For many years now, the barbell squat has been considered the king of all exercises. However, I would argue that the deadlift should reign supreme.
My assertion is based on the fact that the deadlift is the most “functional” movement you can do. You see, proper deadlift mechanics stem from the primal pattern by which we pick things up off of the ground. This movement pattern is part of our DNA. Restoring and improving your ability to perform this movement pattern should be a core element of your training program. And the deadlift is the chief exercise in this category.
The deadlift improves strength, endurance, and spinal stability. But the benefits don’t stop there. In fact, the deadlift fiercely strengthens the posterior chain (low back, glutes and hamstrings), while indirectly training the entire body.
This leads to improved strength, speed, back health, power potential and athletic performance. Not only that, deadlifts can help you pack on some very well-placed muscle, thus leading to aesthetically pleasing physique (for both men and women).
You’d be hard pressed to find a more effective movement to accomplish all of these desirable effects.
Unfortunately, the deadlift is rarely performed. Since it requires hard work, many average gym goers avoid it at all costs.
But perhaps even more troubling is the fact that people often attempt to perform the deadlift without understanding proper technique. Faulty biomechanics can lead to serious injuries, usually involving the lumbar spine.
Although the deadlift should be a beautifully simple movement, many lifestyle choices (sitting, inactivity, stress, etc.) can diminish one’s ability to properly perform this basic movement pattern. If this is the case, restoration of basic stability and mobility is recommended before loading up a barbell and integrating the deadlift movement.
Ok, let’s get to the good stuff and discuss the proper way to perform this powerful exercise!
The Set Up
Foot Position- The key to a good pull is a good starting position. Start by walking up to the bar until it is sitting directly over the middle of your feet. Next, space out your feet so they sit halfway between hip and shoulder width. Your toes can point straight ahead or you can externally rotate between five and twenty degrees.
Grip- Bend over and grab the bar, using an over/over grip just outside your legs. As the weight gets heavier, you can switch to a hook grip or an under/over grip (although I only recommend an under/over grip to those trainees who are competitive powerlifters).
Getting tight- Maintain your grip on the bar while bending your knees and simultaneously squeezing your chest up.
Take a deep breath and rock back toward your heels a bit. Next, flex your lats and make sure that your elbows are straight.
Taking the slack out- This phase takes place right before the bar leaves the floor. It involves applying some upward force onto the barbell, but not enough that the bar actually leaves the floor. If enough weight is loaded onto the bar, the bar will barely start to bend during this phase. This eliminates “jerking” the bar off the floor and thus keeps you in good position while building up tension progressively. Taking the slack out makes deadlifting safer and more effective.
The Movement Phase
Now you’re ready to pull the bar off the floor. It’s important to note that the deadlift has two different yet smoothly integrated components (they are called the first pull and the second pull).
The first pull- The first pull involves lifting the bar from the floor to just above the knees. During this first pull, it is important to extend your knees while keeping your back angle (relative to the floor) constant.
In other words, the first pull is done by extending the knees only; the back angle should not change. It helps to focus on pushing your feet into the floor during this phase.
Once the bar clears the knee, the second pull begins.
The second pull- The second pull involves extending your hips until you’re standing straight up with the barbell. In this portion of the lift, your back (and thus, your hip angle) extends significantly to finish the lift.
The lift is finished when your knees and hips are fully extended, your chest is up, and your shoulders are back. Essentially, your body should be in a vertical position at the top of the lift.
The Lowering Phase
Now, to lower the bar back down to the floor again, you must use the same path that you did during the lifting phase.
Basically, use the hips to lower the bar to the knees, and then use the knees to lower the bar from the knees to the floor.
Be sure that you lead the descent by pushing your hips back while maintaining a neutral spine. It’s also important to keep the bar in contact with your legs throughout the decent.
Once the bar moves achieves knee height, lock the back angle in and bend the knees until the bar is resting on the floor.
Then re-set your position and pull your next rep.
Here is a video that I shot to give you a visual of these critical cues:
And there you have it—The Ultimate Guide to The Deadlift! Follow these instructions and you will undoubtedly increase your strength, improve your performance, and dominate in and out of the gym. I look forward to hearing about your new PR’s!
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