How to deadlift with proper form: the basics

Master the deadlift and shift more weight than the bloke next to you

OMQ, deadlift technique

Deadlifting is an efficient way to build strength through the posterior chain

This is number one in my Deadlift Series – so obviously I’m starting with the basics.

The ‘dead’ in deadlift stands for deadweight, so unlike top-down moves such as the squat, every rep starts from the floor – from a dead stop (no bouncing!). You start at the bottom, pull it up, and put it down. Simple, really. Only you’d be surprised by how many people I see doing it wrong EVERY DAY. Or maybe you wouldn’t. Either way, here’s what you need to know to get started.

How to deadlift, step-by-step guide

  • Walk up to the bar. Get your feet a hip-width apart, mid-foot under the bar. You want to be closer than you think. Shins almost touching.
  • Grab the bar. Bend over without bending your knees and grab the bar, hands a shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your kneesBend your knees slightly, so your shins touch the bar, holding the bar in place.
  • Pull your shoulder blades back. You want to light your chest and straighten your back, by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Make sure your grip is still tight on the bar. You want your upper-back fully engaged.
  • Pull. Take a deep breath, hold it, push your belly out and stand up with the weight – without letting your shoulders drop. Keep the bar in contact with your legs as you pull up. Lock your hips and knees. Don’t strug or lean back at the top.
  • Put it down. Return the weight to the floor by unlocking your hips and knees first. Keep the tension in your upper back as you move your hips back and lower the bar down your legs. Once the bar clears your knees, bend your knees to place it on the floor.

The bar will land back over your mid-foot, ready for your next rep. Take your time here, don’t bounce straight into your next rep or your form will be off and you risk hurting yourself – and never reaching your lift potential.

Pause, take a deep breath, brace and repeat. I recommend filming yourself – or asking someone else – so you can see what your back is doing and if you’re maintaining tension throughout or not.

Depending on how long your legs/torso are will determine how high your hips will need to be. Because of this, it’s useless trying to copy what someone else is doing, unless you have the exact same build. You’ll need to feel this out a little; but there are a few steps to get you in place:

  • Make sure the bar starts over your mid-foot.
  • Make sure your feet are a hip-width apart (narrower than your squat).
  • Make sure your hands are a shoulder-width apart.
  • Make sure your arms are in a straight line over the bar, shoulders slightly forwards.
  • Make sure your elbows are locked before and during the pull.
  • Make sure your head is inline with the rest of your spine – don’t look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t look at the floor either.
  • Make sure your hips are higher than parallel. Don’t squat your deadlifts.

Muscles worked by deadlifts

Anyone who knows me knows how much I like efficiency; so moves like the mighty deadlift, which work the whole body, are always my fave. Every muscle has to work with a deadlift, especially as it’s generally your heaviest lift.

Your back is doing most of the work, taking most of the load; but then your legs are the prime movers, your arms are working to keep the bar in your hands and your trunk muscles are working to keep you upright. Then because it’s so heavy, all the other muscles are working too, to ensure you can move the weight off the floor. This is a team game, so to speak. If all the muscles are pulling their weight, you won’t pull yours off the floor.

Your hamstrings and glutes move your hips, your quads move your knees, your calves move your ankles. All the muscles working to move all the joints. Multi-joint movements like this mean you can get a solid workout in much less time than a traditional body part by body part routine. The whole body is forced to work systematically, which essentially means you get stronger faster. And it’s so much fun.

Deadlifts are the best exercise for a strong back, and when paired with rows and pull ups, you’ve got a solid back workout without having to get complicated. All the gains, none of the headache.

Something which needs to be considered however is the risk of injury when you’re not lifting with a neutral spine. Poor form can lead to back problems. These are easily avoided if you check your ego at the door, start light and use proper form. Slowly add weight and your core will get stronger, meaning your back will get stronger. Everything gets stronger.

Want to know more? Sign up here and I’ll let you know when part two is available!

Feel free to send Pennie any questions via Twitter or Instagram at @SuperPennie.

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Author: Pennie Varvarides

Pennie is the editor-in-chief at Oh My Quad. She is also a personal trainer based in North London and a full-contact kickboxer, competing at national level. She believes fitness should be something we enjoy.

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