Deadlifts are one of the most important exercises to include in your workouts if you want to build full body strength. A lot of people choose not to do them, though, despite all of the great benefits deadlifts can provide you. Why is that?
Perhaps they are intimidated by the intensity and difficulty of the exercise, or maybe they are worried about hurting their back, or pulling a muscle in their leg. Whatever the reason may be, it is clear that deadlifts can scare some people away. You may be nervous about doing them yourself!
This guide is here to help you overcome any fear you may have about this foundational exercise.
We will first go over the plethora of benefits that you can experience through deadlifts, in order to help you feel more motivated to start doing them. Then, we will review all of the basic steps you must take in order to perform them correctly, and then discuss some of the common mistakes that newcomers make, as well as some of the injuries that may occur. Lastly, we will give you numerous ways to improve your deadlift technique, in addition to an overview of different deadlift variations, basic deadlift equipment, and a few of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to deadlifts.
Once you are done reading this guide, any worries or uncertainties you may have about trying deadlifts should fade away. We will guide you through every aspect of this exercise so that you will have the confidence you need to start incorporating them into your weight lifting routine. With patience and practice, the information here will help you to achieve great success with the deadlift, and reap the many benefits accompanied with it.
Table of Contents
Why You Should Do Deadlifts
The first question that probably crossed your mind when you saw this article was most likely: Why should I even be doing deadlifts in the first place?
There are many great advantages to be had from adding deadlifts to your workouts. After reading this section, you should have a better comprehension of how good this exercise is for you, and why giving it a go will only do you good.
“The deadlift is a true full body movement”. This means that virtually every muscle of your body gets utilized as you deadlift, including your arms, shoulders, traps, hands, back, core, and legs. While many people may view the deadlift as just a back exercise or a leg exercise, this is definitely incorrect. The deadlift is a full-body, compound (multi-move) exercise that works your whole body – on one condition.Nerd Fitness
“Deadlifts are good for you if you use proper form. They’ll strengthen your back, legs, and arms. They’ll increase your muscle mass and testosterone levels. However, if you Deadlift with bad form you can hurt yourself”.StrongLifts
That is why personal trainers place such an emphasis on having proper technique during this exercise, as it’s the only way that you will get stronger and not end up hurt.
Deadlifts are also an excellent way to gain lots of strength in a short period of time. Greatist says, “One study showed that deadlift training generated huge improvements in strength and stability—especially in women who were relatively new to lifting”. This means that this exercise is a must for anyone who wants to get stronger. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much experience you have with weight lifting. Doing deadlifts will elevate your strength gains to a greater level.
Some of the other advantages deadlifts can bring, according to Greatist, include:
- Improved Posture – Deadlifts make your back stronger, which can improve your posture. A stronger back means a more upright and healthy posture while sitting and standing.
- Improved Strength in Everyday Life – Greatist states that “deadlifts involve movements and muscle routines that are a huge part of our daily lives. This means deadlifts will make it easier for you to perform basic tasks, which directly contradicts the assumption that gym training doesn’t actually prepare you for the real world”. Tasks such as cleaning the house or lifting heavy groceries, for example, will feel easier once you start doing deadlifts.
- Reduced Pain in Lower Back – Contrary to what many people think, deadlifts are an effective way to prevent injuring your lower back. This is because you are training and strengthening your hips, abs, and pelvis, which help to stabilize your lower back. Of course, you do have to remember that your lower back won’t become invincible after doing deadlifts once. You must start out slow, with lighter weights, and work your way up gradually as your various lower body muscles become more powerful and stable.
- Helps Save You Time During Workouts – Since deadlifts are a compound exercise, as previously mentioned, you are working your whole body through this one exercise. Obviously, deadlifts shouldn’t be the only exercise you do every workout, but they can definitely save you from wasting your time doing other exercises at different machines. If you are short on time, then deadlifts are a very time efficient way to get a full-body workout in.
- Easy to Incorporate into your Workout Routine – You don’t have to use a barbell in order to do a deadlift. You may incorporate this exercise into your routine by using kettlebells or dumbbells instead, which could be helpful if you are a beginner and do not feel comfortable starting off with a barbell. There are also many deadlift variations that might be easier for you, and help you build strength in your lower body or work on your technique before you are ready to do a conventional deadlift.
Now that you are aware of just how good deadlifts are for you, you probably feel excited to give them a try. We will now go over how to do this exercise properly, and guide you through each phase of the lift, as well as explain what each part of your body should be doing during each rep.
How to Deadlift Properly
Many beginners do not know where exactly to start when first doing deadlifts, especially if they are by themselves and do not have a friend or a personal trainer to assist them. Failing to set up your equipment properly or performing the exercise incorrectly is both ineffective for strength gain and incredibly dangerous, as you can get seriously injured.
That is why this guide will take you step-by-step on how to prepare yourself to get the most out of every single rep. According to Mike Matthews, there are three main phases of the deadlift that are equally important: the setup, the ascent, and the descent. The better your technique is, the more of a burn you’ll feel each time you deadlift, which will lead to tremendous improvements in strength and muscle size over time.
Here is how to set up for and do a deadlift correctly, according to StrongLifts:
- Start by walking up to the bar. Make sure your weight plates are securely in place on either side of the barbell. Remember- starting with lighter weight is a great idea while you are still learning the movement. Your midfoot should be underneath the bar, and your shins should not be touching it. Jeff Nippard recommends that you start with your shins about half an inch behind the bar. Make sure your heels are hip-width apart, and your toes are pointed out 15 degrees, as this is how you get a decent amount of your power on the ascent.
- Without bending your knees, bend over and grip the bar, keeping your hands about shoulder-width apart. Be sure your arms are vertical with the barbell. Jeff says that you can utilize an Alternate Grip (with one hand holding the bar overhand and the other holding it underhand), which will allow you to pull more weight. However, he warns that this can cause imbalances if you don’t switch your grip every once and awhile. He says that the traditional Double Overhand Grip is most likely the safest, but that you probably won’t be able to use as much weight. We recommend starting with the Double Overhand Grip until you feel fully comfortable with your form.
