The Deadlift is one of the Big Three compounds that work on so many muscles in the human body, including the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, lats, and forearms, to mention a few. As such, it is tagged as the King of Lifts, and rightfully so.
It works on the whole posterior chain, improves core stability, tightens grip strength, and achieves a balanced physique – both on the front and rear sides. Be it done in a conventional or sumo form, the deadlift aids in endurance sports, increases bone density, promotes muscle hypertrophy, and enhances vertical jump performance.
Overall, you may not have to do it every single day, but the deadlift definitely deserves a spot in your training program.
Good things aside, the deadlift comes with a caveat. As it places a brunt of the work on the lower back, this movement is notorious for causing back injuries when executed with poor form.
Fortunately, this article will have you fully guided on the ins and outs of deadlifting, its variations and alternatives, common mistakes to avoid, and most importantly, how to execute the deadlift properly and safely to maximize your strength injury-free.
How To Deadlift
What You’ll Need:
- Barbell (at least 10 lbs) – Deadlift is a movement of volume, which is why it is important to have the Barbell with a bit of weight on it. Using a loaded barbell, you can learn how to find your grip and how to position your foot correctly. Note: always wear a Deadlift Shin Guard for safer weightlifting. If you are experiencing wrist injuries or wrist pain, a Wrist Wrap will provide you with the wrist protection you need for lifting.
- Dumbbell – A pair of dumbbells is a good alternative to barbells for deadlifting at home. It can be a bit more challenging given the need to stabilize the dumbbells in each arm but could bring you great benefits nevertheless.
Step 1: Find your foot positions and barbell grip
The conventional deadlift requires a hip-width foot distance with the arms just outside the shoulders, while the sumo deadlift has a wider stance with the grip width parallel to the shoulders. Position your midfoot under the bar regardless of the deadlift type. The overhand grip is applied for lighter weights, while the mixed grip is applicable for a heavier load.
Step 2: Bend to grip the barbell
Keep a neutral position on the spine and your arms strong, steady, and straight. Begin to lean forward to reach the Barbell with the shins nearly touching the bar. Aim for a slight hip hinge rather than a squat-like position to keep your shoulders, back, and forearms intact and your body closer to the bar at a safe gap.
Step 3: Lock your arms in place and brace your core
As you lock in your grip, raise your chest to activate your lats. Brace your core by taking a deep breath as you prepare for the lift. Remember to keep your glutes towards the ground and your chest towards the roof. Pulling the slack out of the bar will help activate the right muscle groups and make your deadlift smooth and not sloppy.
Step 4: Lift the bar from the ground
Plant your feet firmly on the ground and your arms straight and elbows locked. Use leg drive to push the ground from underneath as you lift the bar. Think of the bar as an extension of your arms instead of a separate entity being pulled upwards. Look at the deadlift as a “pushing the ground” movement instead of “pulling from the ground.”
Step 5. Reach for hip extensions
As the bar passes your knees, push your hips forward and lock out the movement using your glutes. You can also try applying the techniques “rip the bar from the ground” and “hump the bar” to achieve a more explosive movement.
Which Deadlift Grips are Ideal For You?
Double Overhand Grip
With the palm of the hands facing inwards or towards your body, the double overhand grip is ideal for beginners and when lifting light loads. This grip mimics the motion of lifting an object from the ground, preferably with a handle or sufficient space for the fingers to clasp the object properly and safely. This grip style can be done on both conventional and sumo deadlifts.
This grip shows a combination of overhand and underhand, with one hand facing outward and the other facing inward. This grip is ideal for heavyweights as the underhand assists from the other end of the bar. Which hand goes over and what goes under boils down to personal preference. There is no one right way of doing it.
The mixed grip shows a great advantage, especially when doing a big weight jump on the deadlift. However, remember to switch hands regularly when deadlifting with the mixed grip so as to prevent the development of muscular imbalance.
The hook grip technique is applied to the overhand grip to enable a heavier load. By wrapping your thumb under your fingers, your grip is more secured in place and acts as natural lifting straps. It could even improve your starting position and let you lift more than you thought. This grip technique is commonly seen in a powerlifting competition or meet and is proven to drastically up one’s deadlift number.
The deadlift depicts the exact motion of picking something off the floor. Knowing how to execute the deadlift safely and properly will enable you to lift light to heavy objects from the ground with more ease. This movement is applied every day, making the deadlift an essential part of any training program, regardless of your sport or lifestyle.
