How To Deadlift: Proper Form And Deadlift Information

M&S Writers
Written By: M&S Writers
August 15th, 2011
Updated: June 13th, 2020
237.4K Reads
Learn how to deadlift with correct technique. This article provides information on how to choose between conventional and sumo deadlifts based on body type.

The deadlift is a potent muscle and strength building exercise second only to squats. There are two primary deadlift variations:

  • Conventional deadlift. A conventional deadlift is performed with your feet approximately shoulder width apart.
  • Sumo stance deadlift. A sumo stance deadlift is performed with a very wide foot stance.

In muscle building workouts, deadlifts are generally placed in back workouts (on back days). Deadlifts heavily tax the traps, upper back, lower back, abs, as well as the hamstrings, hips, glutes, quads and forearms. In fact, there are very few muscle groups not impacted by the deadlift.

Inexperienced lifters often view the deadlift as a standing leg press while holding a barbell. Attempting to perform the deadlift in this manner as a leg exercise is an incorrect approach and will lead to poor deadlift form and the possibility of lower back injuries.

How To Deadlift: Proper Deadlift Form And Set Up

It is rare to see beginning lifters practicing proper deadlift form. Far too many trainees perform the lift at a mechanical disadvantage, trying to lift the bar with their hips up. This resembles a Romanian deadlift or stiff-leg deadlift and is hard on the lower back.

To deadlift properly, follow these guidelines:

  • Feet. Position your feet about halfway under the bar. From a side view it should look like the bar is running directly through the middle of your feet. Looking down, it can be difficult to gauge if your foot position is correct, so ask another lifter for guidance or video tape your deadlift set up.
  • Stance. Your feet should be at a comfortable and natural width, but not too wide. Toes can be pointed just a hair outward, but you should not deadlift pigeon-toed.
  • Grab the bar. With your feet properly in place, reach down and grab the bar using either a double overhand grip or an alternating grip. An alternating grip will allow you to hold more weight.
  • Sink your hips. Sink your hips until your shins touch the barbell. You want to feel like your hips are in a natural and powerful/maximal position of leverage, so you may need to raise or lower them just slightly. If you start the deadlift with your hips too high you will be at a mechanical disadvantage and will tax your lower back. Starting with your hips too low will also cause you to lose your leverage and power.
  • Head. Next, you want to make sure your eyes are at least looking directly ahead. During the deadlift your body will follow your head. If you start the deadlift while looking down, there is a good chance your hips will lift up causing you to lose form and lift with your lower back. This is a very common deadlift mistake.
  • Back. Make sure your lower back is not rounded. You do not want to start the deadlift with a rounded lower back.

Deadlift: Performing The Lift

Now that you are in a proper set up position, it's time to perform the deadlift. Do not try pulling the bar off the floor. Though the deadlift is often called the pull, lifters who mentally focus on pulling the bar off the ground often raise their hips too high at the start of the lift. They also tend to move their heads down when pulling, which also contributes to an elevation of the hips. This causes the deadlift to be performed like a Romanian deadlift. It is a bad leverage position, and can strain the lower back.

Deadlift form

Many lifters view the deadlift as a standing leg press while holding a barbell. Performing the deadlift in this manner as a leg exercise is an incorrect approach.

Instead of pulling on the bar, concentrate on standing up with the bar in your hands. Standing up is a natural movement, and by keeping the deadlift as natural as possible, you will tend to keep better leverage and form throughout the lift.

Start this standing up movement with the head. Lead with the head. Think about exploding your head upward while trying to stand erect. The body will follow the head.

As the bar rises above the knees, try to thrust your hips forward. Many deadlifts fail at lockout because lifters are still “pulling” on the bar. At lockout, focus only on:

  1. Standing up. Again, a natural movement.
  2. Driving your hips. Thrust your hips forward.

Remember, the deadlift is not really a pull. Pulling objects off the ground in a bent over position is not a natural movement, but standing up is.

Are Deadlifts Dangerous?