- Get into position by bending your knees until your shins are touching the bar. Be careful not to let the bar roll away from you, as this can cause you to round your back and ruin your whole set. If the bar does move away from you, start over from Step 1.
- Lift up your chest by straightening your back. Make sure that you are still in the same position explained in the first few steps before you begin to pull.
- Start pulling by taking a deep breath and holding it before standing up with the weight. Pay careful attention to the position of the bar; make sure it is always in contact with your legs. In addition, be sure to lock your hips and knees at the top, and do not shrug your shoulders or lean back.
- Return the weight to the floor by first unlocking your hips and knees. Then, move your hips back and keep your legs almost fully straight to lower the bar. Bend your knees only once the bar is past them. The bar will eventually land on the ground directly over your midfoot. Rest a second, and then pull again to start your next rep.
Being cognizant of what each part of your body is doing during each phase of the deadlift is critical for having proper form. This exercise has many different components that you have to pay attention to. We understand that it may seem like too much to master at once, and you may get frustrated or just stop doing deadlifts entirely.
This isn’t how you fix the problem, though. You fix it by working on adjusting a new body part every time you do deadlifts. Taking baby steps and having patience with yourself is a must in order to do this exercise safely and effectively. Follow the guidelines we give for each muscle listed below, take it slow, and you’ll see your form and strength improve.
With that being said, here’s an overview on what each body part and muscle, and piece of equipment must do as you do your sets of deadlifts:
The bar should be moving in a vertical line over your midfoot when looking from the side.
The barbell must start on the floor and over your midfoot at the beginning of each rep.
During your deadlifts, keep your heels hip-width apart. You should have a narrower stance than you would on the squat.
Keep your whole foot flat on the floor, and your toes turned out about 15°. This will give you more strength from your lower body, as you lift the weight off the ground.
Remember your grip should typically be narrow, with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
The correct deadlift grip involves your thumbs being around the bar, the bar close to your fingers, and both of your palms facing you.
Your arms should be vertical when looking from the front, and slightly incline when looking from the side.
Be sure your elbows are locked before and during the pull, all the way until the lockout phase. It’s crucial that you ensure they are never bent.
Keep your chest up to prevent your lower back from rounding. Remember, do not squeeze your shoulder-blades while lifting the weight.
It is very important that your lower back stays neutral during the deadlift – the only curve should be your back’s normal inward curve. There shouldn’t be any rounding or excess arch in your lower back.
Your shoulder should be in front of the bar from the side view. Always keep them relaxed.
Keep your shoulder blades over your midfoot, and don’t squeeze them during the lift.
Make sure your head is inline with the rest of your spine. Don’t look up or at your feet.
Your hips should be slightly higher than parallel as you progress through your sets, similar to a half squat.
When setting up for the deadlift, bring the bar over midfoot, keep your shoulder-blades over the bar, and make sure your body is in a straight line from your head to your lower back.
It is essential that you take a big breath at the bottom, hold it at the top, and then exhale at the bottom for each rep.
On the way up, be careful not to jerk the bar off the floor. Pull it slowly while dragging the bar over your legs.
On the way back down, bring your hips back first, then bend your legs mostly once the bar is at your knees.
In between each rep, it is crucial that you don’t bounce the bar, and allow yourself a moment to reset. Then, lift your chest, take a breath, and do your next rep.
Be sure to allow your traps to hang and stay relaxed. Do not shrug or roll your shoulders at the top.
Push your knees to the sides on the way up, and slightly lock them at the top of the rep.
While setting up for the deadlift, the bar should be able to touch your shins.
At the top of the deadlift, make sure not to fully lock your hips and knees, or lean back at the top. This may throw off your balance and cause you to fall.
Unfortunately, many people tend to make a lot of mistakes when lifting weights, whether it is their first time or 1000th time. It happens to everyone, and that is why you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much for making a mistake here and there. It’s all about how you learn from those errors and fix them for the next time.
Deadlifts are no exception. Although there are numerous mistakes you can make during this exercise, it can be very easy to learn from them and improve. Knowing what the most common errors are before you even start deadlift will prevent you from making those mistakes while learning the movement.
With that being said, here is an overview of the most frequent mistakes people tend to make while deadlifting:
Bouncing the Bar
Another serious error is bouncing the bar off the floor between reps, using the bounce to begin your next rep. This results in you not feeling the full effects of the exercise. You don’t gain strength by doing this because you aren’t doing the work of bringing the bar back up; the floor is.
Not only that, but bouncing may even lead to you getting hurt. You can’t control where the barbell goes after you bounce it, so it may fly back into your shins and seriously injure them.
It also leads you to not use your legs during the deadlift as much. This will cause bad habits in regards to your technique, and will cause you to round your lower back more often.
If you want to deadlift safely and effectively, then make sure you lift the barbell off the floor from a dead stop. Pause for a second in between your reps, take a breath and make sure your form is correct, and then you can lift again.
Not Touching the Floor
It is important to let the weight fully rest on the ground between reps.
Keeping the weight up is extremely stressful and dangerous for your back. You tire your back muscles this way, which can cause your lower back to round. This may cause herniated discs over time, and that will destroy a lot of your fitness progress.
Make sure you put the weight back on the floor in between your reps, so that your back has an opportunity to rest. Once you are ready for the next rep, keep your spine neutral and tight, and go again. This will protect your back from injury and help you maintain good form throughout your sets.
Leaning Back at the Top
Jeff Nippard says that leaning back at the top of the deadlift is seen a lot in people who want to show off during deadlifts, or those who think that leaning back will help them get more muscular tension and strength in their back muscles. Leaning back, though, is wrong and can be very dangerous if you are using heavier weights.
He recommends simply standing straight up at the top, while squeezing your glutes together and keeping your chest up. He also says not to squeeze your shoulder blades together, as this can influence you to start leaning back.
Shrugging at the Top
StrongLifts states that shrugging your shoulders at the top of the deadlift is not necessary, as your traps are already working and staying tight to keep them in place.
