Welcome to Do It Right, a new series where we cover essential skills everyone should know. From staying fit to taking care of your equipment and more, each Do It Right post brings you expert advice to help you learn something new in a variety of topics.
The Skill: How to Deadlift
Deadlifting is the simple act of standing while holding a lot of weight. it is relatively simple exercises, but doing it correctly requires proper technique, and a lot of people mess it up. The step-by-step guide below will make sure you are on the right track. For the sake of clarity, we’re going to handle the traditional barbell deadlift—the most commonly used version of the lift—and none of its equivalent movements.
Lee BoyceToronto-based strength coach, speaker, owner of Lee Boyce Training Systems, college professor, and internationally published fitness author. Despite having reconstructive surgery on both knees a few years ago, I can deadlift over 500 pounds, so I know a thing or two about getting stronger and avoiding injuries—especially with this movement.
what you need
A barbell, weight plates to load it on, some free floor space, and good old-fashioned zest.
how to do it
- Load the barbell to your desired weight, It’s best to start light, and be sure to pay attention to the size of the weight plates you’re using. You want the bar to be about nine inches off the ground (about 18 inches in diameter using standard plates). Olympic bumper plates are of this size, regardless of the weight of the plate. Iron plates, on the other hand, often become smaller as they become lighter. If you’re using smaller plates, the height of the bar will be closer to the ground, which means you’ll have to lean forward to raise the weight. This can be risky. Instead, mount the bar on a slightly higher surface so that the height matches the height of a standard Olympic plate.
- step right up. First, find your foot placement relative to the bar. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and close enough that your shins almost touch the bar—an inch of space between the shin and the bar is ideal. When you point the bar straight down, it should split your foot in half, just above your shoelaces.
- get hold of, The next step is to make a fist on the bar. (Don’t worry about your back or the rest of your body just yet.) Keep your feet planted, reach down, and place your hands on the bar just outside your shins using a double overhand grip. Let your back round. You should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
- get uncomfortable. It sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. Squeeze your body into a flat-back position, while sticking your butt out and pushing your chest up, while it rests on the floor. To help get into this position, pinch your armpits back and bring your knees out to your forearms as you’re trying to lift your chest. If done correctly, you’ll keep your upper chest over the bar, and the top of your head, your back, and your butt forming a straight line. Remember to draw your chin in; Your eyes should be focused on a spot right in front of the bar. All this tension that you have created should not feel relaxed—and that is a good thing.
- Dig and Fold Bar, When deadlifting, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on your arms or lower back to lift the weight. That’s why it’s important to squeeze every last ounce of flakes out of the bar before lifting it. This will ensure that you keep your elbows straight and lift with your body, not with your hands. It also avoids any jerky, spastic motions that can impair your technique. Before lifting, hold the bar close to your shins and try to pull it up with both hands, as if you were to bend the bar upwards to the ceiling.
- stand up. Now is the time to trust your technology. Stay tight, engage and lift your core. Make sure the bar stays no more than an inch away from your body. Drive in with your feet, squeezing your glutes, until you’re standing tall. You don’t need to lean back. As long as you fully squeeze the glutes, you’ll know when you can’t get taller. Once you’re up, hold steady with a proud chest and tight butt for a full second.
- Alight. Now it’s time to reverse the steps to return to the starting position. First, drop the hips back. Pretend you’re aiming for your butt to touch the wall behind you, and keep your back flat as you go down. While doing so, allow the bar to drag down your thighs in one smooth, controlled motion. Once the bar crosses knee level, it’s okay to insist on a “sit down” pattern, and allow the weight to return to the floor. Once the bar crosses your knees, it’s okay to speed it up a bit.
- repeat. Now that the weight is back on the floor, take a second before catching up and ripping out another repetition. Reset yourself, and repeat everything from step four. Don’t skip this step—it’s important to give yourself a chance to tighten up before each rep. It may seem insignificant if you’re lifting an empty bar, but once you’ve dealt with the excess weight, every last effort becomes invaluable.
If you are a more learning person, check out the video tutorial below, which visually breaks down all the steps.
With practice, you’ll master deadlifting and get the most out of this incredibly important movement. The deadlift targets the entire posterior chain, or muscles of the back of the body (mainly the glutes, hamstrings and lower back). It offers serious strength and muscle-building benefits, and when done correctly, it’s one of the most joint-friendly exercises you can do. Take the time to learn proper form now, and you’ll reap the rewards of a lifetime.
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