The Serious Guide On How To Conventional Deadlift

Legs 19 min Read

Written by

Gustavo Ramos

Most people’s conventional deadlift is anything but conventional, so I’ve written this guide to fix your wonky deadlift.

Like our guides on how to low bar squat and bench press, this guide will cover everything you need to know to become a deadlift demigod.

The deadlift has the most carryover to your daily life of any of the barbell lifts, and you must learn to do it well.

There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift

-Jon Pall Sigmarsson

Yea. It’s that important. Check out this video of Jon Pall Sigmarsson deadlifting 1,005lbs for a little extra motivation before continuing.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Benefits & Uses
Equipment
Technique
Common Faults & Fixes
General Strength Programs
Variations
Accessory Work
Useful Links

Benefits & Uses

History

There’s an excellent write-up on the history of the deadlift.

Most myths surrounding the origin of the deadlift are related to soldiers picking up the dead from an ancient battlefield. Still, realistically people have been picking things up since the beginning of time.

Only in the last 100 years have we switched to the barbell deadlift, and that’s what you’ll learn reading this guide.

Strength

There is no more valid test of raw strength & grit than the conventional deadlift.

Every muscle in your entire body is engaged in the deadlift. 

The conventional deadlift is a concentric-focused lift that will take your CNS (central nervous system) to over-drive.

Daily Life

The deadlift is picking up a heavy load with good form.

We use a barbell in the gym because it is easy to load, but the way you pick up 315lbs should be the same way you pick up a couch, a pencil, and your girlfriend.

Learning good form in the gym ensures you don’t hurt yourself outside of the gym.

Muscle Growth

I’m going to ruffle some feathers saying this, but the deadlift is not the best move for muscular development.

We tend to neglect the part of the lift that drives hypertrophy (muscle growth)—the down portion (eccentric).

There is an age-old debate about whether to do deadlifts on leg day or back day. I will solve that debate for you right now and say do deadlifts on deadlift day

Rows build your back better than deadlifts. Squats build your legs far better than deadlifts. Do deadlifts to be better at deadlifts, to develop strength for lifting heavy stuff.

What is Sarcoplasmic & Myofibrillar Muscle Hypertrophy?

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Equipment

Gym Equipment

You need four things for conventional barbell deadlifts:

  • A barbell
  • A rack
  • Round Plates (if you only have access to hexagonal plates, switch gyms if possible or do Romanian deadlifts)
  • Barbell clips

That’s what you’ll need for serious training, but the actual bare minimum is anything you can pick up. There are a lot of deadlift variations, and you’ll see them in strongman competitions.

For brevity, this article will focus on teaching you how to use a barbell in the gym.

Hexagonal plates make it challenging to learn deadlifts because each time you set the bar down, they will want to shift. Sometimes this shifting drives the bar into your shins and can be painful (or bloody).

Personal Equipment

A quality weightlifting belt is the most critical thing you can buy to enhance your deadlift experience. A 10mm, 4″ wide, single prong weightlifting belt will immediately increase the weight you can lift and the reps you can perform. It’s basically like the PF Flyers Benny wears in The Sandlot. This brings us to the next piece of equipment: shoes.

The PF Flyers are actually a phenomenal deadlift shoe. So is any flat bottomed shoe like Converse Chuck Taylors. You most likely have good deadlifting shoes sitting in your closet or maybe even already on your feet. This style of shoes is great for deadlifts because they provide a stable platform and a solid connection to the ground. There is minimal cushion, so your feet will not shift as you increase pressure on them (unlike running shoes). They also have the same cushion at the front of the shoe and the back. An even sole is essential because it helps your ankles assume the correct position. Even better than flat shoes is barefoot deadlifts. Most gyms frown on bare feet. If your gym allows it, give it a shot.

Tall socks are required for powerlifting competitions because they save your shins from scrapes and scabs. Say that five times fast. Good deadlifts require the bar to remain incredibly close to your body, and when you are learning the movement, you are guaranteed to bang up your legs with the bar. Tall socks or knee sleeves pulled down to your shins will keep you from bloodying yourself.