Are deadlifts a dangerous movement? They are no more dangerous than any other compound exercise performed with poor form. Day in and day out, gyms rats across the world bounce barbells off their chest while bench pressing, or continue to use the knee-destroying half-squat.

The biggest mistake you can make is trying to perform deadlifts from an unnatural body position. Read and re-read the form tips presented in this guide and practice them with a moderate weight. Start the deadlift with the hips in a position of strength and maximal leverage, and stand up (leading with the head) instead of pulling.

If something feels wrong, it probably is. Video tape your deadlift session and have experienced lifters on the Muscle & Strength forum critique your form. To post your videos, visit the Form Critique Thread.

Comparing Sumo And Conventional Deadlifts

The following is a comparison between sumo deadlifts and conventional deadlifts. Also included at the end of this guide is a chart that will help you determine which deadlifting style is right for you.

Deadlift – Muscle Emphasis

  • Conventional deadlift. Conventional deadlifts place more emphasis on the back and spinal erectors (posterior chain). If you have a very strong lower back there is a good chance that you will be able to deadlift more using a conventional stance. (Body structure will also come into play)
  • Sumo deadlift. Sumo deadlifts shift some of the emphasis to glutes, hamstrings, quads, hips and upper traps. If you are experiencing lower back issues, or have a history of lower back problems, sumo deadlifts may be a better option.

Deadlift – Bone Structure

  • Conventional deadlift. Lifters with a short torso and long arms will generally perform better using conventional deadlifts.
  • Sumo deadlift. Lifters with a long torso and short arms will generally perform better using sumo deadlifts.

For more information see the chart at the end of this guide.

Deadlift – Bar Travel

  • Conventional deadlift. The bar must travel a longer distance.
  • Sumo deadlift. Bar travel is shorter. Theoretically, a very wide stance makes for a better one rep max. But very wide stance sumo deadlifts can be hard on the hips and might take some time to get used to.

Deadlift – Foot Position

  • Conventional deadlift. Feet are generally straight forward or angled slightly outward.
  • Sumo deadlift. Feet should be angled along the line that runs from the middle of your upper thigh to the middle of your ankle. Unusual foot angles not along this plane can stress the knee and reduce leverage.

Franco Columbu deadlifting

Deadlifts heavily tax the traps, upper back, lower back, abs, as well as the hamstrings, hips, glutes, quads and forearms.

Deadlift Notes

Making the switch. Switching from one deadlift style to the other won’t always translate into improvements, even if the new style is better suited for your body type. Because both styles rely on different muscle groups (to varying degrees), you may need to bring up some weaknesses before seeing any improvements in strength.

Experienced deadlifters. Some experienced deadlifters who have spent years with one style may see a large drop in their one rep max when making the switch. Years have been dedicated to building up muscle strength for that particular style, and they may have some weaknesses to overcome.

Training both. If you decide to try and make a switch, continue to practice your existing style of deadlifting until you feel very comfortable with the new style. Train both equally in one way, shape or form.

Beginners. If you are a beginner, don’t assume – based on the information presented in this guide – that you will be better at one form of deadlifting over the other. Try both. One style may feel more natural, or better suited for your current strengths and weaknesses.

Romanian deadlift. It is quite common for beginning lifters to have sub-par conventional deadlift form. Sub-par form will often turn a deadlift into a Romanian deadlift. If you are having this issue, and have tried everything possible to correct your form but failed, it might be worth your time to practice sumo deadlifts for a while.

Assistance work. If you are training for powerlifting and performing assistance work, it is beneficial to use synergistic stance widths. For example, if you use sumo deadlifts, assistance exercises could include wide stance variations of good mornings, box squats and Romanian deadlifts.

More On Bone Structure

Recently Dr. Michael Hales published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal defined the differences between a short and long torso, and short and  long arms. By using a tape measure and the assistance of a lifting buddy, you can measure which deadlift style might be best for you.

  • Step 1 – Measure the length of your torso starting at the greater trochanter to the top of your head. The greater trochanter is the bony protrusion at the top of your thigh. This measurement should be taken vertically, and not at an angle.
  • Step 2 – Measure your arm length starting at the bony part located at the top of the shoulder, to the end of the tip of your middle finger. Make sure your arm is straight when taking this measurement.
  • Step 3 – Measure your height. (Don’t guess)

Torso length. Divide your torso length (in inches) by your height in inches.

