Deadlift Do’s and Don’ts: A Beginner’s Guide


Ahhhh deadlifts. One of the most empowering exercises in the game. Also one of the most challenging and frustrating.

Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts to help you pick up heavy shit with strength, safety, and badassery.

#1 DO always maintain good technique (DUH)

Put away your ego. A tough lesson to learn. But guess what? You wont be able to deadlift at all if you’re injured. Check the ego and respect where you are at TODAY.

#2 DO Pick the style of deadlift right for you.

Not everyone can and should fit into this perfect little box of conventional barbell deadlifts.

Some of my favorite options include: Kettlebell, Sumo, Conventional, Plate-elevated, and Trap Bar.

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#3 DO Learn to brace your core properly, every rep, every breath, every time.

100% of people new to deadlifting screw this up.

Cliff notes: bracing your core does not mean “sucking it in.”

Step 1: Inhale and fill up your belly with air

Step 2: Create abdominal pressure by pushing OUT and bracing as if I was going to punch you in the stomach.

#3 DON’T Deadlift in soft, squishy running shoes.

Go barefoot, or get something with a hard, flat bottom, like Converse or the Reebok Nano.

#4 DON’T hyperextend your back at the top.

A common deadlift cue is “chest up, shoulders back.” And don’t get me wrong, this works for some people, especially those who tend to deadlift with a round back. But for others, it can cause extension through the lumbar spine versus finishing with actual hip extension. Both rounding and excessive extension can lead to disc and nerve issues.

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Right: correct top position Left: Lumbar hyperextension

My favorite way to coach this is “keep your ribs down and finish by pushing your hips through the bar without leaning back.”

#5 DO perform some form of glute activation before you deadlift.

Here are some of my favorites:

Clamshells (click link)

Banded Bridges (click link)

Barbell Hip Thrusts –light weight (click link)

-Hip Abduction Machine

#6 DON’T perform deadlifts for high reps.

The deadlift is a highly technical lift that is extremely taxing on the central nervous system. Performing it for high repetitions has too much Even with lighter weight, I never have my clients deadlift for more than 8 (10 at the ABSOLUTE MAXIMUM, and very rarely). The deadlift is a neurological strength and power exercise, not an endurance or hypertrophy exercise.

#7 DON’T Squat. At least not during deadlifts.

This is a hip hinge, not a squat. Your shins should be as vertical as possible, and your hips should shift back vs down.

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On the left: proper deadlift position. On the right: too much squatting.

#7 DO Approach the bar with confidence and intention.

Deadlifts require extreme focus and intentionality. Every rep, every time.

#8 DON’T forcefully shrug the weight up at the top or try and pin your shoulder blades back.

I see this one screwed up all the time. Traps are cool, and all. But this is a lower body power exercise, let’s keep it that way.
Not only are you putting yourself at risk for muscle strain and injury when you do this, but you’re also increasing the distance the bar has to go to complete one full rep, making the exercise more challenging and technical than it already is. Think about keeping your shoulder blades as far away from your ears as possible.

Deadlifts are hard enough. Don’t make them harder.

#9 DON’T aggressively bounce the weights off the floor.

This is dangerous. How are you supposed to keep intra-abdominal pressure when your body is trying to absorb an equal and opposite force? This is also cheating. You want to get strong, right? And you checked your ego at the door, right? Ok good. Let’s get strong the right way.

#10 DO Activate your lats (the “pull up” muscle) to keep the bar close to your body.

One of my favorite cues for this is “pull your hips to the bar and pull the bar to your hips.”
If you’re not sure what exactly I mean by this, try this drill to learn proper engagement and tension (if you don’t have bands available, totally okay to use a cable)

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Straight Arm Pulldown starting position (left) and ending position (right)

 

#11 DON’T try and work through painful reps.

Pain is a warning signal. If your body is giving you sharp “OUCH” pains while deadlifting, you need to do something different. Lighten the weight, switch the type of deadlift you’re performing, or try again a different day.

Studies have also shown that pain inhibits muscle activation. If you’re trying to work through pain, you’re most likely not activating the intended muscles. This can and will create compensatory movement patterns that will come back to bite you in the ass later.

#12 DO have fun!!

Because nothing (and I truly mean nothing) is worth it if you aren’t having fun. Dance in between sets. Laugh. Smile. Spread goodness.

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