Deadlifts 101

Conventional Barbell Deadlift End

Without a doubt, deadlifts are one of the most effective exercises you can do. In fact, deadlifts and squats typically fight over the title “King Of Exercises”. That’s because they both work pretty much the entire body. You can handle huge amounts of weight on these, and you can gain strength pretty easily. In this article, Deadlifts 101, we will look at deadlifts, how to do them correctly, and some popular variations. Finally, we’ll show you how to put this great exercise into your routine. Ready to pull some serious weight? Then let’s jump in!

Anatomy: Muscles Worked By Deadlifts

Let’s look at the muscles worked by Deadlifts. These are:


  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Inner Thigh
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves – Both the soleus and gastrocnemius
  • Lower Back – The erector spinae, the muscles that give you that impressive “Christmas Tree” lower back.
  • Traps
  • Rhomboids (Upper inner back)
  • Abs
  • Obliques
  • Arms – Deadlifts involve the biceps, forearms, and triceps. 


No doubt you can see why this exercise is so highly regarded. That’s why Deadlifts should be a foundation movement that never leaves your routine. 

How To Perform Deadlifts Correctly

Before we get into anything else, let’s establish how to do the deadlift correctly. This is a “dead weight” exercise. That means that your rep starts from a dead stop on the floor. 

Here’s How To Do Deadlifts:

Step # 1: The Setup

  1. Stand with the middle of the foot under the bar. Don’t let your shins touch it just yet. Your heels should be hip-width apart and your toes should be pointed out about 15 degrees.
  2. Grip the bar by bending over without bending your legs. Use a shoulder-width grip. There should be no slack in your form. Your whole body should be tight. 
  3. You can use an overhand grip, or one overhand and one underhand. Your arms should be vertical when looking from the front.
  4. Drop into position by bending your knees. Now is when your shins should touch the bar. Keep the bar at the middle of your foot. 
  5. Make sure your back is straight, and your chest is high. Stay tight, and flex your lats. Do not change your position. The bar still stays over the middle of your feet, and your shins are against the bar. 

Step # 2: The Pull

  1. Take a big breath, hold it, and pull the bar up. The bar should touch your legs as you pull. Don’t shrug or lean back at the top. Lock your knees, hold, and tense for a second or two. 
  2. Reset your form. No slack, get tight, and tense your lats.

Step # 3: The Return

  1. Return the bar to the floor by unlocking your hips and knees first. Then lower the bar under control by moving your hips back while keeping your legs almost straight. 
  2. When the bar is past your knees, you can bend your legs more. The bar will land over the middle of your feet.  
  3. The negative phase should take 4 seconds to complete, there’s a lot of benefit to this part of the rep.
  4. Next, take a deep breath and reset your form.
  5. Grab the bar, take out the slack in your form, get tight, and tense your lats. Start your next rep.


Performance Tips For Deadlifts

As noted, start from a dead stop, pull up, and return the bar slowly and under control. Simple, right? One of my biggest pet peeves is the guys that, at the top of the rep, let the bar drop to the floor so hard it practically breaks the foundation of the building. They hang on to the bar and use momentum and bounce to help them get the next rep. You can see their whole body shake when the bar hits the floor. It literally hurts to watch. 


Unless you’re training solely to see how much weight you can pull, make the most of the entire rep. As noted, the negative phase of the rep provides too much benefit to waste and should take about 4 seconds to perform. Unless you’re going strictly for pull strength, never do half a rep, and do not use momentum to cheat yourself out of the benefits of a full rep!

Deadlifts: Some Common Errors

One of the best ways to increase your Deadlift is to perfect your form. More efficient pulling means you will involve more muscles and will therefore pull heavier weights. With that in mind, here are some common errors you should avoid:

Using Too Much Weight 

Yes, this is an easy exercise to add weight to. However, avoid lifting more than you can handle in good form. Remember, perfect your form first, then add weight. 

Incorrect Foot Placement

Look down at your feet. Are they placed uniformly and correctly? If not, line them up with each other.

Letting The Bar Sit Too Far Out

If you start with the bar out too far, you’ll put too much stress on your lower back.

Letting Your Arms To Do Too Much Work

As with all exercises, you have to begin the rep with the correct muscles doing the work. The deadlift is a back exercise first and foremost. That means the arms are hooks, nothing more. 

Rounding Your Back

Don’t round your back. Good form means you keep your back straight. 


If your form seems to be an issue, go online and watch a video on the correct performance of this exercise. 


Deadlift Variations

Like many exercises, there are several Deadlift variations. Some of these make Deadlifts a little more user-friendly, while others are little more than an assistance exercise. 

Sumo Style Deadlifts

The Sumo-style Deadlift uses a sumo, or wider, stance. The technique is like standard Deadlifts: the bar is over your midfoot. However, the sumo stance makes your torso more upright and your hips lower. This means your lower back does not work as much, yet your quads work more. 

Trap Bar Deadlifts

A trap bar is a hexagonally shaped bar designed mainly for Shrugs. You just step inside the bar, and perform your chosen exercise from there. The Trap Bar will decrease lower back involvement and put a little more emphasis on the quads. An exercise like this might work well for someone with lower back problems. 