  • Short torso – If this calculated ratio is less than 47%, you have a short torso.
  • Long torso – If this calculated ratio is greater than 47%, you have a long torso.

Arm length. Divide your arm length (in inches) by your height in inches.

  • Short arms – If this calculated ratio is less than 38%, you have short arms.
  • Long arms – If this calculated ratio is greater than 38%, you have  long arms.

Comparing Torso And Arm Size To Determine Which Deadlift Style Is Best For You

Now that you have calculated your torso and arm size, use the following chart to determine if you are better suited for conventional or sumo deadlifts:

  • Short Arms and Short Torso – Either Conventional or Sumo
  • Short Arms and Average Torso – Sumo Deadlift
  • Short Arms and Long Torso – Sumo Deadlift
  • Average Arms and Short Torso – Conventional Deadlift
  • Average Arms and Average Torso – Either Conventional or Sumo
  • Average Arms and Long Torso – Sumo Deadlift
  • Long Arms and Short Torso – Conventional Deadlift
  • Long Arms and Average Torso – Conventional Deadlift
  • Long Arms and Long Torso – Either Conventional or Sumo
Arturo Creech
Posted on: Sat, 11/04/2023 - 05:29
Alex A
Posted on: Wed, 12/23/2015 - 02:50

Franco in the picabove has his back rounded or is it ok that way?aND BY ROUNDED ,JUST HOW MUCH ROUNDING OF THE BACK IS ALLOWED.aND SHOULD YOUR LOWER OR UPPERBACK BE SORE after a day of deadlifting as would any other exercises?Because my back didn't hurt immediately or the day after.Thanks.

Posted on: Tue, 06/02/2015 - 06:21

"knee-destroying half-squat."

What? ... what is this based on?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 06/02/2015 - 09:46

The highest level of shearing forces on the knee occur with the first 60 degrees of flexion (i.e. the half squat). The wording is strong, yes; but, the point is that half squatting with more weight is likely more deleterious to the patella-femoral joint than full range of motion back squats when performed with proper technique and programming.

Posted on: Thu, 02/19/2015 - 00:42

thanks a lot for this article.i have a question.i am not sure my deadlift is perfect conventional or being a sub par.when at the start position,i feel a good stretch in my hamstrings.i keep my hips above parallel and then engage the hamstrings actually by stretching the hams.or you can say lifting he hips a little further upwards.and the next day my hamstrings are sore/fatigued.(no injury or strain,i m sure,pure weigt training sore) any comment on my deadlift form

Posted on: Tue, 12/23/2014 - 13:31

I'm 24 years old female.I want to know how to do deadlifts with dumbbells. I tried once and my back hurts. I workout at home and I only have dumbbells. Please help!

Posted on: Sat, 10/11/2014 - 07:54

I dont understand where on the shoulder to measure to...the only bony part on my shoulder is in the dent between the front and the side muscle. and if i measure from there my arm length is 42% of my length which makes no sense because im pretty sure I have short arms.

Posted on: Sun, 08/24/2014 - 19:35

thanks a lot but, a video was a must needed for an article related to exercise, because how much ever we write video shows the best of the whole world. Thanks again.

Posted on: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 01:36

Wow great advice.Great article will share this.

Posted on: Wed, 07/16/2014 - 00:56

practising to develop body istocorrect ಇಮ್ಯಾಜನೇರೀ

sandip ghoshal
Posted on: Sun, 05/18/2014 - 01:33

Thank you for this awesome explanation.... I want to ask you if i can do this exercise everyday

Posted on: Sat, 05/17/2014 - 22:01

I do Steve Reeve's Deadlift Workout, lift plates not the bar for a wider stance. Anyone else do this lift?

