Written by Chad Wesley Smith
Cover Photo by 9for9 Media
The deadlift in some ways is the simplest exercise: just pick the bar up off the floor! But in other ways, it the most complex, as it is the most taxing to the CNS and the technique varies the greatest from athlete to athlete based upon individual leverages.
Here are some key technical points for the conventional deadlift:
1. Stance width will vary from athlete to athlete based upon individual body types, limb proportions and strengths/weaknesses but a good starting point is where the athlete would do a vertical jump from.
2. Bar placement in relation to the shin will also be pretty individual based upon the athlete’s size but a good rule of thumb is to have the bar covering the knot in your shoelaces (or where that knot would be if you’re barefoot). Bigger lifters may move the bar a bit farther away from themselves, while smaller lifters may have it a bit closer. Rolling the bar in during the setup is a popular move (ala Benedikt Magnusson), especially among larger lifters and for thicker-waisted lifters it may be necessary to get into a good starting position. Just understand with this type of dynamic move is another thing to think about/screw up in your technique, so weigh the risk/reward for yourself.
3. Grip width is a bit individual as well. You want it set just outside your legs so that your hands don’t scrape up your legs during the pull. Larger athletes may need to set their hands a bit wider, and this will also force you to get your hips down a bit more and make it easier to get your chest through/shoulders back at lockout. Improve your grip strength by giving the bar an indian burn, this will dig the bar into your hands and lessen the chance of dropping a heavy dead.
4. Hip height/shin angle is yet another individual characteristic of the deadlift start, controlled by limb length and ankle mobility. Your shins may not be quite vertical at the start of the pull due to mobility limitations, but you should strive to get as much of your weight behind the bar as possible and have your shoulders directly over, or even slightly behind the bar. This position will put everyone’s hip in a different place.
5. Creating tension in the start position is critical to a big pull. Think about externally rotating your feet into the ground (screw your feet into the ground), flexing the glutes and hamstrings as you pull yourself down into position. Pack your neck, flex your triceps, pull slack out of the bar and engage your lats (protect your armpits). Draw big air into your core (breathe into your low back). Now you’re ready to pull.
6. Initate the pull from the floor by driving your shoulders up and back as if you are driving them into the bar during a squat. This, plus an aggressive driving of the feet into the floor as if you’re trying to jump up and backwards, will generate speed from the floor.
7. Avoiding bar drift throughout the lift. This is particularly critical when the bar is around knee height. Make sure to flex your lats hard and think about pulling the bar up and back into the body, the bar shouldn’t drag up the body, as this will increase friction, but needs to stay as close to the body as possible.
8. As the bar passes the knees and you approach lockout, many people want to throw their head back. Avoid this for two reasons, 1-this will lengthen the distance to lockout and 2-it will shut off your glutes which are the prime muscles needed for lockout. Keep your head neutral or even tuck your chin down as you lockout.
9. Toe position can influence starting strength and lockout ability. Straighter toes improve the lockout, while a more toe-out position will improve power from the floor but reduces it at lockout as it is harder to fully engage the glutes in a toe-out position.
10. People often want to get extremely aggressive during the deadlift and of course aggression can enhance your strength, but you need to learn how to have a controlled rage to allow your body to stay long and fast during the pull while also creating tension through the body and being forceful. Like Rage Against the Machine says, “Calm Like A Bomb”.
Now of course there are more nuances to the deadlift than this and you will need to learn your body’s own leverages and strengths to develop YOUR technique but these 10 guidelines should get you off to a great start.
Check out this video by Dr. Quinn Henoch to improve your warmup before a big deadlift session: