Exercise Anatomy

The Deadlift

Weightlifting is about picking heavy $#!t off the ground, and it all starts here, with the deadlift.

Weightlifting is about picking heavy $#!t off the ground, and it all starts here, with the deadlift. The basic movement of the deadlift leads into the clean and (with some grip adjustments) the snatch. But it’s also an essential everyday movement. Drop your keys and you deadlift them off the floor. If you’re a parent with toddlers, you deadlift them up into your arms. Here are the basics of this deceptively simple move.

1. The Setup

Start standing with your feet about hip-width apart and the bar on the floor over your shoelaces. Squat down and grip the bar with your hands about thumb distance from each leg or hip. (Exact foot width and grip width can vary.)

Your shoulders should be over the bar, not behind it. Keep your chest up and back tight with a good lumbar curve. Your arms should be straight. Your neck should be neutral; look forward and perhaps slightly upward, not down. Your shoulders will be higher than your hips. As we’ve said elsewhere, if you’re comfortable in this position, you’re not doing it right!

Practice the hook grip whenever possible. You’re tough enough to deal with the pain. 

At heavier weights, you might use a mixed grip instead (one palm forward, one palm backward). The mixed grip will help you lift heavier weight, but it does not allow for transition to the clean.


2. The Pull Off The Floor 

In the moment before you lift the bar, make sure everything is tight. Your entire upper body, from your arms through your thoracic spine (upper back) to your lumbar spine (lower back), should feel locked in and should move as one unit.

Straighten your legs. Do not try to lift with your back. Think of pushing the floor away with your heels. As your legs straighten, your knees should move out of the bar’s upward path. Keep the bar close.

At this stage of the movement, the angle of your shoulders relative to your hips should not move at all — your hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate.

Don’t pull with your arms, and don’t round your back.

Your weight should be in the middle foot, toward the heel. Because you don’t want your knees buckling inward, it helps to think of your weight falling to the outside of your foot.


3. Finishing The Pull 

As your legs straighten and the bar passes your knees, open your hips to finish the movement. End with your body straight and your shoulders behind the bar.

Because the bar doesn’t go higher than your hips, the deadlift should be your strongest lift.