Barbell Deadlift

The barbell deadlift was bred out of necessity. It was built specifically for the military and its purpose was to teach soldiers how to use their strength properly. No matter your body type, you can learn to barbell deadlift properly.

We're going to cover everything you need to know to perform the barbell deadlift properly so you can add this critical exercise to your gym workout routine immediately.

How To Perform The Barbell Deadlift

The barbell deadlift is a challenging movement because you start each rep at the bottom position. This means that your back, legs, and arms must be strong enough to deadlift the weight from the floor.

In a barbell deadlift, the “dead” refers to dead weight. That means you must use proper form to allow your barbell to start from a dead stop on the floor every time, rather than just moving up top.

Setup And Placement

A barbell deadlift should be set up with heels placed hip-width apart and your feet parallel, shoulder-width apart. This is because the distance between your heels should be hip-width apart. So if your hips are wider, you should stand with your heels placed further away, and vice versa.

Troy preparing to lift a barbell for a barbell deadlift exercise

The barbell should always start over your mid-foot because when the weight leaves the ground, it will pull you forward.

The barbell should never start over your toes because when the weight leaves the ground, it will pull you forward. This puts the bar away from your center of gravity and further from your balance point. This will make you lose balance, feel harder on your lower back, and put more pressure on your shins.

Deadlifting with your squat stance is dangerous. You need to create space for your arms when you set up. If your legs are too far forward, they will block your arms from moving freely. This will make you pull with bent arms which puts a lot of pressure on your biceps and elbows.

An optimal hip position for your barbell deadlift depends on your build. If you have long thighs, your hips will be higher than if you have short thighs. Regardless of build, proper deadlift positioning involves having a more vertical torso with the hips and knees in the highest possible position, feet hip-width/shoulder-width apart. If you set up properly and are meticulous about your form, you can barbell deadlift safely and productively whether you have long or short thighs.

When you do deadlifts, bend your knees out at shoulder-width so that they point out at about 15 degrees, over the top of your toes. Do this while you set up and while you pull the weight up. This will help your range of motion through your hips, upper back, and posterior chain.

Grab The Bar

When you barbell deadlift with a poor overhand grip, pain will develop in your hands. An improper overhand grip causes the bar to slide down your palms and place pressure on skin folds. This hurts and leads to calluses that tear easily.

Troy lifting a barbell for a deadlift exercise in his garage

To perform the exercise correctly, grab the bar narrow. Narrowing your overhand grip will make your hands vertical when you look at them from the front. This will help decrease the distance your arms must move in order to lift up the weight, and you can deadlift more weight with a narrow grip.

Grab the bar with your palms toward you. This is the standard or double overhand grip. You can use the mixed grip, but it’s not an everyday thing. Save it for when your grip strength fails and sticks after too much deadlifting. Start with a normal grip on most sets, though.

Lift The Bar

The barbell must start below your midfoot and move up in line with your shins because those are the supporting muscles.

Start with your shins against the bar. If you place them correctly, it will be easier to lift the bar over your knees and thighs. Don’t let it drift away from your body or it will cause pain in your lower back. To protect your legs, wear pants or socks that are long enough to cover your shins.

Lift the bar in a vertical line. This is the most effective way to pull because it is the quickest path from ground to lock-out. The shortest route is a vertical bar movement. It should not slant forward because that makes the bar travel path longer and throws off your balance.

Take a big breath, and then deadlift the weight off the floor.

Slowly pull up on the weight. Don’t push with your arms, and don’t try to deadlift the weight without straightening your elbows. Pause first, and then pull the weight into your shoulders, breathing deeply. Don’t rush and keep your movement even.

Troy doing a barbell deadlift at the gym

If you find that the bar is moving too far away from your midfoot during a power clean, try resetting. Stand up, get the bar still, and get your midfoot back under the bar. Then get in the proper position and pull. Don’t attempt to pull the weight over your foot, because you might not be able to get in a proper position.

Locking your knees at the top of every rep is an important part of performing conventional deadlifts correctly. This strong, locked position is key to success because it gives you a stable frame to hold the weight. Don’t cheat yourself by not locking your knees at the top of each rep.