Kazuja yagami
Posted on: Sat, 05/17/2014 - 16:05

Thanks a lot i will also try to implement this in my MMA training sessions since some of my guys there have problems picking their opponents up from the floor while in a tight spot to smash them back and losen their opponents hold on them.
Maybe this will help them :)

Posted on: Fri, 01/24/2014 - 22:21

h, this is my video
what do you think of my form

damien E
Posted on: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 15:47

hey i've seen on other pages that if you're trying to get your posture perfected try deadlifting with your plams facing out instead of in or switched. of course using lower weights. i wanted to try this but i want some opinions on it! any comments?

kellen green
Posted on: Mon, 11/04/2013 - 11:36

sumo I'm scared of dropping weight on my feet.

Posted on: Mon, 11/04/2013 - 01:21

What's considered average? At end

Posted on: Mon, 11/04/2013 - 01:20

Nothing here shows what constitutes "average arm and torso length" very confusing

Posted on: Sun, 09/01/2013 - 07:48

hi steve i m 19 years old. My weight is 55 kg height is 5feet 5inches. My bicep is 13 inches and my waist is 29 inches please send me a workout schedual if you not bsy to

Posted on: Tue, 07/16/2013 - 14:27

I am 6'5" and have been reading about taller athletes (like NBA players) all doing trap bar deadlifts starting higher than on the ground. I've had lower back problems in the past and I am guessing this would be easier for me. Decent sub or just do conventional and lower the weight?

Posted on: Fri, 07/12/2013 - 12:07

Hi Steve.
I'm from Italy and you know what? Today while i was dead lifting, the gym owner, a semi professional body builder competitor, asked me what i was doing... and when i told him DEAD LIFTING, he said "NO, YOU ARE KILLING YOUR BACK. DO THE T BAR INSTEAD." What you think? You consider that i create my workouts here in your site and i'm in the first week of the HIML-4 Maximum Muscle Building Workout System.
And a last question if i can: i'm trying to get some weight adding some good calories in my food intake... more protein... and a very little more carbo. My big fear is that going this way my belly and abs can be "damaged"... you know what i mean... can you gimme some advise? Consider that i'm used to do cardio for 25-30mins 3 times a week...

Thank you for the time you gimme me... you are great, really!!!

Posted on: Wed, 06/26/2013 - 21:08

According to your formula, I have long arms and long torso. But I know I also have long legs. How can that be? I'm wondering if these numbers are correct.

Posted on: Tue, 03/05/2013 - 14:24

I started sumo dead lifting after I pulled a muscle along my spine doing conventional/very close stance deadlifts. However, I did not have my foot placement correct, pointing them straight forward instead of inline with my hips/thighs. This definitely caused knee pain--not acute, but soreness. And my knee felt weaker the next day. Is this just a stress that will go away with corrected form or more serious? Is it safe to keep dead lifting with corrected foot placement?

Posted on: Thu, 02/21/2013 - 19:37

I think my going up form is correct but how do you end the lift? The bar is always hitting my knees and the end of the lift doesn't feel natural.

Posted on: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 10:28

think of squatting, push your hips back as to sit down, keep your head neutral, as the bar slides down your legs the bar will clear your knees just as your upper body bends, once at the knee, complet the bending of the knee, remember head and chest up, keeps the back from rounding. that's how mine work

Posted on: Thu, 12/13/2012 - 12:12

excellent article, i have an average torso but quite long arms (like a monkey lol) i have been doing 5x5 compound regime for 24 weeks with a 2 week gap in the middle. Results are brilliant but only once form is mastered. At first the weight seemed to creep up slowly and recovery time seemed extensive despite being in reasonable shape. After checking for i noticed my hips were a little high and in turn the bar would sort of "swing" out in front of me more instead of "dragging" up my shins and thighs. Had someone check form, made adjustment and just like that the weight began to shot up and so did the results. Real speak steve, hopefully newbies will find this article and take heed!

Cheers, Lewis

nelson cruz
Posted on: Sat, 12/08/2012 - 20:11

THANKS STEVE,allways find your articles very helpfull

Posted on: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 16:12

Great article Steve. Quick question, when I do my conventional deadlifts I start with the bar at waist level , lift it off the rack and then carry out the reps finishing in the standing position where I rack the weight again. I know this is different but is it ok to deadlift in this fashion?i think I can deadlift more this way and It somehow feels better/safer.

