Setting up: The Deadlift

Setting up: The Deadlift

I saved the deadlift for last, partly because it’s my favourite exercise and partly because I think it’s the easiest of the three major lifts to set up. If you missed my first two posts, make sure you check them out to see how you should be setting up for the bench press and the squat.

On the surface, getting into position for a deadlift seems very simple. You walk up to the bar and pull it off the ground. I’m not going to talk about deadlifting itself – I have already covered that in this post. There are, however, a few key things you should be doing before each and every deadlift:

  • Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart (I will be talking about conventional deadlifts here, but if there is enough interest I’m happy to cover sumo deadlifts in a later post). You will typically generate the most power from this position. Your weight should be centred in the middle of your foot, and your toes turned slightly outwards. Like the squat, you should be deadlifting barefoot or wearing flat shoes. 
Arnold deadlifted barefoot!

Arnold deadlifted barefoot!

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  • Set the bar over the mid-point of your feet, so your shins are about an inch away from the bar. When you set your hips back and drop your knees, your shins should touch the bar. During the actual lift, the bar should travel right up against your skin. Be prepared for some deadlift bruises, or wear long pants or socks.
  • Stick your hips back as far as you can before bending your knees at the last moment and reaching down towards the bar. A deadlift is a hip hinge, and NOT a squat, so remember to always lead with the hips. If you are doing it correctly, you will feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Your hands should find their grip on the outside of your legs, as close to your legs as possible to minimise the distance you have to travel to lockout. There is some debate over which grip is best, but I usually recommend that you use an overhand grip until your grip gives out and then switch to a mixed grip (one hand under, one hand over). I do not alternate how I grip the bar; I always do left hand over, right hand under. Grip the bar as hard as you can (this will help to tighten up your upper body).
deadlift-girl

A mixed grip

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  • When you grip the bar, make sure your hips are below the line of your chest. This is to take the pressure off your lower back, and move the majority of the weight into your hamstrings and glutes. Conversely, you don’t want to drop your hips too low (i.e. to parallel) and turn it into a squat. Think of having a rope tied around your hips which is pulling you backwards.
  • Keep your chest up, and pull your shoulder blades back. Imagine trying to tuck your shoulder blades into your back pocket. At this point, make sure your lats are squeezing hard. Because a deadlift starts from a dead stop (unlike, for example, a squat where the eccentric portion of the lift prepares the body for the challenging push ahead), it is important to tense as many muscles as possible.
  • Do not look up! Tuck your chin and keep your eyes fixed on the floor a few metres away. Your spine should be in a neutral alignment (one straight line from the top of your head to your hips, with a completely straight back).

    neutral spine

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  • I like to breathe by taking a big, deep breath in before I drop my hips, and then exhaling as I pull. I have only recently switched to this type of breathing because of my eye operation. What is more common, and what I typically recommend, is to breathe in at the same point but hold your breath for the entire duration of the lift. For sets of multiple repetitions, both breathing in and out should be done at the bottom of the lift. This is to maintain maximum tension and keep your core tight while facing such heavy weights.

Do you remember to do all of these things before you deadlift? What is your favourite exercise?

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