How to Perfect Your Deadlifts
Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no denying the power of deadlifts. Deadlifts are the ultimate test of physical and mental strength, and they work more muscles in the body than just about any other exercise. Pretty impressive, right?
Deadlifts — as well as squats and bench presses — form the foundation of my powerbuilding program BUILD. And I really believe they should be a staple in everyone’s training regimen.
Here, I’ll explain why I’m such a big fan of deadlifts — and share everything from detailed steps on how to perform a conventional deadlift to tips to improve your focus and form. So, whether you’re new to heavy lifting or an experienced gym-goer, you’ll have no excuse to ditch the deadlift. Let’s go!
What is a deadlift?
Put simply, a deadlift is a full body exercise where you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and lift a bar or barbell (loaded with your chosen weights) up to your hips and back to the ground.
Deadlifts are incredibly popular with those who are serious about increasing their strength, as they’re a compound exercise and work so many different parts of your body.
Deadlifts work all of your major muscle groups. When you deadlift you’re working your whole posterior chain, which is the group of muscles that run down the “posterior” or the back side of your body. Yes, that includes your actual backside, too!
Most seasoned gym-goers will be familiar with the deadlift due to its simplicity and effectiveness. But, regardless of your familiarity, it’s important to check your form.
How to perform a deadlift
When it comes to heavy lifting, technique is extremely important. Here’s how to perform a conventional deadlift:
Setting up your deadlift
Stand in the middle of the barbell and place both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart.
Bend at the hips and knees, and place your hands on the bar in an overhand grip. Make sure your palms are facing you.
Draw your shoulder blades down and back to push out your chest slightly. Inhale and brace your core.
Performing your deadlift
Exhale. Using your glutes and hamstrings, push evenly through your feet and extend your hips and legs to find a neutral standing position. (Make sure you maintain a proud chest and your head is an extension of your spine.)
Inhale. Bend at the hips and, once the bar reaches knee height, bend your knees to return to the starting position. (Make sure your knees remain behind your toes.)
Remember to maintain a proud chest and check that your head is an extension of your spine.
Why you should deadlift
OK, where do I start? There are so many reasons to deadlift!
First things first, deadlifts are a compound exercise. Basically, they work multiple muscles at once — think the opposite to isolation exercises like leg extensions.
Compound exercises are tough and require a lot of energy, but they also burn a lot of calories. So, if you have limited time to work out, they’re a really effective exercise to do.
Compound exercises pretty much always target your core. When you deadlift, you’re using your core strength to help stabilise your body. Basically, a strong core: a strong lift. If you’re lifting heavy weights, you’re going to need a lot of core strength. So, get ready to give your abs a solid workout.
Aside from working almost all of your muscles, deadlifts also have a high capacity for progressive overload. This means you’ll be able to increase your weights quite drastically and be provided with a tangible number to measure your progress.
Always check my recommendations in the SWEAT app when it comes to increasing your weights. Safety first, people! But seriously, it’s never worth compromising your performance by going too hard or overexerting yourself.
How to improve your deadlift
Even experienced gym-goers can slip up, so it’s important to remember the deadlifting basics.
Get your head in the game: Think heavy lifting isn’t about your mind? Think again. Picking up very heavy things requires a fair amount of focus and confidence. As you approach the bar, visualise yourself successfully completing the lift. Breathe.
Focus on your form: I know I go on about it a lot, but it’s really important to get your technique right. Pay attention to the way you’re lifting and take your time to perform each movement. Closely follow my form in the app.
Train heavy deadlifts once a week: A proper recovery session is key to nailing your deadlift. As is a well-considered lifting schedule where there’s enough rest time between intense sessions.
Reserve one session per week for heavy deadlifts (as you’ll find in BUILD), and use a separate session throughout the week for other variations. Always make time for rest, and keep up to date with recovery sessions.
Be patient: Strength training is a game of patience, consistency and hard work. Upping your deadlift weights over time is certainly possible, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Let’s take my deadlift progression over the last two years. In 2017, I could deadlift 130kg. Now, I can deadlift 160kg. When you break it down, that’s an increase of a bit more than 1kg per month. Good things take time. Stick with it; you’ll get there!
Different types of deadlifts
You’ll find various types of deadlifts in my BUILD program. The three most common are: conventional, sumo and trap bar deadlifts.
Conventional deadlifts are performed with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and toes facing forwards. Conventional deadlifts are great for working out multiple muscles, including your hamstrings, glutes, lats and traps.
In a conventional deadlift your feet are placed shoulder-width apart, while in a sumo deadlift they’re much further apart. Just like a sumo squat.
Sumo deadlifts put more pressure on your quads and glutes than a conventional deadlift but less pressure on your back.
Trap bar deadlifts
If you’re new to deadlifting and want additional support, trap bar deadlifts are a great option.
This bar puts you in a more upright position, which reduces the pressure on your lower back and shortens the range of motion (making the technique easier to master).
Build your muscles with deadlifts!
No matter what stage you’re at in BUILD, get set to do lots of deadlifts. They really do offer so many unique benefits that are impossible to ignore!
Keep up to date with my personal progress on social, find out some of the lessons I’ve learned on my fitness journey, and stay on track by trying my suggested workouts.
How much can you deadlift, and what goals are you working towards? Let me know in the comments.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.