The deadlift is a staple in any workout routine, especially if you want to build more muscle, burn fat, and develop a high level of functional strength. As beneficial as the deadlift is, it is a complicated movement that opens itself up for a variety of mistakes.
Let’s review the top 10 deadlifting mistakes that you need to stop making. We’ll start from your feet and work our way up.
1. TAKING A WIDE STANCE
First up is establishing your foot foundation. It’s imperative to set up your foot placement and stance as this is where you begin to press into the ground and drive the force up and forward.
One common mistake with stance is spreading the feet out too wide as if you’re about to perform a sumo squat. Some guys and girls are naturally built a bit wider, but in general, the average deadlifter should be taking a narrower stance.
What’s the ideal alignment? Take a look at the barbell. You’ll notice a pattern: a rough and sharp patch followed by a smooth part. Your feet should be aligned with the smooth parts of the barbell in the center. If your hips are wider than most, try to keep half of your foot inside the smooth part on both sides.
2. YOUR NECK IS IN AN AWKWARD POSITION
Whether you’re just starting out with deadlifting or you’re a perfectionist (or both), you’ll naturally want to look up or to the side into a mirror to check your form. This is great, but not when you’re pulling a loaded barbell from the ground.
If you’re in the middle of a working set, your gaze should be kept neutral. Your neck needs to be relaxed. Your eyes will most likely look a few feet in front of you at the ground. Keep this neutral gaze as you go through the movement; let it naturally follow your body.
If you’re worried about form and stance, complete a few warm-up sets with no barbell or weight. This will allow you to check your form in a mirror. Once you start lifting, have a spotter give you cues on your form.
3. STARTING WITH HIPS BELOW THE KNEES
For some of us, it’s a force of habit to drop our hips low, mimicking the stance of a barbell back squat. Unfortunately, this won’t do much for deadlifting, and it can actually increase your risk for injury. So what to do?
When you are setting up your stance, be sure to keep your hips above your knees. If you drop too low, you’ll start to feel the pull in your quadriceps, not your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
4. BASHING YOUR SHINS AND KNEES
Let’s start out by saying that some shin burn is to be expected with a properly executed deadlift. That’s why we recommend using a squat pad to cushion your shins. With that said, if your shins are looking like hamburger meat and the barbell is smashing into your knees, you’re doing something wrong.
As you guide the barbell up during the deadlift, the path of the bar should be straight. As the barbell begins to near the kneecaps, this is when you drive your hips forward. The hip thrust will continue guiding the bar past your knees without using them as a speed bump on the way up.
When you reverse the movement, be sure not to bend the knees until the bar is past them. Begin with bending at the hips, move past your knees, then you can bend them.
5. ROUNDING YOUR LOWER BACK
Much like having wider hips, some men and women are built in a way that there will be a slight bend in the lower back. With that said, if your back is looking like a crescent moon, then you need to take a step back to evaluate your form.
You should avoid rounding or arching your back, and strive for a neutral and straight spine. As we discuss in our deadlifting checklist, if your chest is up and your shoulders are relaxed yet pulled back, then your lower back should naturally move into a neutral and straight position.
6. PULLING OR CURLING WITH YOUR ARMS
When you’re determined as hell to get that barbell off of the ground, it can be easy to recruit your arms into helping. The problem here is that by using your arms you are increasing the risk for shoulder and bicep strain while taking away the workload from the muscles that matter: hamstrings and glutes.
Although it can be tempting, avoid pulling on the bar to bring it up. This goes double if you’re trying to curl the bar up. Bad idea. Think of your arms like anchors or a pulley system. Your legs and butt are doing the hard work, and your arms are just there to hold the weight, not move it.
If you can’t lift the weight with proper form and you see that your arms are doing some of the work, then lighten the load.
7. DRIVING YOUR HIPS TOO MUCH
As we mentioned above, it’s important to engage the hips forward in order to bring the bar above the knees and lockout at the top of the movement. One thing you want to avoid is thrusting so much into the barbell that you back beings to round.
Sure, glute activation is important, but there’s no evidence that violently thrusting into the barbell is going to accomplish a greater degree of activation. This is especially true if your back starts to make the shape of the letter “C.”
Engage the hips, drive them forward, stop when you feel the activation in your glutes, and be sure to maintain a relatively straight and neutral spine.
8. SKIPPING FULL EXTENSION
You’re at the top of the movement, you feel the activation in all the proper places, and now it’s time to descend. How far down do you lower the barbell? If you stop anything short of the floor, you’re not going through full extension during the exercise.
The deadlift is named as such because you’re lifting from a dead stop. You can’t use swinging or momentum. You can’t bounce the bar. You lift the bar from the floor and that’s where you should return it. The exception here is if you’re performing rack pulls.
9. YOU DON’T TRAIN YOUR GRIP
How many times have you been deadlifting and you find that your grip calls it quits long before your hamstrings or glutes had a chance to feel the burn? A weak grip can keep you from achieving progress in your deadlift as you’re not able to reach the prescribed sets and repetitions. What should you do to prevent your grip from failing? Increase your grip strength.
A strong grip won’t just benefit you during your deadlifts, you’ll find that your performance improves in all of your exercises. Here are some proven ways to upgrade your grip strength:
Thick Bar Training: If you can find a gym with a set of thick barbells and dumbbells, you’ve hit a gold mine. Using thick bar training has been shown to dramatically increase grip strength. You might have to use less weight than you accustomed at first, but you’ll quickly see a difference.
Use Alpha Grips: If you don’t have access to thick bar training, the next best thing is a set of Alpha Grips. You can attach them to any barbell or dumbbell, and you’ll be able to train your grip as well as you could with thicker bars.
Use Grip-Focused Exercises: There are exercises that lend themselves to increasing your grip strength. Make sure a few of the following exercises are in your repertoire: farmer’s walk, barbell forearm rolls, dead hang, and pinched-grip plate holds.
10. YOU’RE NOT USING THE PROPER EQUIPMENT
While we advocate for performing the deadlift in as raw of a form as possible, there are a few pieces of equipment that can offer protection and better performance:
Squat Pad: To protect your shins from bar burn.
Abdominal Mat: To prop up the weight plates and protect your floor.
Weightlifting Belt: To provide your abdominals with a wall to push on during the deadlift.
Lifting Straps: Lets you continue lifting long after your grip has failed.
WERE YOU MAKING ANY OF THESE DEADLIFTING MISTAKES?
If so, which one has been slowing down your progress? After you stopped your deadlifting mistakes, did you notice an improvement in form and progress? Is there a deadlifting mistake that we missed? Tell us about it on our Facebook!