Deadlift: Everything You Need to Know

Deadlift: Everything You Need to Know

Deadlifts are the ultimate exercise to build muscle mass and a great exercise to increase our strength

What is a Deadlift and why should you do it?

Deadlifts are one of the essential exercises of any strength training routine, whatever the sporting specialty. The technique is not as simple as it may seem as the simultaneity required in hip extension and knee extension is something that needs to be learnt.

With deadlifts you work almost everything, both upper and lower, although it’s commonly thought that you only work on the lower back and this is a mistake

How do you perform the Deadlift?

Before we continue talking about deadlifts, let’s say that the height of the discs and the height at which we have the bar is fundamental.

Normally when we train in conventional gyms we train at a height that’s not Olympic, this isn’t regulatory.

Deadlift Bar

With non-Olympic discs we start from what is called motion deficit, and consequently a force deficit occurs because we start in an unfavourable position, we start lower than normal.

Therefore, it’s best to train with Olympic discs because then we can start from a favourable position, which is between 21 and 23 cm, the regulatory height of powerlifting

What shoes should you use for the Deadlift?

Stability is fundamental in deadlifts, so it’s recommended you work with flat shoes or barefoot.

Wearing heeled weightlifting shoes means creating a movement deficit, as we start from a position a little higher…

Barefoot Deadlift

Many athletes train barefoot…

It’s not recommended you work with shoes with air chambers because when we start carrying a little more weight it would destabilise us

How do you perform the Deadlift correctly?

Before we begin…

Starting deadlift position

  • The bar must be close to the shins.
  • The weight must fall on the heels.
  • You have to follow this order: head, hip, knee and ankle. Mistakes, such as putting your hip under your knees or your head under your hips, are common.
  • Activate the glutes and dynamically stretch the piriformis and hip flexors before performing the movement.
  • Your back should be completely straight with the glutes back and hips engaged, maintaining tension in the spine.
  • Push out your chest and tuck your shoulder blades back.

Neutral head in deadlift starting position

If we complete all these steps, we’ll be in a good position to perform the deadlift correctly

During the execution…

  • Increase intra-abdominal pressure throughout the course of the movement. To do this, we must take a deep breath and bulge our belly outwards during the whole run without letting it out.
  • Keep the spine in a neutral position. Think of bringing the “shoulder blades to the back pockets of the trousers”
  • Maintain the proximity of the bar throughout the run so that the weight can be managed better (we remain more compact).
  • Push the floor with your legs (don’t try to lift the bar with your back)

Deadlift Technique

Dropping the weight on the ground during deadlifts have been and is a point of contested discussion. Not only because of the biomechanical factor involved, but also because of the noise it causes, which, with the emergence of wellness, seems to be clouding the climate of coexistence in gyms.

Deadlift Technique

Concentric phase

Bringing the bar off the ground, as you may have seen in the link above, the concentric phase of this exercise should be as explosive as possible, especially when reaching the knees, with a hip movement directed by the glutes, hamstrings and erector spinae.

In the concentric phase, this point (reaching the knees) is the most dangerous because the compression forces on the lumbar region (especially L3, L4 and L5) reach a value two to three times higher than what an in vitro, untrained lumbar vertebra of normal density can withstand.

In relation to that last sentence , I think it’s important to remember at this point that by performing this BASIC exercise, not only are the muscles involved and the neuromuscular capacity strengthened, but the vertebrae and discs will also be strengthened in accordance with Wolff’s law (bone strengthening) and Davis’ law (soft tissue strengthening).

Eccentric phase

The eccentric phase of the movements is usually recommended to be slow. Although this is correct for the vast majority of exercises, let’s see how the deadlift has its exceptions depending on the intensity (% 1RM or % body weight) used.

The most dangerous part of the movement is the descent phase where the lumbar lever arm is greatest; this occurs when, after descending from maximum contraction, the bar is at knee height. At this point, the distance (“d” in the image below) from L3-L4 to the bar is the maximum that exists throughout the movement.

Deadlift Forces

Greater lever arm means that lumbar torque is maximal, increasing compression and shear forces on the lumbar vertebrae.

