Guide to the Deadlift

Chapter 3: Technique

Most people consider the squat and bench press more technique-intensive than the deadlift. They’re wrong! A strong deadlift requires careful technique, just like the other two lifts. And if fact, the deadlift allows for a far wider range of styles than the squat and bench: so much so that different styles of deadlift used in competition even have different names. This section breaks down all of the various components of technique to help you understand the process and put together a perfect pull.

In this chapter:

  1. Choosing the Right Deadlift Style
  2. Setting Up
  3. Performing the Deadlift
  4. Judging the Deadlift
  5. Performing Reps


Most lifters rush their descent on the deadlift — the saying “grip it and rip it” encourages just that. For most lifters, it’s a big mistake. Rushing the descent will almost always limit your strength and increase your risk of injury.

The descent in the deadlift is just as important as it is in the squat, or as lowering the bar in the bench press. The only difference is that you’re not supporting any weight — which is a huge advantage, because you can take your time without any external pressure forcing you to go faster than you’d like.

To start the descent, walk up to the bar and take your perfect stance, which you found by following the directions earlier in this section. We’ll take the rest of the descent piece by piece.

The Core.
Deadlifts begin with your core — your abs and lower back. These major muscle groups stabilize your torso during the lift, keeping it in a strong position to both break the bar off the floor and lock out once it passes your knees. Many lifters who descend quickly don’t keep a good torso position, and they struggle with lockout. The ideal position balances the load between your back, hips, legs, and glutes. It will differ for everyone, but if you follow the steps in this section, you won’t have to think about your torso itself much at all. Keeping your core, back, and posterior chain tight will align your torso in the correct position.

To begin, you need to generate intra-abdominal tightness by “bracing” your abs and lower back. Many trainers use a cue like “push out” to convey the idea of intra-abdominal tightness, but that’s not nearly enough.

First, you need to properly engage your upper and lower abs. I like to start with the lower abs, and I think about using them to rotate or pull my hips towards my shoulders. Some other good cues include “scooping” your abs, or “drawing in,” trying to pull your navel towards your spine. If you have trouble with this and cues aren’t helping, try lying down flat on the floor and crunching your abs together, as if you were trying to squeeze a penny in your belly button. Then push your lower back into the floor as hard as you can. Try to replicate that feeling of tightness while standing up.

Second, you need to engage your upper abs in the same way. I use almost the same cue here, thinking about using my upper abs to crunch down and rotate my shoulders towards my hips. If that doesn’t work for you, trying thinking about “bearing down” with your rib cage. The overhead pulley crunch or crunch on a swiss ball are both great ways to practice this feeling of tightness.

Once you’ve fully engaged your abs, you need to generate intra-abdominal pressure. While holding the crunch position, exhale forcefully, trying to blow all the air out of your lungs. Then — keeping your abs tight the whole time — inhale deep into your diaphragm and “push out” against that tightness, like you were drawing in a huge breath to blow up the world’s biggest balloon. When done properly, you should feel like you have a wall of muscle supporting your entire core, from your hips to your rib cage.

The first time you do it, this whole process will seem exhausting. You’ll need to practice. Fortunately, this is the position you should keep for ALL of your abs exercises, whether they’re planks, sit-ups, leg raises, or anything else, so you should have plenty of opportunities! Every time you train abs, try to practice holding this position. It will strengthen quickly, and you’ll see big gains in your squat and deadlift just from training this position.

If you’re not using your core properly, as is the case in the picture on the left, you won’t be able to keep a good, neutral spine position while you’re lifting, and you’ll limit yourself in the long run. Set your abs and brace before you grab the bar, and you’ll be better able to hold that position throughout the movement.

The Upper Back.
Your upper back is a prime mover in the deadlift, but most lifters fail to use it to their advantage. Your goal is to lock your lats into the proper position so that they stabilize your torso as the bar leaves the floor, and stay in the proper position to assist during lockout.

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Comments 5

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  1. I am interested in the “custom powerlifting program”. Can you please give me some more details, like the layout, and how many weeks long it is?
    I specifically DL, I pulled 590 in competition last year, and 600 in the gym, I weigh 192#, 39 yrs old.
    Thanks, Gene

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