How to deadlift with proper form
May 20, 2024

How to deadlift with proper form

Trainwell Trainers

Deadlifts are one of the most popular and best exercises in strength training. They work multiple muscle groups (e.g., the legs, glutes, back, and core), making them a great compound exercise for overall strength and muscle development. Deadlifting also promotes grip strength, improves posture, and can help tackle back pain

But with great benefits come some risks. Poor form while deadlifting can lead to severe injuries such as strains, sprains, and, in the worst-case scenario, herniated discs. 

Below, we’ll guide you through the many types of deadlifts and the proper form for each to keep your workouts safe and effective. ✅

The correct form for each type of deadlift

If you’re new to your fitness journey, the number of deadlift variations might surprise you! Traditional deadlifts are a great exercise, but the variations help you target other muscle groups that may align better with your fitness goals.

Below, we’ll give you step-by-step instructions for each type of deadlift, including the starting position, movement phase, and form corrections.

Traditional deadlift form

Traditional deadlifts are the gym-floor staple and the most common variation of deadlifts. They are suitable for most people, especially beginners or those at the intermediate fitness level, as they require less technique and are easier to perform. Traditional deadlifts target primarily the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles.

To execute a traditional deadlift with proper form:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, barbell in front, feet under hips, and bar over midfoot.
  2. Bend knees, hinge hips, and grab the barbell with an overhand grip.
  3. Engage your core, keep your back straight and chest up. Drive through your heels to stand, keeping the bar close to your body.
  4. At the top, squeeze your glutes and pull your shoulders back to maintain a neutral spine.
  5. To lower the bar, hinge at the hips and bend the knees, bar close to the shins.

Some common mistakes that can lead to back injuries during traditional deadlifts include:   

  • Rounding the back, which puts too much strain on the spine.
  • For beginners, a mixed grip (one hand over, one under) can cause muscle imbalances and higher injury risk. When first starting, use an overhand grip for deadlifts.
  • Lifting heavy weights before mastering form. Start light and focus on form before adding weight.
  • Swinging the bar forward or backward. You want the bar to move up in a straight line.

If you experience back pain or discomfort, consider switching to an alternative deadlift form (which we’ll cover below). When in doubt, it’s always best to consult a personal trainer or fitness professional for guidance on which deadlift variation may be best for you based on your goals and fitness level. 

Dumbbell deadlift form

Dumbbell deadlifts are a great alternative to traditional deadlifts if you have limited equipment or are just starting your fitness journey. They target the same muscle groups as traditional deadlifts but require less weight, making them ideal for beginners. 

With the dumbbell deadlift, proper alignment and balance are essential to prevent injury and effectively target the intended muscle groups: 

  • Keep your back straight, shoulders pulled back, and core engaged throughout the movement.    
  • Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) to engage your lats.   
  • Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement for total lower-body engagement.
  • Lower the dumbbells to your shins, keeping your form consistent.

Keep the dumbbells close to your body throughout the movement, similar to a traditional deadlift. This will reduce strain on the lower back and allow for proper muscle engagement.

Romanian deadlift form

When performing a Romanian deadlift, keep your knees slightly bent and your back flat. Focus on the hip hinge by pushing your hips back, maintaining a straight line from head to tailbone, and engaging your glutes and hamstrings without straining your lower back. Start with the barbell at the top, unlike a conventional deadlift.

Here's how to execute a Romanian deadlift with proper form

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the barbell at hip level with an overhand grip.
  • Hinge at the hips, keeping your knees slightly bent, and push your hips back as you lower the bar towards the ground. 
  • Keep your back straight and core engaged throughout the movement.
  • Stop when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, then contract your glutes to drive your hips forward and return to the starting position.

Stiff leg deadlift form

The stiff leg deadlift is an excellent option to power up your posterior chain. It works the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles, engaging your core and improving stability. 

For the stiff leg deadlift technique, keep your legs relatively straight throughout the movement, unlike in a traditional deadlift, where you bend your knees to lower the barbell. This will intensify your hamstring and glute workout by isolating these muscles more effectively: 

  • Lower the bar back down with great control while keeping your legs straight.
  • Stand close to the barbell, positioning it over the middle of your foot, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend at the hips, grab the bar with an overhand grip, and keep your back straight.
  • Engage your core and pull your shoulders back, pushing through your heels to stand up.
  • Carefully lower the bar, keeping your legs straight.

Suitcase deadlift form

Typically, when you carry something in one hand — a bag of groceries, for instance — your core engages to keep your torso upright and prevent you from falling over. 🛍️

The same principle applies to suitcase deadlifts. They require you to maintain stability and balance while carrying a weight on one side, which engages and strengthens your core.

With the suitcase deadlift variation, your core stability is crucial as you are lifting a load from one side and trying to prevent your body from tilting: 

  • Pick a weight you can lift with one hand and place it beside your foot.
  • From a standing position, hinge at the hips, bring your torso forward and bend your knees. Grab the weight with a neutral grip using one hand. 
  • Push through your heels, move your hips forward, keep your back straight and core tight.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, then lower the weight back down to the ground with control. 

Sumo deadlift form

A key differentiator of the sumo deadlift is the wider stance and hand positioning inside the legs. This setup allows for a more upright torso position, which reduces stress on the lower back and shifts the focus to the inner thighs. To ensure proper deadlift form: 

  • Keep your back straight and core tight.
  • Use a wide overhand grip with your arms inside your legs.
  • Push through your heels to stand, bar close to your body.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top, then lower the bar with control.

