What is a Deadlift?

The deadlift, along with squats and bench press, is widely regarded as the “king of the exercises” and with good reason. It is a whole body exercise using multiple joints & multiple muscles simultaneously – the core (spine and abdominal muscles) provides the stabile base for the movement & the posterior chain muscles (upper and lower back, gluteals & hamstrings) & the quadriceps contract to provide the required movement.

Due to the vast amount of muscles that are being recruited at the same time a large amount of weight can be lifted thus allowing for a greater amount of muscle recruitment to be utilised. Add to this an increase in metabolism & its functional, real life applications (reducing injury when picking up & carrying heavy objects) it is easy to see why this exercise is, and always will be a go-to exercise for any fitness program.

How To Deadlift Properly

At first glance a deadlift looks pretty simple to execute but it does not surprise me to see many, many people, both gym goers and professional trainers, executing this exercise poorly & even dangerously. If done incorrectly it can lead to muscle tears, spinal disc complications and other problematic issues so it is extremely important to make sure the technique executed is as close to perfect as possible from the start..

Below I have broken down the key parts of a deadlift & tried to simply explain the do’s & don’ts of each part of the lift:

  • Walk To The Bar – You would be surprised how many trainers struggle with this area & if this is not done correctly it will have an adverse effect on subsequent parts of the deadlift. Feet should be shoulder width apart with the middle part (were the toes attach to the main part of the foot) underneath the bar, it will feel like when you go to lift the bar it will hit your knees but do not worry, if done correctly the bar will pass your knees.
  • Grab The Bar – Arms should be shoulder width part holding the bar in either a overhand (most common) underhand or alternate grip (depending on your skill level & grip strength). If you are planning to use an alternate grip (one overhand & one underhand) then I would recommend changing which hand is under and which hand is over every set. When looking from the front your arms should be hanging vertically just outside of the knees.
  • Bend Your Knees – With the hands in place bend your knees down until your lower & upper legs are roughly 45 degrees to one another (thigh muscles should be close to parallel to the ground). When doing this your shins SHOULD touch the bar so do not try to pull the bar away from your body, make sure the bar stays over the midline of your feet at all times. At first this position might feel very awkward (due to a lack of flexibility in the pelvic girdle) but with practice you will be able to comfortably hold that           position until you are ready to lift the bar.
  • Lift Your Chest – Keeping the bar in place (do not try to move it) lift your chest so your back straightens, this is probably the most important technique if injuries are too be avoided. If one is to have a rounded or hyperextended back while lifting the bar it puts great stress on the back and discs of the spine, this compression of the spine discs can lead to disruption of the spinal nerve as well as the discs becoming dislodged (herniated discs). So make sure to have a “neutral” spine, if you look at yourself in a mirror while in this position your back from your head to your hips should be completely straight. Also make sure you do not drop your hips any further down, they should be above the knees & below the shoulders at all times.
  • Pull – Now you are ready to pull the bar so take a deep breath in before you lift the bar, then as you pull the bar up expel the breath while squeezing the abdominals. This contraction of the abdominals will help stabilise & support the back muscles through the pulling phase reducing pressure on the spine. At the top of the pull try not to shrug the shoulders or squeeze them together & resist the urge to lean back at the top & when your hips & knees lock out you will have finished the pulling phase of the deadlift.
  • Lowering The Bar – When you are ready to lower the bar back to the ground it is ESSENTIAL you flex the hips first (imagine you are going to sit down on to a chair) because if you don’t you will hit your knees with the bar. Once the bar reaches your knees bend them to lower the bar all the way back to floor (starting position).