The barbell deadlift is an exercise that tests our physical and mental capabilities. It is a full-body, closed kinetic chain movement that works most muscle groups from our calves to our core, all the way up to our traps.

Weightlifting is a great exercise for gaining strength and muscle mass.

Although the deadlift provides many benefits, it also has the potential to cause serious injury if not performed correctly. This is because the movement is complex and involves many muscles, as well as the ability to lift a heavy load.

In order to avoid any injuries and to make the most progress possible, here are some in-depth tips for deadlift training sessions!

Ways to Improve Your Deadlift

Centre the Bar Before You Deadlift

To deadlift the most weight possible, keep the bar close to your body and travel the shortest distance.

This means that if the barbell is not in the center line, less weight will be lifted. To ensure that the barbell is in the center line, it should go through the center of the foot.

Most people’s mistake is that they put the bar in the middle of the forefoot, when it should be in the middle of the whole foot, bisecting the arches of the feet. If it is set up correctly, your shins will be very close to the bar, only an inch or two away before you bend down to grab it.

Improve Your Grip Before You Deadlift

One weak link in the chain will halt progress, and that link is often grip. The stronger your grip, the stronger your lift will be. Your nervous system won’t be able to recruit the maximum amount of muscle mass if you have a weak grip.

If you’re struggling to lift a weight, it might be because of your grip. To test this, try using lifting straps on a weight you’ve failed to lift before. If it’s easier with the straps, then your grip was the issue, not your overall strength.

Pin the Bar to You Before You Deadlift

Keep the bar close to your body throughout the movement to avoid scraping your shins.

If the bar drifts slightly forward away from your body, the amount of force on your lower back will increase a lot. If you’re trying to lift a very heavy weight (like your one-rep max), this will cause you to fail.

If you try to lift too much weight at once, your back will round and you will put too much stress on your spine.

Get Low to the Floor Before You Deadlift

Take those spongey running shoes off.

If you’re lifting with soft-soled trainers, you’ll add a lot of weight to your deadlift by removing them: This is for three reasons:

  • The first is that you’ll have less distance to move the weight. Some trainers could be adding two or three centimetres of height that you now need to move the weight over. It might not sound like much, but it can make a big difference.
  • The second reason removing your trainers will help your lift is they absorb some of your force. If the soles of your trainers are soft because they are designed to absorb the forces of running or similar activities, then they will also be absorbing some of the drives for your deadlift. When you try and jump in the air while standing in deep sand, you’ll not jump as high – the soft surface under your foot reduces your power. The same thing happens with running trainers and lifting.
  • The third reason is stability. If your weight shifts to one area of the foot more than another during your lift, the soft sole of the shoe will collapse in that area, leaving you off balance. If you’ve got an unstable base, you’ll lift less weight.

The best deadlifters generally go barefoot or wear trainers with low, flat soles for these reasons.

Nail Your Deadlift Set-up

Your deadlift set-up will depend on your range of motion at the hips, and what stance and height you can reach the bar from while keeping your spine neutral (imagine a broomstick passing from your head down to your tailbone).

If you’re having trouble keeping your spine neutral while performing a conventional deadlift, try widening your stance or adopt a semi-sumo stance.

Blocks can be used in all deadlift variations to help you maintain a neutral spine by raising the bar.

Dead Stop Your Deadlift

Although it may be tempting to bounce the bar while performing repetitions of the deadlift, it is more beneficial in the long run to put the weight down and reset your position. This not only helps you practice your set-up, but also eliminates weaknesses from the floor. If you perform the deadlift with a bounce, you will limit your deadlift significantly.

When you reset after each rep, it allows you to focus on contracting your muscles tightly and pulling the bar from the ground with all of your force.

Heavier Deadlifts Are Not Always Better

To build optimal techniques for your deadlift, you need to practice regularly. These tips will be ineffective if you don’t practice them often. As the saying goes, practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect.

Can you maintain perfect technique when performing very heavy reps?

If you can deadlift 140kg for one rep, performing reps with 98kg and above will give you the most gain in strength. The benefit is that the reps using lower weight will look better because you will have perfected your technique.

Even when you’re using lighter weights, you’ll still get fatigued if you do a lot of repetitions. It’s better to do fewer reps but not reach the point where your technique starts to suffer.

If you are new to lifting, you will benefit from more practice.

Proper Breathing Is Important for Your Deadlift

Since the deadlift requires a lot of pressure and stability in the abdomen, it is important to have proper breathing technique.

