Nicole at CPM performs a deadlift

The deadlift is considered the ultimate test of overall body strength.

It’s a combination of a push with the legs and a pull of the upper body. This lift produces strong people, keeps you fit, and enhances your flexibility (not to mention the perks to our derrieres.)

The deadlift is also one of the most commonly butchered exercises I see at the gym.

Poorly executed deadlifts repeated over and over at heavy loads can set you up for acute injuries or chronic back pain down the road. It’s important to understand proper form and to fix any bad habits before they cause damage.

Are You Deadlifting With Correct Form?

Here are six common mistakes you might be making when deadlifting, and some simple tweaks to correct them.

Mistake #1: Choosing the wrong deadlift type for your body

    • Problem: Sometimes bad deadlift form results from choosing a setup that doesn’t work for your body or skill level. The conventional deadlift is not always the best choice for the average gym goer. In order to get into a conventional stance safely, you need a great degree of hip mobility. If you sit at a desk all day, there’s a good chance your mobility is lacking.
    • Solution: If the conventional pulling feels wrong, try switching to a sumo stance. A sumo stance is more upright and therefore requires less hip mobility.

Here is a demonstration of a proper conventional deadlift.

Here are the steps for performing a proper sumo deadlift. See the difference?

Mistake #2: Back Rounds/Shoulders Go Slack

  • Problem: The deadlift is the ultimate proof that poor posture is bad for your health. Deadlift any amount of weight with a rounded back, and you’re bound to hurt yourself.
  • Solution: Think about keeping your chest tall and pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets (back and down). If you had writing on your shirt, someone standing across the room should be able to read it throughout your entire lift. Next, get the muscles of your middle back to fire. Think about squeezing an orange in your armpits. Maintain this tension throughout the entire lift until you place the bar back on the floor.

Mistake #3: Squatting the Deadlift

  • Problem: This one is for all the squatters out there. We are so used to dropping into the bottom of our squat that anything else feels a bit unnatural. Not only is this wrong, it’s ineffective. By learning to engage the posterior chain (back, hamstrings, and butt), we are able to lift a lot more than trying to squat the weight up from the floor.
  • Solution: Start in a ½ squat — that’s 45 degrees above parallel. Shins should be vertical. Stand the weight up by pulling with your hamstring and squeezing your glutes. Remember that the hips are the primary hinge in the deadlift, while your knees should bend just enough to get your hands on the bar and keep your chest tall.

Mistake #4: Stripper Pull

  • Problem: AKA the “stripper pull” is when one sticks their butt up in the air ahead of their torso. This puts your back in a horrible position. The quads are unable to contribute, which places excess demand on the spine to complete the lift.
  • Solution: As the bar rises from floor, the hips and shoulder should rise at the same time, keeping the back angle the same. Get the weight in the heels and lift the chest. Lowering the bar properly is the same in reverse — hips hinge backward and knees bend slightly to lower the torso to the proper angle and return the barbell to the floor.

Mistake #5: Not Taking the Slack Out of the Bar

  • Problem: When one attempts to “jerk” the weight off the floor as quickly as possibly from a relaxed position, they are not providing enough time to tighten the lower back, resulting in injury.
  • Solution: The last thing you should do before lift off is to “pull the chest” up as high as possible. Listen for telltale “clink” and then hold this position for a brief moment before lift-off.

Mistake #6: Not Using the Glutes to Lock Out

  • Problem: The lockout, or finishing position of the deadlift, is crucially important for maximizing the effectiveness of the lift. I frequently see people leaning into the top of the deadlift, over exaggerating the lockout by pushing the hips forward and hyperextending their lower back. This is a dangerous position for the spine when under heavy loads. Another lockout mistake is shrugging your shoulders and using your upper body to help you pull the bar up at the top.
  • Solution: The main force driving you into lockout at the top of the deadlift should be your glutes. Squeeze your butt hard as you stand up but don’t push the hips so far forward that you arch your lower back. Focus on keeping those shoulder blades in your back pocket instead of pulling shoulders to ears.

Smarter, Safer, Stronger Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a fantastic exercise that almost everyone should perform. However, it’s crucial to use good form in order to stay safe and make better gains.

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