How to Deadlift

 The Set Up

Deadlifting is one of our primal movement patterns. We have been deadlifting since we could walk on two feet. Every time you bend over and pick up a rock, the washing, the kids you are performing a deadlift. It is one of, if not the strongest way we can lift objects.

The problem with it being so engrained into our DNA it means we can become complacent with it, especially when we go to lift a heavy object. We have the potential to move a lot of weight with the deadlift regardless of our training experience. This is good if you need to lift a tree off a friend in an emergency but not so good if you are at the gym, you are not used to lifting heavy and your mates are egging you on to lift as heavy as you can!!

The first step to a good deadlift is the set up. Work on performing the following

  • Stand as close to the base as you can

  • Feet are under your hips or hip width apart

  • Shoot your hips back and then start to bend at the knees

  • Hold on to the bar at shoulder width

  • Push your chest through and flatten your back off

  • Have your hips just below shoulders

  • Pull your shoulders back and down

Hold the setup position for 5-10 secs and then leg go of the bar and stand up then go back down into your set up position. Work on getting into the perfect set up position. Perform 5-10reps to really engrain a solid set up.

Squeeze to knees ( hold your shape)

Once you are feeling confident with your set up the next part of the deadlift is to lift it off the ground. If you have a good solid set up the chances are the rest of the movement will be good. However you still need to concentrate on holding good shape as you perform the deadlift. 

The best way of doing this is to think of squeezing the bar off the ground rather than trying to pull the weight off the ground as fast as possible.

This will help you hold a good position throughout the movement. Once the bar starts to pass the knees then think of shooting the hips through and extending your hips.

At the top of the movement you want to have your quads, glutes and abs engaged. 

To come back down, think of reversing the movement, let your hips drift back lengthening through the hamstrings, as the bar gets to your knee start to bend the knees, keep your back tight and lower the bar to the ground.

As you become stronger and more experienced, then you can focus more on getting the bar off the ground faster. But unless you have been deadlifting for a long time, i would recommend keeping to the rule, squeeze to the knees and then shooting the hips through.

Tight shoulders

As you become better at deadlift you are going to want to lift heavier. This is good but you need to make sure that you are setting your shoulders properly to help avoid injury and help increase your potential to lift more.

One of the biggest mistakes i see is that when people deadlift they let their shoulder roll forward. This is due to either lack of awareness around the shoulders or lack of strength in the shoulder. Often it is both!!

When you are learning to deadlift this is a good time to work on really setting the shoulders especially when the weight is light. It will help create the good habit of tight shoulders.

When you are setting up for your deadlift think of trying to bend the bar in half with your arms straight this will help pull the shoulder blades down the back and create torque in your shoulder joint. 

You are externally rotating the shoulder into the joint which is the shoulder's optimal position. What you definitely don't want to do is let the shoulder blades ride up the back and round the shoulders off.

So when you are getting into your set up position think of trying to set the shoulders by bending the bar in half and externally rotating the shoulders. Even if there is not much weight on the bar still do it!!


Breathing is like deadlifting we do it so much that we can take it for granted. When it comes to strength training we really need to be conscious of our breathing as it plays a huge roll in injury prevention and strength gains.

When you get into your set up position, think of taking a big breath in and fill your lungs. This will in turn force you to engage through your abs. Using the same knee marker as the squeeze to knees cue, hold your breath until the bar passes the knees then exhale under pressure, forcing your abs to remain engaged. 

Once you reach full lock out at the top of the deadlift start to lower the bar, as your are lowing the bar breathe in and fill your lungs, hold your breath at the bottom and then repeat the movement.

The breathing will help keep your abs and core muscles engaged which is going to help protect your spine while lifting. If you just breath out with no thought and tension the chances of you losing your body position is going to increase especially as the weight increases.


The final piece of the puzzle when deadlifting is the speed of the movement. When you are first learning to deadlift you want to focus on set up, body position and movement pattern. Don’t even worry about speed: just control the movement.

But once you are starting to get the hang of the movement you can start to introduce elements of speed into the lift. The main part you want to focus on is the hip extension at the top of the deadlift.

Using the same cueing point as the squeeze to knees and the breathing that is when you want to think about accelerating the hip through. 

As the weight gets heavier you want to put more emphasis on the speed of the hips.

If you want to increase your strength in the deadlift then you need to control the bar back down to the ground, even slowing the bar down.

So to wrap up, focus on the set up first, then the body position, setting shoulder and movement pattern, your breathing and then finally the speed of the movement.

If done properly deadlifts are a great tool. Whether you are recovering form injury or are wanting to get as strong as possible. it one of the best exercises you can do if done correctly.

Be Consistent!