20 yards back in once single round. This is called a roundtrip interval. Moving 20 yards and resting before turning around are called singles.
Singles: Walking 20 yards and resting before turning around and walking back to the start. This works the best during your heaviest sets.
Roundtrip: Walking 20 yards and then immediately turning around with the weights and walking back to the start. Best option for pushing your grip endurance.
Another interesting variation to farmers carries is to use a trap bar (hex bar). You can walk with a trap bar just as easily as you can with dumbbells plus you can actually work your way up to carrying weight close to your deadlift max.
Popular Deadlift Variations
Everything you have read so far has been describing what is called the conventional deadlift. This is the standard deadlift that you see most lifters performing in gyms all across the world.
But are there other variations? You bet!
The most popular variations are:
- The Sumo Deadlift
- Rack Pulls
- Deficit Deadlifts
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Trap Bar Deadlifts
In each of these deadlifts, the same mechanics apply. You want the bar to be over the middle of your foot. You still want to keep the bar close to your body. And you also want to use your hips and NOT your lower back.
The sumo deadlift is a very popular variation of the deadlift. In the sumo deadlift, the legs take a much wider stance, like that of a sumo wrestler.
This shortens the total range of motion of the deadlift. With the legs wider the bar travels less distance. This can be an advantage to taller lifters.
But there are a couple of key differences to the sumo deadlift.
- Your toes are pointing out to the sides
- Your legs are much wider than shoulder width
- The chest is more vertical than the conventional deadlift
- The hips are worked more than a conventional deadlift
Those are the main differences. Other than that all else applies. You are still generating torque with the hips and, believe it or not, you are still pushing through the mid foot.
Any athlete that needs stronger hips (sprinters, powerlifters, Olympic lifters and jumpers) needs to have sumo deadlifts as part of their program.
A rack pull is the exact same thing as a conventional deadlift, except it is using MUCH less range of motion than a regular deadlift.
You will need a power rack with adjustable pins to perform these, or a set of wooden blocks to pull from.
Either choice is up to you, but you should at least be able to adjust the blocks to different heights.
By adjusting the blocks, you can attack any weak parts of your deadlift and fix them. These weak parts are commonly referred to as sticking points. These are the parts of your deadlift where the lift actually starts to slow down. Sticking points are usually the parts where people actually miss the lift.
This is why you need to have some way of adjusting this lift. Everybody has a sticking point in a different place.
With all of that said, there are usually 3 main adjustments for rack pulls (measurements excluded).
- Just Below Knees
- Just Above Knees
- Mid Thigh
There are manny more heights you could adjust the exercise too. But for the most part these are the main areas you will end up targeting with this exercise.
As we all know, when the bar approaches the knees, the lift starts to become really difficult for some of us. This is due to the leverage of the lift.
When the bar starts to approach the knees, the amount of leverage you have over the bar starts to decrease because the bar is the furthest from the body at this point.
This is why it is so important to get your knees out of the way when deadlifting.
But usually this causes most lifters to miss the lift either just below the knees or just above the knees.
In some instances, you could miss the lift mid thigh. If you are missing the lift in this portion of the exercise, then this means you have either weak glutes, or grip.
The portion of the deadlift from mid thigh up to lockout primarily works the glutes. So if your glutes are weak, or are not engaging, then a mid thigh rack pull can help you fix this.
But what if I am weak off the floor? Good question. The next deadlift variation addresses this problem.
These fill in the gap where rack pulls leave off. Deficit deadlifts help you build power off the floor.
No power rack needed! All you need is a box to stand up on. Preferably this box should be at least 2-4 inches maximum in height. Anything higher than 4 inches and you are going to need the mobility of a contortionist.
Then you simply perform a typical conventional deadlift while standing on this box. Just make sure when you setup that the bar is over your mid foot and your good to go.
Just remember that this deadlift variation is probably the toughest of them all so you will NOT be able to do as much weight as the other variations.
The Romanian deadlift is commonly thought of as a hamstring exercise. And yes it does work the hamstrings to a large degree. However, it also works all the proper hip musculature as well.
