How to do a barbell deadlift with proper form

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Kevin Mangelschots

Deadlifting is a great but complex compound exercise with the potential to put on some serious mass and strength but can be one of the most dangerous exercises out there as well if performed incorrectly.

But with the following tips, you’ll learn how to do a barbell deadlift with proper form to prevent injuries in the future.

How to barbell deadlift with good technique

Picture of a man performing a deadlift.

Learning how to do a barbell deadlift with proper form is possible by following these simple steps:

  1. The barbell should be centered over your feet. Place your feet about hip-width apart
  2. Bend at the hips and grab the barbell with an overhand grip
  3. Bend your knees until your shins touch the barbell
  4. Look forward with your chest up and keep your lower back straight
  5. Stand up straight by extending your knees and hips
  6. Lower the barbell in a slow, controlled way by bending the hips

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a deadlift?

A barbell deadlift is one of the three big exercises in powerlifting. It targets mainly the lower back, gluteus, hamstrings, and calves. In other words, the posterior chain of the legs.

It’s one of the best compound exercises to gain both strength and muscle mass. This makes it a staple in every workout program.

However, it’s a very technical exercise which means that it’s easy to mess up somewhere, leading to injuries. So learning the proper technique before lifting heavy weights is required.

While performing deadlifts, the trainee hinges on the hips until the trunk is almost parallel to the ground without rounding the upper back. The knees are also bent. Then, the barbell gets pulled upwards by extending the knees and hips until they are straight again.

What muscles does the deadlift train

Illustration of the anatomy of the muscles used in a deadlift.

As a very important compound exercise, barbell deadlifting trains a large variety of muscles. Mainly:

Legs

  • Gluteus Maximus (Butt)
  • Quadriceps (Front muscle above the knees)
  • Adductor Magnus (Inner thigh)
  • Hamstrings: (Upper back of legs)
  • Soleus: (Calf muscle)

Back

  • Latissimus Dorsi muscles (Lateral muscles at the back/ V-shape)
  • Erector Spinae: (Lower back)
  • Trapezius, upper: (Upper back muscles)
  • Trapezius, middle: (Middle back muscles)

Neck

  • Levator Scapulae: (The muscle from your jaw to your shoulder)
  • Rhomboids:  (Upper inner back muscles right below your neck)

Abdominal

  • Obliques: (side abs)
  • Rectus Abdominis: (abs)

Benefits of deadlifting

The word “benefits” made with wooden tiles.

  • Improved grip strength

    Since your hands and fingers have to hold the barbell for you and the weight you can lift with deadlifts is high, your grip will most definitely improve.

    You will feel your forearms burning from trying to keep the barbell from slipping out of your hands.

  • Real-life application

    Lifting heavy objects from the floor will resemble the deadlift pattern.

    This makes the deadlift have carry-over potential to your daily life activities. Squats for that matter do too. Squatting is a movement that’s necessary to pick something up or to sit down, in addition to getting up from a chair.

  • Builds strength and muscle

    A man posing with a naked upper body.

    One of the biggest benefits of doing deadlifts is that it builds strength and muscle mass.

    It’s a great compound exercise. This means it’s a movement that uses multiple joints and muscles at the same time.

    Due to this, it enables us to build more strength and muscle mass than isolation exercises will because more muscles are being trained at once.

  • It will make your behind and legs look great

    Let’s face it, every one of us likes to feel and look decent.

    The reason it will make your legs look good is because you gain muscle definition in your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

    I mean, what’s not to like?

    For the girls who are worried about getting big legs when deadlifting heavy weights, don’t. Women aren’t predisposed to gain large amounts of muscle mass. However, it will help you to make improvements in your strength and muscle definition.

  • Keeps you flexible

    Image of a fit woman holding a yoga pose at the beach.

    Deadlifting will keep you flexible and injury-free.

    How many people do you see lift objects from the ground while arching their backs? A lot! This is not the correct way because it’s damaging to your spinal discs and can lead to back problems like hernias.

    Therefore, it’s important to let the biggest muscles in your body, which are the leg muscles, do the heavy lifting. Keep your back straight and let the legs do the work. Deadlifting with proper technique can even fix bad posture by improving muscle imbalances.

  • Burning fat

    A woman measuring her waist with a red measure tape.

    Because the deadlift is a compound exercise, a lot of calories get burned. More so than an isolation exercise would.

  • Increased testosterone levels

    For men, the deadlift releases a ton of testosterone in the body because it’s such an intense exercise where a lot of muscles need to be coordinated at the same time.

    This enables us to gain a large amount of muscle mass and strength.

  • Feel better

    Exercising releases endorphins. These endorphins make us feel better and are our body’s natural way of acting as a pain reliever.

    This means people who have a lot of joint or other injuries can benefit from deadlifting. Exercising also helps people with depression feel better and cope with the symptoms of depression.

When should you not deadlift?

A person holding a question mark in front of their face.

  • When you have a lower body or core injury

    Always consult your doctor before continuing to lift in these situations.

    If you are allowed to continue training, then I would always recommend training with light weights and listening to what your body tells you. When in pain, stop lifting.

  • When you have bad form

    Correct technique is always the single most important thing when weight training. Especially if you plan on going heavy.

    Make sure you’re lifting with proper form before loading on heavier weights!

Variations of the deadlift

  • Single-leg Romanian deadlift
  • One leg deadlift
  • Dumbbell stiff leg deadlift
  • Single-leg dumbbell deadlift
  • Kettlebell Romanian deadlift
  • Barbell stiff leg deadlift
  • Sumo deadlift dumbbell

Conclusion

“Wake up and workout” written on a sign with multiple workout tools surrounding it.

The deadlift is one of, if not the best compound exercise out there if you learn how to do it the right way to reduce the risk of injury.

A lot of times, the argument ‘squats vs deadlifts, which one is better’ gets brought up. Both exercises target the leg muscles.

Squats focus more on the knee bending, targeting the quadriceps more in the process, while the focus of the deadlift lies more on hinging the hips, effectively loading the glutes. Deadlifting has the added benefit of working out the entire body even more so than squats do.

Both exercises are great, and preferring one should not mean excluding the other.