The ‘dead’ in deadlift stands for deadweight, so unlike top-down moves such as the squat, every rep starts from the floor – from a dead stop (no bouncing!). You start at the bottom, pull it up, and put it down. Simple, really. Only you’d be surprised by how many people I see doing it wrong EVERY DAY. Or maybe you wouldn’t. Either way, here’s what you need to know to get started.

How to deadlift, step-by-step guide

  • Walk up to the bar. Get your feet a hip-width apart, mid-foot under the bar. You want to be closer than you think. Shins almost touching.
  • Grab the bar. Bend over without bending your knees and grab the bar, hands a shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your knees. Bend your knees slightly, so your shins touch the bar, holding the bar in place.
  • Pull your shoulder blades back. You want to lift your chest and straighten your back, by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Make sure your grip is still tight on the bar and then pull against it, so you take all the slack out.
  • Pull. Take a deep breath all the way down, hold it and squeeze into your abdomen, inflating your core, and stand up with the weight – without letting your shoulders drop. Keep the bar in contact with your legs as you pull up. Lock your hips and knees. Don’t strug or lean back at the top.
  • Put it down. Return the weight to the floor by unlocking your hips and knees first. Keep the tension in your upper back as you move your hips back and lower the bar down your legs. Once the bar clears your knees, bend your knees to place it on the floor.

The bar will land back over your mid-foot, ready for your next rep. Take your time here, don’t bounce straight into your next rep. If you can control each rep, you’ll get far more out of it. And, I mean, you want to get stronger, right? Of course you do. And there’s no better exercise to add some muscle to your posterior chain. In fact, they’re a pretty solid stable move for pretty much any programme. So master the basics, take your time and get good at it.

I recommend filming yourself – or asking someone else – so you can see what your back is doing and if you’re maintaining tension throughout or not.

Depending on how long your legs/torso are will determine how high your hips will need to be. Because of this, it’s useless trying to copy what someone else is doing, unless you have the exact same build. You’ll need to feel this out a little; but there are a few steps to get you in place:

  • Make sure the bar starts over your mid-foot.
  • Make sure your feet are a hip-width apart (narrower than your squat).
  • Make sure your hands are a shoulder-width apart.
  • Make sure your arms are in a straight line over the bar, shoulders slightly forwards.
  • Make sure your elbows are locked before and during the pull.
  • Make sure your head is inline with the rest of your spine – don’t look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t look at the floor either.
  • Make sure your hips are higher than parallel. Don’t squat your deadlifts.

Some people are better suited for sumo deadlifts instead of conventionals, which I’ve been discussing. But let’s save that for another time. 

Deadlifting for your muscles and bones

Anyone who knows me knows how much I like efficiency; so moves like the mighty deadlift, which work the whole body, are always my fave. It’s a full-body movement, using a huge amount of muscles and bones to get the bar up off the floor.

Your spine is massively important for the move, and while the spine itself allows for quite a lot of movement in multiple directions (flexion, extension, rotation and lateral flexion), a well performed deadlift would generally not have too much flexion or hyperextention happening. More advanced lifters can get away with a bit more flexion/hyperextention than everyone else, and some people are just different shapes or stronger in different positions. So this isn’t necessarily black and white. 

The spinal erectors go from the top of the pelvis, up the spine. The core is an all-encompassing term for all the muscles keeping the torso upright (that aren’t the spinal erectors). Learning how to create tension through all of these muscles is key to aiding the spinal erectors in keeping your spine stable. 

When I mentioned “breathing in” above, what you’re trying to achieve with that breath is to create intra-abdominal pressure using the diaphragm and pelvic floor along with the obliques, transversus abdominis and rectus abdominis.

You then also have your glutes, hamstrings and adductors all working to get you upright.

If you haven’t noticed, that’s basically all of the muscles working to pick that bar up. And if you can learn how to create the necessary tension, you can build some serious strength with this wonderful move.

Deadlifts are the best exercise for a strong back, and something that should probably feature in almost everybody’s programme. I think people can be a bit scared of the deadlift, for fear of injuring their backs. But if you build up slowly, focus on your technique and leave your ego at the door, there’s no reason why this can’t feature in a couple workouts a week.

If you’re struggling to get your head around the hinge, it’s worth you finding a coach who knows what they’re doing and get them to show you. Invest in yourself. Just make sure you hire someone good and who can teach you how to do it well. 

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