According to some coaches, the Romanian deadlift was brought over to the west during the Cold War when some Romanian weightlifters were training in American facilities.
When the coaches saw the lifters performing this exercise, the coined the term “Romanian deadlift”. And it stuck ever since. Whether this is true or not is another story.
To perform the Romanian deadlift, simply deadlift the bar to your hips, but on the descent keep the bar directly up against your thighs and DO NOT touch the ground.
You want to lower the bar to mid shin and then bring it back to lockout. Again, keeping the bar up against your legs the entire time.
This exercise was originally for weightlifters to develop the explosive power needed to clean, or snatch, the bar up to the catching position. But it also has a tremendous carryover into your deadlift as well.
For starters, it teaches you how to keep the bar up against your body. It teaches you how to use your lats and it also serves as an excellent form of assistance work for your hips.
Just remember that all the steps are repeated in the same way as a regular deadlift during the descent. The knees should be bent and NOT locked out.
Many people confuse the Romanian deadlift with it’s evil twin brother, the stiff legged deadlift.
It is not the same exercise so keep you knees bent.
Trap Bar Deadlifts
The trap bar, also called a hex bar, is a favorite among many lifters. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about the trap bar.
If you ask your average gym goer what the trap bar does, they will tell you it works your legs more than your back, so it is easier.
Even though ALL deadlifts work your legs more than your back (or at least theoretically are supposed to), the trap bar has mainly mechanical advantages rather than muscular.
When you look at the conventional deadlift, what is often the hardest part of the deadlift? It is pulling the bar around the knees. This is where most lifters mess up. And it is why rack pulls are such a staple in the workout programs of powerlifters.
With the trap bar, you don’t have to worry about pulling the bar around your knees. All you do is stand in the middle of it and grab the grips on the sides. Then just pull the bar straight up.
Everything that applies to your typical deadlift still applies to this deadlift. Except you don’t have to worry about keeping the bar over your mid foot. This is what makes the trap bar so much easier compared to a regular deadlift.
It is a great way to add some variety to your deadlift program when you stall out on the conventional barbell deadlift.
How To Add Deadlift Variations To Your Training Program
You can add the variations to your program whenever you like but there are certain requirements to do so.
First, you must master the conventional deadlift. You need to truly understand the how and why of deadlifting. Only then should you attempt any of the variations.
When adding the variations to your training program, be sure to perform them AFTER your main strength set. Whether you do them on deadlift days or on squat days, perform them after you train your heavy working exercise.
Then put some light weight on the bar (60-75% 1RM) and start practicing your technique for 2-3 sets. That really is the best strategy. The variations will act as assistance exercises for your regular deadlift.
You could also use one of the variations as your primary deadlifting exercise. But this method should only be done by advanced lifters.
This technique was developed by the Soviet Union and is called the conjugate method. This is when your rotate the main strength exercise every 2 weeks to shock the nervous system.
It is extremely effective because it provides such a powerful stimulus for more growth and muscle mass.
Whichever way you choose to use the variations is totally up to you.
The beauty about doing deadlifts is how minimalistic they are. You only need a few items, albeit heavy items.
Here is the list of all the equipment you will need for your deadlifts:
- Weight Plates
- Deadlift Jack
- Power Rack
That’s really it, plus some empty space. Preferably and 8’ X 8’ square of space.
Now you would think that most gyms have all of this equipment and once you sing up for a membership you are good to go.
Unfortunately this is not the case. Most gyms lack this equipment and if the do have it, it is either worn out and run down, or deadlifts are banned in the gym. Also, God forbid, chalk isn’t allowed in most commercial gyms.
So if you are really serious about mastering your deadlifts, you may need to purchase some of this equipment to get the most out of your training.
“Every gym has a barbell” you might be saying to yourself. But you may not be aware that the barbell in your gym may be holding back your progress.
Most barbells in your average commercial gym are not designed with performance in mind. They are just there for looks.