Lifting straps are another important piece of deadlifting equipment. Please read this article to learn how to use them. Few lifts will tax your grip more than deadlifts, and straps are the answer when you want to keep going beyond grip failure. Interestingly enough, deadlifts alone will not develop great grip strength.

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Technique

Setting Up Your Equipment

Setting up equipment for the deadlift is remarkably simple. Put plates on the bar, and put the bar on the ground. Done.

However, there are a few more elements to consider.

Standard barbell height for the conventional deadlift is 9″ off the ground, but not all plates are standard, and neither are people. Most 45lb plates are 18″ in diameter, and all bumper plates are. Using metal plates smaller than 45lbs will lower the bar height, and this can make deadlifts challenging to learn. The lower the bar height the more challenging it is to get into a good starting position. Bar height is so important that we begin teaching the deadlift at a starting height of 20″ and then work our way down to the ground.

Taller people or those with body dimensions that do not favor the conventional deadlift may want to start the bar higher than 9″. You can create a higher starting point by deadlifting inside a power rack or on blocks.

In competition, everyone pulls from the standard 9″ bar height. However, there is nothing magical about that height, and for the sake of learning I highly recommend raising the bar higher to learn quality mechanics first.

Setting Up Your Body

Stance

The setup for the deadlift is sequential. Each step relies on the previous step for quality positioning, and it begins with your foot placement.

Always walk up to the bar. Never roll the bar to you. Bring Muhammad to the mountain, okay?

Your feet should be hip-width apart (6-8″ apart) and under the bar. When viewed from the side, the barbell will be over your midfoot. When you’re looking down at the bar, you should not be able to see the knot of your laces.

You can turn your feet out slightly (about 10 degrees) or keep them straight.

Grip

Your deadlift grip should be double overhand (palms facing behind you) and only as wide as is necessary to allow your legs between them.

An overly wide grip forces your body into an artificially lower starting point, and the lower you go, the more challenging good form becomes. The other negative of an overly wide grip means the bar must travel higher, and more distance requires more energy. A wider than necessary grip means less weight in 1RM lifts and fewer reps in training.

Mixed grip (also known as over/under) is for heavy lifts. You should switch the grip each set. Failure to do so will lead to imbalances. It’s best to avoid over/under completely in training and favor the use of straps. If your grip is weak watch this video on how to use a gripper.

The rest of your body

I’ll briefly describe what else needs to happen in your setup, but it’s easiest just to see it below.

With your stance set and grip in place, you need to move into thoracic & lumbar extension(arch your back). Your lats must engage fully, and the bar should not move. When you are in place, your shoulder blades will be directly over the bar when viewed from the side, your back will be flat, and your shins will be very close to, if not completely vertical.

Engage your core by acting like someone will punch you in the stomach and begin to put tension on the bar.

Action

Up

With tension on the bar, your focus is on lifting the bar perfectly vertical (eliminate any horizontal motion) by keeping your spine locked in place.

Imagine you are a crane (the heavy machinery, not the bird). Your hands are the hooks. Your arms are the crane cables. Your torso is the crane arm. Your glutes & hamstrings are the engine at the bottom doing the lifting.

Good cranes have a rigid crane arm—if the crane arm gives at all, it is a sign of severe structural failure. Your torso is only a lever used to transfer force from your hips to the load, and it must be rigid.

Your arms aren’t doing any of the lifting. Instead, they are hanging on to the load with maximal grip.

The bar should rise to pass your knees, and then your hips should drive forward to complete the lift.

Down

Brace your core and set your shoulders hard(squeezed down and back).

Next, begin the hip hinge pattern to lower the bar to your knees, and after passing the top of your kneecap, your entire body should descend as a unit.

Do not relax until the bar is entirely on the ground. Never lose rigidity in your spine. Keep the bar close.

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Common Faults & Fixes

The most common indicator of poor deadlift form is an overly sore low back. If these muscles go through too much motion during your deadlift, you will feel a terrible low back pump and soreness that lasts for days. You also risk back injury or back pain.

Poor Setup

Getting your setup right is the most crucial part of your deadlift. Before attempting deadlifts, you must master the Romanian deadlift and hip hinge pattern. It is also helpful to learn the deadlift from blocks first.