At this point, it has been demonstrated if intensities greater than:

  • 87% 1RM for highly experienced subjects (4RM), or
  • 150% body weight for trained, but not highly experienced subjects
It is justified to drop the bar (rather than throw it) to avoid lumbar injuries (spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, hernias, protuberances…)

In addition, by doing this we’ll be able to recover better to start the next repetition, as when starting the movement from the ground, the stretch reflex is minimised. Without bouncing, the impact of the discs on the ground transfers the kinetic energy of the descent into potential energy that our body absorbs for the new ascent, temporarily increasing our strength.

Should I hold the eccentric in the Deadlift?

The issue of the negative or eccentric phase being associated with greater hypertrophy is irrelevant for deadlifts performed at intensities ≥5RM (we give some margin), because the risk is far greater than the reward.

  • If they are typical hypertrophy sets (generally between 6-12 repetitions), the eccentric phase should be attempted to be held as long as possible, although the last 2 repetitions could perhaps use the drop. On the other hand,
  • If the sets are oriented towards strength (<6 repetitions), dropping the weight when reaching the knees would even be advisable

Deadlift with Bar

Common mistakes made when performing a Deadlift

  • Deadlifts are a knee, hip and back extension exercise at the same time, but it is common to see the knee extension followed by the back or the other way around. This is not the right way to do it because it has to be a simultaneous and synchronized movement.
  • Spending too long in the starting position. This causes us to lose elastic force and fatigue before starting the movement.
  • Do not use your arms as hooks, o which can lead to a biceps tear when biceps flexion tends to occur.
  • Starting the movement with your arms bent.
  • A tendency to flex the lumbar spine. This should never be done, as it should always be tense and backwards. If a lumbar curvature begins, the exercise should be abandoned as there is a risk of injury.
  • Nor should the exercise be carried out when it’s not feasible, as this can cause an injury. It must be done in a single fluid movement.

Planning Deadlift Training

This exercise requires an important activation of the central nervous system and a great muscular involvement, therefore, between 1 and 2 heavy sessions per week isrecommended.

Deadlift training plan

If you want to perform more frequently, we would stick to follow-up exercises the rest of the week or work at a lower intensity.

Exceeding 2 heavy sessions (looking for a record) would worsen our performance

Deadlift Transfer

The deadlift is a basic exercise used in any strength training routine as it places a demand on the whole body, as well as providing performance improvements in non-strength specific sports.

Deadlifts are an exercise that transfers to virtually all exercises

For example, when rowing, the back has to be completely straight, and when doing deadlifts we train this position in the back.It would also improve bench presses, as the contraction of the pectoral and the contraction of a bench press is born from the back.

Squats and deadlifts

We would also improve squats because it requires a position very similar to deadlift and a completely straight back. If we really want to improve in deadlift, it would be advisable to increase the total volume of squats per week and at most 1 or 2 heavy deadlift sessions.

The fact that this exercise assesses your strength is well known, but if you look at the effects of 10 weeks of barbell deadlift training on other types of assessment, the results are significant for many sports.

Torque speed

The concept of “torque” in human biomechanics gives us insight into the extent to which a force or system of forces has the ability to change the state of rotation of a body segment(s) around a joint.

In deadlifts, two actions stand out: hip extension (main) and knee extension (more secondary), which is sometimes relegated to a much less important role than it actually has.

Torque

A group of researchers evaluated the speed of torque in the flexo-extension of the knee after having followed a training program with a total of 20 deadlift sessions due to:

  • 2 sessions per week.
  • 5 sets of 5 repetitions per session.

That is, the difference in the explosiveness with which these actions were performed (knee flexion and extension) was measured compared to before the program.

Correct deadlifts

The weight used was one that, under professional supervision, allowed the deadlift to be performed with correct technique, as shown in the following image; allowing a prone, mixed or supine grip, according to the performer’s choice.

