Know Your Lifts: Deadlift

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 6, 2012 · 60 Comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports, Visual Guides

Start Start with bar on ground. (maybe not necessary, as it is implied) Stand with bar above the center of your feet. Feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, pointed straight ahead. Hands about shoulder-width apart with overhand grip. Arms vertical to floor outside of knees. Quads about vertical with floor. Bend knees until shins hit bar. Shoulder-blades directly over bar.  Lift  Drive feet into floor and push up with legs. Keep bar close to body -- roll it over your knees and thighs until hips and knees are locked. Back erect with slight arch. Do not round or flatten back. Lift your chest but don't squeeze your shoulder-blades. Head inline with spine, chin up, looking straight ahead. Do not lean backward or bend forward. Pull bar until arms hang straight, bar is at mid-thigh.  Lower  Push hips back first, and then bend your knees once bar reaches knee level.

“Know Your Lifts” is an illustrated guide series where we’ll show how to perform basic weight lifting exercises. Last time we covered the High-Bar Squat. On the docket today is another essential and beastly exercise: the deadlift.

Thanks to Barry Schroeder and Jim Schoenberg of CrossFit Sandstorm for consulting on this post.

Buy this guide as a poster!

Know Your Lifts Series: 
High-Bar Back Squat
Overhead Press

Illustration by Ted Slampyak

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shane December 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm

This and the squat should be on everyone’s list when they are in the gym. There is no better compound lift than these. You can also use a hex bar rather than the normal Olympic barbell

2 Joe December 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Best lift ever. The man maker. Check out this guy: Pavel Tsatsouline and his book, Beyond Bodybuilding: Muscle and Strength Training Secrets. He has many more books too, excellent resources. You will be a beast! Lift Heavy My Friends!

3 Shane December 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Also noticed he is lifting 315 pounds (6 45s plus the 45 bar), that is about the weight where it begins to get heavy… PLEASE do not use any plates smaller than 45 pounds, it will make the bar too low to the ground and makes for improper starting position.

4 Tac December 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm

One quick note: Don’t drop the bar unless your setup allows it. If you’ve got thick padding to catch a normal olympic bar with iron weights, that works. Or if you have “bounce plates” (well, that’s what I know them as), which are larger than normal plates for the same weight, but are rubberized and able to be dropped without damaging the floor and/or the weights themselves.

I’d hate to see someone crack a floor, or a plate by throwing down iron 45s onto concrete.

5 Xenocles December 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Please don’t drop the bar unless the gym is equipped for it (rubber plates and/or rubber deck) or it’s your own gear and you don’t care.

Here’s how to learn to deadlift with light weight (below the 135 minimum Shane recommends). Use bumper plates – a class of plates with the same diameter as the 45 lb plates but in lesser weights (and rubberized to some degree). In a pinch, you can also stack plates on the floor as a shim to make up for the missing height off the deck. While I’ve never tried it, I suppose a rack pull from the starting height of a deadlift is better than nothing.

Don’t be afraid to start light – you can always get stronger.

6 Mike December 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm

You guys should make a poster series of the “Know your lifts” illustrations available for purchase. I’d enjoy having them on my gym wall.

7 Senor Chang! December 6, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Don’t forget to grip the bar tight and remain tight throughout the lift. Oh and don’t leave slack in your arms unless you want to leave your arms at the gym. Stay strong my friends.

8 Matt December 6, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I second Mike’s suggestion.

9 Brett McKay December 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm

@Mike & Matt-

We plan to do just that. Look for an announcement in the new year.

10 Ben December 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm

This is almost perfect. My only contention is that a conventional deadlift should be set up with the shoulders over the bar. What you’re describing here is the start of a clean.

