The king of all exercises

The king of all exercises

Since I started my weekly fitness post (by the way, I started a tab here where you can see all of the past exercises), I’ve received a number of requests to do one about deadlifts.

I hesitated. Despite how simple it looks, the deadlift is a very complicated movement that I don’t believe can be summed up in one simple post. There are much better posts out there written by people who are much more qualified than me, but I thought it would be remiss of me not to cover one of the most important exercises in existence. Instead of breaking down every single element of the lift, I thought I would cover the most basic points, and then add my favourite tips I give my clients (which most people are not doing!).

Set-up: Your feet should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Most people place their feet too far apart. The bar should be touching your shins. Engage the movement by moving your hips back, and place your hands around the bar on the outside of your legs. I would recommend using a mixed grip, with one hand gripping over and one under the bar.


Execution: Once you have your grip sorted, you should immediately drop your hips and pull the bar off the floor. A lot of people spend too much time loitering around the bottom position, thereby losing all the tension needed to create a strong lift. Plant your feet, wrap your hands and then pull.

Keep your chest up and draw your shoulder blades together and down. Your upper back should be nice and tight, and you should feel your lats engaged. Your spine should be completely neutral, from the tip of your head down to your hips, throughout the entire lift. Make sure your hips and shoulders are moving as one – do not straighten your hips first.

Lift the bar until you are in a standing position, but be careful not to hyperextend your spine at the top. Return the bar to the starting position on the floor, and take the time to reset your body. You do not need to bounce the bar off the ground with each rep.

Here is a great link to a video compilation of deadlifts performed by Molly Galbraith of Girls Gone Strong: Molly Galbraith Deadlifting Highlight Video


  • You should think of the movement as coming from your hips. Your hips should be driving backwards – you should not be squatting to reach the starting position. At the top of the movement, thrust your hips forward into the bar and fire your glutes.
  • When you grab the bar and make your first pull, be sure to drop your hips. When your hips are in line with your chest, the majority of the pull is coming from your lower back – exactly what we don’t want.
  • Instead of trying to pull the bar off the floor, envision trying to push the ground away from you much like a leg press.
  • Keep your damn head down. I would estimate that 95 per cent of lifters perform deadlifts incorrectly in this respect, by gawking at themselves in the mirror. Your head should be in a neutral position. I focus my eyes on a spot about three metres away from me, and do not look at myself once throughout the exercise. This will also teach you to feel more of your exercises, and stop relying on the mirror in general.
  • Take your shoes off. Even if they state otherwise, most gyms are cool with it during deadlifts. You need to have your feet in direct contact with the floor.
  • Progression is important. If you’re a complete beginner, you shouldn’t dive headfirst into a deadlift and expect your form to be perfect. I first teach my clients a basic hip hinge against a wall, and follow it up with a cable pull through, Kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift and rack pull, and only then do we move to conventional barbell deadlifts.

Back workout: 

While most people who follow designated body part split workouts tend to perform deadlifts on leg day, I actually like adding them to my back day so I can focus my training around one compound lift every day of the week. If I do, I tend to keep the rest of my workout short. Finally, I normally would not recommend doing more than 6 reps per set for deadlifts.

Deadlifts: 5 x 5 reps (for the more experienced, you can drop the rep range further)
Wide grip lat pulldown: 2 x 12, 2 x 8 (then drop the weight by 50 per cent and do as many reps as possible)
Bent over barbell row: 3 x 10
Dumbbell pullover: 4 x 10
Straight arm pulldown: 3 x 15

Are you performing deadlifts correctly? What is your favourite variation?

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