Commercial gyms exist for one purpose, to make money. Their entire business model is designed to get as many memberships as possible. Having serious strength training equipment is not on their agenda because they would lose members. After all we live in the age of “gymtimidation”.
Your average commercial gym barbell is usually too thick. Plus, depending on your gym’s budget, the bar is probably worn out and “smooth”. Smooth means the knurling on the bar is worn out.
New bars can be smooth as well. From a business perspective, this makes sense because gym members will complain about their hands hurting which will result in lost business. But for the serious lifter, this makes no sense whatsoever.
Another thing to consider is the thickness of the bar. Most commercial gym bars have a thickness (diameter) of 29 or 30 mm. The thicker the bar, the more strain on your grip strength.
The ideal bar will have a thickness of 28 mm. This allows you to grip the bar much easier.
You also want to make sure the bar is stiff and doesn’t have too much whip to it. A bar that whips is ideal for olympic lifting because it adds elastic energy to the bar. But for deadlifting, you need stiffness because too much whip can throw off you bar path. Likewise, sleeves that spin will have this same impact.
So to recap, here are the things you want to look for in an ideal barbell:
- 28 mm thick barbell
- Strong knurling
- Little to no “whip”
- Sleeves that don’t roll
If you are’t sure where to find barbells like these, I have already done the searching for you and found some really good barbells you should invest in. These bars will last a lifetime and will take your deadlift to new levels.
Good Deadlift Bars:
With plates there are two options to choose from, rubber or steel. Both plates have their ups and downs so lets cover them both here.
Rubber plates are relatively cheap, which is probably their best perk for deadlifting. But they also have some great ergonomically effective features as well.
If you are deadlifting at home in your garage, or elsewhere with a cement floor, you will most likely need to buy some rubber mats for the floors. Otherwise you will risk cracking the cement from deadlifting heavy weights.
This is almost guaranteed to happen if you deadlift long enough. But you should be good with rubber plates. They will not do any damage to the concrete. Plus most barbells will only fit 400-455 lbs worth of rubber plates.
The bouncing of the rubber plates can take it’s toll on the bar over time, depending on what type of bar you get.
Whenever you drop a bar really hard with rubber plates, the bar will bounce on the ground. Every time this happens you are actually warping the dimensions of the barbell.
But this problem applies more to barbells with a lot of whip to them and to olympic lifting. Dropping the bar from over your head vs your hips makes a big difference on how the bar bounces.
But because you are mostly just deadlifting, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about it. Try as much as possible to lower the bar in a slow and controlled manner.
Old time strong men used to lower the weight slowly between reps. This included the olympic lifts because back then they only had steel plates. Some speculate that this was the secret to their impressive physiques.
Not all rubber plates are created equal. Some are thicker and some are more durable than others. The market is saturated with so many rubber plates that it can be tough to choose which one is right.
If you are just doing deadlifts, then any rubber plate will do, but when you start lifting heavy weights, it can get difficult to add more weight because of the thickness of the plates. This i something you should take into consideration.
Here are the top picks:
- X Training Equipment Bumper Plates
- X Training Equipment Colored Plates
- CAP Barbell Bumper Plates
- Titan Fitness 45 lb. Bumper Plate
These are actually my preferred choice for a number of reasons. Number one they are very durable and last a lifetime. Plus they do not make it easy for you to bounce.
Steel plates have little to no bounce. So if you drop them, they will not bounce very much. Plus most steel plates are relatively thin, so for those of you who are lifting bigger weights (500+ lbs), you shouldn’t have a problem.
Another added benefit is the storage for most steel plates. Since they are thinner and take up less space, you can store them easier. The smaller weights (2.5, 5, 10 lbs) are extremely easy to store.
Plus there is more variety with plate sizes. If you are a minimalist like me, then you want to have the least amount of equipment to get the job done. So if you don’t want to buy two 45 lb. plates, buy a 100 lb. plate instead.
Of course if you drop a steel plate from any height, it can do some serious damage to your floor. Since steel doesn’t bounce, the vibrations and energy have to go somewhere. And the go right into the ground.