Results

  1. The speed of torque in the flexo-extension of the knee improved very significantly, between 18.8 and 49.0%.
  2. Likewise, the height of the vertical jump was increased by about 7-8% (3-4 cm for vertical jumps of 46-49 cm)

Knee bends graphic

Sports application

These results support the idea that in effective strength training programmes for sports in which sagittal movements at the knee joint and/or vertical jump are dominant (football, handball, volleyball, middle-distance running, etc…in addition to hip-dominant movements), the deadlift is certainly one of the most efficient exercises – less training time, greater results.

Explosivity improvement curveThe deadlift is listed as an exercise in the training routine of numerous athletes

Deadlift Grips

When we do deadlifts it’s quite common to place a lot of importance on technique, neutral position of the spine, positioning of the bar, angle of the back, speed at which we leave the ground… as these are the determining factors for a correct execution of the exercise.

But one thing that usually goes unnoticed is what grip to use

It’s quite common to find people with a deadlift much stronger than the strength of their grip, and this is a limiting factor, as we should be able to lift as much weight as possible without making our hands the weakest link.

You are as strong as the weakest member of your team

Below, we explain the types of viable deadlift grips and their advantages and disadvantages:

Double overhand grip

Deadlift grip

The double overhand grip is performed by holding the bar with our palms facing us and our thumbs around the bar.

  • Advantages: This is a very safe grip and the one we should do whenever we can, especially for the initial sets where the weight is less and the strength of our grip is not limiting.
  • Disadvantages: The problem with this grip is that as we get stronger in deadlifts the strength of the hand will not be able to avoid the natural tendency of the bar to roll towards us opening up the hand little by little.

Mixed grip

Mixed grip

The mixed grip is performed by supinating one of the two hands so that the palm of one hand faces towards us and the other palm faces away from us.

  • Advantages: This is a much stronger grip as the bar cannot roll to any side, as if it turns towards us it closes the supine hand and if it turns outwards it closes the pronated hand. With this grip we should be able to lift the maximum possible loads, otherwise it’s not a problem of grip but of lack of strength and we should focus on strength work.
  • Disadvantages: it is less safe than the double overhand grip as the bicep of the supinated hand is in a compromised position, and if the elbow is not completely locked, it may break when trying to “bend” the bar with a disproportionate weight. And if you can curl the same as you can deadlift, you’ve got a problem, my friend.
To perform the mixed grip as safely as possible for both the biceps and the shoulder, apart from always keeping the elbow locked, supinate only the forearm and not the whole arm.

This would be a correct placement:

Good Mixed

 

And this would be a more insecure supination:

Mixed bad

Hook grip

Grip hook

The hook grip is the typical grip for the Olympic weightlifting movements, where there is a need to use a very strong grip in order to withstand the extreme acceleration of the bar, but due to the nature of the movements a mixed grip cannot be used.

Seen from the front it appears to be a normal double overhand grip, but if you look at it from behind you can see the difference. The thumb is placed by hugging the bar and it is surrounded with the other fingers. Depending on the size of each hand, 1 or more fingers may be used.

  • Advantages: it’s a very strong grip, as even if the bar turns on itself, it will turn on the thumb, closing in the opposite direction to that in which the rest of the fingers would open. It’s also a very safe grip as we don’t have any arm in the supine position so there’s less risk of bicep injury compared to the mixed grip.
  • Drawbacks: As the weight of the bar falls on the thumb, it hurts at first. Over time, that pain is tolerated, but many people give up sooner and prefer to do mixed grips.
It’ s also a more difficult grip to do for people with smaller hands, but if there are 56kg Olympic athletes with smaller hands than you accelerating 140kg it’s probably possible. It is recommended you wear a plaster on the thumb to add a little more friction

What grip should you use on a deadlift?

We should use the double overhand grip whenever possible, it’s the safest and least painful. Once we reach a weight that we cannot lift with the prone grip, we need to consider whether to start building tolerance with the hook grip (which will be very beneficial if we are going to perform weightlifting movements later on) or whether to use the mixed grip as most powerlifters use.

If we’re not going to compete there’s never a need to put the biceps in more danger than necessary and we can use handles for the last sets

Deadlift and use of straps

Many athletes who do deadlifts report forearm muscle fatigue and lack of grip strength as a limiting obstacle to completing the stipulated load, either in volume (sets and reps) or intensity (% 1RM).

