The Conventional Deadlift – Breaking Down the Technique

The deadlift is a simple exercise, right? Just grab a heavy bar and stand up. To advance from a good deadlifter, to a great deadlifter, you really have to understand all the mechanics of the lift, which actually are somewhat complex. I’ve broken the deadlift into 21 separate steps to help you master every nuance of the lift.


There is no reason your setup should not be perfect every single rep of every single step. You are able to stop and think about every step in the setup as you are doing it. Setting up properly can make a significant difference in how much iron you can pull.

  • Select the right bar
    • Pick a bar that is not bent; if you cannot find a bar in your gym that is not bent (uh, terribly sorry about that…) make sure the bend is positioned upward so the bar does not roll as you lift it
    • Choose a bar with most pronounced knurling, it should be somewhat sharp; yes, this will tear your hands up, but you will hold onto the bar.
  • Foot placement
    • Feet should be at hip-width (inside shoulder width)
    • Point your toes forward
  • Bend at the waist, rotating at your hips, to grab the bar
  • Hand Placement
    • Grip the bar at shoulder width
    • Hands should be outside your thighs so they don’t slide across your legs during the pull, as this can cause your grip to loosen
    • Arms should hang straight down from your shoulders, close to the thighs
  • Get a good grip on the bar
    • Use an over/under grip to prevent the bar from rolling during the pull
    • Try to keep both hands on the knurling
    • For heavier sets, chalk up your hands to prevent the bar from sliding away from you
  • Pull the bar close to your body
    • Bar should be within an inch of your shins before you start the pull
    • Center the bar over the arches of your feet

Basic Deadlift Technique

Try and master the basic deadlift technique before starting to add more advanced techniques to your pulls. This will give you a great foundation, and very solid deadlifts.

  • Pull the ‘slack’ out between your body and the bar
    • Pull upward slightly on the bar so there is no slack between your arms and the bar, or between the bar and the plates
  • Rock backwards dropping your hips down, and bringing your chest up
    • Rotate around your knees bringing your hips downward
    • Keep your arms straight and your back tight, and maintain upward tension on the bar as you rock back
  • Drive through your heels as you start your pull; use your legs to break the bar from the floor
  • Continue pulling until you are standing fully erect with your knees locked, your hips forward, and your shoulders back
  • Lower the bar back to the floor and reset for your next repetition

Advanced Deadlift Technique

Once you have the basic deadlift technique mastered, and the steps are automatic, begin working on the advanced techniques that will take your pulls to the next level.

  • Once you are set up for your pull, and have removed the slack from the bar, tighten your back
    • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down to keep your back tight
    • Activate your lats to keep the bar tight against your shins
  • Take a deep breath into your lungs and tighten your abs to create intra-abdominal pressure and a solid core just before dropping your hips to the starting position
    • Hold the air in your lungs until the bar passes your knees
    • Exhale slowly as you lock the bar out
  •  As you rock backward, continue bringing your hips down until your knees and shoulders are behind the bar
  • Concentrate on tightening your glutes and hamstrings as you bring your hips down
  • Begin pulling as soon as your hips drop to the starting position
    • Remaining too long at the bottom of the lift will allow your glutes and hamstrings to loosen, and let your head talk your body out of the lift
  • Keep the bar close to your body, the bar should ride up your shins as you pull
  • Concentrate on completing your pull with one smooth motion
    • Your shoulders, hips and the bar should rise at the same rate
    • Your hips should not come up first, leading to your knees to lock out before your upper body is fully erect
  • As the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward by squeezing your glutes
  • Do not shrug the bar or lean back excessively at the end of the lift, instead complete the lift by popping your chest up
  • Do not let the bar rest on your thighs (hitching) at any point during the lift, continue pulling steadily even if the bar slows and stops; if you cannot complete the lift without hitching, set it down and try again another time!

Although a seemingly simple lift, there are many nuances to the deadlift that may be difficult to learn all at once. By breaking the deadlift down into separate phases, you can master each portion of the technique and build solid foundational skills before attempting more difficult and complex steps. Just as Brute Force Rule #4: Expect Steady Progression – following this approach, you may apply this rule to your deadlift as well.

You may download a deadlift technique checklist and take it with you to the gym: Lifting Checklist – Deadlift


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