Trap bar deadlift form

The best thing about the trap bar deadlift is that it allows for a neutral grip, which means your palms face each other instead of facing away like in a traditional deadlift. 

This grip places less stress on the shoulders and wrist joints, making it more comfortable. Because you’re standing inside the trap bar, your shins are more vertical compared to a traditional deadlift, reducing strain on the lower back and allowing for a more upright torso position.

  • Stand in the trap bar and hold the handles with a neutral grip.
  • Push through your heels with a straight back and engaged core to lift the weight off the ground.
  • Keep a neutral spine and the weight close to your body as you stand.
  • Squeeze your glutes and engage your hamstrings at the top of the movement, then smoothly lower the weight to the start.

Most common deadlift mistakes

Deadlifts are highly beneficial for building overall strength and muscle mass when done correctly. Avoid the following common mistakes so you can reap the full benefits of this exercise and stay injury-free: 

Starting from the top

Usually, a deadlift starts with the barbell on the ground, ensuring proper tension and muscle engagement from the beginning. Some mistakenly start from the top, lowering themselves before lifting, which lessens tension and muscle engagement and increases lower back pressure, raising injury risk. Always begin a deadlift from the ground for correct muscle engagement and tension.

Bouncing the weight

Bouncing the weight between reps can be tempting, especially when lifting heavy.  However, this can be dangerous and counterproductive. When you bounce the weight, you lose control of the movement and increase your risk of injury. Instead, maintain a controlled lift, lowering the weight with control and fully engaging your muscles on each rep. 

Skipping floor contact

It's only a traditional deadlift if the weight touches the floor. Skipping floor contact shortens your range of motion and limits the exercise's effectiveness. It also negates one of the main benefits of deadlifting — building strength and power from a dead stop. To get the most out of your deadlifts, make sure to lower the weight down, touch the floor, and then reset for each rep.

Squatting instead of deadlifting

Squatting and deadlifting are distinct exercises with unique forms and movement patterns. For deadlifts, position your hips above your knees, hinge at the hips, and keep your back straight. 

Squatting involves lower hips, more knee bend, and an upright torso. Mixing squatting into a deadlift can strain your back and knees. To prevent injury and target the right muscles, focus on hip hinging and maintain a straight back during deadlifts.

Overextending at the top

We all have been there (or seen it at the gym) — the urge to lean back and show off at the top of a heavy deadlift. 🏋️

While it brings that extra "squeeze" in the glutes, it can put undue stress on the spine and increase the risk of injury. It also takes away from proper muscle engagement and can throw off your balance. It's always better to maintain a neutral spine and focus on squeezing your glutes at the top rather than leaning back excessively. 

Safety tips for deadlifting

To ensure safe and effective deadlifting, here are general safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Warm up before deadlifting with lunges, squats, and stretches to prepare your muscles.
  • Begin with light weights and gradually increase (incremental loading) as your form and strength improve.
  • Keep your back straight, engaging your core and glutes for spine support.
  • Listen to your body and take breaks if you feel pain or discomfort.
  • Get feedback from a professional trainer on your form for proper technique.

Avoid injuries by training with a trainwell personal trainer

Deadlifts are a fantastic exercise for building strength and muscle mass, but they can also be dangerous if not performed correctly. Poor form and technique can lead to injuries that sideline your fitness journey. 

Working with a trainwell (formerly CoPilot) remote personal trainer can help you avoid these pitfalls and achieve your fitness goals safely and effectively. 

Trainwell certified trainers have extensive knowledge and experience to guide you through proper form, weight selection, and progressions that suit your body and goals. Your trainwell trainer will help you ease into the exercise, build confidence, and nail down the form through personalized form videos and form video check-ins. 

And best of all? The trainwell app helps you keep track of everything along the way, and makes it easy for your trainer to personalize your workouts for you and only you!

Don't let poor deadlift form hold you back from reaching your full potential — sign up today for a 14-day free trial.

Most common deadlift faqs

Why do deadlifts hurt my hands?

Deadlifts can hurt your hands due to incorrect grip technique or using a barbell that doesn't fit your hand size or shape. To mitigate this, use an overhand grip with your thumb wrapped around the bar and your fingers gripping tightly. You can also try using lifting gloves or applying chalk to your hands for better grip and control.

How to tell if deadlift form is wrong

You can tell if your deadlift form is wrong by looking for common indicators such as a rounded back, improper hip alignment, or discomfort in your back or knees. Correct these issues by focusing on your hip hinge motion, keeping your back straight, and engaging your core and glute muscles throughout the lift. Start with lighter weights and gradually increase as your form improves.

How to improve my deadlift form?

You can practice drills such as Romanian deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, and kettlebell swings to improve your deadlift form. These exercises can help improve your hip hinge motion, balance, and overall muscle engagement. Video form checks can also be beneficial, as you can see your form from different angles and make adjustments. Working with a trainer allows personalized feedback and tips to help refine your technique. 

Which deadlift form is better?

Each deadlift variation has advantages and disadvantages. Your best form depends on your body type, fitness goals, and biomechanics. It's best to get a customized plan created by a properly certified personal trainer, like the trainwell, to decide on the most suitable form.

Why do you need to engage your lats during deadlift form?

Engaging your lats during a deadlift stabilizes the spine and prevents back rounding or arching. This also promotes proper posture by keeping your shoulders down and back for a neutral spine. With the weight evenly distributed, there's less strain on any single muscle group or joint.

Written by trainwell trainers

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