Back to Basics series – The Conventional Deadlift (Part 1 – Performing the lift) – Technique advise designed from the ground up to make your better.


  • Build will help to determine your stance width (each of which has cons and benifits)

  • Your grip and stance need to be centred with the bar.

  • There are 4 grip options each with pros and cons.

  • You should break the bar off the floor with your shoulders in line of behind, hips higher than knees and lower than shoulders.

  • Break the bar off the floor under control initially with the weight of your feet on your heel.

  • When the bar reaches your knees push your hips forward and shoulders back.

  • Reverse these steps to lower the bar.

The conventional deadlift is one of the three core disciplines in the sport of powerlifting it is also one of the most common competitive events to show up in strongman and crossfit in various guises.  Whether performed for reps, time or just an all out 1RM the deadlift is a maximal test of your leverages and concentric strength, few other lifts are going to put your body to the test like the deadlift and for this reason it needs to be treated with the respect it deserves.

When done correctly the deadlift can be a great strength stimulus for the glutes, hamstrings and the back.  When done incorrectly the deadlift is one of the fastest way to becoming a fully paid up resident in snap city.

This should really be one of the mainstays in your strength programme if you are a strength, speed or power athlete and if you’re a strength athlete than chances are it’s gonna make up a large portion of you sport anyway so you better start getting to grips with it!

Me performing a 290 kg deadlift at 96 kg body weight (638 lbs @ 211 lbs BW) not a particularly spectacular achievement but anyone who knows me will tell you how much I suck at this lift so I have had to claw tooth and nail for every kilo of gain.

Step 1 – Standing in the correct spot

deadlift stance comparison

The first thing to consider in the deadlift is where to put your feet this will depend on your size and dimensions typically a smaller framed person will prefer a narrow stance whilst a larger structured person with larger hips will prefer a wider stance.

As you can see from the comparison above three people performing the same lift at world record or near world record weights and three completely different stances.  Most large people similar to Brian Shaw will prefer a wider stance what you’re seeing from Brian is a lifter on the extreme end of width but generally slightly outside of the hips this will allow them to utalise their bigger more powerful hips.

Bob Peoples a more normal sized lifter probably a bit undersized for today’s population takes his stand under his hips if not slightly outside.  This is the median position for conventional deadlift so if you are of a more normal stature you will want to start with your stance around this position.

Lamar Gant is again way on the other extreme side of the spectrum when it comes to extremes being 157 cm tall and weighing in at only 56 kg is probably closer to the median size for most ladies.  His stance is extremely close as you can see his heels are pretty close to touching.

As well as based of your physical dimensions as a lifter stance width will also affect speed from the floor.  A wider stance takes longer to break from the floor this is probably due to a increased knee angle leading to greater relative for the quadriceps due to it being a weaker joint position.

Combined with this the lifter usually has to keep a better integrity of their spinal position due to the increased effort from the floor the payoff however is usually that lockout is easier than getting the bar moving.  You can see an exaggerated example of this during the sumo deadlift.

A closer stance however normally encourages less of a knee bend which puts the quadriceps one of the strongest muscle groups in the body if not the strongest muscle group in a mechanically very advantageous position.  The closer grip also makes it harder for the lifter to engage the lats which aid greatly in creating a stable strong spinal position this combined with the greater ability to produce speed from the floor normally encourages lifters to allow for more spinal rounding.

This increased spinal rounding decreases the lever arm from the floor which increases the lifter’s ability to create speed however it makes the lock out much more difficult, and is normally the limiting factor in a closer stance deadlift.  One of the things that made Lamar Gant such an effective deadlift was the combination of his long arms and scholastic spine that allowed him to reach a legal lock out position with the bar just above his knees!  Typically when a stance designed to generate maximal speed from the floor would start to falter.

Below you can see the knock on effects that these two extreme stance widths have on the lifter’s ability to both start and complete the lift.

In addition to where you put your feet you need to make sure that your orientation to the bar is central doing this is easy just use the land markings on the bar you are using (center knurling, beginning of knurling or marked spots) to make sure the center of the barbell is directly in line with your center of mass.


You can point your toes out slightly as described in Ed Coan’s tutorial made with Mark Bell for super training.tv since you can get better glute activation with this stance.  Some lifters however will prefer a forward pointing toe, this is down to lifter preference is will be more down to how you started lifting its influence on your performance in the lift is probably negligible.

Step 2 – Gripping the bar.

There are several ways in which to grip the bar the one you use will depend on your goals.  Here is a quick list of your options with pros/cons for their use.


Double overhand.


  • Symmetrical grip ensures muscles will develop evenly
  • Good for training grip strength specifically for barbell training.
  • Easy and intuitive to understand.  If you tell someone to pick up a bar this is how they will do it.


  • Weakest grip available


Hook Grip


  • Symmetrical grip ensures muscles will develop evenly
  • Strong grip capable of pulling maximal attempts with practice.
  • Instant transfer to olympic lifts since this is the grip used.
  • Competition legal with direct transfer to the platform.


  • Counterintuitive.
  • Painful.
  • Takes time to master.


Mixed Grip


  • Strong grip will easily be able to train with maximal weights.
  • Competition legal with direct transfer to the platform.
  • Easy to understand


  • Can cause uneven musculature development if used with the same over and under hands.
  • Can cause form issues further down the line.




  • Strongest Grip available
  • Allows for supramaximal weights to be used
  • Easy to understand after demonstration.


  • Only competition legal in strongman.
  • Can cause some lifters to become overly dependant and lead to a weak grip.

