Deadlifts are one of the most effective compound exercises you can do. For those looking for the inside track on explosive performance, it is imperative. The sumo deadlift begins with your feet wide than shoulder-width apart & outside of your hands. The angle of the foot is also closer to 45° from the body with a Sumo deadlift, versus pointing forward in a conventional deadlift. Sumo deadlift incorporates much more recruitment of the quads to get the weight moving.
The conventional deadlift is the movement you will see from a lifter like Hafthor Bjornsson. Hand placement between the legs & foot position underneath the hips are also hallmarks of this type of setup. Strength training can be used for all populations, young and old, at different frequencies and intensities to enhance fitness and quality of life.
Hafthor Bjornsson 501 kg = 1102 lbs deadlift!
Whether you pull sumo or conventional, these movements recruit powerful glutes & hamstrings & can take your posterior chain to another level. Research has shown that deadlift has a place in all athletic improvement. Just a few of the reasons that athletes new & advanced incorporate deadlifts include:
- Improved mobility
- Monster grip strength
- Improvements in lower back pain
- Midline or core activation that is out of this world
- Considerable boost to the metabolism
That said, even a minor mistake when doing deadlifts can have disastrous results. This possible derailing of progress is why avoiding these mistakes is crucial. It begins before you put your hands on that bar.
Deadlift Don’t’s For Strength Training
#1: Shoulder & Hips
When performed correctly, deadlifts are an impressive exercise to improve your posture. Proper form is required to get the most out of any weight lifting exercise, & deadlifts are no different.
Maximizing this powerlifting classic means you begin the lift with a nice flat back. Avoid that rounded back in your starting position that can lead to discomfort & injury. With feet slightly wide than hip-width, bend at the knees first. Then fold at the hips while you maintain that solid back position. Pull in a deep breath, & keep your chest up & your core tight as you fold at the hips. This bracing will allow you to drive up out of the lift with maximum support from your explosive hamstrings & back muscles.
Place your hands on the bar with your forearms just outside of your legs. You can do this with a “match grip” where both palms are facing your legs or with a mixed grip start. A mixed grip allows you to have one palm facing up & the other facing in towards you. Keep your butt down & stand, using your legs & not your back to lift. Think of pushing the floor away from you. Do not squeeze those big back muscles until you finish the lift and are standing up straight.
Once you reach the top position, do not roll your shoulders back & thrust your hips forward; that places a lot of unnecessary strain on your back, shoulders, & hips. Just come to a standing position & slowly return the bar to the floor.
#2: Don’t Bring Your Hips in Too Low
Another mistake that lifters often make with deadlifts is that they sit their hips down too low as if they were doing a back squat. You want to get the most out of efficient lifting to progress to heavier loads & move them well. Keep that barbell over your mid-foot & lift in a straight line. Swaying the bar out in front of you is a sign that your hip placement is off. Being out of place forces you to use more energy than you should & can limit progress.
There is some leg drive involved though you only want your hips to drop slightly. If you end up at a 90° angle, you have lost some of the benefits of the lift as a tool for building capable hamstrings & back muscles. This angle can also change the risk of injury. Once you stop pushing through your legs & finishing with effective hip extension, you can get out of position. That is not something you want with big weights in your hands. Imagine that you are bowing instead of sitting in a chair. If you are banging your shins & knees with the bar, you might be a little too low.
Do not cheat yourself out of an effective lift by trying to squat your deadlift.
#3: Rounding Your Back
Properly executed lifts are not dangerous, no matter what casual onlookers may think. Athlete proficiency with the lift breeds more confidence & allows for a safe approach. Inexperience & a lot of egos can lead to bars overloaded & efforts made that the body will not safely support.
One of the similarities between deadlifts & squats is that you have your shoulders back & your chest up for both of these lifts. If you have found yourself hunching your back forward during deadlifts (and lifting with your back) stop, & reset your form. This rounded posture is a path that is likely to lead to injury pretty quickly, especially if you have a lot of weight on your bar.
Pulling your shoulders back in addition to keeping your chest up is vital to avoid rounding your back & getting an injury. What the lifter is looking for is something known as “scapular retraction”. Your traps, rear delts, & lats are involved in keeping that sturdy posture. You can retract those muscles (scapula) even with arms extended. You will recruit more of the other muscle groups, as well as the hips & glutes, as you finish out the lift.
#4: Too Much Gear
Hand grips & a weight belt are great accessories if you are maxing out & want to be safe, but you do not need them all the time. If you are constantly reaching for these accouterments to help support you, you will likely grow reliant on them. That reliance can produce a weaker form in the best-case scenarios. It also allows for the underdevelopment of the grip & lower back strength. Things like wrist straps have their place. They allow you to continue training the pulling portions of the lift & the posterior piece after the grip has a lesser role in the equation.