It places extra stress on your shoulders when you do this, which may lead to injury over time. Don’t shrug them just to get more muscle; practice good technique and you’ll have big shoulders and traps in no time.
Dropping The Bar
People who either keep hitting their knees with the bar, are afraid of hurting their backs, or are just looking for attention tend to drop the barbell at the top of the movement, according to StrongLifts.
This leads to several things, such as the bar, floor, and plates breaking from the drop. It may also lead you to have to completely reset your positioning and setup again, since you can’t control where the bar lands once you drop it. Most importantly, you are losing a lot of potential strength gains by dropping the bar, since the descent portion is a crucial phase of the exercise.
Therefore, to get the most out of your deadlifts, be sure to slowly lower the weight back down in a controlled motion, instead of just dropping it.
Improper Back Position
Rounding your lower back is one of the most frequent mistakes that deadlifters seem to make.
Jeff Nippard suggests that you stretch your hamstrings before you deadlift, as he says that you wanting to round your back may be because your hamstrings are too tight. He also says that it may be caused by weak glutes, so you should do other exercises to strengthen them in order to fix this.
A third solution he proposes is trying “paused deadlifts”, where you pause for a second or two either as soon as the weight is off the floor, or when it is directly below your knees. This, Jeff says, forces you to do a quick check on your form before you proceed with the rest of your rep.
Letting the Bar Come Forward
The bar should be moving in a straight line as you deadlift, right up against your shins. If it starts moving forward, then you will face several issues.
Your balance will be thrown off when this happens, according to Mike Matthews, and you will end up wasting precious energy and force going to move it back to you, in front of your shins. Not only that, but because of this the rep will take longer, meaning that your grip will quickly lose its strength.
You should have someone record your sets of deadlifts if you aren’t sure about the bar placement, and make sure that it is always brushing up against your shins. If it is, just make sure that it stays there, moving up and down in a straight line, and this problem should be fixed.
Your Hips Rise Faster Than Your Chest
Your butt rising faster than your chest may stem from you treating
Jeff Nippard says that this can be caused by simply setting yourself up for the deadlift incorrectly, with your hips too low. This results in your hips and butt shooting up faster than your chest, which is incorrect.
He recommends setting yourself up in front of the bar with your hips higher, so that when you lift the bar, they shoot forward as you bring your chest up.
Bending Your Arms
Jeff from Athlean X claims that bending your arms can jeopardize the health of your biceps as you come up on the deadlift.
Remember that you are not doing a row; you want your elbows and arms to be completely straight as you lift the bar. Don’t jerk the bar; this can hurt your elbows at the very least, or at worst tear your biceps (if you are using heavy weights). Jeff says to make sure your hands are just outside of your knees on the way up as well.
Lowering the Weight Too Slowly
Inexperienced weightlifters may think that lowering the weight slowly will result in better results, but this isn’t the case. Mike Mathews states, “Lowering the weight slowly places more stress on your low back and hips, which are the two parts of the body at the highest risk of injury when deadlifting”.
It also wastes energy that you could be using to do more reps and sets. You are throwing away potential strength and muscle gains by lowering the bar too slowly, and you could even cause the bar to move too far forward away from you.
Maintain a good, steady pace during the descent phase of the deadlift, and you should be able to get a few more reps out of each set.
“Hitching” the Bar Up
“‘Hitching’ refers to pushing your thighs under the bar so that the bar can temporarily rest on your quads, giving your upper body a momentary break”Mike Matthews.
Doing this limits how much upper body strength you gain from your deadlifts, and it primarily means that you have too much weight on the bar. If you are hitching the bar, then try lowering the weight by about 5-10% and slowly working your way up. You could also do variations like the Romanian Deadlift, which will be explained later, to improve your back strength.
Your Joints Aren’t Stacked
According to Jeff Nippard, an improper setup may lead to your joints not being stacked during the deadlift.
You can prevent this by making sure to sufficiently stretch out your hips and thighs beforehand, or slightly narrowing your stance. Jeff says that when looking from the side, your heels should be roughly stacked below the knees, and your shins should be as vertical as possible. You may have to adjust the height of your hips, the width of your stance, or wear a flat-soled shoe in order to achieve this positioning.
Ways to Improve Your Deadlift
Once you get the basic feel for how to do deadlifts properly and avoid some of the most common mistakes, you likely will want to know how you can increase the amount of weight you can lift. Luckily, there are several tips that may serve you well the next time you try to go for your max on this exercise.
We want to remind you that more often than not, progress on this exercise (or most exercises) will not come overnight. You must have faith in yourself and your training, and not push yourself to do too much at once. That is how you end up hurt and angry at yourself for overdoing it, which will only send you backwards instead of forwards.
If something doesn’t work for you right away, don’t give up; keep trying until it does, or move on to something else. That will lead you to success.
Here are some ways for you to try and improve your deadlift performance:
Deadlift More Often
If you are struggling to improve on your deadlifts, then it may help to start doing it more often. If you do deadlifts only once a week, then you could try doing them twice a week, for example. This will give you more chances to work on fixing your form and increasing your weight load.
Please remember, though, that deadlifts are an incredibly taxing compound exercise that utilizes the entire body. You need to give your muscles, especially those in your lower back and legs, plenty of time to recover in order to not get hurt. If you do choose to increase your deadlift frequency, then always listen to your body and know when to stop. If you feel physically exhausted and cannot do any more, then stop. Know your own limits.
Don’t Focus on Everything at Once
When in doubt, go back to the basics and re-evaluate your form.
This guide has mentioned the importance of good form countless times, but it really cannot be overstated. If you are struggling with your deadlifts and can’t seem to push past that plateau, it may be worth it to take a step back. Slow your reps down, think about every part of your body during each rep. Watch videos of professional weightlifters doing squats, and see what their form is like. If you notice your Deadlift form is off, don’t try to fix everything at once. “You’ll get overwhelmed if you have to think about too many things while you pull. Instead, pick one thing to focus on during your next set. If you get it right, then pick the next thing to fix on your next set”, says Strong Lifts.
