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Deadlift

July 8, 2011 Category: Coaching, Lifting Technique, Powerlifting Tags: , .

deadlift

Regardless of whether your goal is to get bigger, get stronger, or to simply shed some body fat, learning how to deadlift properly can help you achieve your goal faster.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have no clue how to deadlift properly, and as such, end up getting injured.

In this article, you’ll learn how to deadlift with great technique so that you can achieve your goals and stay healthy to boot!

Before we get into the technique, though, let’s start with some of the major benefits of incorporating deadlifts into your training session.

Benefits of Deadlifting

  1. Get stronger
    For most guys, this one is a no-brainer – you want to deadlift heavy things so you can get stronger.However, I would argue that many women could reap a lot of strength benefits from deadlifting as well. Trust me, you’re not going to get big and bulky unless you eat garbage. Instead, what you’ll find is that deadlifting helps you build muscle in some keys areas that most women actually want to develop (more on this below).
  2. Develop the glutes, hamstrings and lower back
    For guys, this may not be the focal point of their programming, but let’s be honest – most women don’t mind if you’ve built yourself a backside!Women, on the other hand, often want to develop this area, which is why we’re forced to hear about cardio classes like “Bunz and Gunz.”If your goal is to develop a rock-solid and sexy backside, the deadlift can you get there faster and more effectively than any and all of the toning classes you take combined.
  3. Improved sports performance
    Look at almost any great strength/power athlete, and you’ll see a well put together backside.The glutes, hamstrings and lower back are critical for running faster, jumping higher (or further), and in general, being awesome. If you want to be a stud athlete, you owe it to yourself to train your posterior chain.
  4. Prevent injury
    Finally, I don’t care what your goal is – it sucks if you’re sitting on the sidelines due to injury.The glutes and hamstrings play a critical role in not only knee but lower back health as well. With regards to knee health, strong glutes and hamstrings can help prevent overuse injuries such as patello-femoral pain, patellar tendinosis, as well as traumatic injuries like ACL tears.
    Along those same lines, a strong posterior chain can help keep your back healthy as well. Too often, people want to use their back and only their back to lift pick things up off the ground. This is how an often benign day of household chores can land you in your bed for the next 7 days chewing ibuprofen like it’s candy.By strengthening the glutes and hamstrings, along with learning how to deadlift properly, you’ll be much less likely to injure your lower back in the future.

How To Deadlift – The Set-up

Get Your Shins Close

One of the biggest errors you’ll see when deadlifting is when people try to squat the weight. A deadlift is a more hip-dominant movement, meaning you’ll want to focus on developing the glutes and hamstrings, also known as your posterior chain.

I like to coach my lifters to “crowd” the bar with their shins. If your shins are too far back, you’ll end up shifting the ankles way forward, getting the hips too low, and essentially squatting the weight up.

Tripod Foot

To properly engage and recruit all the appropriate muscles, we need to have a strong and stable foot. A tripod foot position is where your body weight is balanced between your 1st metatarsal head, your 5th metatarsal head, and your heel.

You’ll often see people lose this balance between the three points when lifting. If you’d like more info on tripod foot, simply check out the video below.

Big Breath

Once your shins are in the right position, take a deep belly breath. This will activate your diaphragm, and increase intra-abdominal pressure. Forgot about trying to breathe in and out while lifting; if you’re going to lift something relatively heavy off the floor, you need to take a deep breath and hold it to keep your spine stable and lower back healthy.

Hips Back

While holding your breath, push your hips back to lower yourself down to the bar.

NOTE: DO NOT simply squat down! You want to push your hips back, which will help you load your glutes and hamstrings.

Push your hips back as far as you can without rounding your lower back, and then bend the knees slightly to get you all the way down to the bar.

Chest out, Back Flat and Chin Down

As you lower yourself down to the bar, you need to focus on keeping a neutral spine position. In the case of the deadlift most people need to focus on keeping their chest up, their back flat, and their chin down.

Keeping the chest up and back flat will put you in an ideal position to lift the weight off the floor. And while it’s not discussed as frequently, keeping the chin downs (and eyes up!), will allow you to get more “pop” out of your deadlift. If your neck is looking up at the ceiling, not only do you lose glute and hamstring strength off the floor, but you will also be unable to use your glutes and hips to finish the weight at the top of the lift.

For more information on proper alignment, check out these videos:

Grab the Bar

It’s now time to grab the bar. Start with a double overhand, where both of your palms facing your body. We’ll discuss different grip variations later on.

With regards to hand placement, simply let your arms hang straight down and as you lower yourself, grab the bar with your hands in this position. Going any wider makes for an inefficient (and longer) deadlift, while going much narrower can make the lift awkward as it’s difficult to control the bar.

Lats Tight and Pull Back

As you’re gripping the bar, use your lats (the big muscles on the sides of your upper back) to pull the bar back into your shins.

While it may not be an issue with lighter weights, when the weight gets heavy the bar has a tendency to “drift” in front of your body. Not only does this have a tendency to round your lower back (and thus increase the risk of injury), but it leaves you in a horrible position to actually complete the lift.

By getting the lats tight and pulling the bar back into your shins, you improve your connection to the bar and keep it in an optimal line of pull.

For more information on getting the lats tight, check out this video:

Take the Slack Out of the Bar

Finally, before we actually lift the bar from the floor, we need to take the slack out of the bar.

Depending on the type of bar you’re lifting with, there could be huge differences in the amount of “flex” the bar has. Your average stiff powerlifting bar has a minimal amount of flex or whip, while specialty deadlift bars have a ton of flex that allows the lifter to get his/her hips higher and into a more optimal alignment before the weight breaks from the floor.

You’ll often see newer lifters who “jerk” the weight to get it started. Not only does this put a tremendous amount of strain on the biceps and lower back, but again, the bar will have a tendency to drift in front of them.

Think about pulling any slack out of the bar before you actually pick it up off the ground. This will make for a smoother and much more efficient deadlift.

