13 Jan How to Deadlift: A Simple 5 Point Checklist for a Safer, More Efficient Pull.

proper-deadliftProper deadlifting technique is absolutely critical to maximize the benefit of the lift and to perform in the safest, most effecient way possible.

Personally, I believe the barbell deadlift (DL) is an exercise that should be utilized by everyone, from youth to seniors.

To get your entire body stronger, the solution is simply to deadlift.  Not only does it get you stonger, but it teaches you how to move better, move efficiently, and prevent movement dysfunction.

This lift is also one of the most fundamental human movements that we need to be strong with because it’s a movement that we all use, in some variation, in everyday function.

The stronger we are with this movement, the better we will function, period.

Along with barbell squat, the DL is one of the most important exercises to increase raw strength and essentially make you “superhuman.”

There are different styles of deadlifting, but I wanted to share the easiest, simplest way to perform a traditional style DL.

This exercise seems easy, right?  I mean, grab the bar and pick it up off the floor.

However, there are key things you want to remember to prevent injury, improve your technique, and improve the results.

While there are many components that are important in proper deadlifitng, here’s a really simple checklist with a few of the most critical points to remember during the initial lift off.

If these points are followed in the starting position, a safe pull will be established.

This list serves as a quick checkpoint I use to get set to initiate the pull.  It’s a simple process that I use without overly complicating things.

Of course, there are many more pieces to a proper DL, but this seves as an easy way to set up and run through your check points for maximum safety and efficiency.

Here’s the checklist to run through in your head, as you’re refining your “pull” mechanics:

  1. Lock your back in slight extension.  This is one of the most important points to remember to prevent injury.  In my opinion, this is actually the most important thing to remember because I’ve seen many people perform an unsafe DL by “rounding” the back to initiate the pull.  The places extreme stress on the posterior aspect of the disc, which means that this is an easy way to herniate or rupture the intervertebral disc and cause major problems, which you definitely want to avoid.  To minimize this stress and pressure on the disc space, start with and maintain a slight lumbar and thoracic extension.  If you remember only one thing from this article, remember this, keep the spine locked in slight extension.  This is a postion you also want to hold in a rigid position during the pull to effectively stabilize the spine.  Injuries will be significantly reduced if this key technique is maintained.  Rounding your back is sure fire path to getting injured during the DL, so make sure to avoid this common mistake.  Of course, set the position with a big inhale to fix the spine in a position of stability.
  2. Keep the bar position touching the shins.  You want the bar to touch the shins as you initiate the pull and throughout the ascent off the floor.  This contact puts the bar directly over the mid foot.  Think of it this way, you want to pull the bar in a direct plane of motion (or straight line) as the bar moves upward.  Keeping the bar close to your shins and keeping this contact as you pull up will reduce the excessive force in an efficient bar path on the ascent.  If the bar is away from the body, this increases the stress of the pull and loads the body improperly and thereby increases the risk for injury.  Keep the bar close to the body for maximum safety and lift efficiency.
  3. Set the shoulders and position the shoulder joint in advance of the bar.  There are a few things that are critical with the shoulder position in an effective DL.  Keeping your shoulders in front of the bar is one of them.  If you can visualize yourself grabbing the bar in a bent over position with your hips and knees flexed, spine held slightly in extension (as mentioned above), and hips down (more about this in the next point), you want to have your shoulders positioned slightly in front of the barbell.  Your shoulder blades (scapula) will be directly over the bar and your scapula should be in a retracted (or pulled back) position.  Setting the shoulders in front of the bar and setting the scapula in a retracted position will effectively use the scapular muscles (trapezius and rhomboids) to receive force in the upper back during the ascent of the pull.  The arms are not directly vertical and will have a slight angle from the shoulder joint to the bar.  This also allows you to set and engage the lats.  This tension in your lats will help to keep the bar close to your body and not ‘drift’ away from your shins.  Remember, you want to keep the bar close to body and setting your upper body musculature will allow you to do this.
  4. Keep the hips lower than the shoulders and the knees lower than the hips. Positioning is key, obviously.  In addition to the shoulder setting and position, you want to remember to keep your hips lower than your shoulders and your knees lower than your hips.  This position sets all the muscles for an efficient pull in the optimal position.  And, this sets up for the next point on the checklist.
  5. Use the quads to provide the initial drive off of the floor.  Let me simplify this point. Force generation to elevate the bar from the floor is done by extending the hip and knee joints.  But, it’s the knee extension or quad contraction that initially provide that drive off the floor, so the stronger, more forcefully you extend the knee, the more  efficient you’ll pull the bar off the ground.  In this initial pull, the hamstrings and glutes stabilize before the pull and the forceful knee extension really gives you a strong DL pull from the floor.  This is not a “stiff-legged” DL, in which the hams and glutes are more dominant.  It’s the quads that provide that provide the drive off the floor.  It seems obvious, but sometimes we forget to really use the power in our knee extensors to pull the bar up.  Drive the feet through the floor with the strength of your quads.

Let me summarize and simplify the 5 point checklist:

  1. BACK.  Lock your back in extension (lumbar and thoracic).
  2. SHINS.  Keep the bar touching the shins and maintain throughout the pull.
  3. SHOULDERS. “Set” the shoulders and position the shoulder joint in front of the bar.
  4. SHOULDERS > HIPS > KNEES.  Shoulders are higher than the hips and the hips are higher than the knees.
  5. QUADS.  Use the quads to forcefully extend the knees in the initial pull off the floor.

Again, this is a very simple checklist you can use for a safe, efficient deadlift.

Think back, shins, shoulders, shoulders, quads to remember the 5 points. Don’t overthink it, but quickly and smoothly run through these check points as you’re setting up and positioning yourself for a DL.

I challenge you to use this system, it works.

Print this off by hitting the print icon below and use it to build a better DL.

The goal is to program the pattern until it’s automatic.

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