Last Updated on January 7, 2021
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For our five-part series, we delve into this back-building move.
A series about the best back-building moves wouldn’t be complete without the conventional deadlift. There are a number of reasons why this exercise is so important for adding size and strength to your back.
- The nature of the lift allows you to pull more weight than any other exercise
- It trains both the lower and upper back at the same time
- Not only does it help back strength and size, but it improves the function of the entire posterior chain
- The compound movement pattern helps release testosterone, growth hormone, and burn fat
Needless to say – if you’re not doing them, you should be. The lift itself is fairly straight forward. You bend over and pick the weight all the way up off the ground! But as far as technique particulars go, making sure you’re using the right form is the way to differentiate between success and failure. Here’s how to get set up properly.
When you’re about to pull off the floor, make sure you follow this step by step checklist.
- Load the bar and step under it so that the bar is directly above your shoelaces, and very close to your shins. Keep your feet at hip width – no wider – and angle the toes out very slightly.
- Bend at the knee and hip and reach down for the bar. Your hands should be just outside your shins, and not too far apart. Make a strong grip on the bar.
- Without pulling the bar off the ground, squeeze it. Try to “bend” the bar by creating tension. As you do this, set your back into position by squeezing your ribcage up as high as you can. Dig in with your heels and create a flat or slightly arched lower back.
- While continuing to “bend” the bar, drive your elbows behind you by “screwing” your arms back as they’re locked onto the bar. This will help set your shoulders and create added tension through the lats.
- Tuck your chin down. Look at the floor barely in front of the bar. Imagine you’re trying to hold onto an orange under your chin, and you don’t want it to drop.
- Drive with your feet and legs, and pull.
It’s very important to include the glutes into the movement as you perform it. If you don’t “try” to make the glutes work, they likely won’t during deadlifts. From the bottom of the lift, squeeze your glutes and drive them forward into the bar, closing the space between the hips as the bar as the lift reaches its endpoint. Failing to do this can cause dysfunction in the posterior chain. The lower back will take on more stress than it should be during the lift, and you may potentiate injury in the process – especially if your form is off.
Though it’s a simplistic lift, the addition of heavy weight changes things for many people performing it. Sometimes, psychological factors creep in and tell the body to do things to compromise form, and the lifter stops trusting his technique. On heavy pulls, avoid “jerking” the bar off the ground. Aggressively winding up the moment before the pull happens is an easy way to lose tension, and forfeit the necessary tightness to stay safe. It may feel more aggressive, but it’s actually a way to let go of good form.
Second, remember that form and technique aside, the bar path should always be in first mind. A deadlift is a vertical pull movement, meaning the bar should travel in a straight line from bottom to top. Your setup should disallow your knees from getting in the way. That means a slightly higher hip position if you’re a taller lifter with long legs. On the way down, it’s equally important to drive the hips back in order to allow for form to stay tight during the descent. For more on bar path, check out the video below.
Third, try sticking with a double overhand grip for as long as possible before switching to a mixed grip or using aids. You can only lift as much as you can hold, and using straps prematurely, or reverting to a mixed grip can create a reliance on these methods without developing a solid foundation of base strength first. For certain training purposes, there’s nothing wrong with using either (I’m even using the mixed grip in my first video), but it’s very necessary to learn the natural basics first.
Don’t let the deadlift leave you for dead the next time you try it. Follow these cues to get the most out of the lift, so you can pull strong and stay injury free. There’s not much better a feeling than standing tall with hundreds of pounds in your hands –and your back health and development will be thanks enough for doing it.