11 Marcus December 6, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I agree with Joe that the deadlift is the best lift. Though I prefer Power to the People! : Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American also by Mr. Tsatsouline. It only focuses on the deadlift and barbell sidepress. Though I prefer the clean & press to the sidepress. Plus Power to the People is less $ than Beyond Bodybuilding. I suppose it’s because I am highly AGAINST the bench press like Mr. Tsatsouline. If you want to be bigger than George Hackenschmidt, “The Russian Lion” do the Russian bear routine in PTTP instead of benching. Then again if you want breast like pecs. . . better you than me.

12 Drew December 6, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Not bad but missing a few points – lats need to be locked back tight prior to the lift (or when you start lifting heavy weight you’ll have issues locking out), always take the ‘tension’ out of the bar before pulling (will prevent some strains, especially on your back) and toes should be pointed slightly out to prevent knees caving in (but this can also be due to a weakness in your glutes).
Everybody should deadlift, regardless of their goals.

13 Leo December 6, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I started doing the squats and dead lifts based on the book, Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. Funnily enough, I found the book and started doing them right around the same time you published squatting post. Talk about timing

14 mike j. c December 6, 2012 at 11:59 pm

i hate deadlifts but i love deadlifts. sounds ridiculous but if you use the deadlift in your routine you know what im saying.

15 Mo December 7, 2012 at 4:01 am

I’m on the “I want these for my gym wall” train. Offer huge high res versions.

16 Tim December 7, 2012 at 4:56 am

@Ben: Shoulders in front of the bar is correct, the middle of the scapula should be directly over the bar. (Taken from:

17 Bob Powell December 7, 2012 at 4:59 am

I started the Stronglifts 5×5 program in May 2012 and have worked my way up to a 1Rep max of 280 for the Squat. The 5×5 routine incorporates the Squat, Deadlift, Barbell Row, Bench and Overhead Press, using only three of these on a rotating basis three times a week. I can do these at home in my basement instead of a gym. My 1RM for the Squat is 260 lbs. I’ve gained muscle and am the strongest I’ve ever been at age 65. These few compound lifts are all you need, and you’re not at the gym every day of the week. Keep on lifting!

18 Andrew December 7, 2012 at 5:11 am

Everyone of course lifts differently for there own reasons, here’s where my form differs from what’s illustrated:

Grip. I personally can’t encourage alternating grip. It’s an indication and cause of asymmetry, and just that simple turn of the wrist uses different muscles in the upper arm and shoulder. Use an overhand grip.

Shoulders. It is said to lift the chest, but not squeeze the shoulder blades. This can be misinterpreted. Shoulder blades should not be squeezed together, but your shoulders should be back. This will be done partially by lifting the chest, but you’ll still have to consciously make sure your shoulders aren’t too loose, which can lead to injuries.

Also, make sure to be extending your legs and back roughly simultaneously. The lift is one fluid motion, not a two-step straighten the knees, straighten the back process. Lowering the weight is simple the reverse of the lift.

19 Bryan December 7, 2012 at 5:18 am

Ben – Shoulders slightly ahead of the bar is the way taught by Mark Rippetoe in Starting Strength for the deadlift. That book is the best $20 I’ve ever spent.

20 Adam December 7, 2012 at 8:48 am

Completely irresponsible to present dropping the bar as a viable alternative. The picture is suggestive of the idiocy of dropping the bar, but for the uninitiated, they may think dropping is actually kosher.

It is not. Do not drop the bar. You did not completely the lift if you drop it. A controlled descent is not only a useful component of the lift, but is also respectful of the equipment, the floor, and other gym users (if any).

Agree with other posts that a properly executed deadlift along with proper just-below-parallel squats are the backbone (literally) of any decent strength program.

One final nit, the back positioning is the absolutely key element in setup. You have it noted in the lift. At that point, if your back is not properly set and locked, it is too late, and rounding is inevitable. You cannot properly set the back mid-lift. The bar should not leave the floor unless the lower back is set. Again, for someone new to the movement, this diagram may give them a bad impression and lead to injury (in addition to damaged equipment/floor).

