How To Deadlift: A Simple, Step-By-Step Guide
The deadlift is one of the best exercises for developing overall back and core strength.
It targets your entire posterior chain, hamstring, glutes, and even your traps, making it a fantastic all around exercise for developing strength and building muscle.
This exercise can take a few months to get comfortable with, since it is more intricate than other exercises – and, realistically, it takes most people years before they truly master the form.
At the same time, it is a very rewarding exercise when done properly, and is considered to be one of the ‘big 3’ core strength building exercises that can help you develop a well-rounded physique.
As with my barbell squat guide and bench press guide, this is NOT meant to be exhaustive. I won’t be going through every type of deadlift variation or setup technique.
Instead, this is intended to be a step-by-step guide on how to deadlift safely and effectively, so that you can start incorporating the exercise into your workouts right away.
Let’s get right into how it’s done.
How To Do A Barbell Deadlift Properly
When learning how to do a barbell deadlift, it helps to break things down into a series of basic steps. You should become familiar with each of these 7 steps before actually setting up the bar and attempting to deadlift.
Step 1: Approach The Bar
Stand facing the barbell, legs about shoulder width apart, with your toes either pointed forward or slightly outwards (whichever is most comfortable). The bar should be positioned directly over the middle of your feet.
Step 2: Grip The Bar
Bend at the hips and take a mixed grip on the bar (one hand overhand, the other hand underhand). You should be gripping the bar directly outside your legs, typically at the start of the knurling (the area on the bar with serrated grip), so that your elbows are just touching the outside of your legs.
Step 3: Get Into Position
Bend your knees slightly forward, so that your shins are touching the bar. Bring your ass backwards, so that your thighs are above your knees in a half-squat position, and lift your chest up so that your entire back is tight and flat.
Step 4: Brace Your Body
Take a deep breath, flex your abdominal muscles, and tighten your lower back. Your head should be either in line with your spine, or looking slightly forward. You should also try to engage your lats (one good cue for this is to imagine that you are squeezing lemons in your armpits).
Step 5: Lift The Weight
Start the movement by pressing hard through your legs – as if you are trying to leg press the floor away from you. As soon as the bar leaves the ground, thrust forward with your hips, while continuing to press through your legs at the same time, keeping your core tensed and firm. The bar should slide up your shins and over your knees, until you are standing straight up looking forward.
Step 6: Lower The Weight
Hold this position for 1-2 seconds, before lowering the weight back down to the floor in a controlled movement, making sure not to round your lower back as you do this. Exhale.
Step 7: Reset Your Form
Between each rep, you should take a few seconds to make sure the bar is in the correct position, that your ass is back, that your hips are above your knees, and that your entire back is flat and tight. Then take another deep breath, tense your core, and begin the next rep. You may pause for several seconds between each rep to reset your form.
Here is a video that demonstrates exactly how to deadlift with perfect form, so watch it several times carefully before attempting to deadlift yourself.
Ready To Start Deadlifting Properly?
This pretty much covers the basics of a conventional barbell deadlift.
If you internalize and follow these simple steps, you will already be deadlifting with much better form than the majority of people that you see at the gym!
However, if you’re like many people, you may find that you still end up making some of these common deadlift mistakes, even when you feel like you’re deadlifting correctly – so it pays to be mindful of your form each time you perform this exercise, never getting complacent, and always doing your sets with deliberate focus.
And if you do start to encounter any lower back pain while deadlifting, which is fairly common, I’d suggest checking out my article on that here.
Finally, as you become more familiar with deadlifting, you may want to make further refinements to your form as you go along.
If so, I would strongly recommend checking out these more definitive guides on how to deadlift properly – one from StrongLifts and another from Stronger By Science.
Both are truly excellent, comprehensive resources, which I would fully stand behind.