How to deadlift properly with barbells

Everything you need to know about how to deadlift properly with barbells to hit your fitness goals

Woman learning how to deadlift properly with barbells
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mastering how to deadlift properly with barbells will help you excel in your next gym session, and allow you to go further with your resistance training overall. When it comes to deadlifting, it’s fair to say that control is key, with practice and determination needed to reach a real confidence point with this particular move. This compound exercise can really help to build your overall strength, which is why we’ve gathered together all of the essential information you need to perfect your form. 

On your journey to knowing how to deadlift properly with barbells, not overdoing it is absolutely crucial. Working on your form and building your strength with a set of the best adjustable dumbbells will work wonders as a first step, and you can do it at home to save you space. From there, your next step will be a barbell and bumper weights. If you’re worried about overexerting yourself, then you can always keep things lighter until you feel ready, and bumper weights mean you can simply release the barbell safely beneath you if you need to. 

Everyone’s journey with getting stronger is personal, so don’t feel rushed into tackling heavier weights before you’re ready. Instead, keep your form at the very front of your mind, and remember that building up your strength has so many benefits for your health beyond the weight you can lift. Keep reading to find out how to deadlift properly with barbells.

How to deadlift properly with barbells: benefits

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. 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

Deadlifts can improve our bone density, as this study of college-age men found (opens in new tab) that regular resistance training using bench presses, squats and deadlifts (otherwise known as the Big Three), can contribute to bone mineral density in both men and women. Lifting big can lower cortisol, the stress hormone that encourages our body to store fat around our gut. That's why a good weights session feels so satisfying!

It can also raise levels of testosterone in both sexes, which contributes to the development of muscle and bone health in addition to improving everything from our metabolism to our sex drive.  One study (opens in new tab) found regular, progressive resistance training improves the hormone production in both young and old adults. 

This is especially relevant for seniors, as their hormones drop off in later life. Deadlifting is not just a young person's game – providing, as always, you take it easy, listen to expert advice, use correct form and build your muscle slowly, you can deadlift at any age!

Man deadlifting properly with barbells

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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. 

You can deadlift with dumbbells, kettlebells and even resistance bands at home (and you can check out our guides on the best adjustable dumbbells and best kettlebell, if you're keen to try in the comfort of your own home), 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 do a proper deadlift safely and confidently.  

How to deadlift properly with a barbell

Men demonstrating how to deadlift properly with barbells

(Image credit: iStock)
  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell on the floor in front of you. The bar ideally will have plates on either end to raise it from the ground and the bar should sit over your feet. Bend at the knees and push your bum back to lower your hands down to grasp the bar. 
  • When you’re at the bar, place your hands so they are just wider than your legs with an overhand grip.
  • Squeezing the bar tightly, push through your feet and legs to stand. When the bar is at your knees, straighten legs and come up to standing. Throughout, maintain a flat back and keep your neck in line with your back.
  • Then slowly lower the barbell by bending at the hips and knees to lower the bar back down. As you lower the bar, it should almost glide down your thighs until you reach your knees, at which point your knees bend, allowing you to place the bar down. Then go straight into the second rep.
  • Remember, that back needs to stay flat, core needs to stay engaged and neck stays in line with back.
  • Aim for 8-10 reps to start.

How to deadlift properly with a barbell: Common deadlift mistakes

Deadlifts are a tricky move to master, with plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. As such, learning how to do a deadlift with proper form is vital. Failure to do so can result in the risk of 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 (opens in new tab). 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. Even a barbell can weigh up to 20kg, making it perfect for warming up by mimicking the movement patterns with a smaller weight.

Key deadlift mistakes to avoid include: 

Not keeping a neutral spine

“Imagine a tennis ball is between your chin and chest, which will help you keep a neutral spine throughout the movement," advises Hendrick.

Lifting your heels off the ground

It’s easily done as a heavy bar can pull you forward slightly. But if you want to know how to deadlift properly with barbells,  it’s essential you keep feet glued to the ground. You’ll need to push through your feet and legs to rise up from the deadlift and get the bar off the ground. Struggling? Drop the weight. It’s always quality over quantity when it comes to barbell work.