21 Rod Waynick December 7, 2012 at 8:56 am

Here’s my suggestions that have nothing to do with form:

1) wear soccer socks if you plan on doing any number of deadlifts. bruised shins suck. you will bruise your shins. socks help it suck less.

2) keep your core tight throughout the movement. imagine you have a lifting belt (that wide leather thing hanging on the gym wall) and press your belly against the imaginary belt.

22 Trevor December 7, 2012 at 9:29 am

@rod I would recommend leaving the running shoes at home as well. Get something with a flat sole and a low heel. Vibram 5 fingers are my choice but a lot of folks like Chuck Taylors or Adidas Sambas.

23 claude December 7, 2012 at 9:36 am

I’ve always had trouble with dead lifts. Should the bar rub into your shin as you lift? When I do these, pretty much as described above, my shins nearly stop the movement because im pulling the bar into them. I have a 38″ inseam and wonder if that is part of the problem. Any advice?

24 Sergey Zabarin December 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Nice quick guide. I’m looking forward to more of these and the poster as well (although I still think that you guys should make a calisthenics poster as well). There are a few points I wanted to make, though.

1) The hip crease is very important in this movement. A mention that you should push your butt back and down on the descent and drive your hips forward during the lift would be helpful

2) Pointing out that the knees should bend in line with the toes and not be allowed to bow in is a very important performance/injury prevention tip worth repeating.

3) For heavy DL’s, it is very important to understand how to “brace” your body. Bracing works by tensing your ab and back muscles simultaneously while pushing your diaphragm down (breathing against your tense stomach) to increase intra-abdominal pressure. This causes a strong isometric contraction that prevents movement in your spine and stabilizes your body. It was probably too much to incorporate in a quick guide, but food for thought.

Great job nonetheless. I’m looking forward to the next lift!

25 BYC December 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Great form and illustration. I have always had a strong squat but never really pushed myself on deadlift. After seeing that most people’s DL numbers were 50+lb higher than their squats, I decided to go hard on deadlifts and am loving it.

Claude, I do scrape my shins while deadlifting sometimes but i’ve never had trouble like you are describing. You may need to sit back a little more. It should almost feel like you’ll fall back if you weren’t holding onto the bar. BUT, make sure you keep the form as illustrated. Visualize starting with your shoulders over the bar and pulling the bar straight up vertically without moving forward or back.

26 Paul White December 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Use a double overhand group. it makes your grip the limiting factor at first but your grip strength will catch up. If you have to use an alternating grip, swap grips each set.

The bar will be in contact with the shins; wear socks. or get used to bruised shins.

Don’t deadlift in sneakers or tennis shoes. I do barefoot (not ideal) or you can buy something with a solid sole that doesn’t slide. Cushy soles are not your friend for deads and squats.

I like my shoulders slightly over the bar, some prefer them dead even to the bar. I don’t think it matters over much.

Do not just drop the weight the whole distance. For the love of god, control your weight to at least some degree!

27 Rod Waynick December 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Yes the bar should rub the shins, hence the soccer socks!
If your inseam is coming into play, you may not be doing it right ;) Just kidding. I understand being tall can make the lift more difficult.
Advice would be to shift your weight onto your heels and just lift straight up.

28 Denver December 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm

the neck should be neutral from the beginning of the lift to the end. “looking straight ahead” at the start of the lift causes you to arch your neck. this is bad.

try lifting anything that’s “heavy” (make a video, side-view) and you’ll notice the weights won’t start moving upward until your shoulders are ahead of it. this is what naturally occurs. so, why not set up for it, right?

29 J. Waltzkinder December 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Let the moustache do the lifting.

30 Andy December 7, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Actually low bar deadlift is better it actualy works your posterior chain more which is better for strength general athlete specific conditioning periodization supplemental lateral adductors

31 Ben December 8, 2012 at 8:24 am

Anyone whose back isn’t as good as it once was, or is in a line of work where heavy lifting can be required, can benefit from these.