You may think your form is perfect, but it never hurts to check and see what it looks like. Be patient and understanding with your body and your training routine; you won’t go anywhere if you constantly get frustrated with yourself. Remind yourself that you are always learning something new, every time you work out.
Your mental state plays a huge role in how you perform not just for a squat, but for any exercise in general. This study shows that rugby players who pumped themselves up before doing a set of bench presses and thought positively about how they would do, ended up putting out much more force than normal. Those that got distracted and weren’t mentally “in the zone” wound up producing significantly less force.
Indeed, performing well on a set of deadlifts comes down to focusing solely on the task at hand. Tune out the people around you and turn off any distractions or unnecessary thoughts in the back of your mind. Perhaps turn on a fast-paced song and visualize how you will do on the set. Get your head in the game and your blood pumping; you will have the potential to see immense boosts in how much you can lift, or how many reps you can do.
Improve Flexibility in Your Hips, Knees, and Ankles
Mike Matthews says, “The most common reasons people believe they can’t deadlift is poor lower body mobility—and particularly ankle and hip mobility—and hamstring inflexibility, and both of which can be easily corrected”.
Incorporating some deadlift variations into your workouts will help build strength and flexibility in many of the muscles used during the deadlift. Stretching before and after your workouts will also serve to improve your flexibility.
Keep in mind, though, that the setup portion of the deadlift is supposed to feel tight and comfortable. It might just be a mental thing holding you back; remember that tightness is normal at the beginning. If you can work past this, then you are good to go.
Know How to Brace Properly
“Bracing”, or creating and holding onto tightness in your body (usually linked to how well you can hold air in your torso under heavy loads), is a fundamental component of heavy weightlifting.
If you are finding yourself unable to lift as much weight as you’d like, then perhaps you need to work on your bracing technique. Here’s what Mike Matthews suggests for bracing properly:
“Between every rep, take in a breath that fills your lungs to about 80% of their maximum capacity, drawing the air deep into your stomach, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and don’t let that air out until you’re past the hardest part of the lift”.
Practice this if you find yourself getting stuck at certain points of the deadlift, and you may find that you are finally able to push past that sticking point.
Lift More Explosively
You may want to try using more force during the ascent portion of the deadlift. Numerous studies have shown that lifting the bar up faster promotes larger strength and muscle gains.
Although a good deal of this research has been done on the bench press, it’s safe to say that these same rules can still apply to deadlifts. So if you want to have more power and get more out of your reps, then definitely try coming up faster with the bar.
Make Sure You Have a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is essential for you to see strength gains in your deadlift.
Having a well-balanced diet with a proper amount of healthy macronutrients will not just increase the rate at which your muscles grow and recover, but also improve your overall health and make you feel a whole lot better in general. Eating habits can be very tough to change, but starting slowly by trying something new and gradually building up is always a good first step.
Check out our foundational nutrition guide to learn more about the basics of nutrition and macronutrients.
Microloading involves adding a very small amount of weight (usually less than five pounds) to an exercise every time you do it in a workout. It can help improve your strength at a slower, but safer and more reasonable pace. This slower pace can delay plateaus, and allow you to see small but consistent gains.
If you have been doing deadlifts for a while but haven’t seen much progress, or if you are new and want to progress slowly, then microloading might be an effective option for you.
Record Yourself Doing Deadlifts
Everyone, even professionals, have others record them doing deadlifts. This allows them to go back later on and watch themselves go through their sets, and notice any mistakes. Then, they usually make note of those errors, and make sure to fix it next time they do deadlifts during a workout.
Strengthen Your Grip and Back
Two of the biggest factors that can influence how much you can deadlift are your grip strength and back strength.
If either of these are lacking, then you can only get so far with this exercise. That is why Mike Matthews recommends that you add specific exercises to build up your strength. If you’ve gotten to a particular “sticking point” where you can’t seem to get the weight past knee level, for example, then it may be time to take a step back and start developing some of those back and grip muscles.
Romanian Deadlifts, front squats, barbell holds, and back hyperextensions are all good exercises to add to your workouts for building more grip and back strength.
Try Different Variations
If you are stuck on the normal deadlift and can’t seem to progress, then try out some of the many variations that we will list in the next section. Each one has its benefits. It is ultimately up to you in the end to discover what you need help with the most, and which exercises to integrate into your workout plan. If you are stuck at a certain point of the deadlift, then try a variation that focuses primarily on that specific phase of the deadlift.
You might be thinking about skipping this suggestion and merely try to force yourself through a plateau, or keep trying deadlifts until you fix a technique problem. However, it really is worth it to try approaching it in a new angle. Trying one deadlift variation may be all you need to bust out of a slump and get yourself back on track.
Use the Proper Equipment
Many people underestimate just how necessary it is to have the right equipment when deadlifting.
We will go over equipment later, but there are definitely some things you should always have when doing deadlifts, such as a decent pair of shoes and a barbell with weight plates (or dumbbells). Other items, such as straps or gloves, can definitely be used to improve how much you can lift and reduce pain.
You also have to set it up properly. You may have everything you need to succeed, but if you don’t utilize it correctly, then you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
There are many variations of deadlifts that you can do to either improve certain parts of your technique, or increase your strength in the various muscles that are utilized during the exercise. Incorporating some of these deadlift alternatives into your workouts from time to time will be useful for breaking out of any plateaus that you may find yourself in, and allow you to immensely increase the amount of weight you are able to use over time. If you’re ever stuck on the conventional deadlift, take a step back, try one of the variations listed below, and eventually you will find yourself back on track.
Here are some of the best deadlift variations for you to try:
Healthline recommends the Back Hyperextension for targeting and strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. It can provide you many of the same benefits that the traditional deadlift can.
Here’s how to do a Back Hyperextension:
- Get on the Hyperextension Machine, making sure your front is facing towards the ground.
- Bend at the waist while keeping your hands behind your head, and lower yourself down until your upper body is perpendicular to the ground.
- Raise your upper back by using your lower back muscles and quads. Once your body is in a straight line, make sure to stop, or else you put yourself at risk for back injury.
- Pause here for a second or two, and then lower yourself back down.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps.
