The deadlift is one of the best weight-training exercises to perform. It is probably second only to the squat in its effectiveness. In this article we will cover the deadlift for beginners.
Foot Spacing and Positioning
When performing conventional deadlifts the feet should be spaced shoulder width apart with toes turned out slightly. The angle of the feet should be the same as your natural walking gait. The feet should be placed underneath the bar. This helps to ensure that when the weight is lifted off the floor the combined centre of gravity (the centre of gravity of your body and the bar as you perform the movement) remains over your base of support (feet). This helps you maintain balance.
When using the sumo stance, the feet should be spaced about 1.5 times shoulder-width apart and perhaps with the feet turned out slightly further as well.
When learning how to perform the deadlift exercise correctly, it is important to keep an arch in your lower back at all times throughout the movement. This will ensure your erector spinae (lower back) muscles stay contracted and help support your lumbar vertebrae.
It is not necessary to wear a weight belt when performing the deadlift exercise except during extremely heavy, low-rep lifts. Wearing a weight belt makes it easier to increase intra-abdominal pressure and this helps support the lumbar vertebrae even more.
The benefits of a weight belt mainly come from the belt putting pressure on the front of the abdominal wall, which contributes to intra-abdominal pressure, more so than the belt putting pressure on the lower back directly.
Furthermore, as mentioned previously, it is only necessary to use a belt during extremely heavy lifting otherwise it takes away from the body being able to generate its own intra-abdominal pressure by strengthening the transversus abdominis, which is the inner-most layer of the abdominal wall.
During deadlifts, your scapula (shoulder blades) should start off in a neutral position and then, as you reach the top position, you should retract (pull together) the scapula and push your chest forward at the same time. This will give a more powerful contraction to the muscles in the upper back when you perform the movement.
Your head should always remain upright (don’t look at the floor), and during the movement it is best to keep your eyes on a spot in front you, i.e. on the wall or mirror, and stay focused on that spot when you are performing proper deadlift form.
Hand position and grip
When you perform either technique (conventional or sumo stance) you should always use an ‘alternate grip’. This means you have one hand using an over-hand grip and one hand using an under-hand grip. Using this grip prevents the bar from rolling in your hands and causing you to lose your grip.
When you perform the conventional deadlift technique you should have your hands spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width and in the bottom position your arms should be on the outside of your legs.
When you perform the sumo stance deadlifts your arms should be about shoulder-width apart and at the bottom position they should be on the inside of your legs.
Initial Body Position
Squat down over the bar with your feet underneath the bar. Place your hands on the bar, using an alternate grip, either should-width or slightly wider than shoulder-width depending on which stance you decide to use.
When you initiate movement, the first thing you want to do if you perform the conventional technique is to straighten your knees slightly before extending your lower back. The reason for this is because with this technique, your knees are initially slightly in front of the bar. Therefore, you want to get your knees out of the way first before lifting the weight off the floor.
If you are performing the sumo stance then you can extend your lower back and straighten your knees simultaneously.
You may want to use the Valsalva Maneuver (hold your breath momentarily) immediately prior to initiating the movement. This will keep your upper back stable and stabilize your thoracic vertebrae.
Once you commence the lifting (or upward) phase of the movement it is important to breathe out slowly. This gives you a clear indication of the correct breathing technique when learning how to do deadlifts correctly; breathe in on the way down and out on the way up.
As you perform the upward movement, in order to maintain proper deadlift form, you must ensure that you keep your ankles, knees and hips all in alignment. This means that you don’t allow your knees to tracks inwards as you lift the weight; there should be a relatively straight line between the 3 joints.
As you reach the top position, ensure that you don’t ‘lock out’ (fully straighten) your knees. This will ensure that you keep the stress on the muscles (where you want it) and off the joints as much as possible.
Also, as you reach the top position contract your scapula together.
After reaching the top position, immediately begin the downward phase and complete as many reps as possible.