I hurt my back years ago then ended up in a job stacking rock walls. The big ones hurt my back to lift, so I tried deadlifts to condition to it, starting out light and taking a break if there was pain.

After a while I got used to the exercise, and still have a good back at a time when many of my working friends have lost theirs.

This is a key exercise for back health, maintenance, and injury prevention. Everyone should do some version of this.

32 jg December 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Beautiful technique on the mustache.

33 Carl Monster December 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I didn’t start putting some serious meat on my middle-aged frame till I added this to my program, which had already included lots of squats.
Great exercise, good article and even the comment string is informational.

34 Ara Bedrossian December 10, 2012 at 7:13 am

The shin bruises are a badge of honor.
Seriously, I hated getting those bruises, so I have switched to dumbbell deadlifts, holding them at my side. Better yet, your gym may have a machine that replicates this movement.

35 JG December 10, 2012 at 8:51 am

Deads, Squats, Overhead BB Press, BB Row, and Bench press, should be the lifts that all weight training workouts are built around.

36 Gwen December 10, 2012 at 9:22 am

I’d disagree with Paul about the sneakers; some sneakers can be good. Don’t deadlift in running shoes, but something with little or no sole is fine. I usually lift in Converse. My boyfriend just takes his shoes off.

First powerlifting competition coming up in the spring, I’ll have to get some real wooden-soled lifting shoes…

37 james rustle December 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Bruised shins are the signs of either a) a beginner deadlifter or b) bad form. Once you learn what you’re doing, you shouldn’t ever rub your shins with the bar while performing a dead lift.

And definitely don’t wear soccer socks or anything to cover up your shins. If nothing else, the bruising/scabs will be painful reminders that serve to teach you how to not deadlift correctly.

Also, once you start deadlifting heavy weight, be careful using an alternated grip. I’ve seen a few torn biceps as a result of that.

38 Ty December 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm

That’s pretty ignorant James Rustle. I have a few American records in various powerlifting federations and am only 22 lbs off the world record across all federations in my weight class and I:

1. Have a pretty much permanent hole in my right shin due to torquing the bar with an over-under grip.
2. Wear special deadlift socks to avoid bleeding all over the barbell (required in most powerlifting federations)
3. Bicep tears can happen from mixed grip that usually results in bad form. I’ve held 850 lbs in my hand using a mixed grip with no bicep tear – focus on flexing the triceps and you dramatically reduce the risk of a bicep tear.

But what do I know….here’s to looking for a 4.25x BW deadlift in 2013.

39 Paul White December 11, 2012 at 7:38 am

Gwen: fair enough. All my sneakers have had cushy soles and I just don’t feel like spending money on another set just for lifting. So I go barefoot (perk of lifting in my garage!).

James; the bar is *supposed* to be in contact with your shins. You’re not holding 500+ lbs out in front of your body…

40 Paul White December 11, 2012 at 7:39 am

dumbbell deadlifts just don’t do it once you get heavy; once you need more than about 300 lbs total weight good luck finding dumbbells big enough.

41 Paul Zografos December 12, 2012 at 2:22 am

Rustle – you dont know what youre talking about. Listen to Ty.

B.Sc. Exercise Physiology
NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist
500 lb Deadlifter

42 Lorne Marr December 12, 2012 at 9:51 am

Greatest exercise ever. Deadlift should be the essence of anyone’s workout routine. Also the best lift to base bear routine on. Beginners should be careful, I know what I’m talking about, deadlift is a back destroyer, if you don’t do it properly.

43 Nathanael Schulte December 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Joe: Pavel has a new book specifically about the Deadlift, written with Andy Bolton called Deadlift Dynamite. And don’t forget his first book on the topic, Power To The People, which covers the 1-arm press too. Pavel’s awesome!

44 Sean December 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Dropping the bar after the lift is perfectly acceptable in training. The most common injuries during DLs occur during the lowering part. The full lift, yes, is both the pick up and put down, but you can do more reps with less risk of injury if you drop the bar at the top. It IS, however, worth noting that you should only drop the bar if you’re on a platform and/or have bumper plates, otherwise you’ll destroy the floor and your equipment.

