How to Deadlift: Strength Training 101
Learning how to deadlift properly is important to decrease the chance of injury and to increase the amount of weight you can lift.
The deadlift is one of my all-time favorite exercises and I believe almost everyone should learn how to deadlift. By including the deadlift in your training you can make quicker changes to your body composition, get stronger, and generally feel like a boss. It’s also one of the main lifts Bradley Cooper used to get strong and add muscle for his role in American Sniper.
For a beginner, the deadlift can be intimidating and the concern is that you’ll get injured. Not to worry. Today you’ll learn:
- Proper deadlift form
- Common deadlift mistakes
- How to incorporate the deadlift in your workout program
How to Deadlift: Proper Form
First of all, before you ever pickup a barbell for the deadlift, you have to get yourself in the right position:
- Feet the width you would stand to do a vertical jump, about hip width, in a power position
- The bar should be right over your mid-foot
- Grip the bar just outside of your shins
- Knees bent, hips down just like the video above
- Back flat, in a straight line
- Shoulders directly over the bar
- Take a deep breath, brace your core, and get some tension in the bar by also engaging your lats (The muscles that are part of your back and that you primarily use to do pull ups)
Once you’ve gotten yourself into the right position for the deadlift, it’s time to actually start lifting some weights. Crazy, I know, but you got this!
The deadlift is simple, you hold your breath and stand up while holding onto the bar. Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Sort of. There are a few key points to keep in mind when executing the deadlift that will help you stay safe and lift more weight:
- Push into the floor, driving through your heels and midfoot (Similar to a leg press except you’re pushing into the ground)
- Keep the bar close to your body throughout the deadlift
- Keep your back flat (rounding your back can lead to injuries)
- Keep bracing your core throughout the lift
- Extend your hips fully at the top of the lift (Think of squeezing your butt and thrusting your hips… insert any dirty jokes here.)
When you’re doing a deadlift, the bar will actually travel in a straight path vertically. It’ll start over your mid-foot and at the top position it’ll be in the same position just higher off the ground. It may not at first seem like this is possible, but your body will actually move around the bar for this lift.
One thing I forgot to mention is this: PULL!
Yes, you’re pushing your feet into the ground and holding onto the bar tightly, but you’re doing one helluva pull. Don’t forget.
Lastly, when doing your next rep of the deadlift, set the weight down for a split second before going for another rep. Bouncing the weights off the ground won’t help you make the progress you want.
Common Deadlift Mistakes
If learning how to deadlift was the easiest thing in the world, I probably wouldn’t see so many people do it wrong. But I do.
The deadlift may not be the easiest exercise to learn, but it’s worth the effort. While I already showed you how to deadlift, if you’re a beginner you’ll probably make a few mistakes. Here are the 3 most common deadlift mistakes I’ve seen:
- Rounded lower back. Without a doubt, the most common mistake I see. People try to lift with their lower back instead of using their legs. Remember, push through the floor to lift the weight.
- Leaning back and hyper-extending the lower back. This happens at the top of the lift and puts unnecessary strain on the lower back. When finishing the deadlift think of extending your hips, not your back.
- Letting the bar drift away from the shins. Again, related to your back, the farther away the bar is from your body the more undue stress you’re putting on your lower back. Keep the bar close to your shins when starting the lift and close to your body throughout.
How to Deadlift: Your Program
In addition to learning how to deadlift and the deadlift mistakes to avoid, you also need to know where to place the deadlift in your workout program. Because the deadlift is so taxing on your body, it’s best to do them towards the beginning of your workout when you’re fresh.
To start, as with any workout, you’ll want to do a warm up. This could be a dynamic warm up or a quick in-place warm up. Furthermore, you’ll do some very light warm up sets of the deadlift itself. Especially as a beginner, it’s important to start with light weights for the deadlift (Or any exercise for that matter) and progress from there.
How much weight should you start with? That depends on your current strength level. However, you can continue to add weight to the lift until your form starts to break down.
For a deadlift workout I’d suggest doing sets of no more than 5 or 6 reps. After that point, it’s much easier for form to break down. Are their exceptions? Sure, but that’s a great starting point.
For the number of sets, stick to around 3-5, not counting your light warm up sets. Think quality over quantity. As a beginner you’ll actually do more reps with less weight to get the movement pattern down. As you progress and lift heavier weights you’ll end up doing less reps overall with more sets and heavier weight. This is generalizing of course, but it’s what tends to happen.
You’ll find there are an infinite number of workout programs available in the world. I prefer creating simple yet effective programs, so my go-to is the 5 x 5.
The 5 x 5 program simple means you’ll do 5 sets of 5 reps. Add 1-2 warm up sets in the beginning and you’re set! You can progress by lifting 5-10 pounds heavier each week. My suggestion would be to use this type of program for 6-8 weeks and then switch the reps, doing a combination or low and high reps.
Don’t have a barbell? No problem. You can use a heavy dumbbell to do the deadlift. In fact, this is what many of my beginner clients have started with. Set the dumbbell upright, hold onto one end with both hands, and do the same movement as a conventional deadlift with a barbell.
Questions about how to deadlift?
If you want to know more, simply leave a comment below! I’d be glad to help you out.