Exercise Profile
  • Target Muscle Group
  • Exercise TypeStrength
  • Equipment RequiredBarbell
  • MechanicsCompound
  • Force TypeHinge (Bilateral)
  • Experience LevelIntermediate
  • Secondary Muscles
    Abs, Adductors, Calves, Forearms, Glutes, Hamstrings, Lats, Lower Back, Middle Back, Quads, Traps, Upper Back
Target Muscle Group

Hamstrings

Hamstrings Muscle Anatomy Diagram

Conventional Deadlift Overview

The deadlift is an extremely popular exercise and a true test of total body strength. It is popular across numerous weight lifting circle including bodybuilders, powerlifts, and Crossfit athletes.

The deadlift focuses on lifting dead weight off the ground to hip level without using momentum to assist the weight on its path up. It is known as one of the “big three” exercises for powerlifters which includes squats, bench press, and the deadlift. Bodybuilders use the deadlift to promote muscle growth in their entire posterior chain (muscles on the back of the body).

The deadlift primarily works the muscles of the hamstrings. However, it is a complete compound exercise and also requires muscle activation from the back, glutes, hamstrings, arms, and core.

The conventional deadlift shouldn’t be performed by just anyone as it involves a lot of technique and skill to execute. However, the hip-hinge movement pattern trained while performing a deadlift is and should be included in every workout program.

For those who cannot deadlift using the conventional pulling method, they can perform the exercise using one of the many deadlift variations out there.

Some of these deadlift variations include:

Grip strength is key to being able to deadlift a lot of weight and there are several grip variations you can use while deadlifting including: an overhand grip, mixed grip, and the hook grip.

Conventional Deadlift Instructions

  1. Position the bar over the top of your shoelaces and assume a hip width stance.
  2. Push your hips back and hinge forward until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor.
  3. Reach down and grasp the bar using a shoulder width, double overhand grip.
  4. Inhale and pull up slightly on the bar while allowing your hips to drop in a seesaw fashion. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “pulling the slack out of the bar”.
  5. As you drop the hips and pull up on the bar, set the lats (imagine you’re trying to squeeze oranges in your armpits) and ensure your armpits are positioned directly over the bar.
  6. Drive through the whole foot and focus on pushing the floor away.
  7. Ensure the bar tracks in a straight line as you extend the knees and hips.
  8. Once you have locked out the hips, reverse the movement by pushing the hips back and hinging forward.
  9. Return the bar to the floor, reset, and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Conventional Deadlift Tips

  1. You MUST keep the crease of the armpit over the bar and the midfoot in order to allow the bar to travel linearly.
  2. The deadlift is a hinge, not a squat. If you set the hips too low you will put yourself in a disadvantageous position biomechanically and limit your potential for pulling maximal weights.
  3. In order to prevent the bar from drifting away from the body, one should focus on squeezing their lats in order to keep the bar close and allow it to travel in a linear fashion. Use the cue: “squeeze oranges in your armpits”, “put your shoulder blades in your back pockets” (i.e. scapular depression) or “imagine you’re doing a straight arm pulldown”.
  4. The hips should be lower than the shoulders and you should be able to see the logo on the lifter’s shirt before they pull (i.e. “chest up”). The chest up cue is usually accomplished when the lats become locked in though so this cue is typically not needed if the lifter understands how to initiate the lats.
  5. Neck position is highly individual - Some prefer a neutral neck position (i.e. keeping the chin tucked throughout the lift) while others do well with looking slightly up. Here’s some factors to consider:
    • If you’re someone who is more globally extended (i.e. athletic background), then you will likely be able to keep a neutral position more effectively by packing the chin.
    • On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you tend to be more flexion dominant (especially in your thoracic spine - upper back) then it would behoove you to look up slightly as this will drive more extension.
    • Experiment with each and see which one works best for your individual anatomy and biomechanics.
  6. Ideally you should cue and emphasize a vertical shin but this will depend entirely on a lifter’s spine and limb length.
  7. Toe angle is highly individual - this will be dependent upon your hip anatomy. Experiment (toes slightly in, out, or neutral) to see what feels best for you.
  8. Do NOT retract your shoulder blades. This is mechanically inefficient and a self limiting cue as it shortens the length of the arms thus requiring a larger range of motion.
  9. Make sure you wrap your thumbs around the bar and don’t utilize a false grip. Squeeze the bar as tight as possible like you’re trying to leave an imprint of your fingerprints on the bar.
  10. Scraping the shins isn’t always necessary in the deadlift. It may occur more frequently with sumo rather than conventional work but if you have the arm pits in the correct position (as noted above) then the bar should travel vertically and the shins will become vertical and move out of the way as the knees extend.
  11. To follow up on my previous point, if you focus on keeping the weight entirely on the heels, you won’t be able to effectively recruit your quads at the beginning of the lift and thus you’ll be slow off the flow. So, to combat this, you should focus on driving through the whole foot - you want 3 points of contact: big toe, little toe, and heel.
  12. Ensure the elbows stay locked out. Don’t actively flex the triceps but make sure that your elbow doesn’t break neutral as this can potentially put you at risk for a bicep tear under maximal weights.
  13. More experienced lifters may not need to emphasize the “pull the slack out the bar” cue as much and that’s perfectly fine if it works for them and still allows them to pull maximal weight but initially it’s an important concept to understand and implement.
  14. For single repetitions, it will be much easier to drop the bar from lockout (provided that it’s allowed and you’re lifting on a platform or with bumper plates) due to less eccentric loading upon your spinal erectors. However, for multiple repetitions you should try to lower the weight under control while not overly fatiguing the erectors.
  15. The knees should be stacked over the feet. If you position the feet too wide (outside of hip width) then you will likely have to resort to one of two strategies:
    • The knees will be pushed inward (valgus) due to your grip width.
    • You will have to widen your grip which will require a larger range of motion and make the lift less efficient.
  16. If you find that you’re weak at lockout, you should incorporate rack pulls, RDLs, and/or pulls against chains or bands. On the opposite end of the spectrum however, if you’re weak off the floor, you should incorporate paused and/or deficit deadlifts. You would also need additional supplementary work for the upper back and glutes.
66 Comments
Younes
Posted on: Sun, 08/22/2021 - 21:24