How to Deadlift – Performance

Pull Back

Your first move as your break the bar from the floor should be to pull the bar back into your body. Just as you got your lats tight prior to lifting the bar, they need to be engaged hard here as well to keep the bar close to your body.

Think about this – if you were to pick a bag of rock salt off the floor, you wouldn’t put it 1-2 feet in front of your body. You’d get your hips and torso as close to the bag as possible, and then pick it up.

Deadlifting is no different. Keep the bar as close to your body as you can and always think about pulling the bar back into you.

Lead with the Chest, NOT the Hips!

As you lift the weight, you want to keep the lower back flat and the chest up throughout. Ideally, once you’re in this position, your torso never gets closer to the ground.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that when someone lifts a heavy weight their hips shoot up which caves/rounds their chest over. At this point in time you’re totally reliant on your lower back and quadriceps to help you lift the weight, and you’ve put your lower back in a precarious position.

Once you’re deadlifting, think about leading with your chest or upper back. If it moves faster than your hips, you’ll keep your back in a great position and allow yourself to finish the weight safely and effectively.

Finish with the Hips

To finish the deadlift, you want to think about actively squeezing your gluteals (butt muscles) to finish the weight.

Often, people with weak glutes (or strong lower backs), will excessively arch their lower back at the top. This puts a ton of stress on the back.

Instead, focus on squeezing the glutes and driving the hips forward at the top.

To Put the Bar Down, Simply Reverse the Motion

Once you’ve completed a rep, think about reversing the motion to put the bar down. Shift the hips back first, and then bend the knees.

If you bend the knees first, they’ll be in the way and you’ll have difficulty getting the bar back down to the floor.

The Deadlift Variations – Sumo or Conventional?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the lift, it’s time to look at the basic variations. The sumo and conventional deadlift are the most common, so we’ll spend a bit more time on those.

While we cover these two lifts, I’m also going to throw out some characteristics of people who like to pull using each style. While you can use others as a reference, I would really implore you to try both and see what feels best for you!

If your goal is to lift heavy things, you need to find a style that blends great technique, good mechanics, and some degree of comfort.

The Conventional Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is performed with a shoulder/hip width stance. As such the toes are pointed straight forward, or toed out very slightly.

To get into a good starting position, you’ll really have to push the hips back (as compared to a sumo deadlift) to get into the appropriate position.

With a conventional deadlift you’ll tend to have a more inclined torso (relative to the ground) than you would in a sumo deadlift. This will place more shear forces on the lower back, and in general, is more stressful on the back than a sumo deadlift.

Here are some characteristics for people who like to deadlift in a conventional stance:

  • Strong lower back relative to hips.
  • Long arms.
  • Typically, those in heavier weight classes (242 and up) pull conventional, although it could be argued that sumo would be more efficient as they wouldn’t have to fight against their belly to get into the starting position.

The Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is performed with a much wider than hip width stance. When assuming this stance, you’ll need to turn the toes out quite a bit to get into a solid starting position. Ideally, we keep the feet, knees and hips in a straight line throughout, although the toes can be pointed slightly inwards assuming the knees and hips are neutral.

When setting up, you’ll want to use a mixture of pushing your hips back and down. Your hips will start in a lower position, and your chest will be more upright than it would in a conventional deadlift.

While the conventional deadlift is more stressful on the lower back, the sumo deadlift and it’s extreme positioning is typically more stressful on the hips.

Here are some characteristics for people who like to deadlift in a sumo stance:

  • Strong hips relative to their lower back.
  • Shorter arms.
  • High degree of hip mobility (specifically, a high degree of hip rotation).
  • Typically, those in lighter weight classes (220 and lower) pull sumo. A good reason for this (outside of improved mobility and no belly), is the fact that you’ll tend to get more out of a deadlift suit in a sumo deadlift vs. a conventional deadlift. More on this below.

Other Deadlift Variations

Snatch Grip Deadlifts

The snatch grip deadlift is a variation most typically used by Olympic lifters. In this variation, you’ll need a high degree of hip mobility to get yourself down to the bar with a neutral spine.

To set-up place your feet approximately hip or shoulder width apart, with the toes turned out a bit. To grab the bar, you won’t sit back nearly as far as you would on either a conventional or sumo deadlift. Instead sit down and push the knees out, keeping the chest up throughout. Your hands will also grab the bar much wider than usual.

When snatch grip deadlifting, not only will you think about pulling the bar back into you, but when you start the lift think about pushing the knees back to load the hamstrings effectively.

Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts (or RDL’s, for short) are a variation of the traditional deadlift, but instead of lifting the bar from the floor, you’re actually going to start in the top (or finished position). The range of motion will actually be much shorter as well, as the goal is to load and strengthen the glutes and hamstrings.

Set-up with the feet hip width apart and the toes pointed forward. Starting from the top, think about pushing the hips back until you get a stretch in the hamstrings. Once you feel a stretch, drive the hips forward to return to the starting position.

Often, people will bend their knees far too much when performing an RDL. Think about having the knees soft at the beginning of the lift, and once they are soft, they don’t move whatsoever through the rest of the lift. The motion is all through the hips.

Trap Bar Deadlifts

Trap bar deadlifts are a great option for those that want to deadlift, but may not have adequate mobility to deadlift with a straight bar. When using the high handles on a trap bar, almost anyone can get into a neutral spinal alignment, which allows them to deadlift safely and effectively while not excessively stressing their lower back.

The set-up for a trap bar deadlift is identical to the conventional deadlift with the exception being your hands will be facing each other to grab the handles. Performance of this lift is similar as well.

The only word of caution I would mention here is that often people turn this into a quad-dominant, versus hip dominant, exercise. Don’t allow yourself (or those you train!) to get the hips too low or push the knees too far forward. At the end of the day, it’s still a deadlift!

Grip Variations

As mentioned above, there are three variations you can use when deadlifting. Let’s look at each briefly below:

Double-Overhand Grip

The double-overhand grip is the easiest option, especially for those just starting out who aren’t using limit weights.

