If you have any interest at all in strength training then you would have likely heard of the deadlift, but getting the proper deadlift form nailed down isn’t the easiest of tasks.
Possibly the very best example of a weight training exercise – and one of three powerlifting moves along with the squat and the bench press, since it sees you lifting up a weight from the ground and placing it back down – the deadlift is often regarded as “the king of lifts.”
If you’ve not tried them before, then it could be because you’re worried you’re going to sustain an injury. And this would be a very valid thought, since it is genuinely possible to cause harm to yourself if you don’t perform deadlifts correctly. In fact, physiotherapist David Hall has come out and said they’re not appropriate for “most people.”
We’re inclined to disagree with David’s comments, however, as the deadlift is a fantastic full body exercise to perform. As Coach Mag says, “the deadlift will strengthen every bone in your body, challenge every muscle across your posterior chain (all the muscles that run from your neck to your heels) and test your grip strength and core stability to the absolute max.” If that’s not a glowing review then we don’t know what is.
So, how do you perform a deadlift – correctly? Every fitness expert and influencer under the sun will likely have a tutorial video, but in our experience, many of these can actually vary. So when we stumbled across American fitness coach Davis Diley’s easy-to-follow tutorial, we felt it our duty to share it because it’s easily the best deadlift tutorial we’ve seen.
In his video, Davis breaks the deadlift down into several steps, all of which you need to make sure you follow if you want to perform the deadlift correctly.
- Approach the barbell, standing with your feet under the bar and your shins about an inch away from it. Turn your toes out ever so slightly and ensure your feet are the same width you would use for a standing vertical jump. Usually this is just your natural standing position.
- Hinge at the hips to bend down and grab the barbell. Don’t push your knees forward at all. Instead, you should keep them in the same position as when you were standing. To help with this portion of the movement, you can visualise sitting down in a chair. Grab the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width and with an overhand grip. Some people like to have one hand in an overhand grip and the other in an underhand grip. This can help you to lift a greater weight, but having both in an overhand position will target your muscles more, making it the best hand position to use. If you need to decrease the weight to achieve the lift in this stance, that’s perfectly fine.
- With the barbell in your hands you can now bend your knees forward and drop your hips down, until your shins are touching the bar.
- Step four is perhaps the most crucial. After following steps 1 – 3, you’ll find your back has an arch in it. You now need to flatten it to help ensure your entire body has the strength and the stability to lift the bar up. To do this, push your belly down between your legs and lock your shoulder blades down. Your neck should be in a straight position too; don’t look out in front of you but instead, focus on something down towards the ground. From here, push your knees out so that they are touching your forearms.
- Time to lift. With steps 1 – 4 covered, and your body in a solid position, you now want to push up and lift the barbell. Ensure it stays touching your legs the entire time through the duration of the lift. When viewed from the side, the barbell should go up and down in a straight vertical motion. At the top of the lift, push your hips forward towards the bar to squeeze your glutes, as well as your chest. You should also be forcing your shoulders back behind you.
- Lower the bar back down in the exact reverse of step 5, i.e. keep it touching your legs throughout, hinge at the hips and bend your knees slightly forward.
Some other tips to help with your deadlift can include performing a block pull instead. This sees you perform a deadlift in the exact same way as mentioned, but instead of lifting the bar from off the floor, you have the barbell perched on some plate weights or small platforms. This decreases the distance that you need to lift and can make it easier for those with mobility issues.
If you’re completely new to the deadlift, the block pull is a great way to become accustomed with the movement pattern.
What Are Some Deadlift Variations?
The deadlift doesn’t just have to be performed with a barbell. Instead, you can perform it using dumbbells or kettlebells, holding one in each hand. You would follow the exact same set of steps as the ones mentioned.
There are other variations such as the sumo deadlift, with is performed using a single kettlebell held with two hands (or a barbell, but a kettlebell is easier), but the movement pattern is slightly different. For this, your feet need to be wider apart (like a sumo wrestler getting ready to battle) and your knees bent more. Keep your upper body upright and grab the kettlebell with two hands and push up until you’re in a standing position.
The Romanian deadlift places greater focus on the legs and the hamstrings in particular, making it a worthy addition to any leg workout. It can be viewed as easier than the conventional deadlift because you don’t necessarily need to employ a heavy load in order for it to be effective.
The Romanian deadlift starts in a standing position with a barbell held in your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Then, slowly lower the weight towards the floor, keeping the bar touching your body the whole time and hinging at the hips. Similar to the deadlift, you don’t want to bend your knees too much, because this will then become more of a squat and decrease the amount of tension placed on the hamstrings.
Once the bar is low enough for you to feel a stretch in your hamstrings (usually around the time the bar reaches the middle of your shins), drive the barbell back up and push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes.
Performing these variations of the deadlift can help to correct any imbalances in your body which are required to perform a conventional deadlift.