I always thought that the deadlift targets first the Back and secondary the Hamstings :(

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Roger
Posted on: Wed, 09/08/2021 - 15:45

Hi, Younes. The deadlift really trains the posterior chain as a whole. The hamstrings are primarily involved, but the back certainly plays an important role. If you feel it is best to use it during back training, go for it.

Juan Garces
Posted on: Wed, 09/08/2021 - 16:31

Since my last post here I learned a few things. The conventional lift might be taxing to the low back even when done correctly. So I have moved to sumo deadlifts as it is less taxing to the back. As I plan to compete, I have re-introduced a technical version to my workouts: paused conventional deadlifts. A good substitute are RDLs, it works the hammies like the conventional. The deadlift is more of a full body workout that can be used as back or leg workout. Nothing is set in stone, so feel free to experiment and adjust according to your needs.

Nolan
Posted on: Mon, 05/31/2021 - 17:04

What is a deadlift alternative for someone in a wheelchair? Thanks

Himanshu
Posted on: Mon, 10/21/2019 - 11:27

Is there an alternative exercise for deadlift? I have a back problem and doctor advice not to do deadlifts.

Steve Mulry
Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2020 - 05:59

Some of these deadlift variations include:

Trap Bar Deadlift
Romanian Deadlift
Stiff Leg Deadlift
Landmine Deadlift
Dumbbell Deadlift
Smith Machine Deadlift

Leo
Posted on: Wed, 08/28/2019 - 17:25

Main muscles hamstrings? That's one way ticket to hip and knee pain. It's the glutes that drive the dedlift. You're welcome!

Joe
Posted on: Mon, 12/28/2015 - 11:40

I am 66 and do all the intermediate exercises along with a few of the recommended muscle building techniques that I have been emailed. Great site for even us old guys....

Juan
Posted on: Mon, 05/30/2016 - 11:02

Hi Joe,

I'm in the 50s and this is my favorite exercise next to squat. One problem I have is grip at very heavy weight, do you have any recommendations or suggestions. Thanks

Steve Mulry
Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2020 - 06:00

Use lifting straps

John Holmes
Posted on: Sun, 10/25/2020 - 17:47

You probably know all this stuff, but here goes;
Advise only to use straps on your last, heavy set - not as a general aid. Have you tried the lock-grip (thumb under fingers)? If you have not tried using chalk/magnesium before - try that first, because deadlifts are also an excellent grip-exercise on its own. Some folks doing linear progression stray at the same weight for a while, just to let the grip strength improve as well. All the best!

Nestor
Posted on: Tue, 06/06/2017 - 13:35

Nice booty!

Benjamin
Posted on: Wed, 10/28/2015 - 23:57

I am using a light weight (small weight plates) at the moment in deadlifts which is probably why my shins don't touch the bar in the bottom position. Would it be a good idea to put plates underneath the end of each weight on the ends to heighten the barbell off the ground more? Would this be risky form-wise?