In a double-overhand grip, both palms will be facing back towards your body.

overhand grip deadlift

Mixed Grip

The mixed-grip is a great option when your lifts are going up. When the weights get heavy, the bar will have a tendency to “roll” out of your hands.

In a mixed grip, one palm will be facing you, while the other palm will be facing away. There is no such thing as a best mixed grip position, so you’ll have to experiment and see what works best for you.

If you’re just starting out, it’s a great idea to switch hand positions every set. An unfortunate side-effect of the mixed grip is that some athletes have torn their biceps tendon.

mixed grip deadlift

Hook Grip

The hook grip is typically employed by Olympic lifters to improve their connection to the bar, although you’re starting to see more and more powerlifters use this variation as well.

In a hook grip, you’re going to tuck your thumb into the bar, and then wrap your fingers around the bar AND your thumb. While this creates an awesome amount of tension, there is one downside: PAIN!

If you’re not used to using a hook grip, I would implore you to ease into it. Your thumbs will thank you!

hook grip deadlifthook grip deadlift

Common Deadlift Flaws and Coaching Cues

Now that we’ve covered the lifts, let’s look at some of the most common deadlifting issues, as well as ways to fix them up!

Horrible Hip Mobility when Setting Up

One of the most common issues you’ll see when setting up is when someone just has flat-out horrible hip mobility and can’t get into the correct starting position.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a short-term fix; Improving your mobility is going to be a long-term process. For starters, I would highly recommend picking up a foam roller. As well, if you haven’t checked out Assess and Correct, I would highly recommend that as well. It will take you through a ton of assessments to determine where your movement limitations are, as well as how to address them in your warm-ups and training.

In the interim, you’ll probably have to substitute either RDL’s or trap bar deadlifts in your programming until your mobility is up to par.

Weak Glutes and Hamstrings when Setting Up

Another common issue with the set-up is not having the posterior chain strength to push back and load the glutes/hamstrings.

Again, this isn’t a quick fix that we can address in one or two workouts. I would highly recommend throwing in RDL’s and good mornings to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, and you may be able to get away with a high handle trap bar deadlift in the interim until you can get your hips back further.

Shins Too Far Away when Setting Up

When setting up, many people start with their shins too far away from the bar. This could be due to one of three reasons:

  1. It’s a mobility-related issue (they don’t have the hip mobility to push back),
  2. It’s a strength-related issue (they don’t have the glute/hamstring strength to push back), or
  3. They simply don’t know to get their shins closer to the bar!

When setting up, you want to think about crowding the bar with your shins. If there’s too much space between your shins and the bar, you’re going to end up squatting the weight up and using your quads versus your glutes and hamstrings.

Leading with the Hips Versus the Chest

When lifting the weight off the floor, the goal is to keep the torso angle relatively constant throughout.

If you start to the lift the weight and your chest caves over and your hips shoot up, you aren’t deadlifting correctly!*

Instead, think of keeping the chest up and back flat throughout. Use the powerful muscles of the legs and hips to get the bar moving, and keep the back in a neutral, rigid position throughout to transfer the power that the legs and hips have to offer.

To fix this issue, I like to use the cue of  “Lead with your chest.” If you are unable to do it, it could be load-related – take some weight off the bar and see if  technique doesn’t improve.

* Keep in mind that during a maximal deadlift, this may not always the be the case. Technique will suffer to some degree on maximal attempts.

The Low Back Rounds

This point coincides really well with the previous one; chances are if your hips shoot up and your chest caves over, you’re going to round through your lower back as well.If this is the case, try the cues I listed above.

This could also be a strength-related issue; some people may have a weak lower back (and therefore can’t hold their arch), or some may be strong in their lower back relative to their hamstrings, and as such want to rely on their lower back to help them hoist the weight.

I’ll discuss weaknesses and assistance lifts below.

The Bar Drifts

When the weights get heavy, the bar is going to have a tendency to drift out in front of the body. This definitely isn’t a good thing, especially when you have a maximal weight in your hands!

Two things will help address this issue:

  1. I cue my clients to engage their lats and pull the bar back into the shins before the lift, and
  2. I cue them to continue pulling the bar back as they actually lift the weight.

When deadlifting, don’t think about picking the bar up – think about pulling the bar BACK.

Finishing with the Lower Back

A final issue you’ll often see is that when someone has weak hips (specifically, the glutes) they will have a tendency to hyper-extend their lower back at the top versus driving their hips through.

If it’s a technique related issue, I like to use the cues of “squeeze the cheeks” or simply “Hips!” as they approach the top.

If it’s a strength related issue, you need to get their glutes stronger.

Accessory Lifts to Fix Your Deadlift

If you have weak glutes and hamstrings, or you struggle getting into the starting position of a conventional deadlift….

The two best exercises to help develop your glutes and hamstrings during the set-up or finish of the lift are Romanian deadlifts (RDL’s) and good mornings.

Romanian deadlifts are fantastic for building up the glutes and hamstrings while keeping the knees relatively fixed. The key here is to set the knees in a “soft” position at the start, and then do not allow them to move any further. The RDL is a hip-dominant lift, so focus on pushing the hips back hard.

Just like the RDL, good mornings will help develop the hip extensor function of the glutes and hamstrings. Technique is essentially the same; with the spine neutral (chest up, chin down, lower back neutral) push the hips back until you get a stretch in the hamstrings.

If you have weak hamstrings, or you struggle getting into the starting position of a sumo deadlift….

If you struggle getting into the appropriate starting position of a sumo deadlift, chances are the knee flexor function of your hamstrings are weak. Try these assistance exercises to help bring them up!

Glute-ham raises are our first and best option. Focus on keeping the stomach and glutes tight throughout, so the hips stay extended.

If you want to learn how to effectively perform the glute-ham raise, check out this video:

Unfortunately, a lot of people either don’t have access to a glute-ham machine, or simply can’t perform the exercise correctly early on. If that’s the case, try ball leg curls instead.

