I’m sure we can all agree that deadlifts are cool. There is something impressive about a person who can walk up to a loaded barbell and rip several hundred pounds off the floor like it was nothing.
But, before you can get to this point, you need a fair amount of practice, a deep understanding of the exercise, and knowledge of the most common mistakes you need to avoid.
To that end, we’ve put together this guide, outlining the most important things you need to know about deadlifts and how to master them. In this article we will cover, how to preform deadlifts correctly, unique benefits of deadlifts, different variations of deadlifts, and common deadlift mistakes to watch out for.
Let’s dive in.
How to Perform Deadlifts Correctly, Step-By-Step
The following instructions apply to the conventional deadlift:
Walk up to a loaded barbell and position your feet underneath it. The barbell should appear to split your feet in half when seen from the top. Your shins should be a couple of inches away from the bar, and your feet should be in a narrow stance with toes pointing slightly out.
Bend forward and grab the barbell with an even, overhand grip without moving it back or forth. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart.
Bring your shoulder blades back to straighten your spine, push your chest out, and bring your shins against the barbell. Doing so will tighten you, put you in a safe position for the exercise, and pull the slack from the barbell.
Pull the barbell by digging your feet into the floor.
Keep the bar close to your body and begin extending your knees once the weight crosses them.
Extend your knees and hip simultaneously, having your torso more and more upright.
Complete the repetition by driving your hips forward and locking out your knees, but don’t overextend your lower back at the top.
Hold for a moment and lower the barbell to the starting position in the same straight line by first breaking at the hips, then at the knees.
Once you reach the bottom, set yourself to the barbell again and lift it again.
Here is a great in-depth video by "Men's Health" on how to preform a deadlift correctly:
Three Unique Benefits of Performing Deadlifts
1. Strengthen Your Entire Posterior Chain
A notable benefit of deadlifts is that the movement pattern strengthens your entire posterior chain: hamstrings, glutes, and entire back. The glutes and hamstrings contract forcefully to extend your knees, and your back supports the weight and keeps your torso rigid during the exercise.
2. Develop a Killer Grip
Another great benefit of the deadlift is that the exercise builds impressive grip strength. The benefit is possible because you have to support the loaded barbell in your hands, which becomes increasingly challenging as you start lifting 200, 300, even 400 lbs.
As a result, your grip strength improves, making you more functional and better able to perform many other gym exercises, including pull-ups, dead hang, shrugs, farmer’s walk, etc.
3. Build Impressive Absolute Strength
Look, deadlifts are challenging to do. Each repetition requires excellent focus and effort to pull off. Plus, shin splints and hand calluses––two common side effects of deadlifting––take time to heal and get used to. These are some reasons why many people run away from the deadlift and pick safer movements like pull-ups and rows. But here is the thing:
Deadlifts are one of the most complete activities you can do to strengthen almost all major muscles in your body. Getting good at deadlifts means you’re building whole-body strength, power, and athleticism that improve your functional fitness and gym performance.
Five Highly Beneficial Variations of Deadlifts (Pick The One Most Suited For You)
1. Conventional/Sumo Deadlift
We’ve put these two variations into one because they are somewhat interchangeable. Plus, both are allowed in powerlifting competitions.
The conventional deadlift is the most popular variation, and we went through the step-by-step instructions on how to perform it above. The objective is to keep your feet close as you bend forward, grab the bar, and lift it until you’re upright.
Similarly, the sumo deadlift carries the same objective, but instead of keeping your feet close, you spread them wide, hence the ‘sumo’ deadlift. The variation allows you to train your quadriceps and adductors slightly better than conventional deadlifts.
2. Romanian Deadlift
Romanian deadlifts are a variation that starts from a standing position. Instead of lifting the barbell off the floor, you have to unrack it from an elevated position and lower it to the floor repeatedly. Unlike conventional deadlifts, the objective is to keep your knees slightly bent from start to finish. Doing so allows you to load your hamstrings and glutes more effectively.
