The deadlift is a strength training staple — but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this basic gym necessity, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because of the heavy weights you’ll eventually be working to pull. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the exercise’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before grabbing your barbell (or dumbbells or hexbar), take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention to the subtleties of the movement here. This multi-joint exercise needs to be done right, especially given the loads you’ll eventually put on your lower back as you progress in weight. You might think you need a lifting belt or straps to even step up to the bar, but as you’ll soon learn, that’s not the case. Forget the gear—just get ready to learn how to lift a ton of weight.
Don’t Mix the Grip!
Eb says: Use an overhand grip whenever you can on the deadlift, instead of going to the often-used mixed grip. The mixed grip has you grabbing the bar with one hand overhand and one hand underhand, and it’s commonly used if you’re going incredibly heavy on the deadlift because it keeps the bar from slipping.
In the short run, this doesn’t seem like an issue. But over time, the mixed grip engages and utilizes your lats and mid-back in slightly different patterns on both sides of your body. It also adds an anti-rotation quality to the deadlift, which isn’t something you want here. Think about this: We actively choose a mixed grip on the pullup to make it a more challenging anti-rotation move that taxes our core. But we don’t want our core doing that kind of extra work on a deadlift; it has another job to do.
Tighten Your Lats
Eb says: This is very much a lower body exercise, but your shoulders are heavily involved too, with the load hanging from your arms. That means you want your back to be live on this movement; if it’s not, your upper back is going to round forward, which can lead to shoulder and upper back issues. To avoid that, tighten both your lats and rhomboids. Once you’ve gripped the bar, squeeze your shoulder blades, as if trying to pop a walnut in your mid-back. Then try to flex your lats; think about twisting your arms so your elbows face directly behind you. Finally, pull the slack out of the bar. There’s a micrometer between the bar and the plates, right? You want the bar bumping directly up against the tops of the plates.
Brace Your Core
Eb says: You’ll see plenty of guys wearing belts when they deadlift, but the best belt you have is the one nature gave you: Your lower back, obliques, abs and deeper abdominal muscles working together to stabilize your spine in a straight, natural line. As you lift heavier and heavier weight on the deadlift, this becomes more critical. You’re working to hinge from your hips on the deadlift (more on that up next), but if your torso doesn’t stay rigid, you’ll tend to move from your spine during the lift. (Not good for your spine.)
Take a deep, breath a split second before each deadlift, really filling your belly with air, and tighten your entire core. Think of being as rigid as you can be in your lower back.
Hips Lower Than Shoulders!
Eb says: You want your glutes and hamstrings to be the prime movers in this lift—not your lower back. To do that, you need to make sure your lower back isn’t in a position where it’s the main leverage point. So think “hips lower than shoulders” on every single rep. That should lead you to sit down and back a little bit, possibly bending your knees a little more and tensing your hamstrings.
Think of Every Rep as Its Own Rep
Eb says: The deadlift, especially as you start to move serious weight, is not an exercise to be rushed. Even if you’re doing a set of 6 to 8 reps, take your time. Don’t be afraid to go through every single step on your checklist after each rep. Your goal should be to be fluid and clean on each individual rep.
By Brett Williams