How to Deadlift

Despite its common association with hardcore bodybuilding, the deadlift is a genuine full-body exercise that (done correctly) can support even a beginning strength training program. Lifting, as many of you know, is one of The Primal Essential Movements. Ideally, lifting heavy things should mimic the activities of everyday life and build the strength necessary to make these activities easier for us—throughout our lifespan. Deadlifts do just this. They’re one of the big, compound lifts that trigger the hormonal response systems and build functional strength that make carrying bags of groceries (or the occasional kid) less strenuous—and safer. It’s the kind of strength our ancestors enjoyed, whether they were building shelter on the savannah or working farmland.

By engaging all the major muscle groups in the arms, shoulders, abs, back and legs, deadlifts (done safely) can be a top exercise for building overall strength—with added benefits to grip strength and core stability, which are more important than ever as we age. If you have back, shoulder or knee issues or are recovering from any kind of injury, you’ll want to work with a physical therapist or (with your physician’s approval) a properly certified trainer.

How To Deadlift

Layla McGowan (co-author of The Keto Reset Instant Pot Cookbook) put together this awesome video that demonstrates proper form and execution. Watch and learn, but we’ll include an outline of the major points for review, too.

Just a note: you’ll see she’s using a trap bar deadlift, commonly found in gyms. Particularly if you’re new to deadlifting or are getting back in the game or if you have wrist issues, a trap bar can be a more accommodating choice.

1. Put your feet at a jump-width stance (about shoulder width apart).

2. Exhale, then inhale against your diaphragm, pushing your air into your pelvis to center your strength there. Keep your core column solid and straight.

3. Next, come down on the bar with your hands at mid-foot position (parallel to your feet) and grip the higher (as Layla demonstrates) or lower handles.

4. Visualize driving through the ground with your legs as you come up, keeping your back straight, until you’re fully upright. Put your chest out (“pigeon chest”) for the top of the lift.

5. Then come down (using hamstrings and glutes) in the same posture you used to come up, again keeping your back straight.

6. Put the bar on the ground between lifts.

How Often Should I Deadlift?

For beginners, aim to do 4-6 reps, but listen to your body’s signals. Don’t sacrifice form to get in that last rep. If your body is done, it’s done. Take a rest. Try for 3-5 sets total within that workout. Choose weight that will allow you to achieve or come close to these numbers.

Remember, these big, compound movements tax the system with an emphasis on intensity and power. Deadlifts are particularly rigorous. Start by incorporating deadlifts just once a week. As you progress, there’s generally no need to do them more than twice a week.

Thanks for stopping by, everybody. Let me know your thoughts on the workout video series and if you have requests for future fitness videos. Have a great end to the week.

TAGS:  mobility, videos

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24 thoughts on “How to Deadlift”

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  1. She makes it look easy, but it’s not (best to work with a trainer). However, it is easy to injure your back permanently doing these without perfect form, or even with good form on a bad day.
    Worst case is when deadlifts are included in a long Crossfit WOD, and you try to do a set while fatigued. That’s what ended my 2 yr Crossfit career, FWIW. I still feel it everyday, years later…

  2. Hopefully I can get back to doing them after my two bulging lumbar discs and annular tear heal. Just thinking about trunk flexion right now makes me want to cry.

  3. Sorry, NOT a conventional weightlifting deadlift!

    That would be with a straight bar.

    1. No need to apologize, it’s a deadlift using a trap bar as noted, and probably a better choice than a straight bar for 90% of people.

  4. I have a couple of years on Mark but I still think of deadlifts as the best exercise in my workout. The gym has only a straight bar and I don’t have as many fingers as I started out with, but I really like warming up with body weight and reducing reps to one till double bodyweight, then working down again. At the one rep max, I love the concentration to get it right.

    I made two wooden discs for the bar (2.5kg each) the diameter of the 20kg discs so the high school kids could get into it. When you live in a little farming village in Te Waipounamu, you just gotta make do sometimes.

  5. Maybe associated with powerlifting, not bodybuilding, but whatever. Health allowing, everyone should be doing it.

  6. The deadlift! my favorite lift! This video is a good place to start. As a famous strongman of yore used to say, “No reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift!” No other lift can strengthen and heal quite like it, if approached properly. (No other lift can mess you up quite like it, either, if you aren’t careful.)

