The deadlift and the squat are the two most important lifts for developing overall strength. Just like the squat, the deadlift targets your lower body muscles. It primarily works your posterior chain muscles like your glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, and quads. It also works your hip muscles and your core. By working these large lower body muscles, you will also see upper body improvements because of the hormonal effects it has on your body.
Before you start deadlifting with a barbell, make sure you can perform the hip hinge movement correctly. This is an easy movement to practice, but can be difficult to perfect. It’s also a movement you’ll use to start the downward motion when squatting.
To perform the hip hinge, start out by standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead. From this position, just move your hips backwards while keeping your spine in a neutral position. Don’t arch or round your back, that’s the key. It’s helpful to think of trying to push a drawer closed with your butt.
If you’re rounding your back, it’s probably because your shoulders are going too far forward. If you’re arching your back, it’s probably because you’re sticking your butt out instead of pushing it backwards.
Once you have the hip hinge down correctly, you’re ready to start deadlifting with a barbell.
- Set up the racks so they’re a couple inches below your hands when your arms are straight by your side. This makes it easier to rack the bar when you’re done with your sets.
- Add the weight to the bar while it’s still on the rack.
- Pick the bar up from the rack by bending through your hips just like the hip hinge you’ve practiced.
- Take a step back from the rack and place the weight on the ground by bending through your hips.
- Stand with your feet under the bar with the bar over the middle of your feet.
- Bend through your hips to reach down and grab the bar. Make sure to keep a neutral spine. No rounding or arching.
- Your hips should be above your knees. Don’t let them go to low. You shouldn’t be squatting the weight.
- Grab the bar with either a traditional or mixed grip. If you used a mixed grip alternate the hand that uses the underhand grip with each set.
- Keep your neck in a neutral position by looking at a spot on the ground a few feet in front of you.
- Before you are about to begin the lift, tighten your whole body by squeezing the bar with your hands, tightening your abs, and squeezing your glutes. The idea is to create some tension so that you are not going from 0 to 100. The tightening process should be just before you start the lift. Tighten for half a second, then start the lift while staying tight.
- After you have tightened for a half-second, start the movement by pushing through your heels and bringing your hips forward.
- Focus on bringing your hips forward so they rise at the same time as your shoulders.
- Once you reach the top of the lift, you want to set the weight back down by bending through your hips.
- Don’t worry about controlling the weight while going down here. If you are using olympic plates, feel free to do a controlled drop.
- Return the weight to a dead standstill on the ground between each rep.
Common Deadlift Mistakes
Rising hips in the deadlift is very similar to rising hips in the squat. It’s a sign you aren’t bringing your shoulders up soon enough in the lift. There are two keys to fixing this: focus on raising your shoulders early in the lift and bringing your hips forward instead of up.
Another mistake that is seen in both the squat and the deadlift is looking up instead of keeping a neutral neck. Looking up is often recommended to prevent rising hips, but it is better to focus on bringing your shoulders up. This lets you keep your neck in a safe, neutral position while still preventing your hips from rising.
Weight on the Balls of Your Feet
Although the squat and the deadlift both use your glutes, the deadlift places even more emphasis on them. This makes it even more important to keep your weight back on your heels. Putting your weight on the balls of your feet puts more strain on your lower back instead of your glutes. It also makes the lift more difficult and reduces the amount of weight you can lift.
Trying to Squat the Weight
It’s often tempting to try and squat the weight during a deadlift. This means that you’re bringing your hips too low at the start of your deadlift. It seems like this should make the lift easier by activating more of your quads, but it actually minimizes your bigger glute muscles. Another way it makes the lift more difficult is by increasing the distance you have to move the weight. Starting too low in your deadlift doesn’t pose an injury risk like some of the other mistakes, but it will slow down your progress.
Rounded Lower Back
Rounding your lower back during a deadlift is one of the most dangerous mistakes you can make. It puts a lot of stress on your spine and you should practice at low weights until it’s corrected. When done correctly, the deadlift is a very safe exercise. So, if you feel pain (not normal muscle soreness, but actual pain) then you should take some time to evaluate your form. Take a much lower weight, less than an empty barbell, and watch your form in the mirror. If you see any back rounding, you should work on sitting in the bottom of your no weight squat the same way you would to fix a butt wink. Once you are able to keep a neutral spine at the low weights, then you can start progressing back up in weight.
Arched Lower Back
On the other end of the spine spectrum, you have an arched lower back. The goal is to keep your spine in a neutral, braced position when handling heavy weights. Arching your lower back compromises this position. If you are arching your lower back, continue practicing your hip hinge in a mirror. It’s easier to fix this while deadlifting than squatting because you can perform a self check before each rep. Since you would be arching your back before lifting the weight, just do a self check and correct your spinal position before starting the lift.
Over Extension at Lockout
Another way people arch their back during the deadlift is at the top of the lift. Many coaches drill pushing the hips forward to a point where lifters start to overdo it. This is easy to spot because your hips will be in front of your shoulders at the top of the lift. It’s also easy to fix. All you have to do is stop pushing your hips forward once they are under your shoulders. This way you keep your body in a strong braced position.