If the bar will not budge, your grip strength might be insufficient. Place chalk on your hands and try again, this time with a mixed grip. It will provide you with a better grip, and you should be able to lift the weight. Make sure you don’t give up too early; if the bar still will not move, it’s too heavy for you.

Lower The Bar To Finish Your Deadlift

Going down should follow the path of going up. To lower the bar, you should move down in a straight vertical line as this is the shortest distance to the floor. It should pass just above your knees to decrease stress on your lower back.

Troy barbell deadlift

Lower the bar keeping it in contact with your legs to decrease the downward pressure from your body weight on your lower back. Your spine must stay aligned in its neutral position.

Then lower the weight by moving your hips and knees back. Keep your legs almost straight while moving mostly from your hips. The goal is to keep your knees back and out of the way of the barbell, so you can lower it in a vertical line to your midfoot. If you bend your knees, you'll struggle. They’ll come too far forward and block the barbell from reaching the ground.

Benefits Of Adding Barbell Deadlifts To Your Workout

The deadlift is a great strategy to build big muscles and increase stability. A recent study from Texas Tech found that after ten weeks of doing the deadlift, participants gained significant amounts of both muscular strength and muscular stability, especially women who had little experience with the deadlift or weightlifting.

Improved Full-Body Strength

As you build muscle in your abdominal area, your back and posterior chain become stronger. That means it’s less likely to hurt. That also allows you to work out longer and deadlift more weight. Strong muscles make an indelible impact on your performance at the gym and when lifting weights. In addition, this full-body move can save time because it works many muscles at once in a super short amount of time.

Troy Adashun's mass building workout

The deadlift is a key exercise that engages and strengthens the lats. However, bigger lats are not just cool; they also signify strength and functionality. Yet, for long-term health, you should take extra care to avoid back pain. Back pain is a leading cause of disability in Americans of all ages, so don't forget to strengthen your back muscles if you're training for strength. A key way to do this is by doing deadlifts or other posterior chain exercises.

Better Posture And Form

Troy doing a barbell deadlift at the gym

Deadlifts are an effective way to train a neutral spine, hips, and knees. They are the perfect exercise for building good movement habits that apply to your everyday life. For example, when you go to work you’re less likely to bend too far forward and hurt your back while picking up a heavy object, which is the most common type of spinal injury in the workplace.

Deadlifts are a great strategy for improving core strength, core stability, and posture. The movement involves most major leg, lower back, and core muscles — which means that it also strengthens the muscles responsible for proper posture.

Improved Recovery

Deadlifts are excellent for increasing your vertical leap, reducing skeletal muscle loss in the elderly, increasing bone density in athletes who play contact sports, and facilitating functional recovery after a lower-body injury.

Better Hormone Levels

Deadlifts work everything: thighs, core, neck, back, and grip. This means your testosterone and growth hormone levels will skyrocket. Lowered body fat and better moods? Yes! Higher immunity, better sex drive… yes to all that, too!

Stronger Grip

Old-school, hardcore athletes were built strong. They worked hard and had big muscles — specifically big biceps and strong quads. But today, many athletes don’t have that same kind of strength. Often, their grip is the weakest link in the chain. This makes it hard for athletes to exercise. Deadlifts and other power exercises can be especially frustrating when your grip is weak. You can also try things like the double overhand grip or hook grip. Don't barbell deadlift using the underhand grip.

Plenty Of Variations

Of course, you want to stay fresh in the gym. Have fun with deadlifts. There are plenty of ways to mix it up: the Smith Machine deadlift, the Sumo deadlift, the Romanian deadlift, trap bar deadlifts, and rack pulls. So many options! All methods offer different benefits and can find a place in a well-constructed training program.

Smith machine workout barbell row

The Romanian deadlift is similar to the conventional deadlift, but it differs in that it begins from a standing position and engages the glutes and hamstrings more. The deadlift begins from the bottom position, engaging more of the quads and mid-back. It is easier to lift heavy with a conventional deadlift than a Romanian deadlift.

The sumo deadlift, which is done with the hands inside of the thighs and a wide stance, is one of the best deadlift variations around. A sumo deadlift is generally done with a wider stance than the conventional deadlift and with the hands inside of the lifter’s thighs.

Find a variety that you enjoy for when you are ready to try something different. When you want to switch things up, there are plenty of movements available for you to choose from.

