The deadlift is a foundational and archetypal movement. Anytime you pick something heavy up off of the ground, you use the skills and muscles developed in the deadlift. The deadlift works the entire body as one integrated unit. As a result, the deadlift as an exercise is damn near ideal for building strength throughout the entire body.
Like most things in life, proper setup leads to safe and correct execution. This guide outlines best practices and recommendations for the traditional, basic deadlift. Look for future writings on the Sumo and Romanian deadlifts as well as details on grip variations. First, read this entire guide beginning to end to get the general feel and overview of this lift. Then go back and reread as often as needed, practicing each step in sequence. Additionally, we encourage you to do your own research and homework. With the information here as a starting point you should be able to build a thorough understanding on how to exicute this lift correctly.
Before you begin, establish the width of your jump stance. Plant you feet as you would if you were going to try to jump up and touch the ceiling. You should find that this ends up being about hip width apart or slightly wider. Don’t go too wide or your knees will get in the way of your arms when grabbing the bar. Additionally our goal is to generate the greatest amount of force production possible. To accomplish this we want the feet lined up under the hips. That way everything from the foot to the ankle to the knee lines up to deliver force to the main axis of rotation at the hip.
Address the bar by assuming your jump stance with your shins touching the bar. Grab the bar on either side of your legs about a thumbs distance away from your legs. You can grab wider but you probably won’t want to grab much closer. The idea is to have the arms straight, the hips folded, the butt down and the chest up. A hook grip is utilized in Olympic lifting to create a greater connection to the bar. Try practicing with the hook grip and decide for yourself if it is advantageous. You will find as you get stronger and the amount of weight you can deadlift increases, often the first part of the body to fail is not the back or legs but the grip. Chalk helps. Do not use gloves, they interfere with your connection to the bar and weaken your grip. Calluses are cool, especially if you need to toughen up your soft little city hands.
For more control and as an aid for lack of grip strength some athletes use props such as wrist hooks and straps or they adopt the alternating grip (one hand faces forward and the other backward). These variations can be used when grip strength is not sufficient to hold the weight yet the athlete has shown no lack of ability in the rest of the body to complete the lift. However it is our opinion you should cultivate the grip strength necessary to lift the weight without props. Use grip strengthening exercises as needed.
All together now...
Hip hinge, butt down, maintain lumbar curve, shoulder blades back and down. Make this your mantra. Take your stance and address the bar. Hinge at the hips, fold at the waist and put your butt down. Your hips will remain above your knees. Reach down for the bar and grab it with your iron clad grip. Arch your back. To protect and preserve your spinal column one must maintain back extension throughout the entire lift. A flexed back that curves forward or rounds at the address is not aligned properly. This means the lift will be mechanically inefficient and structurally unprepared to bear the load. If you can not maintain extension then work on back extension and mobilization exercises until you are able to assume the starting position properly.
Stand all the way up extending your knees and hips at the same time. Do not let your knees straighten before you extend your hips! To complete the concentric phase of the deadlift you have to stand all the way up, legs and hips straightening at the same time. Undue strain will be placed on your back if you only come up part of the way before setting the weight back down again. It also just won’t be a correct complete rep. The point of the lift is to stand all the way up with the weight then put it back down under control.
Deadlifting should be intuitive and simple. Remember, in the most basic sense, you are doing nothing more than picking something up off the ground. If you keep your back stable and the weight close to your body there's little room for error. Problems arise when one lets ego take over and attempts to lift more weight than they are able. Work the form, practice higher reps at lower weight and in no time you'll be deadlifting with increased confidence and strength.