Romanian Deadlifts

This is a Deadlift that is similar to stiff-legged deadlifts. It’s really more of an assistance exercise than a different way to do deadlifts. They’re also a great way to stretch your hamstrings if you keep your legs straight throughout.

Top Deadlifts

An exercise like this is primarily for people with lower back or knee problems who can’t pull a heavy weight from the floor. For example, this might be someone who’s had a lower back fusion, or someone with other back problems. 


You do Top Deadlifts by setting the long pins of a power rack around knee height. Then, pull from there. This allows you to pull a heavy weight with little lower back involvement. This also takes some of the benefits out of the movement because you’re taking the lower body out of it. Yet, when you’re talking about lumbar fusion, this variation is one you can actually do. 


The other reason to do Top Deadlifts is to work any weak links in your range of motion. This version is commonly called Rack Pulls. In this case, you can set the pins anywhere your pull is weak, and focus directly on that portion of the range of motion. 

Other Variations

This includes using something other than a bar to do your Deadlifts. Most of us use a 7-foot Olympic bar inside a Power Rack, but you can use dumbbells, kettlebells, low cables, or even resistance bands. 

Assistance Exercises

Assistance exercises are designed to help, or assist, you in developing strength in an exercise. In this case, we may want to use exercises that will assist us in perfecting our Deadlift. 

Here’s a list of exercises you can use in your routine as desired:

  • Rack Pulls – We talked about this in the section on Top Deadlifts. Usually, you’ll set a second set of pins above the first, creating a weak-link segment of the ROM to work in. 
  • Romanian Deadlifts
  • Good Morning – This is a direct lower back exercise that uses lighter weight. Feel free to replace them with regular stiff-legged deadlifts.
  • Glute-Ham Raise
  • Kettlebell Swing
  • Leg Curl 
  • Barbell Roll-Out – This movement works the midsection and involves the lats. 
  • Pull-Up – A back exercise that should be a standard in your routine. 


You can work these into your routine by determining your weak points in the Deadlift and adding 2-3 exercises on Pull Day. Plan on 3 sets in the 4-8 rep range. Don’t get carried away on these, adding too much work can lead to overtraining. 

Example Routine

It should go without saying that Deadlifts should be your first exercise, after warming up, on Pull Day. No matter how you set up your routine, it’s standard to have a Pull, or Back and Biceps Day. If you use a full-body routine, you can either start with your heaviest exercise, and work down based on the poundage used, or you can alternate Deadlifts with Squats.


For example, let’s say you use the most weight on squats, followed by deadlifts, followed by the bench press.

Here’s how that would look:


Squats – 3 sets x 8-12 reps

Deadlifts – 3 sets x 8-12 reps

Bench Press – 3 sets x 8-12 reps

Overhead Press – 2 sets x 8-12 reps

EZ Curls – 2 sets x 8-12 reps

EZ Extensions – 2 sets x 8-12 reps


Performance Notes

Feel free to add a few sets and feel free to use intensity techniques. Rest-Pause works great in this case.


If you prefer to alternate, and you do a 3 days a week full body like the example above, alternate Squats and Deadlifts every other workout. So, Day #1  could be Squats, Day #2 could be Deadlifts, Day #3 Squats, and so on. 

Example Pull Routine

Here’s an example of a routine that might be used on a 3-Day Split program:

  • Deadlifts – 4 sets – After warmups, use your heaviest weight for 4-6 reps. As you do your sets, only drop weight as needed. Feel free to use the rest-pause technique to help you hit your reps. Optional: a 5th set with moderate weight and higher reps. 
  • Pull-ups – 30 reps over as many sets as it takes. If you can do this in one set without failing, keep going until you hit failure. Use a fairly wide overhand grip, a complete range of motion, and no momentum. 
  • If you can’t do Pull-ups, replace them with Lat Pulldowns.
  • Bent Rows – 3 sets of 8 reps. Feel free to use rest-pause if needed. 


Performance Notes

This approach is just one example. Rest-Pause is optional but can help you hit your reps. Deadlifts should be performed under complete control up and down. Remember, there’s a lot of benefit to the negative portion of any rep. As noted, use a complete range of motion on Pull-ups. Use the back, not the biceps. Remember, your arms are hooks, nothing more. On Bent Rows, your reps should be explosive up, hold, and squeeze at the top, lower slowly. 


If you’re working deadlifts hard, you need to make sure you’re eating enough quality food. You need to be sure your diet is high in protein, and complex carbs. I advocate at least 1g of protein per pound of body weight, evenly spaced over several meals. I also suggest taking in 50% of your daily carbohydrates in the hours surrounding your workout. 


Your cornerstone Stack should be protein powder, creatine, a pre-workout, and a multi-vitamin. That’s just for starters. You can add things like BCAAs, EAAs, and any other product that supports your goals. Examples may include a test booster or prohormones

For example, I suggest the following

Protein Powder: Hi-Tech Precision Protein

Creatine: Condemned Labz Creatine Monohydrate

Pre-Workout: 5% Nutrition 5150

Multi: AllMax Vita-Stack

Prohormone: Hi-Tech Halodrol

PCT: 5% Nutrition Post Gear


In Deadlifts 101, we have seen that Deadlifts are a great exercise that should be in every routine. Work these hard, keep your nutrition, supplements, and recovery in check, and you will see serious results. And don’t forget to shop for all your supplement needs!

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