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How To Do the Deadlift

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Updated March 21, 2007

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How to Do The Deadlift -- Starting Position
Starting the deadlift

Positioning for the deadlift

(c) Paul Rogers

The deadlift is mostly performed with a bar and plates or fixed barbell. Dumbbells can also be used but the effect is similar to the dumbbell squat. This description uses the barbell. Several advanced variations are possible with alternative leg and grip positions.

As for all exercises, don’t lift too heavy to begin with and stop if pain is felt, particularly in the lower back. Remember to breathe; don’t hold the breath at any point.

Muscles worked: quadriceps (front thighs), hamstrings (back of thigh), gluteals (butt), lower back

Body Position

  • Select a barbell of light weight to begin with.

  • Position the feet shoulder width apart, or not much more, with toes under the bar. The feet point straight ahead or they can angle out slightly. Heels should stay flat on the surface. When you lift, the bar will travel close to the shins and may even graze them.

  • The hands should be positioned with the ‘mixed grip’ for heavier weights but an overhand grip is okay for light weights. The mixed grip has one hand grasping the bar with the palm under the bar (supinated) and the other hand with the palm over the bar (pronated). The standard overhand grip has both hands with palm down. If you can see the backs of both hands, that’s the overhand grip.

  • The grip can be wider or narrower on the bar. A common starting position is a grip perpendicular from the point of the shoulder with arms straight down. A slightly wider grip may suit some people and a wide-grip deadlift is a valid variation. The standard grip utilizes the quadriceps (rather than hip and back with the wide grip), and is more suitable for heavier lifts.

  • The head (and eyes) should reflect a neutral spine position neither crooked noticeably up nor down, although a very slight upward tilt is not uncommon or unsafe when putting the effort in.

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