I love deadlift day. I’m sure you do, too. That’s why I thought to talk to you about fixing 5 typical deadlift mistakes you might be making.
It is by far my favorite day of the week. It is a great lift and one of the best lifts you can perform for the posterior chain and overall muscular and strength development.
However, you need to respect the deadlift, lose the ego and learn to walk before you run.
You can do this by building solid strength and technique foundations. At the same time, don’t be afraid to deadlift. The deadlift itself is not bad for you; rather, poor deadlift technique is.
There is one big thing that all the top deadlifters in the world have in common, and that is they have a solid setup. The setup is an integral part of the deadlift and one that I see many people get wrong, both in the gym and at powerlifting competitions.
Regardless of how much weight you lift, if you are doing so with poor technique, you are NOT reaching your true potential. You will not have a long and successful lifting career, whether you are a competitive powerlifter or a weekend warrior.
First, I want to say there is no ONE way to deadlift. Your body and your lever length will dictate the optimal position from which you’ll pull, but basically, you are looking for the bar to travel in a vertical line over the midfoot.
Below is a list of some of the most common deadlift mistakes I see people make and how they can be corrected.
Bar moving forward, putting your weight too far forward on the balls of your feet
The deadlift is not a squat (shocker), yet a common mistake is to drop the hips too low like a squat. The problem is:
- When you do this, your knees move too far forward, your shins push the bar out and the weight moves a few inches forward of your midfoot.
- Your body weight shifts farther forward towards the balls of your feet. You will be in a poor position of balance and a poor position from which to pull.
- You will not be able to load up the glutes and hamstrings efficiently.
- You have moved the bar out of the most efficient route, a vertical line, and now have increased your distance for the pull.
How to stop the bar from moving forward
- Stand with your midfoot under the bar in about a hip-width stance and with your toes slightly turned out (conventional deadlift). At this point, your shins should not be touching the bar.
- Think triangle feet. Basically think heel, big toe, and little toe being in contact with the floor at all times – 60 percent heel, 20 percent big toe, 20 percent little toe. This will give you a solid and stable base from which to pull.
- Push your hips back and start to bend at the knees and grip the bar. Stop lowering your hips when your shins touch the bar. You should feel the tension in the hamstrings and glutes at this point.
- The bar needs to stay over the midline of the foot and close to the body at all times. Think dragging the bar up the shins.
Not taking the slack from the bar
A common deadlifting mistake is not taking the tension from the bar. This is a mistake because:
- You haven’t generated all-over body tension.
- The bar will move away from the body and out of the vertical line, you want it to travel.
- Your hips will likely shoot up, leaving you with minimal leg drive.
- Your back will more than likely round, increasing your risk of injury.
This is an incredibly inefficient way to deadlift. You will expend a huge amount of effort in the lower back and not from the stronger hip extensor muscles of the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors (Magnus). Not only that, you won’t be able to lift as much (think of those gains).
Why you should take tension and how to do it
Taking tension from the bar is important to:
- Have a solid deadlift set up.
- Improve neutral spine throughout the lift.
- Prepare you to lift more.
- Help activate the bigger muscles (glutes, hams, lats) by creating tension throughout the body.
Taking tension out of the bar is done simply by pulling up against the bar until the bar makes contact with the plates. Think five to 10 percent pulling effort. By doing this, you will feel a large amount of tension throughout the body. Once you have generated this tension, think of pushing the floor away whilst maintaining a more neutral back and engaged hip extensors. This helps ensure that pre-pull you will have your shoulders, hips and weight position locked in tight, engaged and full of energy, ready to lift.
Jerking the bar
Of the deadlift mistakes covered, this one is one that many gym-goers make. Especially as they start increasing the weights they lift. They start trying to jerk at the bar to generate as much momentum and force as they can, not realizing that they increase the risk of injury and inadvertently make themselves weaker.
This is a big mistake to make as:
- You increase your risk of injury, especially to the biceps (due to starting with bent arms) and lower back.
- The result is a very ugly and inefficient deadlift.
How to stop jerking the bar
- Slow down. Don’t try to rush your weight increases and don’t rush the lift.
- Your arms should stay straight at all times; no bending through the elbow. An easy cue to help this is to imagine breaking the bar. When you do this, you should feel your lats and triceps engage.
- Don’t think of pulling; instead, think of pushing the floor away. When people think of pulling, most automatically think of their arms. Take the slack from the bar, break the bar and then drive your feet through the floor.
Not bracing efficiently
Not bracing the core adequately leads to many failed lifts and injuries. I know that when I started lifting, I had no clue about bracing.
You are not thinking of squeezing in your abs as many think, as this will not support core bracing and, due to the heavy activation of the abdominals, could cause you to go into flexion, putting more stress on your lower back.
Not bracing the core before a deadlift can:
- Lead to an injury to the spine.
- Lead to failed lifts.
- Hold you back from reaching your lifting potential.
How to brace the core
- Bracing the spine starts with breathing. Take a big breath into your belly (not the chest) and hold it. This increases pressure in the abdominals and also protects your lower back. Breathe through your mouth and imagine you are taking your breath through a straw (think pursed lips).
- Don’t exhale on the way up of your deadlift, as you will lose tension.
- If you are wearing a belt, you should feel it tighten as your pressure is increased and your abs push out against the belt. This will help.
- Practice; the more you practice this, the more automatic it becomes.
- Reset your position after every lift to ensure you brace for every rep.
Not engaging glutes and hamstrings
In this day and age, people sit far too much, and when it comes to using their glutes they just have no clue. If after deadlifts you don’t feel your glutes and hamstrings working (i.e., if only your lower back is working), you are probably not engaging them efficiently. The problem is:
- You increase your risk of injury to your back.
- You will not reach your strength potential in the deadlift.
- You are not getting adequate work into the posterior chain.
How to engage the glutes and hamstrings during the deadlift
- Stand with your midfoot under the bar, about hip-width stance and with toes slightly turned out.
- Push your hips back, start to bend at the knees and grip the bar.
- You should be able to feel the tension in the hamstrings and glutes at this point.
- Activate them more by driving your knees out into your arms. Think feet spreading the floor whilst maintaining that triangle foot position.
- Drive through your heels to pull.
- Squeeze your glutes hard as you start to pull. Imagine cracking a nut between your cheeks.
Deadlift Mistakes: the End
The next time you are deadlifting, film your lifts from the front and the side, then assess whether you are making any of these typical deadlift mistakes. If you are, you now know about it; you can get to work on correcting them and seeing your deadlift numbers increase.
Protip: Another great resource is this blog post: “Ultimate Guide: Powerlifting Deadlift Form”
The deadlift is always a work in progress, so don’t be disheartened if you feel your progress is slow. Respect the process of building up a solid foundation and technique on which you can then build some big numbers.
I hope you liked my article on how to fix 5 typical deadlift mistakes you might be making. Feel free to share this with anyone that you think might benefit from reading.