18 January, 2017


The barbell deadlift should be a staple exercise in anyone’s gym routine. It is a great exercise to build a solid foundation for most other movements. Quite simply it is the exercise that, if performed correctly, will build unmatched mass while strengthening all the major muscles groups, although the squat could arguably be granted similar prestige.

The benefits of the barbell deadlift are numerous; it is a great exercise because it works more muscles simultaneously than any other movement, it creates core stability, is a relatively safe movement (the weight can be dropped if required) and won’t cause unduly stress on any of the major joints involved. There are real life applications; lifting objects from the ground without causing injury, which makes it a very functional exercise. It helps to improve grip strength and is arguably a true measure of strength. And finally, it requires minimal equipment to perform. In fact, you can do the movement with any object, as long as you can apply good form and technique.

Although it seems like a straightforward movement pattern, to get the barbell deadlift technique right is actually quite difficult, especially if you’ve never done one before nor been taught proper technique. There are many resources out there, from many “experts” whom have little credentials. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check the credentials of those teaching this technique before blindly following their advice. It is best to have your personal trainer go through the movement with you, and to do so using light weights until you have the movement perfected.

The basics:

A proper barbell deadlift starts with the weight on the floor. You start with your lower back straight—not arched—and knees bent. You then pull the barbell in an upwards direction and towards the body until your entire body is upright.

Barbell Deadlift Teaching Points

  • Grip the bar with hands in a pronated position (hands in the overhand position) and slightly wider than shoulder width apart (you can use alternate grip one hand forward / back if your grip strength is a limiter)
  • Feet shoulder width apart with the bar positioned over the mid part of the foot
  • Squat down keeping normal curve in lumbar spine, chest up, head facing forwards and shoulders over the bar
  • Keep arms straight, hold scapulae down, and brace to stabilise trunk
  • Commence lift by pushing through the floor with the legs and letting hips and knees rise at the same rate, keeping bar close to shins
  • When the bar clears the knees, continue to extend the legs and the lower back until body is fully upright
  • Lower the bar under control keeping lower back slightly curved and the bar close to the body until the plates lightly touch the ground

Common Errors:

  • Poor posture at starting position of movement: lower back rounded, head and chest forward
  • Bar too far in front of the feet
  • Shoulders not over the bar
  • Bending arms to help pull the bar up
  • Hips rising faster than knees
  • Bar too far out in front of body
  • Rounding the lower back at any stage of the lift
  • Hyperextending the lower back at the top of the lift
  • Head and chest dropping forward during descent phase of the lift

Movement analysis

The barbell deadlift is a compound movement which involves several joints and large muscles, listed below.

 Joint Action at each joint during the concentric phase Main muscles performing the action at each joint Exercise Classification
Hip Extension Gluteus Maximus


Knee Extension Quadriceps Compound
Ankle Plantar Flexion Gastrocnemius



Deadlift variations:

Side deadlift – same technique as the barbell deadlift but using weight on only one side.

Suitcase deadlift – using two weights either side of the body, often dumbbells or kettlebells.

Rack pulls – using the rack to shorten the movement to the upper section of the lift. Focussing on the back extension more than the leg drive.

Romanian deadlift / Straight legged deadlift – starting from shin height and keeping the legs relatively still to work the gluteus maximus and hamstrings.

Deficit deadlift – simply stand on a weight or plate to add a little extra range of motion to the deadlift.


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