Barbell Hip Thrust
The Barbell Hip Thrust serves as a tougher version of the normal glute bridge, as it adds resistance in the form of a barbell. This exercise really strengthens your glutes and hamstrings, which is great for the deadlift. Try it if you are new to weight lifting and want to build strength before trying the deadlift.
Here’s how to do it properly:
- Sit with your upper back up against a bench, while keeping a barbell across your hips, your feet flat on the floor, and your knees bent.
- Push your hips upwards and drive through your heels, and at the same time, make sure to keep your core engaged and glutes squeezed tight together.
- Once you get to the top, pause for a second or two, and then release the tension in your muscles to come back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps.
If you want to make your upper back muscles, arms, and core more toned and powerful, then you will definitely want to do Bent-over Rows. This will make deadlifts much easier, enabling you to start adding more weight and really seeing results.
Here’s how to correctly do Bent-over Rows:
- With a dumbbell in each hand, bend at the waist 45 degrees and have your arms extended. Don’t lock your knees, and ensure that your spine is neutral.
- Pull your elbows up and backwards towards the area behind you. Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top to truly engage your upper back.
- Pause for a second or two here, then lower your elbows back to the start position.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps.
Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian Split-Squat requires you to extensively utilize your core to stay upright. You may use either a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell on your back for this exercise.
Here’s how to do a Bulgarian Split-Squat:
- Position yourself in front of a bench with a split stance, resting your left foot up on the bench. Your right foot should be far enough out to comfortably squat down without your knee falling over your toes.
- Squat down on your right leg, while keeping your chest open and pushing back up through your heel.
- Stand up and do the same on the other leg. Repeat this for 10-12 reps on each leg.
Cable Pull-throughs are a useful way to practice your hip hinge movements, according to Healthline. It’s also good for working your posterior chain, without having the added stress on your back like you would during the deadlift.
Here’s how to perform a Cable Pull-through:
- First, adjust the cable machine so that the rope pull attachment is at ground level, then stand with your back to the machine.
- Grab the rope attachment between your legs with two hands, then stand straight up. Step forward a few feet until the weight is off the rack.
- Hinge at the waist while pushing your hips back towards the machine. Let the cable go through your legs until you feel a pull in your hamstrings. Make sure your spine stays neutral and that your chest stays up.
- After pausing here for a second or two, lower back down and return to the start position. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps.
This type of deadlift increases your range of motion, says Nerd Fitness. Although the Deficit Deadlift is commonly used as an accessory exercise, it is still an effective way to strengthen your back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, hip adductors, and quads.
To do a Deficit Deadlift, stand on a box or other elevated surface that is a few inches high, while keeping the barbell on the ground. Then, perform a deadlift like you would a conventional one. The greater range of motion on this variation will engage your muscles a lot more.
The Dumbbell Deadlift is a decent substitute for the traditional deadlift when barbells are unavailable, or if you are unable to properly do a conventional deadlift.
Mike Matthews says, “Some people also prefer the dumbbell variation because it allows your shoulders to be in a more natural position, but the downsides are most people can’t lift as much weight with dumbbells and struggle to keep them from wandering around as they move up and down”.
You should stick to the normal deadlift if you are capable of doing so, as that will likely provide you with the most amount of strength and muscle gain.
If you’re a beginner, then the Glute Bridge is an amazing exercise for you to try before attempting the deadlift. It only requires your body weight, and effectively engages your posterior chain. Give it a go if you don’t feel ready for a normal deadlift yet.
Here’s how to do a Glute Bridge:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, your arms at your sides, and your feet flat on the floor.
- Take a deep breath and push through your whole foot, while engaging your core, glutes, and hamstrings to lift your hips up towards the ceiling.
- Pause for a second at the top, then slowly lower back down to the ground.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps.
These are great for those with weaker hip muscles. Kettlebell Swings require a hip hinge movement from you, which is very similar to the deadlift. It’s a valuable way to increase power and flexibility in the hips, which makes this a suitable option for beginners to try if they don’t feel ready for deadlifts.
Here’s how to do Kettlebell Swings:
- After placing a kettlebell on the ground in front of you, hinge at the hips and bend slightly to place both of your hands on the kettlebell handles.
- Then, pull the kettlebell back between your legs and drive your hips forward. Use this acceleration to bring the kettlebell up to chest level, while keeping your back straight throughout the entire movement (just like you would during a deadlift).
- Hinge at the hips again and allow the kettlebell to come back down between your legs.
- Repeat the above steps for 10-12 reps.
Lying Hamstring Curl with Band
Healthline recommends the Lying Hamstring Curl with Band for those who want to strengthen and tone their hamstrings, while also not putting too much pressure on their back with a barbell. Try this one if you don’t want to or are unable to load heavy weight on your back and want to improve your hamstring strength.
Here’s how to do a Lying Hamstring Curl with Band:
- Anchor a resistance band to a stable object.
- With your legs extended, lie on your stomach in front of the band. Position yourself with the band looped taut around one ankle.
- Take a breath, and then raise the foot with the band attached. Bend your knee until your lower leg is perpendicular with the ground.
- Exhale and slowly lower your foot back down to the ground.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps.
If you have a bit of experience with working out and bodyweight exercises, then the Pistol Squat may be an interesting challenge for you. It is a more advanced exercise that builds strength in your posterior chain, and really tests your balance, flexibility, and unilateral strength. You can do this either on the ground or on top of a BOSU ball to make it even more difficult.
Here are the steps for doing a Pistol Squat:
- Stand on either the ground or a BOSU ball, with your feet together and your arms extended out in front of you.
- Lift one leg off the ground and then lower down into a squat on the other. Keep going down until the leg that’s off the ground is parallel to the floor.
- Stand back up, and repeat this on the other leg.
- Try to do 10-12 reps on each leg.
Rack Pulls limit your range of motion compared to a normal deadlift. This variation works your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, as well as increase how much you can lift, and improve your grip strength.
