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Uncommon Fitness & Nutrition

The Deadlift: Proper Form & Technique

deadlift-71284The deadlift, when done properly, looks deceptively simple. Truth be told, it’s a brutally hard exercise that can complicate training if performed with poor technique.

Many ill-informed fitness or health professionals who have never lifted anything heavy will tell you that it’s a dangerous exercise. But to set the record straight: Any exercise or movement done incorrectly or lifted with too much weight in relation to ability and experience will be dangerous. Other than that, people all over the world pull the bar off the floor daily, with many repetitions, and never suffer adverse consequences.

Heavy deadlifting, when done intelligently, is without question one of the best movements to build muscle, overall strength and athleticism, It also helps to offset many postural and muscular imbalances that people accumulate by developing posterior chain strength, core stability, glute activation, power development, and transference of force throughout the entire body.

Defining the deadlift

There’s no cheating when it comes to you versus the bar. Either you lift it off the floor and lock it out, or you don’t. And whether performed correctly or incorrectly, it will have you feeling like you may burst a blood vessel, if the weight is heavy. However the former gives you the ability to walk away stronger, while the latter will wreck your back.

To master the deadlift you have to master the hip hinge, which involves flexion and extension of the hips through a posterior weight shift. This exercise undergoes three distinct phases defined by dominant joint action at the knees during lift off, the hips with the barbell at knee height, and both knees and hips during lockout.

This is different from the squat which generally starts with an eccentric loading phase, producing a more linear relationship between the hip and knee angles. (Journal of Pure Power (V.5, Number 2, April 2010)

Setting up the deadlift

  1. To start the lift, stand up right against the bar with the shins (legs about shoulder width apart) and push the hips backwards hard, rather than squatting down to the bar. Your quads should be roughly parallel to the floor.
  2. Place your hands slightly outside your legs, usually the right overhand and the left underhand, then lift the bar by pushing your legs through the floor, while keeping your chin and chest up. Maintain this erect position as you begin your pull.
  3. With a slight arch in your back push with your legs so that the bar clears your knees. Now finish the lift by squeezing the glutes as you bring the hips forward to the bar (called closing the “V”) and the bar comes to rest at your upper thigh.
  4. Your shoulders and knees should be locked and your arms should be hanging straight upon completion. But don’t finish with lumbar HYPERextension (lean back). Simply stand tall.
  5. Return the bar to the floor. 

Things to watch 

  1. A cue to remember when lifting is to squeeze the armpits when lifting to engage the lats. This will provide more spinal stability and reduces shear load.
  2. Another cue to keeping your back tight is pretending your shoulder blades are travelling down to your waist and keeping the chest tall.
  3. Do not jerk the bar up your thigh. The movement should be smooth from top to bottom.Do not round your back in any deadlifting movement. 
  4. Do not tip forward during the lift or you could risk a serious back injury. Keep the weight as close to your center of gravity as possible.
  5. Don’t hitch (jerk) jerk the bar up and down in the middle of the movement to be able to lock it out at the top.

Types of deadlifts

  1. Trap Bar Deadlifts – these have less shear load on spine due to center of gravity being inside the bar.  It’s also easier to maintain neutral spine due to the bar placement.
  2. Sumo Deadlifts – this version allows you to easier get into a lower position (for tall people) and is excellent for mobility restrictions. It uses a wider stance with a toes out position and makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine.
  3. Conventional Deadlift – this is the most recognized and advanced version, but it also provides more shear loading on the spine as the center of gravity is more anterior. In order to get into the correct pulling position, you must have good ankle, hip, and thoracic mobility.
As you can see, the deadlift is a great exercise with many benefits. So why aren’t more individuals incorporating them into their exercise programs? Because they are extremely taxing on the body, mentally and physically, and quite frankly, most only lift for recreation. Everyone wants results, but putting in the hard work is what gets you there. Whatever version you choose, make sure you it fits your body type, mobility range and ability to pull with proper technique. Then simply pull the bar, and often.

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