Posted on: Wed, 07/11/2012 - 01:37

Great article(s) many thanks! One question, you mention knee-destroying half squats earlier and I am now wondering how they are any worse on knees than full squats. I would have thought that any squat not going below 90 degrees would be equally safe? Thanks again for the articles!

Mike House
Posted on: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 21:39

Im still running the 5 day PMB! Love the results! 4 months ago I could not do squats or dead lift... felt like my spine was gonna shhot out of the skin! i have a history of lower back problems. I started slow and w light weight.Today i do my pwer sets with 325 and climbing! Thanks for the help!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 04/24/2012 - 12:23

Great progress Mike! Well done.

Posted on: Fri, 04/13/2012 - 07:49

What about starting bar height? In the picture accompanying the article the guy is lifting from a rack which has the bar starting above knee height. I've most often seen deadlifts done with Olympic Plates so generally starting with the bar below the knees or mid-shin level. I train at home with standard plates so is that too low for a starting position?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 04/13/2012 - 09:08

Deadlifts start from the floor using Olympic standard sized plates.

Posted on: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 17:54

Is it normal for you legs to buckle inwards as you deadlift(legs are normal shoulder width apart)?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 10:05

It's hard to say what the cause is without seeing a video. Your stance could be a little wider than you think, your toe angle might be awkward, could be bad shoe choice, or it could be a muscle weakness in the legs.

Can you record a video and post it in the forum for help?

Posted on: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 22:12

When your knees cave in, it usually means your hips (Abductors) are weaker than the rest of your legs. I had a slight problem with that while squatting, and when I did some physical therapy for a knee injury, they helped me realize the imbalance. It also explained why my toes would involuntarily start pointing outward during squats, deadlifts, and leg presses: bc my abductors couldnt keep my legs from turning out. Once I made a conscious effort to steady my knees, keep my feet aligned, and drive with my hips, I felt the "weaker" muscles engaged.

Posted on: Sun, 08/28/2011 - 17:28

Hi Steve,

how would you suggest reversing the lift safely with minimal noise?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 08/29/2011 - 15:34

Hi Joesph,

Does your gym prohibit noise?

Posted on: Sat, 09/10/2011 - 16:50

Its within reason. But a PT has been gunning me about it each time. I currently avoid her AMAP. Its a very commercial gym, so deadlifts are done at night. I'm not like Pete Rubish, but doing my >85% lifts are far from quiet. I'll hopefully post a vid if that helps

Posted on: Sat, 08/27/2011 - 00:24

are dumbell deadlifts good (assuming you have enough weight)if you don't have a barbell.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 08/29/2011 - 15:33

They can be used like a trap bar deadlift, but I don't recommend deadlifting the dumbbells from floor level unless you are a more experienced lifter. I recommend deadlifting them from about barbell deadlift height.

Posted on: Fri, 08/26/2011 - 10:59

Great article Steve, hopefully it saves some young lifter's backs.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 08/29/2011 - 15:32

Thanks Kman.

Posted on: Mon, 08/22/2011 - 16:44

I do deadlifts from a traditional stance. Last week I tried some sumo deadlifts at lighter weight for assistance as well as just for kicks. I felt it for the rest of the week in my hip abductors, and adductors.

Great Article by the way. I need to work on my bar path and this article shed some helpful light on pointers to help with that.

Posted on: Wed, 08/17/2011 - 08:35

I have short arms/long torso - Conventional deadlifts are reccomended
However I have a history of lower back/hip problems - this recommends Sumo
I tend to lift MUCH stronger with Sumo.

Which is recommended for my situation?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 08/17/2011 - 10:50

Short Arms and Long Torso – Sumo deadlift is recommended.

Posted on: Mon, 08/15/2011 - 15:21

Thank you 1000 times! I have been waiting for this article so I would be sure I'm doing it correctly.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 08/15/2011 - 16:52

Let me know if you have any questions.