The barbell deadlift is a great whole-body exercise that can be used to develop strength, power and overall conditioning in addition to core strength and stability. Unfortunately the exercise often has an incorrect association with creating lower back problems. This is usually due to errors in technique and loading too much too quickly. So in light of this we have put together a list of tips that will help you to optimize your deadlift. (There are lots of little tweaks we can add to optimize your lifting performance, and every individual will likely need some individual adjustments – but we will need to do this with you one-on-one.)
#1: Foot wear: None!
Take your shoes off for best results as most shoes (unless using specific lifting shoes) have a heel which pull you forward and out of position.
#2: Foot position: Vertical jump
Close your eyes and perform a vertical jump. Wherever your feet land is usually the ideal foot position to generate the most power. (Ask us to train you how to make an efficient ‘tripod’ of each foot and how to engage your hips.)
#3: Set up: Bar placement
Set up so your shins are close to but not touching the bar. Bend your knees and sink down into your hips until your hands can grab the barbell. (There are gripping methods and cues that will optimize your lifting – ask us to show you the finer points of deadlifting.)
#4: Pre-lift: Take the slack out of the bar
Before you pull the barbell off the floor you want to “take the slack out of the bar”. An example of this if the barbell weighs 60kg total, start to pull as if you’re lifting 59kg before the plates leave the floor. This will pre-tension your lats and deep core muscles, both of which are extremely important in keeping your back strong and safe.
#5: The lift: Simply stand-up!
A simple yet effective cue is to “drive through the floor”; another is “push the floor away”. This will ensure you are using your large muscle groups that drive hip and knee extension (quadriceps, lats, glutes) to initiate and complete the movement. You should maintain a straight line at lockout.
#6: The return: Romanian style
Don’t be that guy/girl that drops the barbell at the top of the movement! To return the bar perform a Romanian Deadlift (AKA Stiff-legged deadlift) – this should be possible at a slow-ish speed, as you can lower lots more weight than you can lift. Once the bar reaches below the knees feel free to drop the bar straight down.