Deadlifts are a make or break exercise, the physical benefits of training them properly are huge, however they are also easy to get wrong without proper instruction/knowledge. They are designed to strengthen your lower back muscles to support your spine, not stress it.
In this article I have put together a compilation of my own thoughts alongside some of the best deadlift resources I have come across from various strength coaches.
Benefits of Deadlifting
- Great for Strengthening/developing posterior chain muscles, mainly: Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower back
- Improve Sports Performance: Run Faster, Accelerate Quicker, Jump Higher, Jump Further (all due to development of posterior chain function & improved power of hip extension)
- Prevent Injury: Glutes and hamstrings play a vital role in knee and lower back health as. With regards to knee health, strong glutes and hamstrings can help prevent injuries. Many injuries are due to disproportionate strength between muscles groups, hamstrings and lower back often ignored whilst quads & abs get all the attention. A strong posterior chain can help keep your back healthy as well. The deadlift position is the strongest/safest way to lift a weight from the floor (whether it's a dumbbell, barbell or heavy furniture).
How to Deadlift
The Set Up
- Grip Options: Double overhand used when lifting below 80% of max. Anything over this use a mixed grip if the bar is slipping. A mixed grip means having one overhand and one underhand, make sure this does not twist your posture in the set up position.
- Foot Width - to determine you optimal foot position for max power output set your feet up ready to do a max vertical jump, this is usually also the optimal starting foot position for your deadlift.
- Shins close to bar - Bar shouldn't be in front of toes (vertically) at any point in exercise
- Tripod foot pressure: Pressure balanced between big toe, little toe & heel
- Hips pushed back: Push your hips back as you lower yourself down to the bar. Do not simply squat down. You want to push your hips back (helping load your glutes and hamstrings) 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.
- Big breath to create high intra-abdominal press: Take a deep breath into your belly. This will activate your diaphragm, and increase intra-abdominal pressure. Don’t try to breathe in and out during the lift phase if you’re going to go relatively heavy, you need to take a deep breath and hold it to keep your spine stable and lower back healthy until you get to the top where you can exhale and take another breath.
- Maintain/Achieve neutral spine: Compress ribs slightly down and hips up at front without hunching upper back or rounding lower back. If your back is flat there should not be an exaggerated arch in lower back and no/minimal flexion (curve) in upper or lower back in the set up or during the rep. Head/neck should also be neutral & not arched back.
- Keep bar close as possible to body throughout lift.
- Lead lift with Chest, not hips: Starting lift by popping hips up will round the lower back putting it in a compromised position.
- Finish with hips: Squeeze glutes driving hips forwards at top, do not excessively arch lower back (typical fault for people with weak glutes)
- The descent: To put bar down, initiate movement with hips pushing back before bending knees or they will get in the way on way down.
- If you are struggling with your mobility/flexibility I encourage you to spend some time fixing your movement restrictions before doing a conventional barbell deadlift. In the mean time you can use the trap/hex bar deadlift variation. Staying only with this type of deadlift will lead to good quad development but sub optimal glute & hamstring development compared to the conventional deadlift.
- Use flat soled footwear when possible for deadlifting
Putting it into Practice
The Video below shows one of my client performing her 5 reps max deadlift, despite her being at her max weight note how well she holds her back position together throughout the lift.