Rack Pulls involve doing a deadlift while the barbell is placed on an elevated surface, such as on blocks or in a Power Rack. This decreases your range of motion and places less stress on your lower back muscles, while also targeting your legs differently than a traditional deadlift. However, you should always try to do exercises that give you a full range of motion, since this is how you get the greatest gains in muscle and strength, so we recommend you attempt a normal deadlift first before giving the Rack Pull a go.
StrongLifts says, “The Romanian Deadlift is a Deadlift done top-down with straight legs. You take the bar out of the rack at thigh height. You then lower to your knees with straight legs and quickly come back up. The Romanian Deadlift (a.k.a. RDL) works your hamstrings and glutes more while taking your knees out of the movement”.
It’s an excellent way to train the same muscles as the conventional deadlift, and it also doesn’t wear you down as much, according to Mike Matthews. Try working conventional deadlifts into your routine first, though, and then you can attempt the Romanian Deadlift once you are comfortable.
Snatch Grip Deadlift
The Snatch Grip Deadlift, says Nerd Fitness, involves doing a traditional deadlift but with a wide grip, like you would in the Snatch. Your hands grip the bar outside of your knees during this exercise.
It’s a more advanced variation, but it does have some helpful benefits. It increases your range of movement, hip flexibility, and places less stress on your lower back (and more on your upper back), making it good for those with lower back pain.
However, since it is difficult, we suggest you practice the traditional deadlift first and get the hang of it before trying this one.
The Stiff-legged Deadlift is very similar to the Romanian deadlift, except that it requires you to start your sets from the floor instead of a Power Rack.
Unfortunately, you must have a greater amount of hip mobility and hamstring flexibility than you would for the Romanian deadlift, meaning that it is more difficult for beginners to learn and improve at it, and that you can’t lift as much weight.
That is why you should save the Stiff-legged Deadlift for after you’ve gotten the hang of the conventional deadlift and some of the other variations listed here.
The Sumo Deadlift is another type of deadlift you use a wider stance than you normally would, with your hands inside your feet, states Nerd Fitness.
Although the conventional and Sumo deadlifts produce about the same amount of muscle activation, according to Mike Matthews, the conventional one is typically easier to learn for most individuals. If you are a beginner, wait until you’ve mastered the conventional deadlift before trying the Sumo deadlift.
Trap Bar Deadlift
The Trap Bar, or Hex Bar Deadlift, involves using a trap bar instead of a barbell. This causes the weight to be in line with your body’s center of gravity as you lift, claims Healthline, instead of in front of your body (like in the traditional deadlift). As a result, less strain is placed on your lower back, while the same muscles get worked.
Chris Beardsley says that the hex bar/trap bar deadlift is a more quad-dominant exercise than the conventional deadlift and is sometimes considered a hybrid between a squat and a deadlift, which is why he recommends doing some extra hamstring exercises if you plan on doing this variation. He also claims:
“Finally, the hex-bar involves marginally greater forces, but a substantially faster bar speed, and therefore greater power outputs than the straight bar deadlift. This may arise from a combination of factors, including a larger knee range of motion, and a more vertical bar path, and may make the hex bar more suitable for athletes, who often require high-velocity strength”.
However, StrongLifts doesn’t recommend you do this exercise, as it can be used as a way to get away with bad form, and it isn’t as useful for building a strong back. As always, you should try doing the traditional deadlift first, and if that doesn’t work for you, then you can try the hex bar/trap bar deadlift.
Here’s how to do it:
- Put an appropriate amount of weight on the trap bar and step inside of it. Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge at your hips, bend your knees and grab the handles on either side of the bar.
- Sit back in your hips while keeping your back flat and chest up. Always be sure to be looking forward, not down or up.
- Take a breath and then stand up. Begin the movement in your hips, and squeeze your glutes when you’re at the top.
- Exhale and go back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps.
Equipment for Deadlifting
There are a few key pieces of equipment that you must know how to use before starting to deadlift. Being aware of what to use and how to use it for the exercise is just as important as knowing how to do the exercise itself. Make sure you familiarize yourself with all the items listed below so that you are sufficiently prepared to work out and get strong, especially if you are inexperienced and doing your exercises in a commercial gym. You may be overwhelmed by all the different kinds of equipment available to you in a gym, but don’t worry: our in-depth equipment guide goes over virtually every piece of equipment you could encounter. Check it out if you’re feeling nervous about going to a gym for the first time, and want to get a workout routine or two planned out ahead of time.
With that out of the way, here is a list of the most common types of equipment that people tend to use for deadlifting:
Having a barbell is a necessity if you are looking to get the most out of doing the four major lifts (squats, overhead press, deadlifts, and bench press) in your workouts. There are a few different kinds of barbells that gyms may have.
The standard barbell and the Olympic barbell work almost exactly the same. However, the Olympic barbell, says Nerd Fitness, is the standard training barbell that most bodybuilders like to use.
There are Olympic bars typically designated for men and women to use. The men’s one is 7.2 ft. long and weighs about 45 lbs., while the women’s barbell is 6.9 ft. long and weighs around 39 lbs.
Smaller training bars can weigh anywhere between 10 and 30 lbs. Beginners may want to start with these lighter training barbells and gradually work their way up.
Keep in mind that Olympic barbells are usually of higher quality than standard ones, which allows them to hold much more weight. So if you are planning to start lifting heavy weights at some point, then sticking to primarily using Olympic barbells may be a smart option.
Lifting Belts are helpful for having sufficient stability during heavy weightlifting, especially when you are doing deadlifts.
They mainly serve to protect your torso and back from injury and provide extra support during exercises where you use a lot of weight. Lifting belts are made differently depending on the type of individual that is using them, so that he or she can have the most stability and versatility possible.
For example, a powerlifter or strongman athlete may prefer to use a cylinder styled belt, which wraps around the torso evenly and keeps the body stiffer during extremely heavy lifts. On the other hand, an Olympic weightlifter needs a Lifting Belt that gives them a fairly equal amount of core stability and versatility since the individual is often performing lots of power movements, which allows them to choose which belt stiffness and material works best for them. These types of belts are typically extra thick around the posterior but end up thinning out towards the abdomen.
