The deadlift is one of the most important weight-training moves to learn when starting your fitness journey. As we stand, sit, and walk in everyday life, we’re using our legs, bums, core and back. Deadlifting properly is one of the best way to ensure those muscle groups stay stronger for longer.
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As well as reducing the risk of osteoporosis, deadlifts can prevent back problems as you age: a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found deadlifting reduced pain, and increased activity, in patients suffering from lower-back pain.
With many of us sitting in an office every day, deadlifts can improve our posture and undo the damage of a sedentary lifestyle. It does this by focusing on our glutes and legs, which are often neglected as we're sitting down all day, and our backs, which can become damaged if we're leaning over a laptop for long periods.
For athletes, it’s also a really time-efficient way to hit all these muscle groups effectively. If you’re getting into running, deadlifting will make your lower body stronger. If you’re looking to build strength, deadlifts teach you to lift heavy objects off the ground safely.
Deadlifts can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells and even resistance bands, but using a barbell allows you to lift more weight, helping you to develop strength and power. Whatever your fitness journey looks like, learning to deadlift properly with barbells can help you along the way.
Follow our step-by-step guide below, which will show you how to deadlift properly and safely.
How to deadlift properly with a barbell
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell on the floor in front of you. Bend at the knees and hips to grip the barbell overhand.
- Push your bum out and squeeze the barbell tight. Keeping your back neutral, push through your legs to stand up straight while keeping a tight grip on the barbell.
- Slowly lower the barbell by bending at the hips and knees to complete one repetition.
How to deadlift properly with a barbell: Common deadlift mistakes
Deadlifts can be a tricky business. If you lift a heavy barbell with improper form, you risk damaging your back and legs: it’s one reason why professional environments involving heavy lifting usually require training, or the signing of a waiver. Although the benefits of deadlifts are great, it’s important to learn how to deadlift properly to avoid these potential pitfalls.
“To start with, I won’t even let my clients touch the bar,” says PT and strength coach Hendrick Famatumi. He advocates warming up with hamstring and back stretches, and practising the movement with empty hands or just using the bar before attempting to add any weight.
Once you’ve warmed up, Famatumi’s got a few tips to ensure you work the right muscles. “Imagine a tennis ball is between your chin and chest, which will help you keep a neutral spine throughout the movement.
"When lowering the bar, keep it as close to your shins as possible, because the further away the bar is, the more your lower back works instead of your hamstrings, glutes and core.”
Variation: Deadlift and row
This exercise, which can be performed with either dumbbells or a barbell, offers a good workout for the hamstrings, shoulders, and the muscles in your back. Speaking of your back, try to keep it neutral throughout the exercise, using Famatumi’s tips above, to help prevent injury.
- Pick up a barbell with an overhand grip and hold it in front of you. Stand with your knees slightly bent, and your feet placed shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at the hips and knees, lowering your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor. Allow your arms to hang down in front of your knees and shins.
- Pull back the barbell back to your chest in a rowing movement.
- Reverse the movement to return to the deadlift position, before standing up straight to complete one repetition.