Perfecting The Deadlift
Considered by many in and around the fitness world to be one of the body’s most primal movements, deadlifting has been around since the cavemen were ruling. It doesn’t look to be the most complicated of movements, but don’t be fooled; the deadlift works every muscle group in the body. The glutes, hamstrings, and lower back are the most targeted areas with it being a hip-dominant exercise. The quads, abdominals, upper back, arms, forearms, and shoulders are also worked and tested whilst performing this fantastic full body exercise. Deadlifts are also known for injury prevention; they strengthen so many muscle groups deadlifts prevent injury in the knees, hips, ankles, and lower back. Deadlifts engage your lower back and the supporting muscles around the waist and hips responsible for correct posture.
This exercise isn’t just a fantastic calorie burner, it also boosts the production of beneficial hormones – testosterone and growth hormone (chemicals that make it easier to lose fat, build muscle, and even fight disease.) Basically a wicked exercise that works the lot!
Ok, so you’re probably ready to get lifting? Whilst we’re happy you’re keen to get started we’re also well aware of the dangers you face whilst performing this technical exercise. We are however here to help with a step-by-step run through of deadlift variations & solutions to common mistakes made when performing it.
Disclaimer: while the deadlift is a fantastic move to add to your routine, this exercise places direct force on the spine. Anyone with back issues (or suspected back issues) such as sciatica or herniated discs should seek medical clearance first.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, toes facing straight with your feet either parallel or slightly onward (not wider than 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock). The balls of your feet should be under and lined up under the bar with your shins no more than an inch away from the bar. The weight is completely up to you, but start low and you can always add more for the next set.
- With slightly bent knees and hands gripping the bar just outside the legs, hinge forward from your hips to correct start position. With the bar still close to your shins, your head up, chest high, and keeping a neutral spine (flat back). Take a deep breath.
- Push your weight through your heels and not your toes, exhale as you work to begin to straighten the legs and force the chest as high as possible. Finish by thrusting the hips into alignment with the feet and squeeze the glutes. Contracting the muscles in the butt will complete the movement by bringing the pelvis into a neutral position.
- Pause for a second at the top.
- Maintaining that neutral spine, slowly hinge forward at the hips whilst bending the knees a little as you go until you reach the floor. That’s one rep down, 11 to go!
Romanian Deadlift or Stiff Legged Deadlift
No, it’s not just for Romanians. This deadlift is performed with much straighter legs. The legs stand soft, not completely locked but nowhere near as bent as they were in the conventional deadlift. Keeping them soft and not totally locked is to avoid injuries in the knee. You don’t need to touch the ground in between reps on this one but be mindful as the lower back bears much more weight.
Again, you don’t have to look like a sumo wrestler to complete this exercise, it’s recommended for you all. In this variation you adopt a much wider stance than in the conventional kind. This kind of deadlift requires much more mobility despite sometimes feeling more natural to lifters (perhaps you need to work on your flexibility?). As a result of taking the wider stance your hands now fit on the inside of your legs. Again, because of the wider stance different muscles are targeted to the conventional deadlift – the quads, hip adductors and glutes will work much more here so this is the one for those “beach perfect legs”.
Snatch Grip deadlift
The snatch grip deadlift is fundermentally the same movement as the conventional deadlift, the only difference being the grip. The grip is much wider. It should be as wide as you feel comfortable, but start with less weight than you may use for the conventional deadlift, since this variation targets different muscles again, mainly in the upper back. The hips end up lower as a result of the wider hand placement (but aim to keep the shoulders higher that the hips and the hips higher than the knees from the beginning). Perfecting the snatch grip deadlift depends very much on flexibility in the shoulders and wrists and can be much harder for those of you with shorter arms.
Don’t have a barbell to hand? Not to worry, dumbbells are fine. Failing that still, don’t be afraid the whip out a couple of tins of baked beans. Little weight is better than no weight. The movement here is much the same as the conventional deadlift apart from your hand positions. Drop your hands beside your legs instead of in front. If you’re feeling extra enthusiastic then lose a leg. Not literally, just try a single legged dumbbell deadlift.
Solutions to the most common mistakes made when deadlifting
Mistake – You could fit another person between you and the bar
Solution – The bar being close to the body deadlifting may enhance your performance and minimize risk of injury. To make sure your bar isn’t too far away roll it close to your shins. It shouldn’t touch the body but you shouldn’t be able to fit more than two fingers between you and the bar.
Mistake – Looking like Durdle Door
Solution – For those of you that don’t know what this is do a Google search for it. It’s a massive archway in the middle of the sea on the South West coast of England. If you have an arched back when deadlifting then you MUST stop and regroup. Focusing on your chest being high often fixes this common mistake. Often people find keeping their eye on a spot high on the wall in front of them helps stay in alignment.
Mistake – Pulling not pushing
Solution – Pulling with the back is not the way to get the bar off the ground and can cause injury. We suggest lowering the weight right down and concentrate on pushing the weight through your heels before adding weight back on.
Mistake – Rolly shoulders
Solution – Rolling the shoulders when you reach the top of the deadlift can be properly damaging – the shoulders are the most stable joints - especially when put under strain by heavy weights. Next time you’re at the top of a deadlift try not to force your chest high because it will push the shoulder blades together. The only time you should concentrate on the chest being high on the way up.
Best way to ensure your deadlift is 100% perfect
The deadlift is an extremely beneficial exercise but one that needs time dedicated. It can be great but can also be the cause of injury when done incorrectly. If, after this article you’re still unsure on your technique you should ask a professional. Your local gym will have qualified personal trainers working within it and they’re always happy to help. Expertrain.com is home to personal trainers working freelance and available to you. Find a personal trainer near you.