Set-up with your heels on a physioball, then extend your hips by squeezing your glutes. With your hips up in a “bridged” position, pull the ball back towards your buttocks. The whole time you should be focused on keeping your hips up and glutes tight.

If the bar has a tendency to drift away from you at any point in time during the lift…..

When the bar drifts in front of you, this is typically due to weak lat muscles. Start by cuing the lifter to pull the bar back into them; if that doesn’t work, you need to get your latissimus dorsi muscles stronger.

Pull-ups and chin-ups are the best options in this case. Chin-ups are performed with either a neutral grip (palms facing each other) or supinated grip (palms facing you). Pull-ups are performed with a pronated grip (palms facing away).

With the elbows extended, initiate by pulling through the elbows to raise your chest towards the bar. At the top, make your chest/collarbone touch the bar, and actively squeeze your shoulder blades down, like you’re putting them in your back pocket. Hold for a one count, then lower under control to the starting position.

If you’re unable to perform chin-ups/pull-ups in this fashion, you may need to start with a band-assisted version, or possibly use a lat pulldown machine.

If your lower back is weak and has a tendency to get rounded over…

A weak lower back is the nemesis of a big deadlift. If you have a tendency to get rounded over, or let your lower back round, you need to work in exercises that will help you maintain your arch throughout the course of the deadlift.

The best exercises I’ve found for people with weak lower backs are good morning variations. A standard good morning is just fine. Another option (if you have access to a safety bar) is the safety bar good morning.

In this variation, you don’t get to use your upper body and upper back to help aid in stability. Therefore, your trunk muscles (and especially your lower back) are forced to work overtime to help you maintain your arch.

Another more isolative option is the back extension. The key here is not to bend and grind your spine into a fine powder. Instead, focus on keeping a neutral spine position throughout, and drive your hips into the pad hard at the top by squeezing your glutes.

If you miss at the bottom of the deadlift…

If you miss at the bottom of the deadlift, here are several things you can try to improve upon it:

  • Fix your technique! Far too often, people get their hips too low and try to squat the weight up. This isn’t a reverse squat, so don’t treat it as such!
  • Try increasing the ROM on your deadlift. It’s counterintuitive, but standing on plates or mats to increase the length of the pull forces you to get more leg drive out of the bottom. Along those same lines, when you go back to standard pulls, it feels much easier.
  • Use paused low box squats. This is a personal favorite, especially for those of you who miss off the bottom in a sumo deadlift. Use a stance that is similar to your sumo deadlift, and focus on pausing for a full one count on the box. You don’t need to squat too deep; in fact, I like to set the box up about where you would start your deadlift from.
  • Pull against bands and/or chains. While many would think this is only for people who miss at the top, pulling against bands or chains forces you to be aggressive when pulling off the floor.
  • Deadlift with an extra wide stance. Again, if you’re using the sumo deadlift, you could have issues with your hip strength. Try going a bit wider than usual for a month or two and then switch back. You should see an appreciable increase in your strength.

If you miss around the midpoint of the deadlift….

  • Fix your technique! A lot of people who miss around this point never put themselves in an optimal position. Work on getting your hips lower (i.e. more leg drive), forcing your chest up, and get the lats tight to keep the bar in close to your body.
  • Use rack pulls from a mid-shin pin height. Possibly the worst exercise known to man, you have zero leverage when deadlifting from mid-shin. Focus on getting into a great starting position and do not let the bar drift in front of you!
  • Throw in more pull-ups and chin-ups if your lats are weak. This, again, will help you keep the bar in nice and tight throughout your deadlift.
  • Olympic lifting pulls (i.e. snatch-grip or clean-grip deadlifts) with an emphasis on pushing the knees back could help as well. This will help you load the hamstrings to a high degree.
  • Get your lower back stronger with isolative exercises like back extensions or even properly executed reverse hypers.

If you miss at the top of the deadlift…

  • Fix your technique! If you miss at the top and it’s a technical issue, there are a few things to try. Firstly, focus on pushing your hips through sooner. Second, clean-up your starting position. On a max deadlift a subtle rounding of the upper back is fine, but if you’re totally hunched over this is going to leave you in a poor position to finish the lift. Finally, your hips could be weak relative to your lower back.
  • If you have weak hips relative to your lower back, the two best exercises to try are pull-throughs and barbell hip thrusts. This will teach you to finish with your hips (i.e. hip extension) versus arching your lower back (trunk extension). Focus on getting a good squeeze at the top, and finish with your knees, hips and shoulders in a straight line.

Deadlift Gear and Accessories

When you’re ready to step your game up and start lifting heavy stuff, it’s time to talk about deadlifting gear and accessories.

The first is an absolute must-have!

Chalk

Chalking up prior to a heavy deadlift improves your connection to the bar. If you train in a gym that has good equipment (i.e. good bars with a nice knurling), this might not be a big deal. But if you train in a gym that has soft or worn bars, or where the A/C isn’t working in the summer, you realize just how important chalk really is.

If you’re serious about your lifting and your gym doesn’t allow you to use chalk, find a new gym ASAP.

The Belt

The next component of a heavy deadlift is a belt. While there’s been a ton of debate surrounding the efficacy of belt-use, the bottom line is this – if you know how to use a belt, you’ll lift more weight with a belt than without one. Period.

So the question becomes, how do I use a belt? For the deadlift, you may not want the belt cinched to the absolute max. Leave it one hole short.

As you’re setting up and taking your deep breath, think about taking that breath deep down into your belly. When you’re ready to brace, think about pushing out into the belt hard! And keep in mind, this isn’t just pushing out to the front – push your belly out to the front, sides and back. This will maximize your stability.

Deadlift Suits

If you’re going to lift in a geared powerlifting federation, the next thing to discuss is the deadlift suit.

Unfortunately, the gear changes on an almost monthly basis and what is “the best” is largely a function of what federation you lift in, whether you pull sumo or conventional, or what company is sponsoring you!

As a broad overview, most conventional deadlifters get very little carryover out of a deadlifting suit. In fact, many struggle so mightily to get into a good starting position that they forget about using the suit all together and instead opt for a singlet!

