The Deadlift should be a staple exercise of nearly all athletes’ training programs. This lift is tough and intense, but it can produce some incredible results. It’s one of the few exercises that can improve your overall power, strength, explosiveness and speed—no matter the sport you play. However, while the lift itself may seem simple enough, you need proper form to be effective. Let’s examine the particulars so you can reap the full benefits of this incredible lift.
Choosing between the Conventional and Sumo Deadlift comes down to personal preference. Athletes with certain body characteristics might feel more comfortable in one version over the other. And while Conventional Deadlift focuses more on back strength and Sumo on hip strength, neither is “better” or “safer” than the other. Today, we’ll focus on the Conventional Deadlift.
When setting up to Conventional Deadlift, create a mental checklist to review right before you pull. This will enable you to pull in a safe and effective manner.
To start, place your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Squat and grasp the bar with a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip. Your arms need to be outside your legs, with elbows extended. The bar should be positioned over the middle of your feet and against your shins. Your back needs to be rigid and slightly arched.
Prepare for Lift
Find a spot in front of you and fix your eyes on it. This will make certain that your head is up and fixed. Remember, where the head goes, the body follows. For example, if you dip your head forward, you will lean forward and miss the lift.
Next, your chest must be pushed up and out, and the shoulder blades squeezed together. Your bodyweight should be between the midfeet and heels of your feet. Keep your heels in contact with the floor. Your shoulders need to be over the bar, but you should not lean over it. Before you initiate the pull, slightly tense your triceps. This will minimize your use of the biceps during the exercise.
The lift begins by pushing the legs against the ground. You must extend the knees and hips at the same time, maintaining the same position of your upper body; in other words, the hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate—the hips cannot rise before the shoulders. Keep your back rigid and your weight over the middle of the feet. Keep your shoulders over the bar and your shoulder blades tight. Do not bend your elbows; the biceps are a much smaller muscle than the legs and hips. Trying to bring the biceps into a Deadlift will overload them, possibly resulting in severe injury.
As the bar travels up, keep it close to your legs, and slightly shift your weight toward the heels. As the hips and knees become extended, use your upper back to finish the lift. Keeping the back rigid, arms straight, head up and shoulder blades back, finish the lift by pulling with your upper back. As the bar reaches the top of the movement, squeeze the glutes to lock out the Deadlift. But don’t roll your shoulders back or excessively lean backward. Both of these common mistakes can lead to major injuries.
So that’s how you perform a Conventional Deadlift. In Part 2, we’ll hit the Sumo version, plus some auxiliary information about Deadlifts in general, including grips, suggested reps, sets, etc.
Michael Palmieri is the president and founder of The Institute of Sport Science & Athletic Conditioning. He has lectured for several major organizations and associations and written numerous articles for multiple media outlets. He currently serves as state chairman for the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a state director for the North American Strongman Corporation and a judge for the International Natural Bodybuilding Association. A former powerlifter, Palmieri has been in the industry for more than 20 years. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in biomechanics at UNLV.