Figuring out what your specific fitness goals are will allow you to determine if you will end up needing a Lifting Belt. Using one during your heavy lifts will give you plenty of support and may be the thing you need to take your weightlifting to the next level.
Chalk can be an excellent way to increase your grip strength while deadlifting. It absorbs the sweat that forms on your hands during your workout, which stops the bar from rolling around in your hands. This will allow you to lift much more weight and get greater strength gains. Chalk also helps to reduce the number of calluses you can get on your hands, which may be painful and prevent you reaching your full potential.
Try using Chalk if your gym permits it, or use liquid Chalk if normal Chalk isn’t allowed.
Deadlifts are a noisy exercise, especially if you do them at home, and can damage your floor depending on what kind it is.
That’s why StrongLifts recommends you get rubber mats or a platform to do your deadlifts on. This will protect your floor and prevent you from making too much noise as you work out.
Although gloves are meant to protect your hands from the pressure of the weight on the bar, StrongLifts believes that they usually do more harm than good.
They can make the bar harder to hold, and possibly serve as an unnecessary expense since they are likely to wear down quickly. Furthermore, you will feel a lot of pressure from heavy weights on your wrists. Gloves won’t do much to reduce that pressure.
Some beginners tend to use Gloves consistently when first starting to deadlift because they are afraid of their hands hurting. However, StrongLifts says that the skin on your hands will grow tougher and form calluses faster if you don’t use Gloves.
Therefore, we recommend staying away from Gloves as often as you can when you are doing your sets of deadlifts.
There are a few different types of weight plates that you can place on a barbell so you can lift heavier and get stronger.
The most common kinds of weight plates used in commercial gyms, as stated by Nerd Fitness, are standard metal or rubber encased plates. They come in either circle or 12-sided variations, and should definitely not be dropped on the floor after a hard set. The bigger the plate is, the heavier it usually is (with the 45 lb one being the largest.
Bumper plates, on the other hand, are usually made out of rubber. This makes them safe to be dropped directly on the floor once you complete a set. Bumper plates are all the same in diameter, so their weight can be determined by their width.
Round weight plate
12-sided weight plate
Wearing the right pair of shoes may not seem like a big deal to some, but it actually makes a world of difference when it comes to deadlifting.
A pair of shoes that has thin, flat, and hard soles should be your preferred choice of footwear while doing this exercise, as they can improve your balance and power, shorten the distance that the bar travels, and more effectively engage your posterior chain muscles. Deadlift Slippers are also good to use; they are socks with thin soles that help give you traction and stay close to the floor.
You shouldn’t go barefoot or wear running shoes as you deadlift, since it will be very difficult to control your form during each rep, which can lead to injury. Do your research before buying a pair of shoes specifically for deadlifting, and you will soon see that wearing the right pair can really improve your performance.
Straps may be a useful way of improving your strength on deadlift if you have a weak grip. However, this will not make your grip stronger.
In fact, as you use Straps more during the heavy lifting portions of your workouts, your wrists will become accustomed to having them, and they will not get stronger at all. You do not want your performance on an exercise that’s as important as deadlifts to be dependent on a piece of equipment.
That is why you should try to deadlift without Straps whenever you can. That is how you build bigger arm muscles, a stronger grip, and have better form. Only use them as an absolute last resort, but do not let your grip muscles become completely dependent on them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should I Do If I’m Afraid of Deadlifts?
It’s okay to be a little nervous of deadlifting for the first time. You will gradually grow accustomed to the exercise each time you do it.
“Here’s how it works: every rep you Deadlift without getting hurt boosts your confidence. You believe you’re going to be okay because you were okay last time. So you add weight, and if you’re okay again, get another boost in confidence. This creates a positive feedback loop that overcomes fear”. StrongLifts says
All it takes to not be afraid of this experience is to do it consistently. Once you do that, your fear will quickly disappear.
What If I Hurt My Back While Deadlifting?
You should definitely take it easy and stay away from any intense workouts for a few days, but do not lay around and do nothing.
That will only send you backwards, not forwards. Even if you are injured, you should be up and moving around to the best of your ability. Avoid bending your back too often until you return to the gym.
When you do, you can try deadlifting again but with very light weight. Don’t let one injury scare you away from doing the exercise forever. Just start over with less weight, focus on your form, and go slowly to regain your strength and confidence.
Why Can You Deadlift More Than You Squat?
“Most of us have been reaching down and picking stuff up all our lives, but only started squatting once we started lifting weights”, says Mike Matthews. Because of this, deadlifting usually comes naturally to most new lifters.
This is also a result of lifters focusing more on their upper bodies (meaning more deadlifts) than their lower bodies (through squats). Therefore, if you really want to improve your lower body and get bigger leg muscles, then you should focus more on your squat. Check out our squat guide to learn how to do it properly.
How Much Should You Be Able to Deadlift?
Ultimately, it depends on your body weight, but a good baseline to follow is that you should be able to deadlift 2 times your bodyweight for one rep within your first two years of weight training.
“How quickly you get there will mostly depend on your limb proportions (deadlifting is harder for guys with long legs), how your muscles attach to your bones, and how much you focus on the deadlift versus other exercises”, says Matthews.
There are plenty of standards out there on the Internet that will try to guide you, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to your body and how you’re feeling on a given day. Don’t feel pressured to do more than you physically can; that’s how you wind up hurt. Just keep at it and eventually you will be able to lift that goal weight.
How Do You Protect Your Shins?
Matthews gives three options for protecting your shins while you deadlift.
Wearing long pants is an easy choice, but you have to wear them for the whole workout or change into shorts afterwards, which wastes time. You can also ruin your pants this way.
You may wear long socks, which are more comfortable than pants but they don’t provide as much shin protection.
The third choice is to wear Knee Sleeves or Shin Guards. Knee Sleeves are likely the best option since they are made of thick neoprene, which offers more padding than pants and are easy to remove once you are done deadlifting. Try wearing Knee Sleeves the next time you deadlift and you should find that your shins are much better protected.
How Do You Protect My Hands While Deadlifting?