In contrast, using a suit in the sumo deadlift can often add quite a bit of weight to the bar. The biggest issue when sumo deadlifting is trying to get down to the bar the same way you would come up. Too often, people round over to grab the bar, and then it’s almost impossible to get into a good starting position.

If you watch many of the Europeans who pull sumo, they will keep the chest up and sit down, pushing the knees out hard. Getting to the bar is very difficult this way, but that’s how you want it! That tension is going to make the start of the pull very easy, while leaving you in a great position to lock out heavy weights.

Footwear for the Deadlift

A common question I get asked is what type of shoe is best for deadlifting?

Unfortunately, there’s no cut-and-dry answer. It really depends on where you’re strong, what style (sumo or conventional) you use, and a host of other factors.

Let’s look at the three options you have.

Flat Soled Shoes (Chuck Taylors, Vibram Five Fingers, Wrestling Shoes, etc.)

Flat soled shoes are a great starting point. All of the above shoes can help you maintain a solid connection with the ground, and they’re probably the easiest to maintain that tripod foot position.

The drawback with these types of shoes is that you will have a tendency to shift your body weight forward, especially if your quads are strong.

Shoes with a Heel (Olympic Weightlifting Shoes, etc.)

In all my year’s training and competing in powerlifting, I’ve only seen a handful of guys actually deadlift in a meet in Olympic shoes. Along those same lines, these same lifters have only pulled conventional, and never in a sumo stance.

This option should be reserved for only the most quad-dominant athletes.

Shoes with a Toe Lift

Shoes with a toe lift have been around for years; I actually started using one back in 2004 and I feel like it made a profound difference in my deadlift.

With a toe lift, your center of gravity is pushed back a bit. If you have a tendency to drift forward, this can make a huge difference in keeping the bar tight to your body and smoothing out your line of pull.

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any company that makes shoes specifically for this purpose. I actually purchased a pair of Nike wrestling shoes, and then took them to a shoe cobbler and had him build me a custom lift.

I would recommend starting with a 1/2″ lift and see how that feels before getting any more extreme.

Two Deadlifting Routines

I know many of you want a deadlifting routine, so here goes.

The Beginner Deadlift Routine

When someone is just starting off, I feel like sets of five are the best way to go. Five reps allows you to figure out where your body is at, get in the groove, and really start to hone your technique. Unless someone is using a trap bar and focusing on fat loss, I rarely (if ever) program more than five reps in a set.

In all honesty, my approach for beginners is incredibly easy and similar to what Mark Rippetoe uses. It’s impossible to describe what weight to start at, as this is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.

However, your goal should be to pull 3 sets of 5 repetitions each workout, while adding weight each set. I’m not big on percentages, but it could look something like this (we’ll assume your predicted 1-repetition maximum is 300 pounds).

180×5

210×5

240×5

The next week, your goal is to add weight to the bar. If your max is under 300 pounds, add 5 pounds to the bar. If your max is over 300 pounds, 10 pounds should be fine.

Once progress starts to stall, or you fail to get 5 reps on your last set, take an easy week, back the weights off a bit, and start the cycle over again. Once you get into the 400-500 pound range, though, you probably need something a bit sexier.

The Intermediate Deadlift Routine

Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 is a huge phenomenon, and for good reason – it’s hard, heavy and basic.

Philosophically, I love Jim’s approach. One thing I’ve personally found, however, is that when many people get stronger, their ability to perform high(er) repetition sets of deadlifts suffers.

Here’s what happens: In order to grind through a heavy set of five, their technique starts to disintegrate. All of a sudden, they’re bouncing their reps, rounding their back, and in general, not executing the lift the way we’d like.

As such, instead of 5-3-1, I modified the 5-3-1 approach into Mike Robertson’s Bastardized 3-2-1 approach to deadlifting.

The progression is largely the same – you’re going to work up over the course of your sets, except instead of doing sets of 5, sets of 3, or sets of 1, you’re going to use 3’s, 2’s and 1’s as the basis of your cycle.

Let’s use a hypothetical maximum of 500 pounds; your first workout could look something like this:

300×3

350×3

400×3

The next workout you’d bump the weights up, and perform doubles – something like this:

325×2

375×2

425×2

The final workout would be the 3-2-1:

350×3

400×2

450×1

You’d deload on the fourth week, and then add 5-10 pounds to your predicted maximum on the next cycle.

Hard, heavy and basic.

Again, giving credit where credit is due, if you haven’t checked it out yet be sure to pick up a copy of Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1. Quite simply, it’s one of the best $20 investments I’ve made in my entire training career.

Deadlifting Modifications

Once you’ve gained an appreciable level of strength, or maxed out your progress on the above routines, feel free to dabble with some of the more advanced deadlifting modifications outlined below.

Keep in mind, however, that these are advanced techniques! If you’re not deadlifting well over 500 pounds (or at least 2x/your bodyweight) stick to the basics for the time being.

Deadlift Against Bands

Deadlifts against bands are an awesome way to improve your speed off the floor, as well as your lockout strength.

As you lift the bar, you’ll get more and more band tension pulling you back down. In other words, you better pull that sucker fast if you want to lock it out!

The only downside to deadlifting against bands is you need a specific set-up to pull this off. This can be done with heavy dumbbells, but it’s easiest if you have a specialized rack with pin holders like the ones from Elite Fitness Systems.

Deadlift Against Chains

Much like deadlifts against bands, pulling against chains will improve your speed off the floor and your ability to lock out heavy weights.

The biggest issues with deadlifts against chains is figuring out where to put the chains. Some people prefer putting them on the outside of the bar, while some who pull sumo  load them up in the middle.

Regardless, deadlifts against chains make for a unique experience, as the chains will have a tendency to pull you forward.

Reverse Band Deadlift

Reverse band deadlifts are a fun option because you get to lockout some seriously heavy weights, and I feel they help from a psychological perspective because you get to see yourself loading up and moving a ton of big iron!

