The deadlift may very well be the best total body exercise to develop strength, shed body fat, and improve performance.
But, it’s often viewed as a dangerous exercise and is oftentimes avoided completely.
Maybe it has to do with this guy…
You gotta give him props for “grinding” it out though LOL.
(Please never deadlift like this. Ever.)
You see, there are all kinds of ways to screw up the deadlift.
Today, I want to go over 4 of the biggest mistakes preventing you from maximizing the benefits of the deadlift.
Mistake #1 The Bar is Too Far Away From Your Shins
Whether you pull conventional or sumo, the bar should always be close to your shins. For conventional deadlifters, the bar usually ends up right over the mid foot, about an inch or so off the shins at the starting position.
Many people let the bar start a foot away from their body. This is a huge mistake because it completely takes the lower body out of the lift. This forces you to rely on your low back and makes the movement far riskier than if performed with proper technique.
Individual leverages may change the starting position a little bit, but there is a general set up position that works best for both styles of deadlifting.
For the conventional deadlift, a slight forward knee angle is a good starting point. The bar can be close to the shins or just slightly in front depending on where you like to position your hips and knees during the set up.
For the sumo deadlift, the shins should be completely vertical, with the bar very close or against the shins at the start.
Mistake #2 Your Feet Are Too Wide
I see many people setting up for the conventional deadlift and their feet are a foot outside of their shoulders.
Start with your feet directly under your hips to set up for the conventional deadlift. You can adjust from there based on preferences and what feels strongest to you.
The problem with having your feet super wide on the conventional deadlift is that is forces you to move your arms farther away from the center or your body. This causes you to have to get down even lower in your set up because your arms are now shortened.
Instead, you want to keep your arms as long as possible, and directly underneath of the shoulders. But you can’t do this if your feet are too far outside of your hips.
The same can apply for the sumo deadlift. While your feet are going to be wider than a conventional setup, you don’t have to go toes to the collars of the bar. Some people prefer a moderate to close stance sumo, while others are stronger and more proficient with a wider stance. Play around with what works for you.
Mistake #3 Failing to Create Tension During Setup
Tension in the deadlift will often make or break a successful and safe lift. Unlike the guy in the video earlier, you want to actually “pull the slack” out of the bar before your initial break from the floor.
To create tension during your setup, you want to take the slight whip out of the bar by engaging your lats and setting your hips in their proper starting position. Think about squeezing an orange in the back of your armpit. Take a big breath of air into your belly, sides and low back right before you break the ground.
Then, push hard through the heels, keeping the bar close to your shins, and stand up with the weight.
One simple way to tell if you’ve created tension during your setup is to put a fairly light weight on the bar and go through your setup to pull. You want to create so much tension that the bar will hover slightly above the ground if you’ve gotten tight and setup properly. I learned this from my good friend and strength coach Adam Pine.
Mistake #4 Not Pushing Hard Enough
This is one that I struggled with for a while. I thought the deadlift was all pull and no push. What ended up happening was I’d get up to my heaviest weights, and my form would break down, my back would fold over almost immediately after breaking the floor, and the lockout became increasingly tougher.
More recently I have focused more on pushing with the legs off the floor a lot harder. I pull sumo more often and this has definitely helped improve my sumo deadlift.
Once you get setup, whether it’s conventional or sumo, think about anchoring yourself to the bar, driving your chest up, and pushing hard with your legs. Once the bar breaks the ground, you can then begin pulling back more aggresively.
The deadlift is a combination of pushing and pulling, not just one or the other. I’d say the bottom half of the lift will be primarily pushing, while closer to lockout is more pulling.
Try to push more off the floor and you will certainly feel the weight moving much faster, and your form will stay a lot tighter.
If you are interested in specific programming to improve you deadlift technique so that you can get stronger and build muscle, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org