If you have a cement floor, this will definitely crack the floor over time. So you will have to buy some thick rubber mats, or even a platform.
So you can see the biggest drawback to steel plates, they can get expensive. At the time of writing this article, the price of steel is $0.40 per pound. That may not seem like that much money, but that is just the price of the raw steel before it is manufactured.
Add some labor costs and tariffs into the mix and you have some pretty high prices. This is the main drawback of steel plates.
But like I said earlier, steel is reliable and it is durable.
Here are the steel plates that I use and recommend:
If you do decide to perform the olympic lifts in addition to your deadlifts, then you may want to consider getting a deadlift platform.
A platform will eliminate worry from any floor damage and it will provide a clear space for lifting.
There are a lot of lifting platforms out there that you can buy already assembled. These can be incredibly expensive and just unrealistic.
Luckily, there are some incredibly cheap options out there that you can find.
There is one option that includes just 9 square 3’ X 3’ rubber mats. Each of these rubber mats are 5/8” thick, which should help protect your floor from heavy weights. This should be more than fine if all you are doing are deadlifts.
Link to Amazon: IncStores Evolution Rubber Floor Tiles
If you are planning on doing any olympic lifts, or are competing in powerlifting, then you should seriously consider getting a deadlifting specific platform. These platforms come with eight 2” thick rubber mats along with a metal frame. Plus the metal frame has band pegs on it so you can do speed deadlifts for accommodating resistance.
Link to Amazon: Titan Full Deadlift Platform
One of the hardest parts of deadlifting is not actually lifting the weight, it is taking weights off and putting them on.
Many lifters actually hurt their backs just from loading the bar up. Plus I even know a few lifters who broke a toe from unloading weights.
A deadlift jack, or wedge, is a piece of equipment that helps elevate the bar so sliding plates on and off is simple and easy. Why waste the energy on loading plates when you could be saving it for your lifts?
If you currently have a gym membership, then a deadlift wedge should do the trick for you. It is small an can fit in your gym bag without any problems. Plus it also works on trap bars, something jacks cannot do.
Link to Amazon: Deadlift Wedge
If you need, or prefer, a jack to lift really heavy barbells, then you have two options to choose from.
The first is a mini jack, which only lifts one side, similar to the wedge, but it lifts the bar higher.
Link to Amazon: Titan Fitness Mini Jack
The other option is the full jack. If you are willing to spend a little more money, the full jack lifts both ends of the barbell up at the same time. Now you can load plate quicker and easier. The full jack is the best option for the serious lifter.
Link to Amazon: Titan Full Bar Jack
If you are serious about strength training, then a power rack is a must. After doing some shopping myself, I was going to just recommend jerk blocks because I figured they were cheaper, but they really aren’t.
A power rack may cost a little more, but there are so many benefits. With jerk blocks, you would just be training the deadlift and maybe some of the olympic lifts. With a power rack, you can train the squat, bench and deadlift. So it really is the best option.
With the power rack you can adjust the pins on the side for the safety bars and you can adjust the j-hooks to move the bar up or down.
It is a great piece of equipment if you are training by yourself because the safety bars will catch the bar if you need to bail out. This is especially helpful on the bench press.
If you have any weight plates, you can store them on the sides of the power rack as well so you won’t have to buy a separate stand.
These rack below are good options:
- Fitness Reality 810 XLT Super Max Power Cage
- Best Fitness Power Rack
- Titan X-2 Series Short Power Rack
Chalk is the lifeblood of heavy lifting. If you plan on lifting anything heavy, you will eventually need chalk.
What does chalk do?
It helps you get a better and stronger grip on the bar. When you start lifting heavy weight and your body gets warm, your hands are going to sweat. Also the anxiety from lifting heavy will also make your hands sweat. That is the fight or flight response.
When you apply chalk to your hands, it helps absorb the sweat and allows for a better grip on the bar. Plus it also helps prevent your hands from slipping on the bar too.