If you start with garbage, you will most certainly end with garbage.

Review videos & pictures of a quality setup. Record a video of yourself to compare. If all of that fails, ask an expert for help.

Sloppy Start

A sloppy start stems from a poor setup, and recording a video can help you identify any issues.

The first thing to watch for is horizontal movement in the bar. If the bar moves toward you, it’s because you started with it too far away. If the bar moves away, then your lats were not fully engaged.

The second thing to watch for is the loss of the arch in the spine. Your back should be in as much extension as possible. Any loss of arch means your core needs strengthening, or you need to brace harder (a weightlifting belt works wonders here).

Failure to Finish

Failure to finish can be due to a loss of tightness in the low back on the ascent or simply a lack of understanding of proper deadlift finish.

A good deadlift finishes with the shoulders fully back, behind the bar, a natural S-curve in the spine, knees at or near lockout, and hips under the shoulders.

If you find yourself getting to the top of the deadlift but unable to extend entirely through your body, you may have some weaknesses to improve. Read this article on the six best exercises to improve your deadlift.

Lazy Lowering

Lazy lowering occurs when you try to set the bar down by rounding your back. Never do this!

You must treat the eccentric (lowering) portion with as much deference as the concentric (lifting) portion.

Before you begin to lower the bar, take a big breath, brace your core, push out on your belt (if wearing one), and hinge from the hips. When the bar passes your knee, it is time to squat the rest of the way but do not relax yet. Keep your torso locked in an extended position until the bar is safely on the ground.

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General Strength Programs

BEGINNER PROGRAM

Every good strength program incorporates deadlifts, and the Seriously Strong Beginner Program is one of those. In the beginner program, you will deadlift every other workout for 5 sets of 5 reps.

One to two deadlift sessions per week is a good frequency for learning the movement, and the program also incorporates your other big lifts.

INTERMEDIATE PROGRAM

Instead of deadlifting every other workout, you will now deadlift once weekly. So for 12 weeks of the Seriously Strong Intermediate Program, you will know what every deadlift workout will be. That’s both fun and frightening.

On Wednesdays, you will work up to a heavy set of 5 reps in addition to the other programmed work.

Deadlifts can be incredibly taxing, and for most people, one deadlift workout per week is plenty for strength development.

ADVANCED PROGRAM

Congratulations. You’ve made it to the Seriously Strong Advanced Program.

You’ve unlocked DEADLIFT DAY.

Once per week, you will work up to an AMRAP set on deadlifts. And then you will do more deadlifts.

AMRAP deadlifts are the most fun you will have in the gym. You will be pushed to your limits and even further the following week.

Enjoy my Padawan.

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Variations

The Five Best Conventional Deadlift Variations to Increase your 1RM

Boom. Done.

Almost.

I’ll also mention:

Most of these exercises have the name deadlift in them, but they begin to stray from the core mechanic of the deadlift: the hip hinge.

You can do those variations with a hip hinge pattern, but it isn’t necessary because there is no bar path to worry about.

They are closer to a squat pattern. All will increase your leg & posterior chain strength, but not all will have as much carryover as the variations listed in the article above.

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Accessory Work

Any exercise that will improve your posterior chain strength (back, glutes, hamstrings) or grip will improve your deadlift.

Romanian deadlifts are the single best accessory exercise you can do. It will cause massive hypertrophy in the hamstrings and develop incredible strength that carries over nicely to your deadlift.

The 6 Best Accessory Exercises for The Conventional Deadlift

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Useful Links

The Serious Guide to the Low Bar Squat
The Serious Guide to the Bench Press
The Serious Guide to Nutrition
The Serious Guide to Core Training
The Serious Guide to Glute Training
The Seriously Strong YouTube Channel
The Seriously Strong Beginner Program
The Seriously Strong Intermediate Program
The Seriously Strong Advanced Program

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Gustavo Ramos

Gustavo, “Goose”, is the Director of Operations at Seriously Strong Training Tallahassee and holds a Masters in Exercise Physiology degree from Florida State University. Gustavo is responsible for the education of all personal trainers at SST, and creates training materials to ensure our coaches are always at the top of their game.