The deadlift has been known to many as perhaps the most important exercise period. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the deadlift is indeed an incredible posterior chain exercise. The posterior chain is generally referred to as you Back, Hamstrings & Glutes.
The deadlift however works much more than the posterior chain. It is also a huge challenge to your core, grip strength, upper back muscles, and arms, as well as the rest of your legs. In sum, the deadlift is an incredible full body exercise that emphasizes building strength and power in your hamstrings, glutes and lower back. If you want to be generally fit, you should consider having deadlifts as a staple in your training. Deadlifts are not a necessity for life like water and oxygen, but they are a very important exercise. If you just can’t do them for whatever reason, we should probably talk about that, but in the meantime, consider an alternative like the sumo deadlift, trap bar deadlift, romanian deadlift, good mornings, etc.
So how do you do it?
Well, for injury prevention, it doesn’t really matter*. I say that with an asterisk so I don’t have my head chopped off, but it’s true: it doesn’t really matter. Deadlifting with a rounded back is not any more likely to cause injury than deadlifting with a “flat” back (see my article on the subject here for more clarification). I know you may think I am literally insane, but it’s true. However, if you’ve always trained with a flat back, then you would be more likely to get injured with a rounded back provided the load stays the same, because you’ve never practiced it that way. And practicing something you’re not used to with super heavy loads is a recipe for disaster; it’s not smart! But if you are starting out deadlifting and you feel much stronger and more comfortable with a slight rounding of the low back go for it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is safe, it is strong, and it may even be the more efficient way for you to lift.
That being said, performance matters. So don’t go lifting like this:
That’s a Jefferson curl, a perfectly safe and healthy lift so long as the load is appropriate to your level, but it’s most definitely not a deadlift.
Now, I said for injury prevention, it doesn’t really matter. But for performance, form absolutely matters. You want to feel strong and powerful when you are lifting, and form is a part of that. It is impossible for me to give perfect guidance to everyone reading this, because everyone’s “perfect deadlift form” will differ. But what I can do is provide some general guidelines. So lets go over the deadlift:
Step up close to the bar, you want your feet shoulder width apart and your shins touching or almost touching the bar.
Generally you want your feet shoulder width apart, but sometimes that may not feel good and you may want to go wider. Some people prefer a sumo stance which is fine, but we won’t be covering in this article.
You will most likely want your toes forward, but if you feel stronger with your toes pointed out, or one foot pointing out and the other straight, then listen to your body, we’re not perfectly straight and symmetrical!
Place your hands on the bar so that your elbow pits touch the outside of your knees.
Look forward, ideally into a mirror
Bring your butt up so that your back is almost parallel to the floor
Some people prefer it higher, some lower, try many different hip heights and see what feels strongest to you
Pull all of the slack out of the bar, like you’re trying to lift the bar without lifting it
And lift! Stand up tall and strong. You just did a deadlift!
Now very often, people struggle with bringing the weight back down while trying to avoid scraping their knees so I’m going to teach you a little trick:
At the top, before coming down, bring your hips BACK first.
Then bring the bar straight down
You will not hit your knees this way!
Enjoy deadlifting, I highly recommend it.
If you ever need more personalized instructions, don’t hesitate to contact me to inquire about Coaching. If you struggle with pain during the deadlift, I highly recommend booking a session with me in Physio. If you would like more reassurance or information on how I can help you, do not hesitate to contact me to book a free phone consultation.
Jordan Octeau is a Physiotherapist and Strength Coach with just shy of a decade of experience in the industry. Jordan is an expert in rehabilitation and programming for Barbell Athletes.