Stronger Bones

Deadlifts build muscle strength and testosterone, which make the bones in your body stronger. This decreases the risk of osteoporosis and makes you less likely to break down. It’s important for you to build and maintain bone mass, especially as you age.

Muscles Worked By The Barbell Deadlift

The deadlift is a powerhouse exercise. It works multiple muscles and can be a full-body workout. There are a variety of muscles that are worked by deadlifts, including the hip extensors, anterior core, glutes, lower back, latissimus dorsi, biceps femoris, hamstrings, spinal erectors, deltoids, trapezius, serratus anterior, rhomboids, and others.

Deadlifts work every major muscle in your body. Although they’re doing different things, the primary movers are the legs. The back muscles keep you from sagging and let you maintain a good posture. The arms are the ones keeping the weight on the bar.

Shoulders & Back

Back muscles contract and relax to keep your spine in place and gravity pushes it down. Deadlifts are an excellent back builder because they engage all of your back muscles. They work the back and shoulders more than any other exercise, which is why they're a strong choice for anyone's workouts.

When it comes to back workouts, deadlifts and barbell rows are the best. If you add pull-ups in there, you’re set for a strong upper body. Use heavy weights and move quickly to get the most out of this workout circuit. You won’t need much else to build a v-shaped back. Work out two to three times a week and you'll add tons of strength and tone.

Arms

When you lift, the bar puts tremendous pressure on your forearms and mixed grip — which is where you put the most resistance. Your mixed grip tightens to support the bar as you attempt to lift it off the floor, but your biceps and triceps must also work against this resistance. They work to straighten your fingers and squeeze the bar as you pull it up.

Chest & Abs

The core and obliques are what keep your back strong and healthy through physical activity. If you don't use them, they will deteriorate and weaken over time. Diet is also paramount in the development of a functional and strong core. Develop proper body mechanics by working the core muscles regularly with exercises such as farmer's walk, glute-ham raises, single-leg hip thrusts, and of course—the barbell deadlift.

Traps

To deadlift, your trapezius muscles contract to hold your shoulders in place while also transferring force to the bar. The heavier you deadlift, the harder your traps work, and the bulkier they get! You also don’t need to do shrugs mid-rep like you do with the barbell overhead press.

Glutes

In the deadlift, your glutes are targeted throughout their entire range of motion. This is the main reason why it’s one of the best exercises for the butt. Strong glutes mean greater endurance, power, and pain prevention. The gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle in the body and of the three powerlifting movements, nothing targets the butt as hard as the deadlift. Strong glutes mean a heinie that drives your machine.

Legs

The muscles in the back of your legs are straightening your knees, while the front of your legs are straightening your hips. The muscles in the back of your thighs are working first while you control the weight in a deadlift starting position. Then the muscles in the front of your thighs come into play as you fully straighten your knees until standing all the way up.

Barbell Deadlift Safety: Form And Injury Risks

Deadlifting is a great exercise that builds leg strength, but lifting with poor form can decrease strength and increase injury risk. To perform deadlifts correctly, you need to move the weight up from the bottom with a pushing action. Instead of lifting the bar vertically, you pump it.

Deadlifts can turn a weak back into a strong one by strengthening the muscles in your trunk. The deadlift increases back endurance and builds safe movement habits. Gravity pulls the bar down when you deadlift. Your muscles contract to fight gravity and stabilize your spine so it doesn’t bend.

Even if you’re naturally built with short limbs and a long torso, you can figure out how to do a bar deadlift the right way. Those with shorter torsos and longer legs often set up lower than those with longer torsos and shorter legs. Don’t bend your spine to mimic someone else’s deadlift form unless you have the same physique.

When performing the deadlift, it is highly important that you maintain a good deadlift form. A bad way to perform this exercise is to pull from a bent lower back. This can cause injuries to your spinal discs such as bulged discs and pinched nerves. It can also cause back strain or herniated disks.

man and woman doing deadlift with barbells

When you deadlift, keep an inward curve in your lower back. Start by using your knees to lower yourself to the bar, then slowly pull the bar to your body. Maintain even the pressure on your discs by keeping a neutral spine throughout the movement. This decreases the chance of injury while doing the deadlift with heavy weights at home.

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