Use this Deadlift Setup Based on Starting Strength
With that in mind, I tried a new way of setting up the deadlift some years ago.
I had been setting up by using the Romanian deadlift as a cue.
Before I reached down to the bar, I imagined that I was doing a Romanian deadlift variation.
The purpose of that was to keep my glutes and hamstrings activated.
Active glutes and hamstrings engage your posterior chain muscles rather than the small muscles of the back only.
Well, that seemed to be going okay till I felt a bit of a twinge in my back.
Immediately, I looked for a new deadlift setup because back pain meant that I still did not know how to do a proper deadlift.
Fortunately, I came across a tutorial by Alan Thrall, a powerlifter and strongman from California.
Starting Strength, the classic book of basic barbell training is written by Mark Rippetoe and is the source for Alan Thrall’s 5-step setup video.
I tried out this 5-step deadlift setup, and all I can say is so far, so good!
Even more than that, I can say that my deadlift workouts have felt great, both in the lifting and lowering phase.
Especially in terms of back stability.
And I can report to you that three months later, I added over 100 pounds to my deadlift.
I started with 10-pound bumper plates on the Olympic bar, which is 65 pounds total.
Start with a lighter weight.
So far, so good; always respect the deadlift.
See The 10 Best Strength Training Books Available Today in 2023 for more fantastic choices.
First, as with any strength training workout, make sure that you warm up.
Because if you do not have time to warm up, then you do not have time to train.
Do not lift weights without a minimum of 5-minute warm-up.
Do jumping jacks, inchworms, and floor bridges to warm up.
Or, at the minimum, do 3 – 5 minutes of cardio on:
Good, now you can focus on the setup.
See How to Warm Up for Deadlifts Properly in Four Easy Steps for a more comprehensive treatment of the most important part of your workout!
#1. Feet Starting Position
If you are a beginner, start with low weights.
The best way to do this is to use an Olympic barbell with 5 or 10-pound Olympic bumper plates.
Using Olympic bumper plates will keep the barbell at the standard height of 8.25″ off the ground, even if you are not yet ready for 45-pound plates.
This height will help you to keep your back neutral/flat.
Note: If you are a taller lifter, some additional deadlift form tips can help you get into the most advantageous position.
After digesting this article, see How to Deadlift for Tall Guys: The Best Tips to Power Your Lifts for more details.
Put a 5, 10, or 15-pound Olympic bumper plate on either side of your barbell.
If you are not a deadlift beginner, still start with moderate weights.
For intermediate to advanced lifters, moderate weights start with 45-pound plates on each side.
Setup for your stance
- Walk up to the barbell.
- Do not move the barbell with your shins.
- Place your feet under the barbell, so the barbell is midfoot.
- Your shins should be approximately one inch away from the barbell.
- According to Starting Strength, when the barbell is an inch away, this will be midfoot for every person on the planet.
- Do not worry about your body type; make sure the bar is midfoot.
- If you are wearing long sweats, you can also check your foot position from the side, which is one reason to wear shorts and deadlifting socks instead of long workout sweats.
- I am a big fan of deadlift socks.
- They help protect your shins from painful scrapes and bruises.
- Keep your feet a bit narrower than shoulder-width unless you are a taller lifter.
- In that case, a wider stance up might be more comfortable, as explained in Deadlift Form Tips for Tall Guys
- Let your toes rotate outwards about 30 degrees or one o’clock.
- (If 0 degrees is 12 o’clock and 90 degrees is 3 ‘o’clock, then 30 degrees is 1 o’clock).
At this point, your feet are in the right position:
- The bar is midfoot.
- An inch away from your shins.
- Your feet are about shoulder-width apart or narrower.
- Your feet rotate outwards 30 degrees or 1 o’clock.
- With your hands at your side, bend forward and grip the bar.
- Bend over and reach down towards the bar with straight legs.
- If you need to bend your knees a bit, do so.
- Use a double overhand or mixed grip as you grip the bar just outside your legs.
- I recommend continuing to use a double overhand grip until you cannot.
- While a mixed grip will generally help you to lift more weight, it does come with the risk of injury to the biceps of your underhand gripping arm.
- For maximum safety, always imagine your hands as hooks and your arms as long solid chains.
- Never bend your arms to lift the weight, as that pressure could result in a tear of your biceps.
- Your grip should be about shoulder width.
- Do not move the barbell either forward or backward.
At this point, your feet, legs, and hands are in the right position:
- Your hands are around the bar with an overhand grip.
- Your arms are right outside of your legs.
The third step of the setup will put your hips in the right position.
Bend forward a bit at the knees till your shin touches the barbell.
Do not move the barbell.
At this point, your feet, legs, hands, and hips are all in the right position:
- The bar is midfoot.
- Now, your shins are touching the barbell; that is it.
- And your hips are in the correct position.
#4. Set Your Back
- Here is where you flatten your back.
- You want to get your back into a neutral spine position immediately after you touch your shins to the barbell.
- Engage your core while lifting your chest and taking a deep breath.
- A nice cue is to imagine showing off whatever logo you have on your t-shirt.
- You should feel that as you lift your chest, your back will flatten out.
- Another tip is to imagine that you are bending the barbell around your shins.
- This cue will help you engage your lats.
At this point, you are in a solid position to start your lift.
My back felt strong and stable using this technique.
I think yours will too.
Remember, the key is to lift your chest after your shins come in contact with the bar.
Now your back setup is complete.
Drag and pull the barbell up against your body.
You want the barbell to stay in contact with your body during the entire lift.
Wear long pants or get a pair of deadlift socks.
I wear socks together with long pants.
I tried them out yesterday, and they were great; I wore shorts and could easily see the bar over midfoot.
Or another option is to use deadlift shin guards.
Keep your body tight, in the position you had it in when you lifted your chest.
As you pull the bar up, do not just think about lifting the weight with your arms or back.
Instead, think about driving your feet through the floor to the other side of the planet!
Fuel the power of your left by pushing your feet against the floor.
You can think of the deadlift as a vertical leg press, except you are holding a weight in your hands.
Now you understand why rowing is such an excellent deadlift accessory exercise and vice versa; deadlifts are a fantastic way to power your rowing.
Your skeletal muscles are voluntary, which means you need to think about what you want to do to activate the appropriate muscle(s).
You drag the bar up against your body while pushing your feet against the floor.
As the bar passes over your knees, make sure to squeeze your glutes together and use your hip drive to stand up straight.
You should NOT feel the lift in your back.
If you feel the lift in your glutes and hamstrings, you are using proper deadlift form.
Deadlift Setup Mnemonic – FGSBD
For Goodness Sake, Begin Deadlifting!
- F – feet,
- G – grip,
- S – shins,
- B – back, and
- D – drag.
That is an easy mnemonic to remember the 5 step setup.
If you have a better one, please let me know.
In the meantime, remember the mnemonic the next time you deadlift at the gym or home.
How to Setup for Your Deadlift – Wrapping Up
Watch Aaron Thrall Demonstrate the 5-Step Deadlift Setup
How do you set up your deadlift?
Do you have a better way of learning how to do a proper deadlift?
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