As the weight gets heavier, you are going to need more chalk. Unfortunately most commercial gyms ban chalk from being used. Their logic is chalk makes a mess. Which it does. But remember, most commercial gyms are sales organizations. If their gyms don’t look pretty and pristine, then they will scare off potential new members.
Some lifters found a way around this by bringing in liquid chalk, which is a clear fluid that doesn’t make a mess. And then others brought in a chalk ball. This is a ball of chalk that is covered with cloth. All you do is rub your hands on it and chalks them up for you.
I have tried both of these myself. They work to an extent, but they are not nearly as good as regular chalk. That is just my opinion, you can try them if you like. But as far as I am concerned, nothing beats the original stuff.
Here are the different types to choose from:
You can also purchase a lifting belt if you need to. Being the minimalist that I am, I always advise against using any special equipment until you absolutely need it.
But a lifting belt is definitely a valuable tool to have in your arsenal. A lifting belt helps support your spine and trunk during exercises with heavy spinal loading.
The whole idea of the belt is to mimic the natural bracing ability of your core musculature.
To start, position the belt around your belly button and tighten the belt as tight as possible without cutting off circulation.
Then as you perform the deadlift, take in a big breath of air into your belly. Then push your belly against the belt on all sides while pulling the bar off the ground.
Pushing your belly into the belt makes the belt exert pressure back onto your belly. This helps to create more intra abdominal pressure (IAP).
IAP helps you body do two things:
- Support the spinal column and exert torque opposite that of the barbell.
- Increases total muscle activation via hydrolic amplification.
What is Hydraulic Amplification?
Remember earlier in the grip strength section when I mentioned the law of irradiation? This was when you squeeze you hand so hard it makes your nervous system contract more musculature in your arms.
Well hydraulic amplification is pretty much the same thing, except it makes your body contract more muscles throughout the entire body.
This is why Bruce Lee always used to say that all his power came from his core. He wasn’t kidding. If you create enough pressure in your core, it literally does generate tons of power.
Plus all of the fascial tissues tighten up and support the spinal column like a hardened cast. This helps give you some natural support.
Will Wearing A Lifting Belt Increase My Chance For Injury?
A while ago there was a research study done in a Texas airport to answer this very question.
Several baggage carriers were assigned to wear lifting belts for a period of several weeks when lifting heavy baggage. There was also a control group who didn’t wear any belts.
The study found that wearing the belts did increase activation of the core musculature. But interestingly enough, as soon as the baggage carriers took the belts off and went back to work, they all were injuring their backs left and right.
It seems that when you wear a lifting belt, your body adapts to activating your core musculature by literally relying on the belt.
Since the belt is making the body’s job easier, the body actually backs off and just lets the belt do most of the work.
But as soon as you take it off, you put yourself at risk for injury because your body has adapted to lifting things with the belt on.
This is why I try to use the belt sparingly when I lift. I just use it on my heaviest sets and that is it.
There are some lifters who wear a belt for the entire duration they are in the gym. They even wear it when doing bicep curls. Don’t be that guy. Only wear it when you need it.
With that said, here are some options for you to choose from:
Shoes are also very important for getting a big deadlift. Your feet are the supporting foundation for the entire deadlift. If your foot position is bad, or if your shoes interfere, your deadlift is being set up for bad form.
So what does the “perfect” deadlift shoe look like?
Well to be honest I really don’t know if there is a “prefect” deadlift shoe. But I can tell you what to look for when selecting shoes.
The main thing to look for is heel drop. What is heel drop? It is the drop from your heels all the way to your toes.
When looking at the side of your shoes, you will notice that in most shoes the heel is elevated above the toes. This is especially true in most running and tennis shoes.
The greater the height of the heel, the greater the heel drop.
Heel drop was designed with runners in mind, not lifters. The greater the heel drop, the worse the shoe is for your deadlift.
A high heel drop will make it more difficult to keep the bar over the mid foot balancing point. The shoes will make it easier for you to tip forward onto your toes. That is not good.