An abdominal brace is meant to create a lot of pressure within the stomach area. This area forms a ‘box’ which is made up of the multifidus (the deepest muscles in the lower back), the transverse abdominis at the front (the deepest layer of the abs), the diaphragm at the top, and the pelvic floor at the bottom. When this box is filled with pressure, it creates a solid structure that is hard to break.

So, how do we do this?

Try focusing on deep, slow breathing and exhaling so that your rib cage expands and your diaphragm contracts. You can also try lying down on your back and taking big, slow breaths in and long, deep breaths out.

This is your brace for the main lifts: Repeat this three to four times, making each rep bigger and deeper. On the last rep, breathe in as deeply as possible and then hold for five to ten seconds.

When done correctly, you should feel exhausted after completing a set as if you had just run a mile.

Deadlift Muscles Worked 

The movement of the deadlift requires several muscles in order to lift a loaded barbell from the ground into a standing position.

To perform the lift effectively, many components need to work together.

The muscles worked include:

  • Lower body (calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes)
  • Core (rectus Abdominis, obliques)
  • Back (Latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, Erector Spinae, trapezius, etc)
  • Hips
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps 
  • Forearms 

Even though the deadlift exercise uses multiple muscles, it is still beneficial to do other exercises that target the same muscle groups. This allows you to directly stimulate those muscles, resulting in more effective muscle growth.

The deadlift is a compound movement that can contribute to the development of your lower and upper body.

It is beneficial to include the deadlift in your workout routine, but it is important to find a balance and to focus on one muscle group at a time.

Tips For Deadlifting Heavy And Avoiding Injury

The following text contains tips that will help you to deadlift without pain or injury.

The deadlift is most beneficial when you load the bar with a lot of weight and do multiple repetitions for the sake of building muscle and strength. Therefore, it is very important to make sure you use the proper form.

. We’ve compiled the best advice on how to get the most out of your deadlift workout so you can make the most progress possible.

Never, Ever Pull With A Rounded Back

If you round your back when lifting weights, it will eventually cause problems because it puts unnecessary strain on your spine.

It is important to keep your back straight and use your legs to lift the weight before your hips and upper body finish the movement. Some people use their back too much when they lift because they do not know how to use their legs correctly, and this needs to be fixed immediately.

While it’s acceptable to have a minimally rounded upper back while weightlifting in order to facilitate heavier lifts, don’t overdo it to the point where it becomes a hindrance.

Even though the spine can bend and flex, it is not meant to bear excessive loads in a non-supported position. The spine helps us to stand upright and is composed of several vertebrae and discs.

Always double-check your form or ask someone for help to avoid injury.

Maximize The Overhand Grip

The overhand grip is recommended because it reduces the risk of bicep tearing and creates a more symmetrical lifting position.

Mixed grips can be beneficial for lifters as they can help prevent the bar from slipping, allowing them to lift more weight. However, mixed grips should only be used by those who are experienced and know what they are doing to avoid injury.

Lifters who use an overhand grip tend to have proper joint positioning in their shoulders and wrists, and also have improved grip strength. This is beneficial for maximizing deadlift performance and not having to rely on straps as often.

A double-pronated grip is when both palms face the bar and a mixed grip is when one palm faces the bar and the other faces away. A study showed that when compared to a mixed grip, a double-pronated grip results in less asymmetry during the deadlift.

Researchers found that an overhand or underhand grip during a deadlift results in bilateral symmetry in the muscles around the biceps, wrist, and elbow because of the angle.

If you insist on using a mixed grip, be sure to alternate the underhand and overhand position of each arm each time you train, to avoid developing muscle imbalances. The same source of research that was mentioned earlier suggests avoiding a mixed grip altogether to prevent asymmetrical training.

Do The Rack Pull Below The Knees

At some point, we all have to face reality and realize that not everyone is meant to do deadlifts or squats.

Novices and people with long torsos may have difficulty maintaining a neutral spine position when deadlifting, so setting the bar a little higher can help.

This exercise is called a rack pull because you will be performing it inside a power rack with the safety bars set at knee level. The rack pull is an excellent movement that is similar to the deadlift. Instead of having the bar above the knees like many people do for the rack pull, we’ll keep it below the knees. This exercise is called a rack pull because it is performed inside a power rack with the safety bars set at knee level.

The modified rack pull will allow you to deadlift heavy while using an acceptable range of motion and encouraging good form, whereas the standard rack pull can be very dangerous if not done properly.

The common misconception that you can simply load up the bar and pull primarily using your back muscles can lead to thoracic outlet syndrome – a condition that can cause shoulder problems, as well as dangerous pressure on veins, nerves, and arteries.

Thoracic extension and scapular retraction are both important.


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Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

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