The deadlift is probably the most classic of all barbell exercises, and is one of the best ways to build and test whole body strength.
In this guide you’ll learn how to deadlift effectively and safely, and how to train your deadlift to get stronger.
We’ll begin with a simple demonstration and a general explanation of the lifting technique, and then delve into the advanced details.
How to Deadlift
The deadlift is performed by simply lifting a barbell off the ground to the level of your hips, and then lowering it back to the ground.
Note: This guide covers both conventional and sumo deadlifts, but below we make an exception and only describe the conventional style of deadlifting.
- Set a bar on the floor, preferably loaded with full-sized weight plates (45 cm / 17.72 in).
- Step up close to the bar, so that it is positioned about over the middle of your foot. Your stance will probably be at about hip width.
- Bend over and grip the bar with hands about shoulder width apart, using either a overhand or mixed grip.
- Breathe in, brace your core, and lift the bar by extending your hips and knees. Pull the bar close to your body.
- The lift is completed when you are standing straight up, with hips and knees locked out.
- With control, lower the bar back to the ground by reversing the movement.
Major Muscles Worked in the Deadlift
- Adductor Magnus
- Erector Spinae
- Grip Muscles
- Triceps Surae
- Transversus Abdominis
Optimizing Your Technique in the Deadlift
With the basics out of the way – let’s look at how you can optimize your deadlift technique for you (or your clients). How does different technique alterations affect your deadlift performance, its muscle-building potential and its safety?
Probably the biggest technical decision is whether you should deadlift
Conventional or Sumo?
The two common ways to deadlift are the conventional and sumo deadlift.
- Conventional is the more common variant of the two, as its name indicates. In the conventional deadlift you grip the bar with your arms outside your knees, and typically you keep your feet about hip width apart.
- Sumo is probably mostly used inside of the sport of powerlifting, and gets its name from it’s similarity to the sumo wrestlers stance. Here you grip the bar with your arms inside your knees, and your stance can be so wide that your toes almost touch the weight plates.
- Trunk angle. The conventional deadlift entails more forward lean of your torso, while the sumo deadlifts let’s you keep your torso a bit closer to vertical. This means sumo deadlifts generally are a bit easier on your lower back – about 10% easier.3
- Knee extension. Your quads pick up the slack left from your lower back in the sumo deadlift. While conventional deadlifts are pretty easy on your quads, the sumo taxes them rather hard.
- Hip extension. Hip extension demands are quite similar in the two styles, even if they do target the hip in slightly different ways: sumo deadlifts requires more hip adduction, while conventional deadlifts requires more hip extension in the sagittal plane (front to back). This does not, however, result in any difference in glute activation between the two.
- Total work and energy expenditure is higher in the conventional deadlift due to the greater vertical distance the bar travels. This should not be confused with the peak force required to complete the lift however. Your ability to produce force is what will limit your 1RM in the deadlift, not the total amount of work done.