Wearing running trainers when you deadlift

If you’re lifting substantial weight and don’t have any flat workout shoes, then take your shoes off. You don’t want any heel in your trainer forcing you forward; you need a nice stable base to work from. Take a look at our pick of the best cross training shoes if you're in need of a pair.

Woman doing a deadlift with a barbell

(Image credit: iStock)

Letting the bar stray too far forward

Go slowly and allow the bar to glide up your shins. It needs to be close to ensure you work to intended muscles. "The further away the bar is, the more your lower back works instead of your hamstrings, glutes and core,' says Hendrick.

In fact, it might even touch, so bare legs could get a little battered. To deadlift properly with barbells can mean a few bruises here and there!

Lifting your head as you lower down and rise up

Now is not the time to look in the mirror! Keep your neck in line with your spine throughout. It will feel awkward, but it could prevent injury. 

Bending your back

If you can’t brace your core and back and ensure it stays flat, drop the weight and perfect the form until you can. You will only end up injured otherwise.! And remember, it is your legs taking the brunt of the weight so make sure they stay braced, and push through the legs - not your back - to rise up.

Variation: deadlift and row

How to deadlift properly with barbells: deadlift and row variation

(Image credit: Future)

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. 

Variation: How to do a sumo deadlift

How to deadlift properly: sumo deadlift with dumbbells variation

(Image credit: Future)

If you want to target your glutes and hamstrings predominantly, this is the deadlift for you. 

  • Feet should be wider apart to start - beyond shoulder width, but not so far so it's a strain.
  • For this deadlift, the hands grasp the bar within the legs, slightly closer together than when doing a conventional deadlift. 
  • Push through the feet and legs to lift the bar off the ground, lowering into a squat as you do so. 
  • The same rules apply; push your bum back, bend your knees, keep your back flat and your neck in line with back.
  • Slowly return back to the starting position.

Variation: How to do a Romanian deadlift

How to deadlift properly: Romanian deadlift with barbell variation

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Here, we’re placing a little more emphasis on the backs of your thighs AKA your hamstrings.

  • Start with the bar in your hands in an overhand grip, hands just wider than legs on the bar.
  • Stand straight with feet shoulder width apart. Knees should be soft but unlike a conventional deadlift, you won’t be fully bending your knees. 
  • Pushing your bum back, bend forward, keeping the back flat and neck in line with back. 
  • Lower the bar down your quads and shins - at this point you should feel a real stretch in your hamstrings. Stop when the bar is midway at the shins.
  • Pushing up through your feet and legs, rise up to the start.

Variation: How to do a stiff leg deadlift

How to deadlift properly: straight leg deadlift with dumbbells variation

(Image credit: Future)

Hamstrings and calf muscles will both feel the burn with this deadlift variation. As the name suggests, legs stay ‘stiff’ or straight throughout.

  • Start standing with bar in front, hands just wider than legs, grasping the bar. 
  • Again, push hips back and lower the bar down slowly, maintaining a neutral spine and keeping your legs straight.
  • Lower the bar down to the floor, then push up to standing again.

Variation: How to do a trap bar deadlift

How to deadlift properly: trap bar variation

(Image credit: Sergio Pedemonte/Unsplash)

Ideal for beginners, this involves using the barbell that’s shaped like a hexagon. It looks awkward, but it’s far simpler than a straight bar, owing to the fact that there are actual handles indicating where your hands go! 

Using this bar also means there is less pressure on your lower back as you’re less likely to be forced forwards by the bar. The trap bar distributes the weight very evenly around your body rather than leaving it all in front of you, so it's actually easier to lift. Experienced lifters will be able to shift more weight this way. 

Maintain that flat back and neck throughout and ensure you brace your core and power up from the deadlift through your legs.

Lucy is a freelance journalist specializing in health, fitness and lifestyle. She was previously the Health and Fitness Editor across various women's magazines, including Woman&Home, Woman and Woman’s Own as well as Editor of Feel Good You. She has also previously written for titles including Now, Look, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Red and The Sun. 

She lives and breathes all things fitness; working out every morning with a mix of running, weights, boxing and long walks. Lucy is a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios. Plus, she's pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to many classes of champagne and tequila on the rocks whilst out with her friends.