Step 3 – Setting up your position and Breaking The Bar from the floor.

Once you have your stance correct and you have chosen the grip that is going to best suit your goals then it’s time to finally start the lift.  Before you pull the bar you need to get into the most mechanically advantageous position for your build this is where your going to need the guidance of a coach or an experienced lifter to guide you.  Short of that it’s best to start from what is the best position for most people and fine tune from there.


Typically you will want to start with your shoulder either in line or slightly behind the vertical line of the bar.  From here you want to sit your hips down slightly it is normally good practice to have your hips quite a bit higher than what you will intuitively think is the best position remember this is a deadlift not a squat.  Your shins should be near vertical and your knees will be in the correct position if you achieve these three landmarks with a straight back.

To get your back in the correct position before pulling the bar think about doing these following three things –

  • push your knees out against your arms (this will help to engage your glute medius and abductors which will increase your initial strength from the floor).
  • bend the bar using your hands into a bow shape so that the bow points away from you (this will encourage your to internally rotate your humerus and help to engage the lats better which will set up a much more solid back position).
  • squeeze the pencil on your mid back (this is the part of your back you really want to brace not your upper back or lumbar as this is ultimately what will crumple under maximal load of intention, if you brace this correctly then you will have a very strong position to pull through).

For the novice lifter it is important to get your head around “taking the slack off the bar” this basically means you pull the bar with a sub-maximal amount of force which will put tension through your arms and back.  Doing this will make you and the bar feel like the same system which will make it much easier to break the bar off the floor whilst maintaining your back position and not jerking the bar off the floor changing the length of your bicep rapidly (which is the primary cause of bicep tear in the deadlift, primarily on the underhand grip).

The initial lift is primarily performed by the quadriceps and knee joint however to stop yourself from losing the back position you have just spent this time setting up you need to think about lifting with your knees and back simultaneously.  Think of pushing the floor away with your knees and extending your upper back into an invisible wall that is sitting just 2 inches about your shoulder blades.

Now the bar is starting to move you are starting the “push” phase of the lift this part of the lift will take the bar past your knees.  Keep pushing the floor away with your knees and extending your upperback into that wall as hard as you can.

When you feel the bar start to slow a little then the bar will be past the knees and you will need to begin locking it out.

Step 4 – Locking the bar out / transitioning into the pull portion of the lift.

When you start to feel the bar slow a little as discussed above then this is the appropriate time to start thinking about pulling the bar to lock out.  You have been “pulling” the entire time but framing the wording in this way allows you to easily perform the correct movements.

You should start pulling with your back and hips so your hips reach full extension and your shoulders finish behind the bar.  Start thinking of pushing your hips forward and you squeeze your glutes as hard as you can think of clenching your arse (ass for my american readers) as physically hard as you can whilst thrusting your hips forward.

lock out pull

As you thrust your hips towards lock out pull with your upper back and shoulder towards the wall behind you these two actions together should lead to a quick and easy lock out if you managed to get past your knees whilst holding a good back position.

This part of the lift will typically be the most difficult for a maximal attempt since your back position will likely become compromised from the floor.  You just need to keep pulling at this stage keep thinking of getting your hips forward and shoulders back some deadlifts can be a huge fight to lock out so you just need to stick with it.  Do not train to this intensity week in week out unless you want to get injured!

lock out

When you reach the top of the lift you want to have your shoulders behind the bar and your hips locked out.  If you do this correctly you shouldn’t feel the weight through any particular part of your body you might feel it in your grip if you are reaching your limits.  If you feel the weight through the small of your back then if is likely you are hyperextending to secure the load.  This can be an acceptable technique in powerlifting competition as it is more secure for most lifters however it is to be avoided in training as it will create an unnecessarily large amount of pressure on the low back.

Step 5 – Lowering the bar

This portion of the lift doesn’t receive a lot of attention but it can be done awkwardly or unsafely by novice lifters or it can change the strength stimulus provided by the exercise as you can add an eccentric component to what is normally a concentric only lift.

lowering bar

To lower the bar start by unlocking your hips and pushing them backwards as you do tis the bar will naturally fall under gravity use your hamstrings, glutes and upper back to resist this fall but let the bar follow it’s own line down this is typically also the best line up since it will be straight!  If you pay attention to this then your next rep will take a naturally better path from the floor to lockout.  If you have ever noticed that during a set of deadlifting your second rep is always stronger than your first than you now have your answer as to why this is the case.

finish lowering

When the bar get’s past your knees you can now unload or “drop” the bar safetly this is done by dropping your knee and hip levels either at the same pace or slightly faster than the speed of the bar dropping this will stop you accidently getting a jolt from the bar dropping.  The bar will now be safely on the floor.

If you want to turn the deadlift into a concentric/eccentric exercise (normally a good idea for sports players or athletes as it provides a great strength stimulus for the hamstrings and glutes) then resist the bar’s path down from lock out to the floor following the same steps as above.  Just do so at a tempo, to overload the eccentric portion of the lift since you are roughly 115-120% stronger eccentrically than you are concentrically you put the lowering of the bar under a time constraint say a 3 second lowering this will increase the time under tension and help to provide more of a strength training stimulus specifically for the hamstrings.

That concludes the first part of this two part article in the next article we will discuss

  • How to address injury concerns with the deadlift
  • foot wear and belt use
  • Training the deadlift (variation, frequency and volume/balancing against squat)
  • Some quick tips to help novices and intermediates add some kilogrammes to your maximal lift.


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