Proper Deadlift Form for Beginners
This is the proper deadlift form checklist for beginners I wish I had when I started to deadlift.
A lack of correct form is a recipe for disaster, especially for beginners who are not seasoned weight lifters. A lower back injury is not what you want. Instead, you want the strength and fitness gains that come from using the correct form for every deadlift set and rep.
I experienced plenty of strains, lower back pain, and even tennis elbow because of poor form and lack of information.
The barbell deadlift appears to be a simple move, but it is more complicated than meets the eye, especially for a beginner.
Some people are naturals, but I am not, and when you deadlift at the age of 63, deadlifting is a humbling experience.
This post will give you a checklist for beginners to ensure that you are using the best conventional deadlift form possible.
Beginner Deadlift Form Checklist
- First, make sure that you warm-up.
- You must not walk into the gym and start doing deadlifts cold.
- You can, but that is playing with fire.
- A great way to warm up for deadlifts is to do your squat workout routine before your deadlift workout.
- But, if you are not up to squats yet or do not do them, no worries, because there are other effective ways of warming up. For example:
- All for at least five to ten minutes.
2. Self-Myofascial Release
Next, you want to do some SMR or self-myofascial release using a foam roller.
Start with the back of your legs and place your legs on top of the foam roller. Wherever you feel pain, stop and keep the roller on that spot of your leg for about 30 seconds.
Roll your calves and then your glutes and hamstrings. Then switch to the front of your legs and roll your quads, inner and outer thighs.
3. Good Mornings
After rolling out, do three sets of good mornings using a resistance band or a barbell.
When you do the Good Mornings, use a full range of motion. Meaning, start in a standing position, the same one you will use in the deadlift.
Practice hip hinge, meaning, to move your upper body forward and lower, break at the hips first. Push your hips back and lower your upper body until you are parallel to the floor.
It is critical to keep your upper body tight, which is also known as bracing. Just as you are going to brace during the deadlift exercise itself, you want to warm up using bracing as well.
Once you reach parallel and your hips are as far back as you can go, now squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward. This action is the hip mobility and movement you need for safety and success in the deadlift.
Hip hinge and hip drive are critical to proper deadlift form.
4. Farmer’s Walk with Kettlebells
Find a 40 or 50-yard space that you can walk on holding a kettlebell. Use a kettlebell that is an appropriate weight.
You can start with 10 pounds or 30 pounds. But like any weight lifting exercise, it is better to use a lighter weight than start with a more substantial amount on the barbell. This way, your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments get accustomed to the weight you are lifting.
It should not be too easy and not too exhausting.
When you set up for the farmer’s walk, start from a standing position at attention.
Hold the kettlebell in one hand with your arm at your side. Extend your other arm to the side a shoulder level with your arms parallel to the floor.
See 5 Epic Kettlebell Swing Benefits for Total Body Conditioning for more details on kettlebell workouts.
5. Bracing Your Core
Now comes the hard part.
Tighten your body as if you are going to do a deadlift, which means to brace your core.
Make your entire upper body tight. Now you are ready to walk to 40 or 50 yards. Walk purposefully, keeping your upper body tight the whole way.
It is not as easy as you might think, but this is a great way to warm up your entire body for the deadlift.
When you get to the end of the walk, switch hands and walk back. In between each set of good mornings, do one complete farmer’s walk using the kettlebell.
6. Warm Up Summary
To sum up, this is your warmup to help improve your deadlift form:
- 5 to 10 minutes of cardio – walk around the block, on a treadmill, or elliptical, rowing machine, or jump rope
- SMR – Self Myofascial Release – roll out your leg muscles, front, back, and sides to loosen them up
- Three sets of good mornings using a barbell or resistance bands – 15 repetitions each set.
- Alternate each set of good mornings with a farmer’s walk using a kettlebell or dumbbell while practicing bracing your upper body.
7. Warmup Sets
- Always warm up first, and then your work sets.
- Never start with heavier weights than you can handle, this is why it is so important to know your one-rep max for any strength training exercise you do.