Increased Glute Strength
The deadlift relies on the glutes’ power to lock out the whole movement. This gives you more strength, power, endurance, and muscle mass on your gluteus maximus while improving your training performance and functionality for everyday mobility.
Produces Anabolic Hormones
Think testosterone and growth hormones. Combine these with cardiovascular exercise while performing strength training in the form of deadlifting, and you are looking at significant calories burned. You not only burn more fats up to 36 hours after training, but your mood drastically improves and your immunity shoots up for better protection.
Let us face it, deadlifting even half your body weight is not an easy feat. Now imagine surpassing that level and ripping 100% or even 101% of your body weight off the ground with a dead weight. No wonder avid deadlifters have amazing grip strength and a handsome muscle mass on their forearms. Better strength on the arms equates to better strength overall.
The deadlift is strategically designed to effectively lift heavy objects off the ground, with the lower back carrying the brunt of the work. As a result, you can expect no less than a stronger posterior chain that delays or prevents common deadlift injuries and gives you a powerful physique to boot.
Common Deadlifts Mistakes to Avoid
- Squatting the Deadlift: This wrong form aims for a position with the hips too low, which puts more stress on the lower back and discourages progressive overload by keeping your weight minimal or extremely light compared with your actual strength. Instead, you want to keep your back neutral and slightly angled with your shoulders strong and tight.
- Rounding the Back: Poor hip strength is the usual culprit for this common deadlift mistake. This form essentially puts more stress on your shoulders and drifts the bar farther from your body than intended. This immediately puts any chance of a proper form out the window and would be hard to redeem once you lift off.
- Crooked Bar Path: This results from the bar being too far from your body before the lift-off. It also occurs when you subconsciously swing the bar from the body as you undergo the concentric phase, leaving a wide gap between your legs and the bar.
- Trusting “Momentum” to do the Work: A momentum is never an option for any exercise. Lifting with intention is the key to achieving the right technique along with the desired results. Trusting momentum to ace the movement creates no tension on the key muscles and makes you more prone to injury.
- Hyperextending: This rookie mistake is completely unnecessary and adds no real benefits to the whole deadlift motion. It also adds stress to the lower back. It may possibly occur from anterior pelvic tilt, another aspect to look into before incorporating the deadlift into your program.
Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift
The conventional deadlift and sumo deadlift are two very different deadlift variations based on their lifting forms. Nevertheless, they provide power, strength, and endurance when done right.
Let us start with the conventional deadlift. Standing with a shoulder-width stance with the arms outside the shoulders on the bar, the traditional deadlift focuses on the posterior chain and favors work on the glutes and hamstrings. It provides a convenient “grip it and rip it” setup. The lift-off is easier, and the end result is overall strength.
With its downside, there is more distance to travel when performing the traditional deadlift. It also requires more hip mobility and hamstring strength. Given that there is a greater gap between the floor and the top of the movement, the lockout is more challenging to achieve, especially with a heavy load on your bar.
When it comes to the sumo deadlift, it has a much wider stance with the feet angled out. The arms are positioned parallel with each other from the shoulders, straight down to the bar. With the brunt of the work emphasized on the quads and upper traps, there is significantly less tension on the lower back. It also requires less hip flexibility, and the lockout is much easier.
As with its cons, the initial pull-up is harder, and the setup takes longer given the intricacy of the placement of the feet and the grip.
Legend has it that conventional deadlifts favor individuals with a short torso and long arms. Even with a bigger range of motion, longer arms compensate for the gap between the floor and the bar at a standing position. On the other hand, sumo deadlifts are claimed to favor individuals with short arms and a long torso.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Sets and Programs
Many lifters recommend not exceeding 8 reps when performing the deadlift as this defeats the purpose of maxing out the lift. On top of this, going beyond 8 reps starts to fatigue the body to the point of poor form and compromised performance.
However, it still depends on the goal. In this section, we discuss muscle building and strength training through deadlifts.
For Muscle Building
Hypertrophy is one of the best benefits of deadlifting. Even if you start with low weight, you can feel its impact on your lower extremities. Sooner or later, you will notice some muscle growth and, eventually, definitions.
In this case, the German Volume Training is highly applicable. This starts off by determining 60% of your maximum lift or one rep max and performing 10 reps for 10 sets or until failure, with 90 seconds of rest between each set. The goal is to go beyond 1RM and perform a more repetitive program to get those muscles working.