    One thing about using a hex bar, is that it tends to swing around. It’s not pressed up against your body at any point during the lift. If you go too heavy, or are too fatigued, this can allow spinal flexion/extension/rotation under load, which is A Bad Thing. Using a straight bar can be much safer in this respect, as it is ‘dragged up’ the legs during the lift, so does not swing.

    Another, comparatively minor point, is that the body mechanics used in a hex bar deadlift are closer to a squat. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind if your goal is to really stress growth and strength in the posterior chain musculature.

    I’ve been using this simple, 5-step setup for my deadlifting, and it works every time.

    1. Step up to the barbell so it’s centered over the mid-foot (where you would tie your shoes). Feet should be spaced under your hips.
    2. Set your grip on the barbell, arms hanging outside of the legs.
    3. Bring your shins to the barbell. Some people like to roll the bar to the shins, but I find bringing the shins to the bar helps set the hip height and back angle.
    4. Squeeze your chest out and up, and fix your gaze on a spot on the floor about 10-15 feet away – the key here is maintaining a neutral spine from skull to tail. Big breath held down in your pelvis with a closed glottis.
    5. Squeeze the bar off the floor. Don’t jerk the bar up. (I like to think of pushing the floor down with my heels.) Drag the barbell up the shins, up the thighs, and stand up straight.

  7. Not a fan of the jerky motion. May work for her, but certainly not for everyone. A smoother motion would be more efficient, and more time under tension. Set your shoulders back and chest forward, (get the posterior chain straight, I DO love her form in this regard), elevate just a bit to get arms engaged with weight, and just stand up using leg power. The hip thrust at the end is asking for a lower back or hip extension injury. You shouldn’t need it.

  8. Why is she “snapping” at the top? My guess is to add her little flair to an exercise she doesn’t truly understand. Try that with 500-600 lbs, and get back to me…

    1. The top range of motion is much stronger for most people so adding explosive movement in that range is likely a good thing, especially for a weight that is clearly well within her capability. I’ve been using chains or bands through the top range to accomplish something similar and I really like it. You might want to try it. Weight is relative so a very strong person could do the same thing with higher weights. It’s what all olympic lifters do for cleans and snatches.

      1. Adding “explosive” movement to the top of a deadlift is silly and adds zero to the exercise. But if you enjoy it, and think it’s “likely “ a good thing (?) go for it.

  9. Something worth noting here is that the trap bar has raised handles which shortens the range of motion. She is using smaller diameter weights, closer to 25s than 45s which corrects for this and something I recommend also. Standing on a block will accomplish the same thing if there are not enough 25s around.

  10. Deadlifts are the best of the best. They saved my back! I had a herniated disc – long story short, regular deadlifts help keep the issues at bay. To quote the legendary Andrew Lock – A disc bulge is not forever, but training is!

  11. I would think that if someone is just starting to do these lifts, it might be a good idea to start with a pretty light weight, so that you can get the form down without strain. I don’t see this mentioned.
    In my own humble opinion, as with other moves, I would start with a weight that is not too challenging. You should be able to do about 10-12 repetitions without muscle exhaustion. Once you are comfortable with the movement, sure, go to the more intense, higher-weight, lower rep workout if you want to.
    As an aging female, I find that I avoid joint injury by using less weight, and more reps….

  12. Great share! Thanks for sharing this useful knowledge on Deadlift exercise. It is really a strengthening exercise that works on several muscles like back, glutes, and legs. It is the only exercise that targets muscles on your upper and lower body both.

  13. I’ve always been so intimidated by deadlifting, but this makes it seem like I can do them! Going to ease my way into getting over my fear this week 😛

  14. Just a thought on trap bar deadlifts. Mark Rippetoe points out that at lockout, trap bar deadlifts are inherently unstable. I find them fine for working out as I’m recovering from a back spasm, but as I increase the weight, I go conventional to make sure the weight is stable at lockout.

    1. A trap bar better mimics natural movement. When is the last time you bent over to pick something up that is “stable at lockout”?

  15. You can really f- yourself up doing deadlifts. Not worth it. Try single-legged deadlifts. Safer.