- Start with 50 percent of your 1RM, whatever that is for you.
- I first started doing deadlifts with the Olympic bar and 2.5lbs on each side for a total of 50 lbs.
- Hey, that was enough for me to start to see results, the first of which was that I was incredibly sore in my legs and back just from that lighter weight.
- Now I warm up with 95 lbs and am working my way up to deadlifting 200 pounds for five reps. Yes, I know that is not much, even 81-year-old Shirley Webb deadlifts more. But, I am competing against myself and deadlift for fun and fitness.
- So, no matter how great your form is, if the weight is too much, trouble is brewing, therefore, start with 50 percent of your one-rep max and gradually increase the load.
- You do not have to lift heavy weight to see amazing benefits from deadlifts.
8. Set Up at the Bar
- Approach the bar.
- Do not move the barbell around to set up your starting position.
- Instead, place your feet a little narrower than shoulder-width apart underneath the bar.
- You should be standing with your feet in a jump width stance. Meaning, that if you were getting ready to jump as high as possible, what width would you position your feet? That is the correct width underneath the bar. Depending on your best stance for jumping, that is the right width. For many people, at this width, your feet are just within the knurlings on the barbell.
- The barbell should be close to but not touching your shins.
- The bar should be in the middle of your feet when you look down.
- To check, make sure that the barbell is a little beyond the laces on your shoes.
- For the best deadlift form, you must have proper deadlift shoes and shin guards. The best weightlifting shoes will keep you as low to the ground as possible, which reduces the distance you need to lift the bar. Besides, good deadlift shoes increase the stabilization of your feet against the floor.
- The best shin guards will prevent you from scraping or injuring your shins, especially when you are first learning to deadlift.
- In some cases, wrestling shoes are excellent for deadlifting. See the 5 Best Shoes for Squats and Deadlifts for more details.
- The initial start of the deadlift is to push your feet against the floor. Therefore it is critical to have a firm and stable stance of your feet on the floor.
- As mentioned, do not deadlift wearing typical gym or running sneakers. You need deadlift shoes for safety and performance.
- If you place your feet too far apart, then you will be interfering with your grip, and if too narrow, then you will not have the right balance when lifting the bar.
- Hinge your hips back, push your hips back, and by default, you will bend your knees slightly and reach down to the barbell.
- Again, do not move the barbell.
9. Get a Grip
- The next most crucial phase of a proper form deadlift is getting an excellent grip on the bar.
- Some people use an overhand grip for both hands, and some use one overhand and one underhand.
- I prefer the latter with my right hand being underhand.
- Deadlifting with this type of overhand and underhand grip feels more balanced to me.
- See which one you like better. In any case, no matter which grip you use, get a tight grip, and commit to deadlift this weight.
- As you can imagine, the deadlift will build phenomenal grip strength.
- Use a double overhand grip or mixed grip and grab the bar firmly with both hands.
- Focus on your deadlift to stay safe and free from injury.
- Stop thinking about other things that are not related to your deadlift.
- Once your grip is secure, let your shins touch the bar, and now you are ready to lift your chest to straighten your back.
10. Keep Your Back Straight
- Read this subheadline once again, or maybe a hundred times more, keep your back straight and stable.
- You must never deadlift with a rounded back.
- Again, you push your hips back, hinge your hips back, and keep your back neutral and straight.
- Then you will feel yourself lowering towards that bar.
- Practicing perfect deadlift form every time will strengthen your posterior chain plus the rest of your body. And not hurt your back. Remember to keep a neutral spine.
When you are gripping the bar:
- Your feet are hip-width under the bar.
- Grip the bar with a firm grip.
- Your shoulder blades are directly above the barbell.
- Hips must be a bit lower than your shoulders.
- Lift your chest to straighten your back.
- Keep your head neutral.
- Spot the floor or wall in front of you.
- You can also think of keeping your chin tucked down a bit to keep your head in the proper position.
- Keep your arms long, meaning no bend in your elbow or attempt to lift the weight with your arms.
- Let them hang down all the way and just keep your grip tight.