The deadlift is supposed to work your hips, aka your glutes and hamstrings. If the weight is not evenly distributed among your feet, then the glutes and hamstring will disengage. This will make the hip flexors and lower back do most of the work, which can result in an injury.
So my advice to you is to look for shoes with zero heel drop.
I have some good options here below:
Deadlift Assistance Exercises
In addition to the deadlift variations listed above, there are also other assistance exercises that can boost your deadlift.
However, before I go on, I just need to mention that the best and most effective assistance exercises are those that are the most similar to the actual deadlift itself. The variations above are the closest you are going to get to the actual deadlift.
Therefore, the following exercises will not be as effective for boosting your deadlift. But they still do make a difference in your training and will add to your deadlift what the variations leave out. So you SHOULD add some of them into your routine.
With that said, here are the more useful assistance exercises:
- Barbell Rows
- Low Bar Back Squats
- Front Squats
- Dumbbell Rows
- Pull ups
- Hamstring Curls
- Glute-Ham Developers
- Reverse Hyperextensions
- Good Mornings
Without a shred of doubt, the best exercises on this list are the barbell rows. Barbell rows are very similar to the deadlift and build very explosive power off the floor. Plus they also train the deadlift setup perfectly.
The only difference is the bar is more ballistic and explosive. But not only does it work the muscles of your back, it also works your hips too.
The low bar squat has more carryover into the deadlift because the low bar squat places more stress on the hips than the high bar does. Front squats also make the list because of the high torso position. This helps you maintain a neutral spine when deadlifting.
Shrugs help with keeping your shoulders pinched, as do dumbbell rows and pull ups. But rows and pull ups also help work the lats. The lats help maintain a good bar path by keeping the bar against the thighs.
Of course we also need to train and isolate the hips as well. Hamstring curls, glute-ham raises, reverse hypers and good mornings works the hips best. Good mornings also help work the spinal erectors as well.
Adding these exercises into your training routine with high volume will work wonders for your deadlift.
Be sure to read my strength training programs article to learn how to program the assistance lifts.
What About Deadlifting Barefoot?
Some lifters don’t like to wear any shoes when they deadlift and that’s perfectly fine too. If you want the ultimate zero heel drop shoe, just use what God gave you, your bare feet.
Arnold used to deadlift barefoot and it works for him, I don’t see why it couldn’t work for anybody else.
Research has shown that by lifting, or walking with bare feet, that more neural pathways light up in the legs. This means that more muscles are activated than with shoes on.
Makes sense considering that shoes stabilize your feet for you.
Plus not wearing any shoes also makes you lower to the ground. Although it is only a slight difference in height, it make a noticeable difference.
What Are Some Realistic Numbers To Aim For With My Deadlift?
This is a tricky question to ask. There are many arguments of though out there about what can be achieved by an average lifter vs. an elite lifter. Plus if you bring this question up and people don’t like your answer the whole steroid argument gets brought up.
So let’s set the bar straight right now.
Here are some realistic numbers for your deadlift. By the way, these numbers are for someone who is all natural and has several (5+) years of experience under their belt.
With hard training and effort, you should be able to reach a deadlift anywhere in the range of 500 – 600 lbs. This is a good lifetime goal to aim for. I know some lifters who were able to reach 500 lbs within 2 years of training.
How do you achieve numbers like this so quickly? Easy. With proper coaching, that’s how.
There are a lot of individuals out there who tell me numbers like this are unrealistic. Yet, I have seen multiple people hit these numbers without any trouble in less than 5 years. Also none of these lifters are on any drugs, they are completely 100% natural.
There are plenty of coaches out there who agree with these numbers. One of them is Mark Rippetoe. One of the best lifting coaches out there.
The only people who can’t hit numbers like this are the people who put limits on themselves and their abilities. If you encounter such people throughout your lifting career, my advice to you is to stay away from them. They are toxic. They will only bring you down.
You want to lift with people who are going to bring you up. So find some good training partners and find a good coach, if necessary, and start hitting the iron.
Where Do I find Good Training Partners?
