Deadlifting is one of the best exercises for developing pure strength. It is a ‘compound lift’, meaning it targets more than one joint and/or muscle group. The strength gained from deadlifting is easily applicable to any number of sports or athletic activities. Not only this, but it can also improve your posture, meaning you stand taller. When performed properly, it is an unbelievably effective exercise.
However, when a deadlift is performed incorrectly, it can cause real damage to your lower back and a trip to your chiropractor. This is typically as a result of uneven pressure on your spinal discs, which can vary in severity. In severe cases this can result in a disc herniation which can cause nerve irritation and sciatica.
Every time you approach the bar and prepare to deadlift, good form should be at the forefront of your mind. When you deadlift properly, you distribute the stress across your tissues and keep balance within your body. To help you maintain good deadlift form, we have created a mini checklist to consider the next time you want to be like Eddie Hall.
Your feet should be hip-width apart, with the bar just over the middle of your feet. When lifting, you should press through the middle of your foot.
Grip the bar tightly, just outside your legs. This narrow grip will make it easier to lift the weight and maintain good form. Your grip strength will be tested here! To help with this, you can adopt the ‘mixed grip’, where you have one hand up and one hand down. This is the most popular choice when deadlifting heavy weight because as the bar rolls out of one hand, it rolls into the other, meaning you can hold it for longer.
This is an important one, as you can imagine. When deadlifting, you must keep a ‘neutral spine’ – this will keep your spine safe from start to finish and avoid uneven loading of the intervertebral discs. If you can’t keep a neutral spine when lifting the bar from the floor, place it on some blocks to shorten the range of motion. Over time, you can lower the starting position of the bar closer and closer to the floor.
Shoulders / Head
You shoulder blades should be over the bar and upper back muscles engaged and activated. This will allow you to keep the bar close to your body throughout the movement, minimising the risk of injury. Keep your head in a neutral position (don’t look up or down), as this will help maintain the neutral spine.
Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar, keeping your hips and chest up. As you begin to lift, push the ground away from your legs. The bar should maintain contact with your shins as you lift it from the floor. Do not attempt to jerk the weight off the ground with your arms – your arms are merely there to connect the weight to rest of your body.
Other Things to Consider
The ‘dead’ in deadlift means ‘dead weight’. This means that the bar must be resting on the ground at the start of each rep. Deadlifting ‘touch and go’ i.e. bouncing the weight from the floor, will allow you to propel yourself back up and make additional reps easier. However, this can be jarring on the spine. The faster you bounce the weight off the ground, the more likely you are to stress your lower back, as you are neglecting the use of your legs. If you add a rounded back to the equation, it is a recipe for disaster. By resetting at the bottom of each deadlift, you will experience far more strength benefits and drastically reduce the risk of injury.
The deadlift is the exercise that will allow you to lift the most weight. However, when is heavy too heavy? The answer is simple – when your form breaks. If you start to round your back as you lift or if your hips and knees stop working in partnership with the rest of your body, you have gone too heavy. Start with a lighter weight, focus on maintaining good form and then progressively add more weight. Simple. If you let your ego or competitive nature get the better of you, you are placing yourself at serious risk of injury.
In conclusion, the deadlift is a classic test of strength and a highly functional movement. Picking something off the ground is about as functional as it gets. It is hugely effective and one of the best compound exercises around. By deadlifting safely and progressively, you can transform a weak back into a strong back. Hopefully this guide will act as a timely reminder to maintain good form and keep you on your way to huge improvements in both strength and athletic performance. Anyway, here’s a picture of a 9 month old Freddie warming up with your max…