Your hands will form a lot of calluses and blisters when you first begin deadlifting, which can be very painful and even impede your progress during workouts. Luckily, there are three effective ways to try and protect your hands during your sets.
Using chalk, as mentioned earlier, improves your grip by absorbing sweat and increasing friction, which in turn keeps your hands from slipping off the barbell and tearing.
Straps also give you a stronger grip on the bar, while simultaneously adding an extra layer of protection between your skin and the barbell.
Finally, medical tape is a viable tool to use as well. You may see some lifters at the gym wrap medical tape around their thumbs and fingers in order to stop calluses from forming or tearing.
Try all of the above tips the next time you do deadlifts, and see which one protects your hands the best.
What Kind of Grip Should You Use?
There are a few different grip styles available for you to use, and it may take some trial and error for you to find the best one that works for you.
Beginners, though, should definitely start with the double overhand grip. It’s the easiest to learn, the safest style, and typically the most comfortable for those who are inexperienced with lifting weights.
As you get stronger, you can either stay with the double overhand grip or use a mixed grip, as mentioned earlier. It’s ultimately up to you how you decide to hold the barbell, but
What Should You Do If You Can’t Hold Onto the Bar?
If you can’t maintain your grip on the bar, then try these three things that Mike Matthews suggests:
First, use chalk if you aren’t already. Remember that it’s very useful for maintaining a firm grip on the bar, so start putting some on your hands before you do your sets of deadlifts.
Second, make sure you aren’t taking too long on your sets. Rise explosively, descend at a rapid but controlled pace, and don’t wait too long in between reps.
Third, try using different grip styles. Use a mixed grip or do a double overhand grip with Straps if you must.
If all three tips above fail, then work on improving your grip strength by incorporating some barbell holds into your workouts.
Do You Need to Wear a Belt?
No, a Weight Belt isn’t required but it can be very helpful if you are trying to lift very heavy weights, and want to experience the most amount of muscle and strength gain possible from your deadlifts.
Mike Matthews says, “Studies show that wearing a belt while lifting helps you complete each rep faster and do more reps in each set, get through the toughest part of the exercise faster, and in the case of the deadlift, get the bar off the floor quicker”.
Don’t be afraid to try it if you want to get more out of your deadlifts. Just make sure you have good form first.
How Many Times a Week Should I Do Deadlifts?
You should do deadlifts mainly once a week for maintenance, or if you’re looking for basic strength and muscle gains.
If you are a beginner, or you are stuck in a slump and want to improve your deadlift, then you can try doing it twice a week. Just be careful not to overdo it, however.
What’s a Good Lower Back Stretch?
StrongLifts highly recommends doing spinal decompressions to stretch out your lower back.
Hanging on a pull-up bar in a Power Rack and just letting your body hang. It’s good because there is no bending or arching in your lower back; it just stays neutral the entire time. This stretches your spine and creates space, which helps to reduce disc bulges and get rid of excessive pain. Try this if your lower back is extra tight before deadlifting, or afterwards to relieve soreness and prevent cramping.
How Many Reps Should I Be Able to Do?
Typically, five reps is a fair amount for most people.
Going too high with your reps will cause you to get tired and mess up your technique, while going too low will let you use heavier weights, but will also increase your odds of getting hurt.
Stick to five reps so that you can both stay safe and maintain correct form.
Should I Deadlift in the Smith Machine or the Power Rack?
You should always start your deadlifts on the floor, not on the rails or hooks of a Smith Machine or a Power Rack. This can mess up the path of the barbell or limit your range of motion, so it’s best not to do your sets in these machines if it is possible.
Deadlifts are one of the hardest exercises to master. In fact, you can never really “master” an exercise; you can always find some part of your technique to improve, or lift just a little bit more weight over time. There are so many different factors that go into getting the most out of your sets of deadlifts, but hopefully this guide was able to help you in some way, whether you have never done them before and wanted to learn a bit more about them, or have been doing them for decades and you wanted to learn some new tips and tricks.
With that out of the way, here are the most important things you should take away from this guide:
- Deadlifts are a compound exercise that work the whole body, not just your legs and back (contrary to popular belief). There are many factors to think about when you are setting up for the deadlift, as well as on the ascent and descent portions of the exercise. It may seem like a lot, but focusing on one aspect at a time will help you have great technique in no time.
- Mistakes are made by everyone when it comes to deadlifts, even experts and powerlifting champions. However, being aware of what these mistakes are, like bouncing the bar, not touching the floor, or leaning back at the top, and how to fix them will make you less likely to commit those errors. It is normal to mess up every now and then; the important thing is that you don’t get discouraged when it happens and give up.
- Whenever you find yourself unable to improve your deadlift, think back to the various tips listed here in this guide. Your plateau might come down to little fundamental things, such as recording yourself and going back to the basics with your form, or it might require you to change up your workout routine and deadlift more often, or try different variations. The bottom line is that you will eventually get out of your slump and start seeing results again if you keep deadlifting, and trying these different pieces of advice until something works for you. If none of them work and you feel really burnt out, then it doesn’t hurt to take a break from the exercise. You must not give up on it altogether though, otherwise you’ll be right back to square one.
- Doing Deadlift Variations from time to time may help you get better at a particular portion of the traditional deadlift, or strengthen the muscles you use during the exercise, especially your lower back and leg muscles. It never hurts to mix your workout routine up every now and then, since targeting your muscles differently on occasion keeps them guessing, and makes them bigger and stronger over time.
- Having the right equipment for the deadlift, like a barbell and weight plates, is a crucial part of the exercise that some people tend to neglect. For example, not wearing the right type of shoes will severely throw off your stance and technique, which will then have a negative impact on your reps. Items such as gloves or straps can help you lift more weight or take pressure off your wrists, but remember that they do not fix bad form. Try deadlifting without these items first before using them.
For more informative fitness articles and exercise guides, be sure to check out https://www.myworkouts.io/edu.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VL5Ab0T07e4 – Jeff Nippard perfect technique
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wr-iSaXPr5s – Jeff Nippard fixing errors
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hCDzSR6bW10 – Jeff from Athlean X