Deadlifting alone is fatiguing, more so with repetitive sets, yet this is an effective approach for muscle building.
For Strength Training
Experts argue that the best way to determine one’s ultimate strength is by performing a one-rep max of the chosen exercise. In this case, the deadlift. This is so as the lower the sets, the higher volume or load you can carry. The fewer repetitions or movements you perform, the more fuel you have left in your tank for heavier lifts.
To determine your one-rep max, follow through with your warm-up with small increments until you reach a failed set. The last set done with proper form is your one-rep max. With your 1RM, perform 2 to 3 reps of 50%. Work your plates up until you reach 85%. Keep adding 5kg until you reach a failed set.
While deadlifting is essential no matter your training program, it is good to explore other variations that can help you learn better techniques, improve your weaknesses, or generally make you appreciate the basics of deadlifting when you come around to it again. Here are our top recommended deadlift variations you could consider trying.
This deadlift technique puts greater emphasis on quadriceps development. Experts claim that you can go heavier with sumo compared with a conventional DL given the shorter range of motion. There is also more hamstring activation, which is great if this muscle group is your weak spot.
Hex/Trap Bar Deadlift
Using the Hex/Trap Bar to perform this deadlift technique promotes even weight distribution and less stress on the back. It requires more engagement from the lats as well and makes strength gains smooth and possible.
Snatch Grip Deadlift
This technique has a unique deadlift form that requires the grip to be much wider, almost on both ends of the bar, which then engages the lats and hamstrings more. It also works the upper back well.
The RDL, straight leg deadlift, or stiff leg deadlift is notorious for achieving massive hamstring mass and activation. This technique is perfect if you want to feel more burn on your hammies without putting too much tension on your lower back. As such, the RDL is ideally done with lightweight compared with conventional deadlifts that aim for heavy volume each time.
The deficit deadlift variation promotes a great range of motion and fixes some deadlift weak points by lowering the starting point further. It forces the back to be flatter and the hips to be more engaged. This is done by standing on a platform 2 to 10 cm higher from the floor and hinging your hips farther to properly reach the bar.
Deadlifts can be challenging to others – if they do it at all! However, let us be real. No matter how essential this movement is, it simply is not a part of everyone’s regimen. It may be that you simply do not enjoy the lift, you are having a hard time with the form, or you just want to dedicate some days to alternative exercises for isolated burns.
Here are alternatives you could try to explore other options, fix your form, or incorporate more activation on certain muscle groups.
With the bar set on a rack as its starting position, this alternative takes away half of the work from an actual deadlift. It focuses on the upper range of motion while targeting the traps and upper back. This is ideal for individuals who are having difficulties with the first half of the deadlift – lifting the bar from the ground.
In rack pulls, the bar is already set up halfway through so you simply have to work the rest of the way upwards. This alternative assists in improving the lockout and working on not hyperextending – in case this is a weakness. Feel free to perform this accessory exercise with 6 reps for 3 sets.
Farmer’s Walk eliminates the concentric and eccentric phase of the deadlifting by swapping these movements with walking. This is an effective exercise for improving one’s grip strength, core, and upper body power without placing any tension or stress on the lower back. This can be done by carrying a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells.
Conveniently, you can perform the farmer’s walk just about anywhere. In your garage gym, in the backyard, in the front lawn, in a parking lot, in a park, etc. The world is your oyster. As long as you can carry the dumbbells back home with your hands still intact, then we see no problems performing this deadlift alternative wherever convenient.
Barbell Hip Thrust
Barbell Hip Thrust is another deadlift alternative that focuses activation on the glutes and hamstrings. It puts less stress on the lower back and drastically improves muscle mass on the glutes muscles. This is a great alternative if you want to keep the tension on the entirety of the back of your legs instead.
No barbell? No problem! You can also perform this alternative using dumbbells. Even just one would suffice. Should the corners of the dumbbell hurt your pelvic area, you can simply place a towel or mat on it before loading the dumbbell.
Aiming for a powerful physique, impressive grip, and quadzilla legs worthy of a second look can all be achieved by performing one essential compound movement: The Deadlift. Not to mention, the volume of heavyweights you progressively load eventually leads to muscle growth, stronger abdominal muscles, and even lower body fat percentage.
If you ask us, there is no other way to go with the deadlift but up – figuratively and literally. All in all, your deadlift performance depends on the technique you apply based on your anatomy, as well as your ultimate fitness goal – be it strength training, muscle building, or toning down.