The deadlift is a popular compound exercise, but it can also pose a significant injury risk if performed without proper form. Here, we’ll explain how to lift with proper deadlift form and maximize strength while staying injury-free.
How to Perform Deadlifts with Proper Form
- Stand with the barbell directly over the mid-foot.
- Start by placing the feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
- Push the hips back without bending the knees until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings.
- Bend the knees until the barbell grazes the shins.
- Grip the barbell with arms straight and the hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Remove slack from the bar by retracting the shoulder blades and pulling the bar tight to the body.
- Tense the core to keep a neutral spine and press the feet into the ground.
- Breathe deeply into the abdomen and brace the shoulder blades to pre-tense the barbell.
- Drive the feet into the ground and keep the chest high as you stand up and push the hips forward.
- Lock out the rep by standing tall with the hips and shoulders in line and the chest lifted.
- Bend at the waist, keeping legs straight and slowly lower the barbell to your knees
- Once it passes the knees, lower the barbell down with your legs until it reaches a dead stop on the ground.
- Repeat for the desired number of sets and reps.
The conventional barbell deadlift is more complex than it appears, so perfecting the deadlift form takes time, practice, and experimentation. This helpful video from Jeff Nippard provides an excellent overview and visual demonstration of how to do the conventional deadlift with perfect form.
Deadlift Technique Tips
- Keep the barbell tight against your body
- Wear flat shoes and shin protection
- Experiment with grip variations
- Maintain a neutral spine
- Push the floor away with your legs
- Use chalk or straps for better grip
- Find the right stance
Keep the barbell tight against the body
Keep the bar close to the body to pull heavy weight safely. Letting the weight drift out in front of the body puts excessive strain on the back which can lead to injury. Work on mobility and practice wedging the body tight against the barbell before adding more weight to your deadlift.
Wear flat shoes and shin protection
Wear a flat-soled shoe like Converse to keep the feet firmly planted and flat, and high socks or shin protectors to avoid shin scrapes.
Experiment with grip variations
The double overhand grip is the safest option for deadlifts, but it may limit weight. Try a mixed grip, where one hand is pronated and the other supinated. Switch up which hand is overhand and which is underhand to avoid muscular imbalances.
Maintain a neutral spine
Keep the core tight and engage the shoulder blades to keep the trunk and spine neutral. Squeeze the glutes and hamstrings to brace the entire body before attempting to deadlift heavy weight. Avoid rounding or arching the back to avoid pain and injury.
Push the floor away
Press feet into the floor firmly to get the barbell off the ground. Imagine the floor is a leg press platform, and push with the feet to engage the whole body to lift the weight.
Use chalk or straps for better grip
Supports like chalk or straps will prevent your grip from failing before the legs do. Losing control of a deadlift due to failed grip strength can lead to an injury.
Find the right stance
Placing the feet correctly in the setup is essential for proper deadlift form. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stance width, as individual biomechanics influence which stance will engage the correct muscle groups. For many lifters, the optimal stance is somewhere between hip width and shoulder width for a conventional deadlift.
Common Deadlift Mistakes
- Rounding the back
- Rolling the shoulders forward
- Gripping and ripping the bar
- Bending the knees first on the descent
- Bouncing the plates off the ground
- Not controlling the eccentric
Rounding the back
Deadlifts are not just a lower body exercise. They engage the entire body, including the upper back muscles, to keep the spine neutral.
Proper deadlift form requires engaging muscle groups throughout the entire body to lift the weight as one strong, stable unit.
Brace the core, keep the shoulder blades retracted, and brace the back muscles to maintain a neutral spine.
Related: Deadlift Muscles Worked
Rolling the shoulders forward
Proper deadlift form requires engaging the entire posterior chain. Bracing the lats sets the scapula in place to make deadlift form more efficient and safe. Flex or squeeze the armpits when setting up for a deadlift to brace the back and protect the spine before you lift.
Gripping and ripping the bar
The set-up is an essential but neglected aspect of perfecting deadlift form. Brace the shoulder blades and squeeze the core to remove all slack from the barbell before standing up.
Bending the knees first on the descent
Always push the hips back before bending the knees when lowering the barbell. Pushing the knees forward while lowering the weight forces the barbell too far out in front of the body and can strain the lower back under the eccentric force of the barbell. Keep the barbell close to the body throughout the lifting and lowering phase to avoid injury.
Bouncing the plates off the ground
Always allow the barbell to come to a complete stop on the ground between each rep. Slow down the eccentric and resist the temptation to use momentum to complete the next rep. Always reset and pre-tense the bar between each rep to engage the correct muscles and avoid injuring yourself.
Not controlling the eccentric
Proper deadlift form doesn’t end with locking out the bar at the top of the lift. Controlling the weight on the way to the ground is just as important as lifting it with proper form. Keep the back in a neutral position and the core tight as the weight slowly lowers back to the ground between reps.
Deadlift Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The conventional deadlift is a full-body exercise that engages the back muscles and the entire posterior chain, but it should not cause back pain when done with proper form.
Common deadlift form mistakes that lead to sore back muscles include rounding the back, not keeping the barbell close enough, and arching the back at the top of the lift. If you feel back pain after deadlifts, lower the weight and focus on using the proper form.
Sumo deadlifts and conventional deadlifts are excellent full-body strengthening exercises. Both variations are acceptable at powerlifting meets. The suitable deadlift variation comes down to your biomechanics and personal preference.
Sumo deadlifts are typically more taxing on your quads than conventional deadlifts. Conventional deadlifts tend to work your hamstrings and spinal erectors more, particularly during the first pull off the floor. Both deadlift variations require strong and engaged back muscles.
The length of your limbs, core strength and hamstring mobility are common factors that dictate which deadlift variation feels right for you. You may prefer the sumo deadlift if you have long legs and a short torso. You might be better suited to the conventional barbell deadlift if you have short legs and a long torso.
In addition to sumo and conventional deadlifts, there are also many popular deadlift alternatives that can target many of the same muscle groups!
Even intermediate-advanced lifters should avoid heavy deadlifts more than two or three times a week. Deadlifts are among the most taxing exercises on the muscles and the central nervous system. To get the most out of your deadlifts, ensure adequate recovery between sessions.