Do It Better: Barbell Deadlift


The barbell deadlift: I know you desire to lift a barbell as big as a Cadillac (and I really love that about you). But for as simple to execute as this movement appears to be from the outset, deadlifting involves much more than picking up the weight and setting it back down again, especially if you want to keep improving your strength and technique by chipping away at this strength-building super-lift.

I’ve written about the basics of the deadlift set up and how to strengthen your sumo deadlift so check those out first if you haven’t caught them yet. But if you’re square on your deadlift and want to tighten up your ship even more, you can implement these tips in your very next deadlift session:


1. Find Your Power (Foot) Position

Breaking your bar off the floor while deadlifting requires a burst of power right from the get-go. It’s not uncommon, however, for me to observe my in-person lifters and my Unapologetically Strong online coaching lifters initially setting up for their conventional deadlift with a stance that’s slightly too wide—and their knees end up banging into their arms on the ascent—or too narrow, and their knees collapse together when the bar rises to their mid-shin.

When pulling conventional, a great way to find your own power position is to get some air: put your feet in the position where you feel like you could jump the highest and take a couple of test jumps (and if jumping isn’t your bag, do this with bodyweight hip thrusts). The foot position where you feel the most stable and get the highest jumps (or most powerful thrust) is your power position, and this is very likely your ideal foot stance for a more powerful pull.



2. Anchor Your Feet

Many lifters have been told to rock back onto their heels once they wrap their hands on the bar because doing so will help you keep the bar right up against your shins from the very start of the pull, making for a cleaner and smoother bar path.

While it’s true you definitely want to pull the bar back into your body when you initiate your pull,  balancing your weight evenly over your entire foot will allow you to fully take advantage of your power position—after all, if you tried to jump with only your heels grounded you’d never leave the floor—and also prevent you from losing your balance at the top of the lift.

The next time you set up for your deadlift, drive your big toes down and externally rotate your legs from your hips. You’ll feel the outer edges of your feet and your heels screw into the ground and your hips fire up, ready for action. Maintain this tension from the start to the finish of your pull.



3. Wedge Your Body In Close To The Bar

Put simply, you want to bring your hips as laterally close as you can to the bar without rounding your low back. If your setup tends to be more “squatty,” with your hips set low and your shoulders behind the bar, your hips have to travel a greater horizontal distance to lock out the top of your lift (this is inefficient because the longer it takes you to stand up the more fatigued you’re going to get).  Also, if your hips are too low, it’s likely your shins are angled forward and your knees are pushing out over the bar. In this position your hips will very likely pop up at the start your lift due to physics: the bar won’t leave the floor until it can travel straight up.

Next time you set up for your conventional or sumo deadlift checklist these three things: 1) Your shins are vertical to the floor. 2) Your armpits (not your shoulders) are over the bar. 3) You’ve gripped the bar tightly in your hands and pulled your body against the bar while keeping your back flat.

Meet these three criteria and your hips will automatically land in your strongest position, making for a cleaner, more efficient pull.

I hope this helps and I would love to know how it goes for you. Give these tips a try in your next session and then come back and and let me know how it went in the comments below.



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Author:Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake’s leggings might be pink but her weights aren’t. A personal trainer at The Movement Minneapolis she is a powerlifting and strongman enthusiast with a passion for human movement, here to spread the good word that strong is fun. Facebook: Strong Is Fun, Twitter, Instagram
Comments: 2

2 Responses to “Do It Better: Barbell Deadlift”

  1. Heidi
    January 27, 2018 at 5:35 pm #

    Based on this, the barbell won’t touch the shins during set up or execution?

    • Jennifer Blake
      January 28, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

      Hi, Heidi! Yes, you’re right, the barbell should touch the shins during the set up, and through the duration of the lift. Under “Wedge Your Body In Close To The Bar I had stated, “3) You’ve gripped the bar tightly in your hands and pulled your body against the bar while keeping your back flat,” which is meant to address the close contact your shines needs to have with the bar right from the start. Thank you for the reminder of how important it is to keep that contact from start to finish!

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