Again, reverse band deadlifts require you to deadlift in a power rack. Most racks will do, but the ones from Elite are obviously ideal as they have specific pin placements and settings for you to attach your bands to.

Summary

So there you have it – absolutely everything I know about deadlifting in one blog post!

It’s taken me quite a bit of time to pull all this together, and I sincerely hope it helps you improve your deadlift.And if that’s the case, I have one small favor to ask…

If you liked this post, please take a moment to help me spread the word – e-mail it to a friend, share it on Facebook, or post the link on Twitter. Any and every little bit helps!

I’ll be back in a week (or maybe two) with the next big piece!

Stay strong

MR

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  • http://www.johnphung.com John Phung

    Bookmarked! This post is something I’ll be coming back and referring to time and time again.

    I gotta try the hook grip next time I deadlift.

    What are your thoughts on using straps for deadlifts?

    • Mike

      I don’t recommend them, personally, but I guess it depends on your goals.

      MR

  • Cillian Hurley

    Absoltuely stunning Post Mike, Once again knocking it out of the park and hitting the nail on the head….Ive never heard the Lead with the chest cue before, so simple but brilliant!

  • http://allentucker.com Allen

    This is how it’s done.

    • Mike

      Bro – why is the “Benefits of Deadlifting” format so jacked up? I’ve already had to fix it like 3 times!

  • http://www.markfisherfitness.com Mark

    EPIC post Mike. Well done!

  • Laura

    Fantastic post, Mike. Thanks.

  • Gabriele

    Beautiful article Mike! So i should breathe only when the bar touches the floor , and hold it when i’m performing the deadlift?

    Thanks

    • Mike

      Yes, especially if the weight is heavy. Trying to “breathe” while lifting will de-stabilize your spine and increase the likelihood of injury.

  • Shawn

    Good Stuff!! I love the Deadlift and will definitely share this on Facebook as a must read.

  • Lance Holman

    I saw the article and thought – cool, deadlifting! Then scrolled to see how long of a read and it kept going and going and going. Holy cow, you gave the whole thing away. My programming is based on your articles, and this article is why I always check in.

    On comment on deadlifting against bands. You don’t need a platform. Clint Darden pulls against short monster minis, saw it there first. Elite FTS also has a short video of pulling against the short monster minis. I have used this technique successfully.

    http://www.flexcart.com/members/elitefts/default.asp?cid=138&m=PD&pid=3255

    Keep up the great work, and consider a pay pal button or other way to take small payments for great articles. I will be reading this one a couple of times.

    • Mike

      Thanks for the link and I’ll definitely consider the Paypal button – great idea!

      MR

    • haakon

      I agree, paypal. best article Ive read about performing an excercise.

  • http://www.nsupps.com/ Brady

    Awesome, AWESOME post!!! Very informative to say the least! Great tips on technique, weaknesses, auxiliary lifts and everything else. I’ll be referring to this regularly. Thanks again for such a great post!

  • steve

    Wow Mike, you want quality, we got your quality right here. This is worth a month of posts! But keep ‘em coming anyway…

  • Kevin Rudolphi

    Great post Coach! Keep them coming!

  • Mike

    Great article! I’ve read a lot of articles on DLing (since I know I do them wrong and injure myself) and this is the first one that I actually figured out some things that I need to work on.

    Also, I’m guessing that in your section for addressing weaknesses that this sentence “If you have hamstrings, or you struggle getting into the starting position of a sumo deadlift….” that the first part should say “If you have weak hamstrings”.

    • Mike

      Absolutely – I’ll try and get my web guy to fix that up as I don’t want to jack the code up ;)

  • http://www.bridgefit.co.uk Steve

    Top quality read, wil use this as my deadlift reference for sure.

  • Joe Giandonato

    This is a BEAST of a resource! Thanks Mike!

    Joe

  • Pat

    Just want you to know this article is greatly appreciated! My coach is a great Mike Roberts fan and told me I needed to read this because of how comprehensively you addressed the topic. I’m going for a new PR at an upcoming meet and will put your words of wisdom to work!

  • matt cav

    Amazing article! Thanks for all the great info.

  • Amy

    What an amazing blog. Thanks Mike! I just learned how to DL with a trainer and am up to my bodyweight. Excited to get stronger.

  • http://allenperformancetraining.wordpress.com Kasey

    Wow, Mike. This is simply fantastic and I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with all of us. The deadlift is so misunderstood, and it’s invaluable to have a top coach such as yourself giving away his entire knowledge base on the lift.

    You weren’t joking about stepping up the quality of content! Not like it wasn’t already great!

    Thanks again,
    Kasey

  • rajesh

    mike great article, this is like encyclopedia of deadlift !!!

    few queries regarding deadlift.

    I see lot of guys bouncing the weight while going for reps in deadlift, i feel thats a wrong approach… what is your thought on this..

    what is the different progression do you follow on deadlift for someone who wants to bring up is deadlift.

    • Mike

      No, I don’t like people bouncing on the deadlift either.

      And for bringing up the deadlift, I outlined the assistance exercises and programs I use at the end of the article – be sure to check them out.

  • jerry

    when trying to keep the neck in neutral position while deadlifting, where do you recommend focusing your eyesight throughout the entire movement?

    • Mike

      Chin down/neck neutral but the eyes or gaze is UP, like looking through the eyebrows.

  • mick

    great post!!,
    ive been told that i initiate my deadlift through the upperbodyas opposed to my hips but my back remains neutral……..so the angle at my hips actually increases at the begining of my lift…..is this something that i should correct?

  • Mike Terborg

    Mike…I’m very grateful for your willingness to share your knowledge so generously. How do you coach your athletes to complete a rep? For example, to complete a rep, are you totally resetting on the ground before your next lift, or do you maintain tension on the bar but tap the ground (or some other was to transition from the ground up)?

    • Mike

      No tapping – stay tight, let the momentum break, and then start the next rep.

  • Jesse

    One of the best blog posts I think I’ve ever read. I feel like I should have paid for the amount of info that was presented here!
    Thanks for all that you do Mike!