That’s an easy one. All you have to do is find some other lifters in the gym who are as determined and driven as you are and just ask if you can join in with them. That’s it.
If you are really green and need some more direction with your workouts, then I recommend you join an amateur lifting team. This is probably one of the quickest ways to really master the deadlift and hit big numbers quickly. Your team will help and support you and hold you accountable.
Birds of a feather flock together. If you hang around with strong and talented lifters, then you will be a strong and talented lifter yourself.
Legendary strength coach Louie Simmons always says that you don’t need a good coach, you just need good training partners. And he’s got a good point.
Are Deadlifts Safe?
So are deadlifts safe? The short answer is yes!
Of course deadlifts are safe. If you have put in the time and have mastered the form, then your deadlift will be exceptional and your risk for injury will be very low.
It is those lifters who haven’t mastered their form and who haven’t put in the work. Those are the lifters who will get injured. Not just in the deadlift, but every barbell exercise under the sun.
My college physics teacher said it best, “there is no point in rushing to get a wrong answer.”
Rushing in the weight room may get you a few quick wins, but one thing it will definitely get you is injured.
A deadlift that is performed with good form and structured with reasonable goals is perfectly safe.
Does Age Matter?
As we age, our muscles start to lose strength and slowly atrophy. This occurs as we reach physical maturation. This is usually around 30 years of age for most people.
Around the age of 30, there are big hormonal changes that occur in our bodies which lower our functional capacity.
The change is very gradual and starts to really increase by age 40 and really increase around age 60.
So with that said, younger lifters will be able to gain strength much faster than a 60 year old lifter.
But that doesn’t mean that an older lifter can’t gain some significant strength in their deadlift. Now just to be clear, I am not advocating a 60 year old to pursue a 600 lb. deadlift, although that would be pretty cool to see. I am simply saying that age is not a limiting factor when it comes to gaining strength.
A 20 year old can gain plenty of strength in the deadlift and so can a 60 year old. Their recovery times and training abilities will be very different but both CAN and SHOULD train their deadlift.
Older lifters will also have to spend more time training their mobility. As we get older, our muscles and joints become stiffer. So we need to increase the amount of time we dedicate to mobility.
What Do I Do If I Keep Plateauing?
If you keep plateauing, then it can be for a couple of reasons:
- You have been doing the same routine for too long
- Your form needs some work
- You have a mental anxiety about lifting heavier weights
On average you should switch up your workout routine every 3-6 weeks. This is usually how long it takes the body to fully adapt to a training regime.
You should switch around the assistance exercises and try some new ones. For the deadlift itself, you could lower the weight and do more reps. You could also increase the number of sets, decrease the number of reps and increase the weight.
Your form could also have some subtle flaws that are holding you back. This is very common with strength training. There is always a hidden weakness that sneaks up on you and halts progress.
The fastest way to find the weakness and fix it is by getting an extra set of eyes. Either have a coach or a training partner watch you and spot what you are doing wrong.
If you don’t have access to another person, then you can just record yourself on your phone and review the material to spot the weakness yourself. Since I work in a private gym, I do this all the time.
Once you find the weakness, immediately work on fixing it. Spend a whole training session if you have to. Then go through the full setup procedure above and maintain full body awareness so you can “feel” what proper form feels like.
If there is a mental problem, then you need to just push past the fear and conquer the weight. If you are secretly afraid of success, then you are going to subconsciously sabotage yourself from making progress.
It sounds crazy, but it is more common than you think. If this sounds like you, then you need to work on emotional discipline. Practice going through your training sessions by doing deep breathing exercises between sets. This will help calm down the mental chatter in your mind.
Plus, you should carry around a stop watch and time your rest between sets. As soon as your rest time is up, immediately set yourself up and lift the weight without thinking about it. This works very well.
Usually most mental problems in sport are from too much thinking. So all you have to do is not think so much.
That’s about it! Congratulations for making it to the end of the article. If you liked the article please let me know in the comments below and please share this with anyone who needs help with their deadlifts. Thanks!