If strength is what you're after, few exercises give you as much of it as the Deadlift. But getting the form correct is tricky, and without proper setup and pre-pull tension, you won't get the benefits.
Devote some time to following these tips, which focus on the standard, conventional version of the Deadlift, and you'll be good to go. You may need to make small adjustments to fit your body type.
1. Assess Your Mobility
To achieve a proper setup, you must have adequate mobility through your hips, ankles and trunk to allow you to get into the right position. If you do not, you'll need to start out pulling off of pins or blocks while you work on improving your mobility with other specific drills.
2. Set Your Feet Appropriately
If your feet are too far behind the bar, your back will be in a bad position, and you decrease your leverage and strength while increasing your chance of an injury. If they are too far under the bar, you will not be able to pull the bar into your body appropriately—although I'd rather have them too close than too far. A general rule of thumb for most people is to position the bar so that it is just behind mid-foot—not quite touching your shins but fairly close to them. This will set you up for good leverage and good hip and trunk positioning and will give you a great ability to pull the bar to your body like you want to. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
3. Use the Bar As a Lever and Develop Pre-Pull Tension
Once your feet are in good position, prepare yourself to grab the bar. Too many people simply bend down, grab the bar and jerk it or rip it up off the floor. That's a big mistake. You want to bend down and grab the bar with your hands just outside of your thighs.
After you've grabbed the bar properly, use it as a lever to pull the rest of your body into proper position. At first you will notice some slack. Pull the slack out of the bar and set your hips down to a point where you feel decent tension in your hamstrings and hips. At the same time, pull your shoulders down and back, developing tension in your lats and upper back from the armpits all the way down.
Deadlift pre-pull tension allows you to:
- Generate more hip drive off the floor. If you develop no tension before lifting the bar and just grip it and rip it, the slack you didn't take out will cause you to lose your hip drive and your back position and zap your potential force development and strength output. It could also lead to injury.
- Maintain good spinal stability. When you generate pre-pull tension, you turn on a giant brace around your spine that will keep you solid, stable and safe. Without a solid brace, things can get real dangerous real fast.
- Set your back in a proper neutral position. The last thing you want to do is lift anything with a rounded lower back. When you use the bar to help tension yourself, you can easily set your hips and low back in the proper neutral position.
Bottom line: Set up with good position and good tension. Use the bar as your lever to do so.
4. Get a Proper Breath
Breathe deeply in through your nose. You want good airflow to fill your front, sides and back, from your belly all the way up to your chest. This adds to the spinal stability we just mentioned, while also allowing you to display much more strength. Your diaphragm is the deepest point of stability around your spine and trunk. If you don't use it, you are leaving pounds off the bar and sacrificing safety. If you happen to have a lifting belt on, you will feel it compress around your trunk as you inhale.
5. Spread the Floor Apart
Finally, think about spreading the floor apart with your feet. This will get your glute muscles to engage and ensure that you get good hip drive off the floor. Check out the video player above to learn how to set up the Deadlift.