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MikeWines
Posted on: Thu, 10/29/2015 - 09:41

Ben,

You can boost the plates but putting risers, boxes, or stacking plates underneath the smaller plates. You can also perform rack pulls in which you simply adjust the safeties on the rack to the normal height that the bar would have if you have a full 45lb plate on it.

Benjamin
Posted on: Thu, 10/29/2015 - 18:59

Thank you, MikeWines. I will try it out.

Built1st
Posted on: Sat, 04/25/2015 - 20:07

Crucial point in this is the knees must not be over the bar and shins must make a 90 degree angle to the floor. Most people lack mobility to even get into a position for the deadlift.

Benjamin
Posted on: Tue, 04/28/2015 - 04:21

(Built1st, was this in response to my question?) Thanks for the information. I will try it on my next Back day.

Benjamin
Posted on: Sat, 03/21/2015 - 06:09

Hello everyone,

Quick question: I have started to do deadlifts again but have an issue- I can grasp the bar (just past shoulder width as instructed) and have my feet half-way under the bar as accurately as I can see/tell, but when I drop my hips my shins do not touch the barbell. This happens when I use even the most weight I can safely handle (10kg- two five kg plates as a beginner, 22lbs [?] ) . Can some one please tell me what I should do?

Thank you.

Gloria
Posted on: Thu, 09/11/2014 - 21:46

This looks more like a squat than a deadlift to me

Steve Mulry
Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2020 - 06:02

This is nothing like a squat. The barbell in a squat is either on the back of your shoulders or on the top of your chest

Michael McCallum
Posted on: Tue, 03/03/2020 - 13:40

He meant the lift itself. This page emphasizes that it's a hinge movement, not squat, but in the vid it kind of does look more like a squat.

mMario
Posted on: Sun, 05/25/2014 - 16:56

Hi Steve, I am doing this exercise, but not taking heavy weight. I got >9% scoliosis and I wonder is this not going to affect my back or spine if I start doing with heavier weight ? Thanks.

Maaz
Posted on: Tue, 02/11/2014 - 16:57

Hi,

Couple of years back, I sort of damaged my back while doing the Dead-lifts (you can blame the imperfection in technique may be).
I still workout regularly, but have been trying to ignore Dead lifts since then.

Do you think I should try it again? I am afraid it will reactivate the pain and I would end up leaving the gym.

Steve Mulry
Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2020 - 06:04

You may need a personal trainer to attend the gym with you until you get your form right

Tim
Posted on: Fri, 09/27/2013 - 02:24

This video actually shows incorrect technique.
1: Deadlift is for glutes and hams, pivoting centrally thru the hips, NOT the back. Lifting for Dummies... do not lift using your back...
2: why is the guy also using his quads to lift here? His legs are visibly trembling! Totally incorrect.
3: glutes and hamstring combined are ultra strong, with correct technique they are recruited to raise heavy thing from the floor by pivoting at the hips with a straight back and minimal quads.

shawn
Posted on: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 03:12

if done properly, the dead lift should work your glutes, hams, AND lower back. the lower back aspect comes from the core tightening during this lift (and by core i mean both the abdominals and the lower back. they do kinda go together). i agree that form in this video is incorrect and that it needs to be updated. to add to your directions, or rather, make a suggestion to individuals trying to keep their back straight, i found that tucking my chin, NOT looking forward or up when doing this exercise, helps keep my back straight. it does so, for me at least, because i am concentrating on clinching my shoulder blades together and keeping my entire back tight and flat. i found that looking forward caused me to use my lower back more and round my back making me lift with my hips rather that making my hips a hinge that works the legs and back.

mike
Posted on: Thu, 08/15/2013 - 18:36

when I click the leg press video it goes to deadlift....what is the difference?

James
Posted on: Wed, 09/16/2015 - 09:39

Leg press is a machine/fixed motion exercise, I would recommend searching for it on google.

Manu
Posted on: Wed, 08/14/2013 - 08:06

Hi,
I found this video intreresting.
It helps me alot.