This can lead to the use of grip strategies such as varying it, modifying the thickness of the bar, using magnesium powders, and/or a training accessories such as straps.

Deadlift straps

The straps are fixed around the wrists and wrap around the bar, making the limitations of the grip less pronounced and, in theory, potentially increasing the load where the influence of speed, range of motion, and time under tension should be taken into account.

If we’re not planning to compete in powerlifting in the future, straps could be used as a substitute for the mixed grip once the prone grip fails us.

Benefits of using straps

Recently, changes in kinematic variables were evaluated during several effective sets of deadlifts using straps after having performed the appropriate warm-up and approach sets (same number of sets and rest time for all participants).

  • Number of sets analysed: three successive deadlift sets performed until failure.
  • Intensity: Constant, with 90% 1RM (1RM average = 180 kg approx.)
  • Break between sets: 2 minutes.
  • Run time: Concentric at maximum speeds, eccentric with control, ground stop of no more than 2 seconds.

Results

As can be seen in the following graph and table, there are differences in the concentric phase in the following variables: load, speed, force and duration; as well as in the perceived and measured stresses.
Heart-rate

  • Regarding heart rate, a significant difference in increase was demonstrated between doing it with straps versus widoing it thout straps only after the third sets. This is likely to be related to increased cardiovascular demand as a consequence of the increased load applied by removing the limitation of grip strength. Consequently, this allowed more work to be generated through large muscle groups and with increased cardiac output compared to when not using the straps.
  • The overall perceived stress scale was greater when using straps only after the first two sets, with 16% more fatigue being observed in the lumbar region in these cases. On the other hand, the use of straps led to a 45% lower perceived fatigue in the forearm muscles.

Perceived effort

  • Comparing the maximum number of repetitions in each set shows that the difference is significant between sets 1 and 3 in each group. In this case, the explanation is simple, as it has been reported in previous findings that power, strength and speed are lost with each repetition due to fatigue.
  • The decrease in speed (and power) of each repetition is somewhat more noticeable in the non-grip group, which may be indicative of grip strength being a limiting factor leading to premature completion of the deadlift. In the group that did use straps, although the initial power (weight lifted x speed of execution) was lower in the first set, the loss along these was lower.

When should we use straps?

In this situation, and in view of the results, the use of lifting straps is an option during training that’s more oriented to completing a higher volume (hypertrophy, muscular endurance, speed or power).

However, if your main goal is maximum strength (e.g. competing in powerlifting), you shouldn’t be using straps as much (although it’s not “forbidden”, because it can sometimes be useful to lose less power during a period of higher volume).

In this second case, if your grip strength is weak, we recommend you watch the following video by PowerExplosive in which they give advice on how to improve it.

Deadlift Variants

Deadlifts, and its variants, are often prescribed for strength enhancement and general conditioning due to the positive effects the movements can have on performance.

Straight Leg Deadlift

A popular variation in gyms is the straight leg deadlift (SLDL), which is sometimes more commonly referred to as the “normal deadlift”.

It’s executed in a very similar way to the deadlift described at the beginning, although in this case, more emphasis is placed on the hamstrings.

In it, the concentric phase starts with the knees almost completely straight (maximum extension position) and the bar will move from the floor to a mid-thigh height, mainly through hip extension, keeping the knees at the same initial extension (without hyperextending the knee).

Unilateral Straight Leg Deadlift

This variant requires greater postural control

Unilateral Straight Leg Deadlift

This variant of the SLDL is quite common, especially with athletes looking to enhance their performance, as it lets you train your legs individually. Just as you run forward one leg at a time, rather than two at a time, this exercise works the same way. It’s also a great way to train the stabilising muscles.

Deficit Deadlift

It’s not really a variant as such, as what’s modified, or rather added, is an element to create a mechanical disadvantage or advantage, so that we have a different impact on the muscle group, as the range of movement (if it is a deficit lift) will be greater.

The load should be adjusted according to the deficit (generally, the weight that can be handled is much lower). It can also benefit conventional lifting.

