The Perfect Deadlift - Upright Health

The Perfect Deadlift

THE CASE FOR “PROPER DEADLIFT FORM”

The premise of this article series is that although everyone’s “optimal” deadlift form will APPEAR different (due to fixed variables such as limb lengths, muscle attachment points, etc., as well as other variables such as intent [deadlifting for competition vs. injury prevention])... 

There is still a “standard” deadlift form (respectful of one’s limb lengths, etc.) that just about everyone would benefit from, at the very least, being ABLE to perform.

For example...

Most coaches would agree that deadlifting with MINIMAL hip bending... and MAXIMUM spine rounding (because you don’t know how to “deadlift” any other way)... makes for a suboptimal deadlift practice.

Deadlift hip angle proper form

Comparison of hip angles affecting spine curvature

Why?

Because deadlifting using MINIMAL hip bending inhibits your powerful “hip muscles” (which reduces how much you're able to lift). And greatly increases your likelihood of injury (due to the altered workload on your “spine muscles”).

It goes to reason then that, although having SOME amount of unintentional spine rounding in a deadlift may not bring about the end of the world... the more proficient you are at being ABLE to perform a deadlift by holding a TRULY “neutral” spine curvature... the better.

If we can agree on this premise, then we can start breaking down the deadlift into what constitutes “proper form” and “proper muscles used”. And we can move on to how to take concrete steps in obtaining this “proper deadlift form”.

Neutral spine round back deadlift shoulder angle

Learn to perform the (L) photo... before you explore the (R) photo.

HOW TO PRACTICE "PROPER DEADLIFT FORM"

Essentially, the deadlift is a series of questions.

  1. Can I form a neutral spine?
  2. Can I take my neutral spine with me, as I bend over and reach down?
  3. Can I take my neutral spine with me, as I stand up and pull back?
Kettlebell deadlift neutral spine

And that's proper deadlift form in a nutshell.

Every coaching cue you've heard of (such as "push your hips back" or "brace your abs")... are merely heuristics to help you say "yes" to those three questions. 

  • Can I form a neutral spine?
  • Can I take my neutral spine with me, as I bend over and reach down?
  • Can I take my neutral spine with me, as I stand up and pull back?
Kettlebell deadlift neutral spine

Why am I emphasizing this?

Because it's important that you ultimately understand the "why" behind a cue... and not just blindly follow cues that work well for other people with different bodies.

Internalize the three questions above... as you use the following deadlift tutorials to find the coaching cues that work best for YOU.

Kettlebell Deadlift

Barbell Deadlift

As you can see, there is more than one apparatus/range of motion (ROM) with which you can train your deadlift form. Barbell, kettlebell... hands to midshin, hands to knees, etc.

This means that what makes your deadlift form "proper" is NOT the apparatus nor the ROM... but that your deadlift form adheres to the following details.

Key details of the bottom position of a deadlift:

Key details of the top position of a deadlift:

In other words...

You can deadlift with a barbell... you can deadlift with a kettlebell.

You can deadlift with your hands starting just above your ankles.... you can deadlift with your hands starting just below your knees.

It's ALL proper deadlift form... so long as your form contains the key details listed above.

Neutral Spine Spinal Bracing Intra Abdominal Pressure

Neutral Spine

Foot Tripod

Shoulder Position

If you were able to execute the deadlift form as described above… then great! You can skip to the article on constructing your routine, so you can learn how to progress from here.

If you had trouble executing the deadlift form as described above... (or wish to do so using a different apparatus/ROM, that you currently have trouble with)... then move onto the next article.

vincent with back pain from the deadlift

Keep getting injured during the deadlift? 

Tired of injuries derailing your training?

Wish you could push your body harder without getting hurt?

Our program teaches you fundamental concepts and action steps for injury-free deadlifting. 

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About the Author

Vincent's first passion is powerlifting. Over the years, his desire to master his body and mind have led him into deep explorations in stretching, mobility, and mindfulness.