  • Chris

    Teaching someone to perform the valsalva maneuver to lift…thats new to me…pretty much against everything the medical profession teaches. what happened to abdominal bracing with the TA and obliques, not enough? Is this a new thing being taught, im sort of confused.

    • Mike

      I’m 99% sure this has to be a joke after this weekend’s presentation, but I don’t care what the medical community teaches. Look at what the best athletes in the world do – not a single-one is doing a draw-in while they squat, deadlift, hit an implement, etc.

      Try lifting anything heavy while “breathing” and drawing in your TVA is a sure-fire way to have your spine buckle under load.

      Check out Stu McGill’s stuff – he actually works with real athletes that get paid based on their performance.

  • Gabi

    Holy crap, this article is AMAZING! You weren’t kidding when you said this was your best post ever. I’m printing it out for quick reference at work and bookmarking it as well.

  • http://www.hardgainermusclebuilding.com/blog Brandon Cook

    Awesome post Mike! This is rivaling Eric Cressey’s Mastering the Deadlift article series. He’s gonna be pissed! lol :)

  • http://www.FlemingtonBootCamps.com Marie

    wow! Thank you for sharing so much quality information! I learned so much and will refer to it again. Thank you again, Mike.

  • Ali

    Incredible article! Makes me want to pick heavy shit up and put it back where i found it! Now i might at least do it with proper technique too. Inspirational post. Answered a lot of questions. Thanks so much!

    ps fancy doing a similar piece of squatting? ;)

    • Mike

      Yeah this will be a series – thanks!

      MR

  • Maurizio Paolini

    WOW!!!This is not a post but a FANTASTIC deads article…..to say that I learned a lot from this one is an understatement….BTW I heard rumours that you have new projects with the great Eric Cressey….any anticipations?…..:-)

  • Kyle

    Hey Mike,

    I read EFS, T-nation, close to 50 blogs in Google Reader, and as many books as I can get my hands on. Of all the material I’ve read, free or paid for, this is without a doubt the best one ever. I hope you put as much time into a the squat and bench articles as you did this one.

    I’ve recently been missing my deadlifts really close to lock out and spent a good deal of time reading all of Bret Contreras’ articles on glute strength, so I was very happy to see you mention hip thrusts as the best way to remedy this.

    Anyways, truly awesome article Mike. Thanks for all the information in a logical way. The part that is missing from so many articles is a clear, “these are the best choices” part. I loved that you outlined what causes you to miss where and how to fix it.

    • Mike

      Thanks Kyle! Very much appreciated!

      And yes, those are coming soon – going on vacation today but I already have both outlined for when I get back!

  • http://fredarn.com Fredrik Gyllensten

    Great post Mike, the best deadlift article I’ve ever read! :)

  • http://www.lasvegaschallenge.blogspot.com/ Vik

    an excellent article and glad I found this as I followed some of the tips here and 120kg felt very light yesterday,

    Thank you so much as I was starting to struggle when I reached 110kg

  • JN, SPT

    How does tilting your chin up/head back decrease glute and hamstring activation? Due to the anterior pelvic tilt ?

    • Mike

      Yes exactly – I describe this in the neutral neck video. Be sure to check it out!

  • http://fredarn.com Fredrik Gyllensten

    Mike: What’s your thought on using deadlift variations for olympic weightlifters.

    Obviously there can be a lot of factors to consider here, but just in general; what’s your thoughts deadlifts for weightlifters?

  • http://fredarn.com Fredrik Gyllensten

    Mike: What’s your thought on using deadlift variations for olympic weightlifters.

    Obviously there can be a lot of factors to consider here, but just in general; what’s your thoughts on deadlifts for weightlifters?

  • Scott

    Great post – I have bookmarked it and sent to my friends. I would like to get to your gym some day for training and instruction!

    • Mike

      Thanks Scott! Much appreciated!

  • http://www.aaronswansonpt.com Aaron

    Amazing post! The cue to lead with the chest and to maintain a neutral spine beyond the lumbopelvic region will help prevent many sore backs and necks.

    This is a must read for anyone performing or prescribing the deadlift.

  • http://www.drillsetc.com Hockey Coach

    The level of detail in your posts is awesome. The videos are extremely helpful too. Thanks for the great information.

  • http://starfactoryfitness.com Conor

    Love the post, love the videos. I do have a question though. I’m curious about the use of platforms, especially when the lifter is on the platform. To me it seems like the exact same thing as dead lifting off the floor. Sorry if this is a stupid question, I’d just like someone with a knowledgable background to explain it to me.
    Conor

  • james phillips

    What do you think of this deadlift?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kR1G9Sw_j5w

  • http://Crossfittriplethreat.com Amber

    Mike,

    Awesome post!
    Thank yiu!

  • Mark

    This is still my go-to resource when my deadlift needs tweaking. Just a great post with awesome cues.

    • Mike

      Thanks Mark! Very much appreciated!

  • Demi Goodman

    I absolutely LOVE,LOVE to deadlift!!!! You and Eric are two of my favorite guys to reference for quality information! Thank you, once again for a great article!

    I can tell my strength has gone through the roof. My bench, my squats, Im even doing weighted pull ups. And I’m not getting bigger, just stronger and more defined. I cant recommend enough lifting heavy as a great way for women to get that “strong is the new skinny” look! :-)

  • Peter Mosher

    Mike, I am 40 years old started powerlifting in 2010. I deadlift sumo stance. I hit 500 pound pr last year. I have two questions first you mentioned “Unless someone is using a trap bar and focusing on fat loss, I rarely (if ever) program more than five reps in a set”; what does a weight loss program based in deadlifting look like. I hit my pr at 275 walk around at 290 at 5’5″, I have a toddler and a newborn so gym time is a premium. Coworkers loosing weight by walking and give me grief for being heavy and lifting heavy. Want to prove them wrong! Secondly, my squat pr is 550 from what I know most people have heavier deadlifts than squats does this mean anything that I am reverse of the norm. Great post glad I found it! Reposting on Facebook.