  • An example of a deficit deadlift would be a deadlift with a snatch grip, because we start from a lower position and consequently the initial position of the deadlift is greatly improved.
  • An example of a deadlift with a movement advantage would be the rack pull, which improves the final part of the run and the grip because it allows you to handle more kilos

Behind the Back Deadlift

Also called hack deadlift (due to its similarity to the hack squat, in which the bar starts at the top of the movement), this exercise can be excellent as assistance to the two big ones that mainly involve the lower limbs, the squat and deadlift.

However, the biomechanics (levers) of each subject and their flexibility play a key role in correct execution

Hack squat

How do you perform a behind the back deadlift?

  1. The movement starts in a similar way to conventional deadlifts, but with the barbell behind the calves, as close as possible to the Achilles tendon (heels). The instructions for bending for the bar are the same as with typical deadlift forms, keeping the back straight with scapular retraction and, once the bar is gripped, latissimus dorsi activation by trying to squeeze the bar towards the line of the spine through adduction.

Adduction

When pushing off the ground with your heels (trying to imitate a vertical jump) to lift the bar from the ground, keep your core as upright as possible, which is easier for those with arms longer than their torso

  1. When the bar reaches the knees (popliteus muscle), just as in a conventional deadlift or sumo, a quick hip extension should be performed synergistically with the knee extension while bringing the shoulder blades even closer together at the same time.

Hip-extension

  1. As the bar is lowered, your weight should continue to rest on the heels and always as close as possible to the back of the legs, eventually brushing (scraping) the leg from the calf insertion with the soleus until it falls to the ground, where it will again touch the soleus.
This deadlift variation emphasises the knee extensors, facilitating simultaneous improvement in vertical jump perception and quadriceps strengthening in preparation for the transformation to a conventional deadlift. Blocking can be complicated, but most of you will be able to learn how to perform the movement correctly with practice

Sumo Deadlift

One of the biggest problems with deadlifts is the lack of adequate mobility to perform the exercise safely and effectively, i.e. starting from a neutral starting position with a neutral spine and maintaining it throughout the movement.

For beginners without injuries or structural problems, it is perhaps wiser to learn the conventional deadlift technique first as it’s easier to automate and requires greater hip mobility, including it as a goal at the beginning of a training programme.

Sumo Deadlift

As training progresses, the lower back stress caused by conventional deadlifts can lead to a lumbar spinal flexion that can pose health issues.

In such cases, the Sumo Deadlift is an extremely useful technique that’s widely used in the world of powerlifting and which can be adapted to the gym.

Why do the Sumo Deadlift?

Everyone will have a unique way of executing the movement depending on their biomechanical and anthropometric characteristics, as we’ll see below. In the transition from conventional to sumo, some use a semi-sumo style (as in the picture below), where the legs are not as wide open as in sumo.

With the following information, we aim to provide guidance to help everyone find the best technique for their needs.

Semi sumo deadlift

In all forms of deadlift, there’s a moment arm between the hips and the bar. Improved lifting technique involves maintaining or minimising this moment arm for the time being (i.e., bringing the hips closer to the bar). With sumo deadlift, this variable is less prominent because the wide position of the feet causes the thigh to “shorten” in a sagittal view with respect to the core.

Conventional deadlift

In biomechanical terms, the upper body’s centre of mass is positioned closer to the bar, a fact that decreases the flexor moment in the knee, hip and intervertebral joints from T12 to S1, which is good for those who suffer from back pain.

Likewise, it can be seen in the image how the core remains more upright and the hips are in external rotation (toes outwards), so the movement involves the gluteus medius and minimus, quadriceps (vastus medialis, notably) and external calf with more intensity than the conventional one: it is somewhat more knee dominant than hip dominant compared to the former.

The adductors should also be more involved due to the opening of the legs, although the data seems to show both styles of deadlift being equal in this regard.

Sizes

This is one of the limiting factors in the development of sumo deadlift, the lack of flexibility of the adductors

This makes the sumo deadlift an exercise that is generally more complex to master, but those with strong knee extensors (prefer high bar squat or front squat VS low bar) and good flexibility and hip mobility in the frontal and horizontal planes should consider using the sumo deadlift.

