Deadlifts are the best exercise that you can possibly do to build your whole body strength.
Learning proper deadlift form will not only reduce injury. It’ll also make you stronger.
Deadlifting properly will allow you to recruit the largest amount of muscle mass operating over the longest effective range of motion. This will result in you lifting the most weight and thus get the strongest.
The Conventional Deadlift
This type of deadlift is the most common. And I’d argue it’s also the easiest deadlift variation to learn. Alongside the trap bar deadlift.
The Starting Position
Here’s how you assume the correct starting position for the deadlift.
- You stand with the bar over the middle of your foot. And your stance should be just narrower than shoulder-width with your toes pointing slightly out.
- Next, you take a narrow grip just outside of your legs. You want to keep your hips high at this point.
- Let your shins touch the barbell (do not move the bar).
- Set your back and make sure it’s in a neutral position.
The starting position will look like this.
Using A Block
Once you’re in this starting position you’ll want to use something called a block. Which is also called the valsalva manuver.
This is how you create a block:
- Expanding the chest and holding a deep breath fills the lungs, which supports the rib cage and prevents the chest from collapsing forward.
- Contracting the abdominal muscle group supports the core and increases intra abdominal pressure.
- Finally arching the lower back by contracting the lumbar muscles positions the spinal column in extension.
- These three actions together are referred to as a block that keeps you from rounding your back.
A rounded back while lifting heavy can cause a herniated disc. While lifting any heavy weights it is essential to create a block.
Squeeze Lemons In Your Armpits
Once you’ve created a block, one cue that can help keep your back neutral and everything nice and tight is to squeeze your armpits as if you were crushing lemons under your arms.
Yes, it sounds strange but this cue works, try it.
Once you’ve got into a good starting position. You want to create a block and then pull the weight up keeping the bar as close to your shins and legs as possible.
This will ensure that the bar is moving in a straight line and will result in no wasted energy. If the bar was out too far in front of you. You’d have to waste energy bringing the bar back over your midfoot.
When you finish the exercise you don’t want to make the all too common mistake of overextending your back at the top of the movement.
Remember: All you need to do is just stand up with the bar in your hands.
Don’t Over Extend Your Back
You don’t want to overextend your back, it’s not necessary and it’ll result in a higher chance of injury.
This is what overextending your back looks like:
Overextending your back which is how you shouldn’t deadlift (left picture).
Standing up with the bar which is correct form (right picture).
Credit to Sean Nalewanyj for the picture.
For a video demonstration of this exercise click below.
The Most Important Tip To Deadlift With Safe Form
You must make sure that your lower back is neutral throughout the whole pull.
You must also make sure that the lowering part of the deadlift looks identical to the pulling part of the movement.
This means that you’ll still need to keep your lower back in a neutral position and you’ll need to keep the bar as close to your legs as possible on the lowering part of the movement.
The Sumo Deadlift
This type of deadlift is just as effective as the conventional deadlift.
Although there are a few differences:
- The sumo deadlift targets your quads more and your back muscles less than the conventional deadlift.
- During the sumo deadlift, you take a wider stance which means the bar doesn’t have to travel as far.
- The sumo deadlift is more technical than other deadlift variations.
To deadlift sumo style you:
1. Stand facing the bar and make sure your legs are wider than shoulder-width apart, and make sure your toes are pointing out in alignment with your knees.
2. Take a pronated or mixed grip on the bar and bend your legs until your thighs are horizontal to the ground.
3. Take a big breath and create a block and extend your knees until your standing up with the weight.
4. Keep everything tight and lower the weight in the same way you would pull it up.
Throughout the whole exercise, the bar must be as close to your body as possible.
To watch a video tutorial click below.
This variation of the deadlift works your quads and adductor muscles to a high degree although it also hits your hamstrings and back pretty hard as well.
The Trap/Hex Bar Deadlift
This deadlift variation has you stand in a hexagonal-shaped barbell. When doing this exercise you get the choice between high handles and low handles.
Here’s what pulling with the high handles look like vs pulling with the low handles:
With the high handles, the bar doesn’t have to travel as far so this means you can lift more weight. On average you’ll be able to lift more weight with the high handles using the trap bar compared to the sumo and conventional deadlift.
The form for the trap bar deadlift is easy to learn.
- You stand in the middle of the hexagonal-shaped barbell slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out.
- Grip either the low or high handles in the middle.
- Set your back in a neutral position, take a deep breath/ create a block, and explode the bar up.
- Then stand as you normally would at the top of the movement and descend the barbell down in the same manner as you lifted it up.
It’s really that easy.
The trap bar deadlift is amazing because it’s not as technical as the conventional or sumo deadlift.
Meaning that anyone can easily learn how to do it.
I actually struggled with proper conventional deadlifting form when I first started lifting. So the first year or so of my lifting journey I used the trap bar deadlift and got strong doing so.
If you struggle with proper form for the more traditional deadlifting styles, the trap bar deadlift is the deadlift for you.
Click below for a video tutorial of the trap bar deadlift.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q – What shoes should I deadlift in?
A- I recommend a shoe with a flat sole, such as converse Chuck Taylors, or vans.
You could use powerlifting shoes such as adipower’s but from my experience deadlifting in a shoe with an elevated heel makes the exercise feel more like a deficit deadlift.
Personally, I deadlift much better using flat-soled shoes. Deadlifting barefoot is also a good option.
Q – Should I use a lifting belt?
Belts can help increase Intra abdominal pressure and this can help you lift more weight. But ultimately It’s up to you. I prefer not to use one. But if you do choose to use a lifting belt make sure it’s not a thick belt 4 inches or more. Because the belt may obstruct you from getting your back in a neutral position at the start of the pull depending on your build.
Q – What grip should I use?
A- Use the pronated (palms forward grip for as long as your grip strength can keep up). Your whole body strength will soon outpace your grip strength so you’ll have to use a mixed grip or straps. This will help you hold on to the bar as the weight gets heavy.
It also makes sense to use dry or liquid chalk this will help you grip the bar for longer. The reason for your grip strength failing during deadlifts is because your back and all of the other muscles the deadlift targets are stronger than your grip strength.
Another acceptable option is to use straps. These can help if you want to always use a pronated (palms forward grip) and still lift heavy weights.
Q – Do you need to deadlift to make good progress?
The deadlift is a fantastic exercise. Getting strong at it will make a massive difference to your physique, especially in muscles like your traps, lats, hips, and thighs.
If you get these muscles big and strong you’ll develop a strong and muscular physique. The deadlift is the best way to strengthen these muscles.
Although if you don’t deadlift, and feel more comfortable doing a different exercise like a row or a chin-up, you can still make great progress.
Because as long as you’re progressively overloading (getting stronger) your muscles your body will grow.
But if you deadlift you’ll get results faster. And getting strong at the deadlift will yield a better and stronger-looking physique. Although you can do well without deadlifting, you’ll simply do better if you include it in your programming.
Final Thoughts On The Ultimate Guide To Proper Deadlift Form
- Whatever variation you decide to use you must keep your back in a neutral position throughout the deadlift. This will help prevent injury.
- You must also create a block so that your core and back stays tight throughout the pull.
- The only way to become a better deadlifter is to deadlift. Practice does make perfect.
Whats your favourite deadlift variation? Mines conventional. Let me know yours in the comments below.