1. Proper Form Deadlift Checklist
This is the proper form deadlift checklist I wish I had when I started to deadlift. A lack of good form is a recipe for disaster, especially for beginners who are not seasoned weight lifters.
A lower back injury is not what you want. You are looking for the great strength and fitness gains that will come from using correct form for ever set and every rep.
I experienced plenty of strains, lower back pain and even tennis elbow because of poor form and lack of information. The deadlift appears to be a simple move, but it is more complex than meets the eye.
Some people are naturals, but I am not and when you deadlift after the age of 50, 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.
2. Warm Up
- First, make sure that you are warmed up!
- You cannot just walk into the gym and start doing deadlifts cold.
- You can, but I think that is playing with fire.
- A great way to warm up for deadlifts is with squats.
- Now, if you are not up to squats yet or do not do them, no worries, other good ways of warming up is walking and stretching at the minimum or any other type of activity that will get your body feeling more flexible and breaking a bit of a sweat.
3. 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 hamstrings and glutes. Then switch to the front of your legs and roll your quads, inner and outer thighs.
4. Good Mornings
After rolling out, do 3 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 very important to keep your upper body tight. This is also known as bracing. Just as you are going to brace in the deadlift 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 is the hip action you need for safety and success in the deadlift. Hip hinge and hip drive are critical to proper deadlift form.
5. 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 a 10 pound, or 30 pound.
It should not be too easy, and not too difficult. 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 arm parallel to the floor.
6. Bracing Your Core
Now comes the hard part. Tighten your body as if you are going to do a deadlift. This 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 entire 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.
7. Warm Up Summary
To sum up, this is your warm up to help improve your deadlift form:
- 5 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
- 3 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.
8. Warm Up Sets
- Always do warm up sets 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 1 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 grand total of 50 lbs.
- Hey, that was enough for me to actually start to see results, the first of which was that I was incredibly sore in my legs and back just from that light weight.
- Now I warm up with 95 lbs and am working my way up to deadlifting 200 pounds for 5 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. Even if I do decide to compete, it is still going to be a competition against myself.
- So, no matter how great your form is, if the weight is too heavy, trouble is brewing, therefore, please start with 50 percent of your 1 rep max and gradually increase the weight.
- You do not have to lift heavy to see amazing benefits from deadlifting.
9. Set Up at the Bar
- Approach the bar.
- Do not move the barbell around to set up your starting position.
- Rather, place your feet a little narrower than shoulder width apart underneath the bar.
- Your feet should be in a jump comfortable 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 most powerful stance to jump, that is the correct 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 little beyond the laces on your shoes.
- For the best deadlift form, you must have good deadlift shoes. The best deadlift shoes will keep you as low to the ground as possible. This reduces the distance you need to lift the bar. In addition, good deadlift shoes increase the stabilization of your feet against the floor.
- 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.
- Do not, repeat, do not deadlift wearing typical gym or running sneakers. You need deadlift shoes for safety and performance.
- If you place your feet too wide, then you will be interfering with your grip and if too narrow, then you will not have good balance when lifting the bar.
10. Get a Grip
- The next most important phase of a proper form deadlift is getting a very good 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 good grip, a tight grip and make a commitment 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.
11. Keep Your Back Straight
- Read this subheadline once again, or maybe a hundred times more, keep your back straight.
- This means that when you are in the squat position, at the low point of your squat, your back must be straight and solid.
- You must not ever do deadlifts with a rounded back.
- When you lower yourself to the bar, you use a hip hinge, you hinge your hips backward.
- This means that you do not bend your back to reach the bar.
- That is not a proper form deadlift, that is a recipe for a back injury.
- You might think that it is better to not deadlift so as to avoid lower back pain. The irony is that according to 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.”
- 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 strong grip.
- Your shoulder blades are directly above the barbell.
- Hips must be a bit lower than your shoulders.
- Lift your chest up 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 reduces the distance the bar has to travel.
12. Breathe, Brace and Push
- When you feel like you are ready to go for the deadlift,
- Take a deep breath, fill your belly and your chest, tighten your core and keep it solid
- This is called bracing. You must learn bracing 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 strong deadlift.
- Slightly raise the bar till you hear the click of barbell against the plates. This is called pulling the slack out of the barbell and will help your lift.
- Start your deadlift by driving with your feet against the floor.
- Push against the floor as if you are doing a leg press. Think push your feet through the floor. 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 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 and weight 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, lazy or just 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 was 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. Simple Deadlift Program
Here is a simple strength training progression for you to use in your deadlift program:
Warm up sets:
- 5 reps with 50 % of your 1RM deadlift
- 3 reps with 60 % of your 1RM
- 2 reps with 70 % of your 1 RM
Work sets using a periodization block of 6 weeks
- First week – 3 sets of 6 reps using 75 % of your 1RM deadlift or 3 x 6 x .75
- 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
- Sixth week – Retest your 1RM using 5 reps at a level 6 or 7 as in the Wendler 1RM formula above.
You might think that it is better to not deadlift so as 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.
For example, last week I helped my sister in law on the way to the airport. Here I was, in front of my wife and mother in law and sister in law. The suitcase weighed in at 90 pounds, 30 pounds over the limit.
It was large and bulky and I had three pairs of eyes on me. Could I lift this suitcase into the trunk of the car and pull it out?
So, I looked at that suitcase like a barbell. And then did my best to execute a perfect form deadlift with that suitcase. Voila, I picked it up easily with no back strain. Even better, I got a nod of approval from my mother in law as having done a good job.
That is what I mean when I say building strength has real life functional benefits. Now, once I lifted the suitcase one time, I was not going to take it out of the trunk, put it back in over and over again. Once was enough!
What are your best practices for perfect deadlift form, whether regular or sumo deadlift?