  • John C. Vesey

    Hi–I am a great fan of yours and the information you give to us amateurs. I need some advice re equipment. Specifically, I plan to buy a trap/shrug barbell for deadlifts but need some suggestions as to who makes the best equipment. I would appreciate your thoughts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hanibal.lecter Martin Ponce

    Great way to explain all the DL, awesome!!

    Greetings from Mexico!!!!

  • john

    i was looking through a lot of your material in reference to deadlift injuries, and i wanted to know why am i tweeking my adductors or hamstrings when lowering the bar. i have powerlifted for many years, but have not been consisted with my training for the past year and a half.

  • Mark Brostman

    Mike,
    What is your take regarding tall athletes and deadlifts? I feel as if the lift can be completely different depending on the starting depth…

    • Mike

      It can, but this can also be used as a cop-out. I have athletes 6’9″ and taller that can trap bar from the floor, but that’s only because I’ve made mobility, stability and proper movement a focus of their programming.

  • http://www.bonytobeastly.com Shane

    This is a great resource. I’ve noticed it harder and harder to do sets of 5 reps as I’ve gotten stronger and now I finally understand why! (Or at least know that it’s normal.)

    Thanks Mike :)

  • Saul V.

    Thank you Mike for this truly comprehensive article on deadlifting. I particularly like your recommendation: “When deadlifting, don’t think about picking the bar up – think about pulling the bar BACK.”

    Your comment “Use rack pulls from a mid-shin pin height. Possibly the worst exercise known to man, you have zero leverage when deadlifting from mid-shin” is so true. As a beginner, I was practising deadlifting for months in a special squat box (logistic problem at the gym) that does not allow the weights to touch the ground. When I finally had the occasion to practice from the ground -contrary to my expectation- I could easily lift 50 pounds more than the week before. I did not realize until then -and you confirm it- that I had been practicing the hard way.

  • steve

    Mike,

    Don’t know if you’ll get this or not, but on your DL version of the 531 program, are you still shooting for max reps on the last set?

    • Mike

      Nope – I just worked up to a single and that was it.

      MR

  • Kevin Matthews

    Great article. I was left wondering after one part though. You state “Once progress starts to stall, or you fail to get 5 reps on your last set, take an easy week, back the weights off a bit, and start the cycle over again. Once you get into the 400-500 pound range, though, you probably need something a bit sexier.” I currently pull around a 405 5RM, and I weigh 185. I’ve been doing Wendler’s for over a year and I’m starting to stall on my Deadlift. Wendler suggests as you do; back of the weight and start the cycle again. Can you clarify the part about “… something a bit sexier”?

    • Mike

      You probably need a program that more specifically addresses your weaknesses and/or limitations.

  • Jack

    Mike,
    awesome article. I read it the second time and found myself described in some parts.

    Are kettlebell swings an option for strengthen the hips, glutes and hamstrings?

    • Mike

      Jack – KB swings are a great option for bringing up those muscle groups, as well as the deadlift.

  • Ron

    I have a problem and am hoping you could help me out with, I ‘m 6.0 feet tall with long legs and average torso. I perform conventional dead lifts.
    I am constantly working to make sure my form is correct, I watch deadlift, videos over and over again to make sure form is proper . I started lifting with light weights to perform them correctly moving up the weights progressive style, my rep range is 2 sets 1-5 reps once I hit 5 reps I move up 5 pounds, RPT style top set max effort 2nd set 10% lighter.
    I never had any problems before until like 3 weeks ago, I hit 265 and on my 2nd rep I felt this sharp pain on the topside on my right hip joint during the lockout, i didn’t hyper-extend my back either but my left hand grip started to fade.
    last week looking for a 2nd best alternative to the dead lifts I tried out rack pulls, I stretched my hips and lower back which i never did before then I set the racks right below my knees and proceeded to lift I did pretty well with not too much pain and was able to lift 265 for 5 reps but once again my left hand grip was fading bad even with a strap on it.
    Today once again I tried out conventional lift and did 1 rep for 270 and my left hand grip was fading badly, so for awhile during the lift my right hand was carrying most of the burden until i hit the lockout. and the hip pain was aggravated once again.
    The pain is in the right hip joint and is radiating to that crease on the side separating the hip and torso, this has me really bum out I love doing the dead lift and wouldn’t want to use an alternate move, any help or advise?
    Thanks!

  • Fred Mok

    great stuff

  • Paul Bruce

    Great article. This does the amazing movement justice.

    How should the deadlift be implemented into a functional mass/strength program? In order to maximize muscle and strength gains, should the deadlift be done on the same day as other pulling exercises? Other lower body exercises? Or should hip-dominant movements be given their own day?

    Thanks,

    Paul

  • Sebastian Seed

    Interesting article but the bit about neutral neck is confusing as in the video on neutral neck the athlete is looking straight down(keeping his neck straight) but in the deadlifting videos the athlete is looking forward (neck is not straight when they are at the bottom position but curved so they are looking forward).

    Which one is the correct/safe form? Sorry if that’s a silly question – i’ve just started this exercise and I am not too sure about it.

    Thanks

  • Jon Keyser

    Love this article!
    After all this neutral spine talk I have one question though. Should we also focus on contracting the erector spinae before lifting?
    I have followed Kelly Starret with screwing feet into ground and ribs down. Then you’re basically all in neutral, with no focus on the erector spinae. But we do get a lot of stability from toracolumba fascia when tightening up the glutes, lats, abs etc.
    When I read from Bret Contreras, he recommend something in the middle as far as I recall. Not totally neutral in other words.
    So, whats the take? Focus on tighten the erector spinae as well? Or do we rely more on the tightening of fascia with lat/glute/ab – contraction and stay in neutral?

    Best
    Jon Keyser

  • https://www.gripped.com.au/ David

    Lovely article there i love Gripped weight lifting belts and have love the techniques which you shared. loved them all.Thanks for sharing this