I love deadlifts…always want to go eat something red and bloody after I go for PRs on them.

45 Jason Keough December 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm

The single best builder of overall strength and probably (along with squats) the most under used.

46 Ryan B December 22, 2012 at 8:36 pm

These posts are always worth a chuckle. I’d bet at least half the people posting advice have never loaded four hundred pounds or more on a bar in their lives, but would feel confident telling someone else how to do something. Does that ever make you folks feel a little foolish?

47 Nick Whiteman December 31, 2012 at 8:16 am

On a slightly different note to the rest of the comments… Where can I get a leotard like that? Seriously. I am not joking.

48 Tim Fisher January 14, 2013 at 10:08 pm

I am 55. Been lifting for about 5 years. Dead lifts have been a big part of my routine for about 3 years. I had a knee replacement about 13 years ago so I was hesitant in the beginning about dead lifts. I started slowly, i only lift heavy about every 3-4 weeks. Today I did 425 with out much problem, my max is 435. In the future I do believe 500 is a possibility for me. I weight about 240.

49 Tim Fisher January 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I am 55. Been lifting for about 5 years. Dead lifts have been a big part of my routine for about 3 years. I had a knee replacement about 13 years ago so I was hesitant in the beginning about dead lifts. I started slowly, i only lift heavy about every 3-4 weeks. Today I did 425 with out much problem. In the future I do believe 500 is a possibility for me. I weight about 240.

50 afromuscle January 16, 2013 at 6:21 am

I used to have a real problem where my butt would shoot into the air as I pulled the bar. This meant my shoulders were almost inline with my hips as the bar was about to leave the floor. As a result, my back took most of the torture. I’ve seen this as a common issue with MOST folks who try out the deadlift.

There’s two tips that helped improve my deadlift and it’s really simple.


Anyone having issues with a rounded back but remember these two things when you step to the bar and I guarantee you, your form will improve.

stay safe,


51 Paul January 31, 2013 at 9:11 pm

It’s been almost two months…when is the next post coming out?

52 John February 12, 2013 at 10:04 am

A deadlift that is dropped is only half a lift. :x

53 ArchanJoel March 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I did these last night with just 25 pound dumbells in my hand. Due to the low weight I did 3 sets of 15. My heart was pounding the blood something fierce! Much more than doing bicep curls or over-head press with them.

54 Alexs March 21, 2013 at 3:26 am

Bench Press, please please!

55 Owen April 4, 2013 at 1:14 am

It is recommended that you tuck your chin to keep your neck in line with your spine.
Not sticking out, looking out at the bottom of the movement.
Rest looks fine.

56 Carlos April 17, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Now I know how to do a deadlift with form.

57 David Robin June 25, 2013 at 11:40 am

Deadlift just simply rules! Love the amount strength and effor it requires just to pull it off.

58 Peter September 17, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I hope you’re planning on continuing these I’d love to have a whole collection for the bar, kettle-bells, dumb-bells etc to put up.

59 adam taylor October 10, 2013 at 5:35 pm

drop the bar if you are only interested in strength gains, but lower it slowly if you want to build your legs and ass, sometimes when you see someone dropping the bar there not trying to be a bad ass, they just dont want that muscle

60 chris November 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm

that’s a bad representation of the deadlift. The ass is way too low on the illustrations. It looks like a squat when you are in the hole. A deadlift is NOT a squat. His ass should be higher. A deadlift is between a squat when in the hole and a Stiff legged deadlift when it comes to the proper position, as a point of reference. If it helps, I’m gonna spout my estats since someone will ask what my ”credentials are to, god forbid, say that the image is misleading”: 400 lbs squat and 460 sumo deadlift. Conventional I go up close to 500. Nothing crazy, but nothing shabby either for a guy who weighs 180 lbs.

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