I am going to implement this . Can any one suggest other good exercises for Back.

dominic
Posted on: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 02:02

i've been deadlifting for about 25 years now and when i first started out there was 2 types of deadlift regular style and suma style i started on regular style but my lifting partner at the time was doing sumo so one day i decided to try it and i loved it -it just seems safer on the lower back cause i can keep it straight throughout at the time both ways were legal in competition some of the best were using that style one question is why do i not ever,ever here about anyone talking about or using this style is it still legal in competition also my best dl is 440 about 12 years ago i just recently got back into going heavy im 41 now i can do about 400 on a good day but sometimes i get like a mind block when i try to lift heavy off the ground its as if i cant figure out what muscles to use to get it to budge with weight i know i can lift like 360lbs for instance and for the life of me i cant budge it i know its in my head any tips or workout i can do which actually brings me to another question i reaLLY NEED A WORKOUT SUGGESTION cause i'm not totally sure of what to do regularly or when going for a max

David Coote
Posted on: Thu, 05/09/2013 - 20:46

Is there an alternate exercise or machine I can utilize? I don't have a heavy bar...

wladius
Posted on: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 15:49

Recently I started doing deadlifts so I'm working on the weight but I have a question though - when I lift, in the first phase of the lift (when the barbell is around the knees, maybe thighs) I feel pressure in the back around the pelvic area, especially around the tailbone. It's not pain, but slight discomfort. What do you think is the problem? Bad posture, too much weight or just weak muscles in the lower back?

Thanks for the advice.

Tony
Posted on: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 11:04

your lower back gets "hot", using to much back, lower your hips a bit more, once the bar gets to your knees, push your hips forward, remember, head in nutral position, eyes up, chest up,

vic simon
Posted on: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 16:14

I use a hexagonal trainer bar to do "deadlifts". Does this affect involved muscle groups differently?
Thx for remply

Rahul
Posted on: Mon, 02/25/2013 - 03:42

Hi.. i m 17 and 5 ft 6 inch tall and weight 65 kg wanna to increase my height. should i take any suplement if yes then which one ??

Rahul
Posted on: Mon, 02/25/2013 - 03:40

Hi.. i m 17 and 5 ft 6 inch tall and weight 65 kg wanna to increase my height. should i take any suplement if yes then which one ??

Andreas
Posted on: Sat, 02/23/2013 - 19:59

Why do you have to put the weight on the floor on each repetition? can't i just go very close to the floor but not put the weight down?

Tony
Posted on: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 10:53

then it's not a dead lift, the weight is stopped on the floor, there fore dead!!

cyle
Posted on: Fri, 02/22/2013 - 09:58

could you please shed some light as to why deadlifts are on the leg day? i always thought deadlifts were for your back?

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Joey
Posted on: Fri, 02/22/2013 - 11:27

It depends on the on the routine you're following. Most often you'll find them on back day, but for some routines it's perfectly fine to include them on "leg day".

Steve Mulry
Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2020 - 06:08

It's a full body exercise. You recruit most of the muscles in your body to do a deadlift correctly

Daniel Brady
Posted on: Sat, 02/02/2013 - 08:11

Here's a photo for quick technique reference - http://www.sportsscience.co/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/starting-strength...

And Corey, the rest pause means 1 second pause at the top, and resetting your position at the bottom.

Corey
Posted on: Sat, 12/01/2012 - 13:42

How does this work with a rest-pause system. Where do you pause? I couldn't figure it out and ended up putting a lot of strain on my forearms try to hold the bar for so long...

john g.
Posted on: Thu, 11/29/2012 - 20:36

i have powerlifted for 6 years, stopped for 1 1/2 yrs, then started slow again. i have tweaked my lf and rt adductor and my lf hamstring within the last four months of training when lowering the bar on deadlifts, why?

Dave
Posted on: Sun, 11/18/2012 - 14:33

Hey Steve,

Recently Ive been having some mild lower back problems. What would you recommend to strengthen my lower back?

Eric
Posted on: Wed, 10/24/2012 - 10:12

I only have dumbells, and currently can't afford a gym membership. So my question is, can these be done using dumbells. I like this workout program and looking through it seems i can sub the barbell workouts for dumbells but this one seems to only ever be done using barbells (due to the heavy weight required for effective workout).

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Joey
Posted on: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 10:56
James
Posted on: Wed, 09/12/2012 - 23:23

what does singles mean? do one rep then rest until next set?

Paul
Posted on: Thu, 09/06/2012 - 13:21

To correct what Keith said. Take a deep breath and fill you chest cavity with air and tighten your core. Do not exhale!!!

Nick
Posted on: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 13:57

* Do as many deadlift singles reps as you can in 10 minutes. When you hit 15 total reps for 10 minutes, add weight. >When you say this, am i supposed to do one deadlift, then put the bar down and rest? then keep doing about one every 45 seconds? The concept of multiple single reps is confusing me.

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