3. Stiff-Leg Deadlift
Stiff-leg deadlifts are similar to Romanian deadlifts. In fact, the two movements are so identical that many people don’t know the difference between the two and use the terms interchangeably.
A stiff-leg deadlift is a variation where you keep your knees slightly bent from start to finish. But, instead of initiating a repetition from the top, you’re deadlifting the barbell off the floor. To achieve this, your hips have to be higher and your torso more horizontal.
The primary benefit of a stiff-leg deadlift over the conventional version is that you can load your hamstrings and glutes more effectively.
4. Deficit Deadlift
Deficit deadlifts are a variation of the regular exercise where you elevate yourself a couple of inches off the floor. For example, you can step over a weight plate, bend forward, grab a barbell, and lift it.
Elevating yourself is beneficial for improving your pulling strength off the bottom and making it easier to get in the correct starting position for the conventional deadlift.
5. Rack Pull Deadlift
Rack pull deadlifts, also known as rack pulls, are an effective variation of the classic exercise. The objective is to elevate a barbell on racks or blocks. That way, you can practice the second half of the deadlift, which is great for emphasizing your back without fatiguing your legs and glutes as much.
Performing rack pulls is also beneficial because it lets you lift more weight and overload your back, improving your lockout strength.
Common Deadlift Mistakes to Watch Out For (These Apply to Most Variations)
1. Rounding Your Lower Back
Some spine rounding is normal and to be expected. Very few athletes can maintain a perfectly straight spine during a deadlift. In fact, if you look at most powerlifters, almost all of them maintain some thoracic (upper back) rounding during a deadlift.
The problem occurs when trainees allow their lower back to round. Doing so is bad because it places significant stress on the spine and increases the risk of an injury.
The best way to avoid the mistake is to lift weights you can control and focus on setting yourself up well before each repetition. Working with a coach can also be beneficial for improving your technique.
2. Not Setting Up Correctly
The second common mistake with the deadlift is not taking the time to set up correctly. There are many ways to mess up your set-up, but perhaps the most common is to set the barbell to yourself rather than setting yourself to the bar.
As outlined in the step-by-step instructions above, the proper way to set up for the deadlift is to keep the bar stationary and adjust yourself to it. Doing so allows you to be consistent with your technique and makes it easy to work down the steps to create whole-body tightness.
The best way to avoid the error is to:
a. Avoid moving the bar in any way as you set-up
b. Take your time to set up correctly for each repetition, at least initially
3. Inconsistent Repetition Execution
The third common mistake with the deadlift relates to the inconsistent rep execution. In other words, each repetition you do looks slightly different from the others. While that mistake might not necessarily seem alarming, it isn’t ideal because of two reasons:
a. It suggests that you’re not taking the time to set up properly
b. It means that you’re likely at a higher risk of technique breakdown as you get tired
Both of the above reasons hint at the idea that you might be at a higher risk of injury.
The way to fix this mistake is simple but certainly not easy: you need lots of dedicated practice with the exercise. Reduce the load you’re using and focus on developing your skill to deadlift. Set up as best as possible and take as long as you need to perform each repetition in the same way. Filming your deadlift sets can give you valuable information on how your technique changes, especially toward the end of a set, as you get fatigued.
4. Leading With The Hips
Another common but subtle deadlift mistake is leading with your hips. Instead of driving the barbell up, the first movement that occurs during a repetition is changing hip height. Doing so isn’t necessarily harmful because all you’re doing is turning a conventional deadlift into a stiff-legged deadlift. As a result, your glutes and hamstrings do more of the work.
The problem is that leading with your hips prevents you from lifting the most weight possible, which would be harmful if you’re trying to improve your deadlift 1RM.
An excellent way to fix the mistake is to be mindful of your hip position at the start of a deadlift and strive to maintain it by driving through your heels and extending your knees first.