Make intelligent choices around the tools you use to support your safety. Still, use those as tools but not things to rely on heavily. Consider using wraps, belts, & assistance clothing like a deadlift suit only above a particular percentage of your maximum lift. They may also be reasonable when you are attempting to establish a one-rep max. Powerlifting legend Ed Coan once deadlifted 901 pounds while weighing in at a bodyweight of 220 pounds and only wore a competition singlet & belt. Genuinely impressive feats are still possible with sound fundamentals and proper use of equipment.
#5 Training with Only Traditional Barbells
The traditional barbell will provide proper training to establish your deadlift. However, it may also leave your grip, your wrists, and your forearms underdeveloped for truly massive attempts. While a traditional barbell will not lead to injury with proper use, a thick barbell or dumbbells for accessory work can produce genuinely potent gains. Tap into more of your potential growth with a barbell at a wider diameter.
A thicker bar may not allow you to use as much weight for deadlifting as your traditional bars at first. You will quickly see the benefit of variety in this training tool. Many training protocols underemphasize the grip and leave too much progress on the table for the deadlift. Consider adding forearms rolls, farmer’s walks with implements in each hand, and some static holds to build true strength.
#6 Looking at the Sky When You Lift
Stop looking at the ceiling when you deadlift. Deadlifting is a massive benefit to your posture and stability, and when you crane your neck, you place excessive strain on your spine. As you hoist a truckload from the floor, look for a more neutral position. Give the head a slight tilt upward to keep the spine in a solid and more erect state. Avoiding injury is more than avoiding the rounded back but also keeping the head more upright. The hip flexors and extensors of the legs need to stay at work. That all goes off the rails when the gaze drifts too far downward or skyward during a lift.
The weight does not evenly distribute when you stare at the ceiling or flat at the floor. Keep your posterior chain involved, and keep that hip drive working for your benefit. Keep the back vertical and in a neutral alignment to utilize more muscle. Picking a point on the floor will help with your back mechanics and hip placement. Balance becomes vital once you start adding any weight to your movements. Choose a posture and solid habits that allow you to best control your balance.
#7 Deadlifting for Maximum Reps too Quickly
There is a time and place for speed and maximal efforts. Loading up a barbell for deadlift and lifting as fast as possible with heavy loads is not one of those times. It will vary depending on your one-rep max, but we have all seen trainers put athletes through lifts that are too speedy and end up sacrificing sound technique. Making a lift is exciting in training, though if it means poor form and possibly an injury, then it is simply not worth it.
Evaluate your training goals and make sure that what you are doing is safe. Consider if it will allow you to continue training without doing lasting harm. It bears repeating that deadlifts in proper form are NOT dangerous. Performing this movement can work wonders for your strength development when you complete the exercise at a tempo with deliberate control and effort. Set your pride aside and move in the full range of motion. Engage the necessary muscle groups properly. Sacrificing technique often leads to a sacrifice of time in the gym due to recovery.
#8 Allowing the Knees to Sway In or Out
Deadlifting involves keeping your knees in a steady position. Allowing the knees to dip in (adduction) or to sway out (abduction) can create lasting damage on your joints and your tendons. Ligaments are at risk when under the sheer strain of heavy loads. Combine that with a sudden change of the angle, and it can produce tears in tendons. Your muscles may be strong enough to handle a particular deadlift weight. If your connective tissues are not stabilizing things correctly, you take on more risk than is necessary to complete a successful lift.
Leave your ego on the shelf when it comes to this iconic lift. Once you pass some of your working weights in a set, it is acceptable to use a belt. As long as you place assistance tools in their proper place and do not rely on them, they can be great add-ons.
If you are uncomfortable with a particular weight, then make a note of it and continue to move forward. If any discomfort turns into full-blown pain, then you have taken your body out of contention for growth. From the point of injury, progress is a measure of recovery days rather than personal bests.
Deadlifts do wonders for a broad range of muscle groups. The grip improvement, stability and core development, and posterior chain improvements are unmatched. From your traps down to your legs, the muscle recruitment makes this classic lift one to keep in your training toolbox. Incorporate other movements if you need to adjust on your way to deadlifting. If you are recovering, then look towards a trap bar deadlift, hip thrusts, and glute bridges to keep your posterior chain involved while you recuperate.
Lifting from the floor requires careful attention. When done correctly and with proper standards, this lift is a lot of fun. Manage your weight, choose an ideal frequency for training, and set yourself up with a suitable intensity that fits your experience level.