How to deadlift: Technique, form, variations and workouts

Advice Andre Jackson
11 Nov 2014
Deadlift

Break through your plateau and gain more explosive power with these deadlift workout tips

Deadlifts. The king of all strength moves. If you’ve ever watched one of the many strongman competitions on TV you’ll know that they mainly consist of huge guys picking up huge items off of the ground, this is basically a deadlift, the most practical and integral of all gym based strength building movements. As deadlifts often involve lifting a heavy weight, it’s easy to hit a plateau, reaching a point where adding any more weight to the exercise feels almost impossible. We might just be able to help you with that, as we outline some key tips to help you smash that plateau to bits and supercharge your deadlift workout. 

Get your shoes off

There aren’t an abundance of weight-based exercises that we’ll instruct you to take your shoes off for, but deadlifts is certainly one of them. The reasons are two fold; firstly, the majority of trainers, especially ones that people wear to the gym, make you 1 – 2 inches taller. Whilst this might seem a positive if you’re vertically challenged, it spells bad news if you’re deadlifting as it means that the bar needs to travel that bit further and though 1-2 inches might not seem a lot, it’s a difference maker when you’re involving such heavy weight. 

If you aren’t too embarrassed to go full caveman, try going barefoot. This allows you to sit back on your heels a little bit more, thus engaging the glutes and hamstrings which helps in deadlift performance. Just please, make sure you don’t drop the barbell anywhere near those bare feet, that would be slightly counter productive. 

Speed up your pull 

The quicker that you lift the weight, the more muscle fibres you’ll recruit and the more you’ll actually be able to pull. It’s a common misconception that lifting fast is cheating and potentially dangerous, but as long as it’s done in a controlled manner and with proper technique it can be more advantageous than dangerous. Check out lifters at the Olympics, those guys always lift explosively and tend not to get injured frequently. 

Next time you’re deadlifting accelerate the barbell from the floor as quickly as you can, then control it on the way down, not too slow, just controlled. Apply as much force to the barbell as you possibly can and don’t worry if the bar speed decreases as the weight goes up. 

Belt up 

You can instantly add around 12kg to your deadlift simply by wearing a weight lifting belt. Breathing into your stomach and pushing against the belt with your abdominal muscles will increase intra-abdominal pressure, creating a more stable core, a necessity when lifting heavier weights. 

Do some assistance exercises 

There are additional exercises that you can do to help give you more power in your deadlift. Give some of these a try: 

Farmer’s walks: These help to strengthen your grip and build overall athleticism. 

Plank: Helps to train you at keeping your core nice and tight. Integral for deadlifting heavy.

Kettlebell swing: Helps to strengthen your glutes, lower back and hamstrings, while training you to be more efficient with explosive movements. 

Rows of all kinds: Important for a strong lockout when deadlifting, helping to build your upper back and your lats. 

Get a grip 

It won’t matter how much you strengthen your back and your legs, you won’t be able to deadlift heavy if your hands can’t hold the barbell. A strong grip is a key element in taking you to the next level with your deadlift, try using chalk and practice ‘white knuckling’ (gripping any bar that you encounter as hard as you can) to tighten that grasp. 

How to deadlift

  • With feet flat, squat down and grab the bar with hands shoulder-width apart. Hold the bar with an alternate grip (one overhand and the other underhand).
  • Keeping your back straight and your head facing forward throughout, lift the bar using your legs and driving your hips forward.
  • Pull your shoulders back at the top of the move and carefully lower the bar to the ground. 

Variation: Snatch-grip deadlift

Hold the bar with a wider grip to place greater emphasis on your upper back (trapezius) muscles.

  • Wide grip on the bar
  • Lift the bar up slowly to avoid jarring your back

Variation: Reduced deadlift

If you find the range of motion of normal deadlifts too strenuous, start with the weights raised on blocks. This is also a good variation to start with until you are more confident with the movement required because it places less strain on your lower back.

  • Place the bar on blocks
  • Stand up, keeping your shoulders back

Variation: Increased deadlift

To increase your range of motion and improve your ability to lift the bar off the floor, try this exaggerated deadlift. Only progress to this variation once you have the standard deadlift form down pat.

  • Stand on a block close to the bar
  • Rise to standing slow and steady to maintain balance and avoid injury

Mastered the deadlift? Now do it as part of a cover model workout plan or try a barbell based workout from strength coach Chet Morjaria.

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