I consider the deadlift the “monster lift.” It is a full-body movement that hits many major muscle groups: the erector spinae (lower back), gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rectus abdominis (abs), and obliques.
In general, if you’re proficient in the four main powerlifts (the barbell back squat, deadlift, bench press, and press) and if you’re well-balanced in terms of strength development, then your 1RM (one-rep-max) deadlift should be significantly higher than your 1RM back squat, 1RM bench press, and 1RM press. So, among the four main powerlifts, the deadlift allows you to use the heaviest weights, which makes it ideal for full-body strength development.
Here are instructions on how to correctly perform the barbell (BB) deadlift.
• As a beginner, use a double overhand grip. This will improve your grip strength.
• Once you start deadlifting really heavy weights and your double overhand grip becomes insufficient, you should use a mixed grip (one overhand, one underhand).
• But, with a mixed grip, make sure you balance the number of reps for each hand that is gripping overhand. For example, if you do eight reps with an alternate grip, then do four reps with your left hand gripping overhand and four reps with your right hand gripping overhand.
• When you’re doing heavy deadlifts, apply gym chalk to your hands. The chalk will improve your grip on the BB.
• Use a stance narrower than your squat stance. Place your feet hip-width apart or just outside. Your shins should touch the smooth part of the BB. That is exactly why the BB has a smooth part: to protect your shins when deadlifting.
• The middle of your entire foot (not just the part of the foot you can see from above) should be underneath the BB. This position allows the BB to travel in a perfectly vertical plane, which is most efficient. The BB should be roughly one inch away from your shins.
• Point your toes out slightly (30-degrees).
• When you bend over to grip the barbell, DO NOT move the BB.
• Your grip should be as narrow as possible. Your arms should be just outside your legs/knees.
• Once you’ve gripped the BB, drop your shins to the BB, which shouldn’t move at all.
• Squeeze your chest up and drop your hips SLIGHTLY. Keep your chest up. Do not drop your hips excessively. It should feel challenging to get into this position, to squeeze your chest up.
• In the starting position, your shins should not be perfectly vertical but somewhat diagonal. This forces you to use your quads when you lift.
• Keep your arms straight and locked. Do not bend them at all.
• Internally rotate your elbows, so they’re pointing straight to the side.
• Tighten your core (abs, butt, back) and lats.
• Look straight ahead through the entire range of motion (ROM).
THE CONCENTRIC (UP) MOVEMENT
• Squeeze the BB off the ground. Push against the ground with your legs and hips. Do not pull with your arms.
• DO NOT do a mini-pull or mini-jerk off the ground, out of aggression. You risk tearing a bicep.
• Drive through your heels. You should feel the weight in your heels or mid-foot.
• The BB should travel vertically. Lift it up to waist-level.
• The heavier the weight, the more vertical the plane will be in which the barbell travels (if you’re using proper form).
• At the top, DO NOT kick your hips forward. Just stand up.
• At the top, DO NOT shrug your shoulders or lift the barbell higher than your waist.
• At the top, DO keep your shoulders back, keep your chest up, and stand tall.
• Keep the BB as close as possible to your body. The BB should touch your shins and quads on the way up and at least the quads on the way down. This ensures a vertical BB path.
• If the BB moves away from your legs (i.e. the vertical line from the middle of your entire foot), then the motion will be off-balance.
• In order to protect your shins, I recommend wearing thick soccer socks or sweatpants. Also, make sure your shins are touching the smooth part of the BB. If they’re touching the part with knurling when you deadlift, your shins will scrape against it and bleed.
THE ECCENTRIC (DOWN) MOVEMENT
• Use your hips first, not your legs or knees.
• Slide your butt back and slide the BB down.
• Keep your chest up.
• DO NOT lower the BB around your knees. The BB should descend vertically. If you’re lowering it around your knees and not vertically, then you’re not sliding your butt back or lowering with your hips first.
• You use your hips last when you raise the BB, whereas you use your hips first when you lower the BB.
• DO NOT drop the BB between reps or after the last rep. A full ROM deadlift includes the eccentric portion. You can lower the BB quickly.
• Inhale before the concentric movement. Hold your breath throughout the entire concentric and eccentric movements. DO NOT exhale at the top. Exhale after you lower the BB to the ground. In short, breathe only between reps.
• At the beginning of every rep (especially with heavy weight), the BB must touch your shins.
• If you must reset the position of the BB, use your lats to pull the BB inwards, so that it’s touching your shins.
• Through the entire ROM, keep your core (abs, butt, back) SUPER TIGHT. Your core should be rock-solid.
• Through the entire ROM, you should feel the weight in your heels or mid-foot.
• Start each rep from the floor. These are deadstop deadlifts. DO NOT do touch-and-go reps, i.e. when you briefly tap the weights on the floor.
• If necessary, you can reset your grip (double overhand grip or mixed grip) in the middle of the set. When doing heavy deadlifts, you must have a solid grip.
• If you’re using standard bumper plates, the BB will always be at the proper starting height (mid-shin). So you can do, for example, 65lb, 95lb, or 115lb deadlifts without elevating the BB at all.
• But if you’re using iron plates and doing deadlifts lighter than 135lb, the BB will NOT be at the proper starting height (mid-shin). If you’re using iron plates, the proper starting height will be when the BB is loaded with two 45lb plates (135lb total). So if you’re doing, for example, 65lb, 95lb, or 115lb deadlifts with iron plates, you should elevate the BB by stacking 1-2 45lb plates on each side, so that the BB is at mid-shin height.
• Before and during the set, visualize every rep with perfect form. Then execute the perfect form that you have visualized. This makes a big difference.
Here is an excellent video of Mark Rippetoe teaching the deadlift. I agree with him on virtually everything. But I personally drop my hips SLIGHTLY when setting up. If you do not drop your hips at all, you’re basically performing a stiff-legged deadlift. Also, when doing heavy deadlifts, I use a mixed grip, not a double overhand hook grip.