- Long arms also reduce the distance the bar has to travel.
- If you have trouble keeping your back straight, you can first work on partial deadlifts by doing rack pulls deadlift variation.
11. Breathe In and Brace
- When you feel like you are ready to go for the deadlift,
- Take a deep breath, fill your belly and your chest, and tighten your core, which is called bracing.
- You must learn to brace for the best deadlift form and results possible. Bracing means that you squeeze your abs tight as if you are protecting your stomach.
- With a full belly and chest of air, plus a braced core, this is the best leverage you will have for a solid deadlift.
- I suggest that you use a weight lifting built to help you feel the brace as well as to protect your spine.
- Slightly pull the bar till you hear the click of the barbell against the plates. This slight lift is known as lifting the slack out of the barbell. It will help your deadlift.
See the 5 Best Weightlifting Belts You Can Buy Today for excellent belt options.
12. Standing Leg Press
- Start your deadlift by driving with your feet against the floor.
- Push against the floor as if you are doing a standing leg press.
- Think to drive your feet through the ground.
- Never think of lifting the weight with your arms or back, never.
- Do not use your arms to lift the weight.
- You are going to use the power of your legs and your hip drive, as well as a straight solid back to lift the weight.
- The bar will rise as you are driving with your legs and keeping your back straight, somewhat in a straight line from the floor to past your knees.
- As the bar reaches knee height, now you must squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward. This hip drive helps you to complete the deadlift without straining your back.
- Instead of stressing your lower and upper back, you are using the power of your glutes to straighten your body, not your back, which is weaker in comparison and more prone to injury.
- The barbell will now travel up your legs, and you will settle into the top position holding the weight.
13. Keep the Hold and Lower
- Maintain the hold of the bar for a couple of seconds once you are standing up straight.
- Do not lean back, just stand straight with the barbell in your hands and feeling the power that you just generated.
- Using the best deadlift form is going to minimize your exposure to injury.
- Deadlifting is a risky activity for those who are sloppy or lose their concentration.
- Hold the bar for a moment in the upright position. If you are in a powerlifting competition, you need to hold the barbell in an upright position until the judge signals, so you might as well get used to it now.
- Now lower the bar the way you brought it up. Push your hips back and let the bar lower naturally in a straight line to the floor.
14. Bend the Bar and Engage your lats
This last tip I give you now could be the absolute best you will use on your deadlift journey. It has been so for me, so here it is:
- You need to engage your lats because that will keep your back solid and stable
- But how do you do it?
- From the beginning of your deadlift till the end, imagine that you are bending the barbell around your body
This one piece of advice has helped me tremendously to prevent lower back pain. Before I used this deadlift cue, almost every week, I strained my back. I hope it helps you too.
15. Simple Deadlift Program
Here is a simple strength training progression for you to use in your deadlift program:
- Five reps with 50 % of your 1RM deadlift
- Three reps with 60 % of your 1RM
- Two reps with 70 % of your 1 RM
Work sets using a periodization block of 6 weeks
- The first week – 3 sets of 6 reps using 75 % of your 1RM deadlift or 3 x 6 x .75
- The second week – 3 sets of 5 reps using 80 % of your 1RM or 3 x 5 x .80
- Third week – 3 x 4 x .85
- Fourth week – 3 x 3 x .90
- Fifth week – 3 x 2 x .95
- The sixth week – Retest your 1RM using five reps at a level 6 or 7, as in the Wendler 1RM formula above.
Proper Deadlift Form – Final Thoughts
You might think that it is better not to deadlift to avoid lower back pain.
The irony is that according to Wilfredo Thomas, MS of bornfitness.com, he writes that “studies indicate that the deadlift can fix low back pain by strengthening the spinal erectors, or the muscles that maintain the integrity of the spine. According to research, the deadlift trains this musculature better than anything.”
The deadlift is the premier full-body exercise to work most of your muscle groups simultaneously. No matter what your age, the deadlift can make you look and feel like an athlete.
What are your best practices for perfect deadlift form, whether regular or sumo deadlift?
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