Who is Sumo Deadlift recommended for?

The proportions of arm and torso length relative to a person’s height are also good indicators of what kind of deadlift may be most advantageous for each individual. The following two tables show these relationships in detail.

Proportions

One aspect of conventional deadlift technique that may be overlooked or at least not given as much attention as it should be:

People with short arms in relation to overall height have to bend over more to grip the bar, resulting in a greater lever arm in the lift and a tendency towards lumbar curvature as they ascend in the movement.

Correct position

Therefore, remembering to keep the torso upright (not just aligned) results in a better injury prevention technique; a fact that is better addressed in the sumo deadlift

Sumo Deadlift execution technique

The greatest performance advantages are seen in that, generally, when the bar is lifted off the ground in the sumo deadlift, it’s lifted all the way. In other words, the sticking point is less likely to end in a technical failure (see table below).

In terms of limitation, the flexor moment of the lumbar spine (tendency to bend), weak grip and total displacement of the bar are the most important variables. The smaller vertical displacement of the bar compared to the conventional bar means the time under tension is somewhat shorter in the deadlift, which gives less opportunity for the grip to fail and the flexor moment to act.

Sticking point

  1. Find the initial leg opening: your feet should point outwards at approximately 42 , with the bar above them at midfoot level. The leg opening should be comfortable, allowing the hips to be lowered in external rotation until the thighs are almost parallel to the floor. At this point, the distance between the bar and the legs is approximately 1 cm.

Bar spacing

  1. Grip: With the arms vertical, the best grip for this technique is usually prone or mixed grip, as appropriate. Bring the legs in close together, without losing external rotation (knees aligned with the longitudinal axis of the foot), until the bar touches your shins. DO NOT MOVE THE BAR.
  2. Push out the chest: with a forward gaze (activate the latissimus dorsi) and a firm grip on the bar. DO NOT MOVE THE BAR.
  3. Lifting: make your grip even firmer and stronger, mainly feeling your glutes and latissimus dorsi activated, and pushing vertically into the floor with your heels. When the sticking point is exceeded, the greatest amount of air is exhaled.

Under these conditions, anyone who enjoys training and is feeling strong is encouraged to try the sumo deadlift. It’s an “art” (preparation for the starting position creates a samurai moment, see video) that you have to try at least once in your sporting life.

Bibliographic References

  1. Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Welch, C. M., Kayes, A. V., … & Andrews, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(7), 1265-1275.
  2. Ferrugia, J. (2011). Drop the deadlift?.
  3. McGuigan, M. R., & Wilson, B. D. (1996). Biomechanical analysis of the deadlift. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 10(4), 250-255.
  4. Sakai, T., Sairyo, K., Suzue, N., Kosaka, H., & Yasui, N. (2010). Incidence and etiology of lumbar spondylolysis: review of the literature. Journal of orthopaedic science, 15(3), 281-288.
  5. Schellenberg, F., Lindorfer, J., List, R., Taylor, W. R., & Lorenzetti, S. (2013). Kinetic and kinematic differences between deadlifts and goodmornings. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, 5(1), 27.
  6. Thompson, B. J., Stock, M. S., Shields, J. E., Luera, M. J., Munayer, I. K., Mota, J. A., Carrilo, E.C. & Olinghouse, K. D. (2015). Barbell Deadlift Training Increases the Rate of Torque Development and Vertical Jump Performance in Novices. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(1), 1-10.
  7. Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Tiryaki-Sonmez, G., Wilson, J. M., Kolber, M. J., & Peterson, M. D. (2015). Regional Differences in Muscle Activation During Hamstrings Exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(1), 159-164.
  8. Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Moorman 3rd, C. T. (2002). An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 34(4), 682-688.

Related Entries

  • We tell you the differences between the Hexagonal Bar (Trap Bar) and the conventional Deadlift Bar.
  • 5×5 Strength Routine: Go Now.
  • The Deadlift is the “king” of strength, while Squats are the “queen”… continue reading..
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David has been linked to the world of strength since he was very young, as he says, his first contacts were with a pull-up bar in a park.
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