There's nothing more primal than picking something heavy up off the ground. But if you can't lift heavy yet, no worries. This article will take you from lightweight to proficient puller with techniques for conventional and sumo versions and progressions, as well as accessory exercises to add pounds to the bar.
Whether your goal is increased sports performance or just overall strength and health, the Deadlift, performed properly, can and should be a cornerstone of your strength-training program.
The Deadlift is a hip hinge, and the majority of the movement within the lift is generated by the hips. So to begin, it's important to master the hip hinge pattern. The easiest way I have found to do this is through a little not-so-sexy exercise known as the Belly Swing.
Place a 25- or 45-pound plate against your belly, softly bend your knees, and push your butt back, hinging at the hips. Here at ATS, we cue our athletes to think about trying to touch the wall with their butts.
Once you master the hip hinge pattern, continue to work your way up the progression chain. Next stop, the Kettle Bell Deadlift, which allows you to feel the hip hinge pattern when beginning the movement from the floor. To set up the movement, simply stand in front of a kettlebell, bend your knees, push your butt back, hinging at the hips and down to meet the level of the kettlebell. Once in position, grab the bell, "snap" your hips forward and squeeze your glutes to fully engage the lockout portion of the lift.
After you master the kettlebell variation, you will progress yet again to a Trap Bar (also known as a Hex Bar) variation. This is easier to master than the standard barbell Deadlift, because you place your body in the center of the load, making it easier to control and stay in a neutral position while performing the movement.
Place your feet inside the trap bar, slightly inside shoulder-width. I like to use the cue "your vertical jump stance." Again, push your butt back and down until you reach the handles of the trap bar. Once there, squeeze the bar tight, make sure your arms are straight, drive your feet into the ground, and begin the upward portion of the lift. Keep a neutral spine throughout the movement and control both the concentric (lifting up) and eccentric (lowering) movement of the bar.
Once you master the Trap Bar Pull, you are finally ready to attack the full barbell Deadlift in all its glory. But now you have a decision to make—shall you pull from a conventional stance or a sumo stance? In many ways, this is based on your personal preference and mobility/flexibility restrictions. Many times the sumo pull can be done as the final progression before the conventional pull, since it is slightly easier to maintain a neutral spine (flat back) position during the movement; but I prefer sticking to pulling one or the other. Check out Indiana Pacers all-star center Roy Hibbert's incredible 540 pound Deadlift in the video above.
Convential: Start in your vertical jump stance, place the bar directly over your shoelaces, hinge and push your butt down until you reach the bar. Make sure your grip is tight and your arms are straight. Think about pulling the bar into you during the entire movement.
Learn more about how to master the conventional Deadlift.
Sumo: Start with your shins on the break in the knurling on the barbell. Hinge and drop down to the barbell. Grab the bar with a tight grip and rip the bar off the floor, again thinking about pulling the bar "in and up" as the movement progresses.
Learn more about how to master the Sumo Deadlift.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock