Deadlifts? They’re awesome. They work all the major muscle groups and power up your strength so that you’re pretty much gonna look like this guy:
Or, you know, close enough.
I mean, there’s nothing like picking up a heavy-ass object, before putting it down again. It’s primal, it’s satisfying - it’s almost better than sex (almost). If you want to get stronger, beastlier, or if you just want to help old ladies with their grocery bags more often, you need to deadlift.
However, now for the annoying bit: There are all kinds of deadlifts, and the ones you perform depends on your build and your goals.
So how do you go about choosing your deadlifts, and what’s the right way to lift the barbells? How do you refine your form?
And what gear do you need?
Beast Gear has got your back. In this guide, we’re going to take a look at all you need to know in order to get your deads bang-on, and get the most out of your training.
Okay, so you might not look exactly like the Hulk after a few deadlifts. But you might begin to look like Captain America.
That’s right, Hollywood actor Chris Evans got ripped for Captain America by performing lots of deadlifts.
There are numerous benefits to performing deadlifts, as we're about to find out. For example - get this - deadlifts will also improve your posture. Just by picking something up and putting it down again. AND they’re cheap and easy!
If you’re here to build up your strength and size, yes, deadlifts will help you get bigger. Much bigger. They work all the major muscle groups (more than any other type of exercise), and they work both your upper and your lower body.
Your grip strength will increase, and you’ll also notice that your real-life lift strength will improve. Heavy shopping will no longer present a problem, and neither will moving house!
And just in case you were worried, deadlifts are super duper safe. There’s no worry that the weight will pin you down, and if you do get into a bit of a scary situation - just drop the weight and wait for the bang.
Let's talk about how to get in the right position for lifting properly.
As a general rule of thumb, you should adopt the same stance that you would for a vertical jump. In this position, your body produces a lot of vertical force, while for deadlifts you produce vertical force to shift the barbell from the ground to hip height.
So shake your body and loosen up. Forget the deadlifts for now but close your eyes and get ready to jump as high as you can.
Just before you bend your legs and jump, take a look at your feet. They should be directly below your hips.
This is your deadlift stance-width. You might go a bit wider or a bit narrower eventually, but this is a good starting point.
If you’re tempted to go with a squat stance instead? Don’t. Your feet should be hip-width apart at the most, and not shoulder-width apart. The squat stance is for squats, not for deads, and will just make your life a lot harder.
That said, you might want to try the …
Sumo deadlifts got their name because their stance looks a lot like a sumo wrestler’s stance. It’s much wider than the one mentioned above, but it all comes down to personal choice.
One key benefit of the sumo stance is that your spine is more upright, which results in less shearing force on your lumbar spine. It’s also going to be anatomically better for some of you. Moreover, it will actually improve the way you do the conventional deadlift.
The key to performing this stance is having vertical shins. This means they make a 90-degree angle with the floor at the start of the lift.
However, it’s not for everyone. It typically suits those with a ‘squatter’ body type who have thicker hips and legs. If you’re taller and lankier, stick to the conventional stance above.
There are two key aspects to consider here:
Bend down and grab the bar in a natural way without over-thinking it. You want to end up in a position which is as narrow as possible without forcing your knees to collapse inwards, and without creating friction between your arms and thighs during the pull.
Be careful, though - if you grip too wide, you’ll be creating more work for yourself.
The trick is to slide your arms across your thighs as you lift. If there is uncomfortable rubbing between your arms and thighs, you’re a tad too narrow.
There are three main grip styles to consider:
Overhand grip is the natural grip you use when you grab the bar without thinking. This is fine for starting out, but as your lifts get heavier your grip will fall behind the strength of the pulling muscles.
Mixed grip is a better option because the bar can’t open up your hands. As gravity pulls it down, it rolls to open one hand, but at the same time, it rolls towards the palm of the other hand.
With the mixed grip, do not grab the bar too ‘deep’ into the palms. It will end up rolling down into your fingers. Instead, grab the barbell so that it sits approximately in-line with the base of your fingers. Experienced lifters should have a good set of calluses at the base of the fingers which can help you line it up.
For the hook grip, you need to use an overhand grip. This time around, though, you 'pin' your thumb against the bar with your fingers, rather than having your thumb on top of your fingers. In theory, this allows you to lift heavier loads. Some lifters prefer the fact that both hands are in the same orientation, so the risk of imbalances is eliminated.
However, the hook grip is extremely uncomfortable - and pretty painful. You can get used to it, so the best thing to do is to give it a try and see how you feel.
Real beasts always put form before ego and lift properly. The mantra should be, if you can’t lift it with proper form - don't lift it. Work on your technique using a lighter weight.
To get into a safe and correct position to perform the deadlift, we need to follow a set-up routine. This is essentially a repetitive pattern which we perform before every lift, priming our body for the movement and getting us into position to execute the lift safely.
There are several ways to do this, and the two most popular are presented here. Neither is better than the other, and it’s entirely a matter of personal preference. Play around with them.
Set the feet with the bar 2-3 cm from the shins.
In this position, the hips are higher and the exercise is more hip dominant.
For this one you need to begin by setting your feet with the bar 2-3 cm from the shins.
It’s vital to stay ‘tight’ so that form is maintained throughout the lift. Think about the barbell being full of tension, and that you’re pulling that tension into your body.
If you lift without staying tight, you may pull the bar in a jerky movement, which can cause the back to round and increase the risk of injury. You’ll also not be able to lift as much. Beasts keep it smooth!
Begin by gripping the bar as hard as you can.
Feel the tension through your body. Feel it in your shoulders, which are back and down. Feel it in your lats which are engaged; in your core which is braced, and in your hamstrings which are active.
For the deadlift, it’s important to take a deep breath into the stomach - not the chest. This helps you to brace the core and the spine, making the movement safer. Hold that breath and braced core throughout the exercise.
If you need to take a breath, do it at the top or bottom of the lift, never during the lift itself.
If it’s your first time picking up a barbell, you might be a tad nervous. It’s understandable. The most important thing when it comes to actually performing a deadlift is not to overthink it.
Yes, pay attention to your body and ensure you set up correctly, but with time this will become second nature.
Think about what your body is doing first and foremost. Don’t think about the barbell. If you get your body right, the barbell will travel where you want it to. If you think about the bar, your setup will get messed up, your form will go out of the window and the risk of injury will increase.
Assuming you’ve set up correctly, and have tension throughout your body, you are ready to pull.
To start, drive up, pushing the floor away from you. Keeping the chest high will help maintain a stiff spine, whilst keeping the shoulders back and down will help you engage the lats.
Extend your knees and hips while keeping your core braced and your back straight.
Be aggressive, grip hard and lift forcefully.
At the top of the lift your hips, spine and knees need to be in a straight line. I find it helpful to engage the glutes hard at this point (imagine trying to grip a coin between your bum cheeks).
Do not hyperextend the hips and lower back to an extreme - unless you want an injury.
Think “hips forward, spine neutral” at the top of the lift. This helps you to engage the glutes without overdoing the extension with the lower back.
So you’ve picked it up - awesome, you’re halfway there.
Now it’s time to put it down again. Yup, the exercise isn’t over yet, champ.
You need to lower the bar with the same control and attention to form as the lifting phase.
Sometimes, especially after a particularly heavy rep, it’s fine to drop the bar. But generally it’s better to lower the barbell under control because otherwise you’re missing out on lots of benefits. You’ve done all the work to lift it, so why miss out?
Here are 2 key benefits:
To lower the bar, reverse the lift. Keep your chest up, shift the hips back until the barbell is knee height, and then bend the knees. At this point, make sure to keep the force through the feet, pushing away from the floor as you do this in a controlled fashion.
When things start to get really heavy, you might find that it’s helpful to put chalk on your hands.
Why? Chalk does two things:
This improved ability to grip means handling heavier loads is significantly more comfortable and achievable.
This leads us nicely into the next issue …
Your hands are ultimately what joins you to the bar, so it obviously follows that a strong grip is vital to achieving heavy deadlifts. The stronger your grip, the harder you’ll be able to go.
There are two main categories of grip strength - supportive grip and crushing grip.
Supportive grip is the force your grip can withstand when being pulled open. Imagine making a fist around a spring, and the spring is pushing back against your fingers, forcing open your grip.
Crushing grip is exactly what it says on the tin - imagine crushing a coke can. Yup.
It’s important to train both of these aspects. Here are the methods I prefer:
These are essentially two handles connected by a spring hinge of varying levels of stiffness. Practice 2-3 times per week. I prefer Captains of Crush
Beast Grips are thick bar adaptors for barbells, dumbbells and even cable attachments. Beast Grips thanks to a process called irradiation. Irradiation is the principle that muscles can contract harder when surrounding muscles also contract. They are ‘assisted’ by their neighbouring muscles.
Let's not get too sciencey here, but basically, when you grip a thicker bar, you grip harder. A harder grip amplifies the contractions in all the muscles in the arm, shoulder and upper body. Essentially, you get more juice out of your muscles.
Beast Grips instantly turn standard and Olympic barbells, dumbbells, pull-up bars, and cable attachments into a thick bar. So instead of spending thousands on thick bars, just wrap a pair Beast Grips around any piece of equipment you want!
Simply hold a deadlift in the top position for 20 seconds. Choose a weight which you cannot hold any longer. Rest for several minutes and repeat for 3-4 sets at the end of a deadlift session.
Increase the weight when you can hold the top position of the lift for more than 20 seconds.
Wanna maximise your effort in the gym and go longer and harder? You need lifting straps. This section will take a look at what straps are, why you should use them - and when you shouldn’t use them - as well as what to look for when buying some.
Weight lifting straps assist in holding barbells or dumbbells in your hands. They allow you to create more grip, tension and torque on the bar so that you can focus all of your attention on pulling the bar, rather than struggling to hold onto it.
Straps wrap around the wrist and the barbell to ‘lock’ you into position.
Lifting straps essentially stop the bar rolling down your fingers in a conventional grip and allow you to apply more torque and tension to the bar. I love lifting straps and I’ve covered them in more detail here
You can even perform a mixed grip with straps if you prefer.
Sometimes, your grip will prevent you from lifting more weight. This is where straps come in. They give your grip a ‘break.’ That said, it’s really important that you train the grip and don’t rely on straps all the time.
However, when used correctly, straps increase your grip on the bar, allowing you to continue to train when fatigue or sweat would usually cut your session short. Boom.
Straps allow you to train harder, heavier and longer as your grip strength is no longer the weakest link.
Think about it: when lifting heavy, the point of failure is very rarely due to the targeted muscle group. The back, legs and shoulder muscles can withstand a far greater load than our grip strength.
Let’s say you’re performing weighted chin-ups after some rows and deadlifts. Your back and arms may feel fresh after 4 reps, but your grip has already taken a beating.
So what you need to do is wrap some straps around the bar and blast through an extra few reps of chins. The same goes for hanging leg raises.
Ever reached a point where you can’t increase weight or reps for several weeks? Sucks, dude.
This is where straps come in. Straps can help you to overcome the plateau, allowing you to instantly lift more weight by taking the strain away from your hands and forearms. Thus you can overload the muscles that matter and push through your sticking point.
As you learn to lift and gain strength, your grip strength will naturally improve. However, there will there come a time when the smaller muscles of the hands and forearms can’t keep up with the big lifting muscles in the legs, back and shoulders. This is when you need straps.
Straps are best for lifts like deadlifts and rows but are also great for weighted chin-ups and pull-ups.
Here are some examples of good use of straps:
As great as straps are, you don’t always need to use them.
If you use straps for every workout, your lifts will obviously get heavier, but as your strength in the target muscles improves, your grip strength falls further behind. This isn’t cool, guys.
Use straps consciously when you need that extra ‘boost’. For example, use them to push through a plateau and reach a new personal best. Then stop using them, drop the weight back down and build up again without straps … then use them again when you reach another plateau.
It’s a rinse and repeat kinda process and you’ll soon get into a rhythm.
Weight lifting straps are available in a variety of materials, lengths and widths. The most common straps are cotton and leather:
Cotton is a really comfortable material for a strap that offers extra padding. Cotton breaks in pretty quickly and cotton straps are my top pick. They’re grippier, absorb sweat better and don’t bend out of shape easily.
Leather is probably more popular than cotton but it’s not the best when it comes to sweat absorption. Moreover, some versions are softer than others. Some are pretty tough and therefore take longer to bed in.
On the other hand, leather straps are stress-proof and super elastic.
Whichever material you go for, the wider and longer the straps are, the better. Why? Because they give you more to grip on to, and give more surface contact with the bar, allowing greater potential to create torque and tension.
Beast Gear has acquired a lot of knowledge about straps and distilled it into the development of our very own beastly lifting straps.
We’ve upgraded traditional straps by injecting the 100% cotton straps with our Gel Grips so you can grip harder and lift heavier. The addition of our extra thick wrist padding means you’ll also be lifting in comfort without digging into your wrists as is often the case with other straps.
Lifting straps allow you to lift heavier for more reps, for longer. Nothing replaces a strong grip, but lifting straps assist you to reach your lifting potential. Deploy straps when you need them to get the most out of them, and use them as a specific tool to hit heavy lifts, increase volume and break through plateaus.
Give our heavy duty lifting straps a try and appreciate the strength gains that this simple but genius piece of kit will give you.
With trap bar deads, you work with a hexagonal-shaped barbell, and you stand in the middle of the hexagon - as opposed to behind the traditional straight barbell.
Trap bar deads are a tad ‘squattier’ than your traditional straight barbell and they put more emphasis on your quads. They also put less stress on your lower back (awesome for anyone who has bulging discs or even scoliosis), they’re super easy to learn (the movement is less technical), and there’s no hyperextension. If you’ve got back issues, they’re highly recommended.
Check out the Beast Gear guide on how to trap bar deadlift.
Rack pulls (aka rack deadlifts) are performed either with the barbell supported on the safety bars of a squat rack, or on blocks.
Elevating the bar like this makes the movement easier, and hence allows you to lift more weight.
The height of the bar depends on the purpose of the lift. Elevating just a few inches can spare the lower back, whilst preserving the lower portion of the lift, making it not too dissimilar to a deadlift from the floor.
On the other hand, pulls from above the knee can be great for practicing the top portion of the movement and improving the lockout position.
Deficit deads are performed with the bar on the floor, but you stand on an elevating surface such as a block or a bumper plate. This has the effect of increasing the range of motion and can be helpful for those who need to improve the lower portion of the pull. This is an advanced variation.
Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) are great for everyone, from beginners to advanced lifters. This movement starts from the top of the lift. I.e. holding the bar across the thighs.
Get to the top either by deadlifting from the floor or by setting the bar at just below thigh height on blocks, or the hooks of a power rack.
Keep a straight, extended back and braced core. Bend the knees slightly (just unlocked) and hinge back at the hips, keeping your weight in your heels until you feel the tension in your hamstrings. Then, reverse the movement and engage the glutes at the top position.
This variation is superb for hamstring strengthening.
Stiff-legged deadlifts (SDLs) are almost identical to RDLs, except the movement starts and ends on the floor. As such, it’s far more challenging, requires greater mobility, and hence is a more advanced variation which carries greater risk of injury. Do not round your back forward as you move your stomach down. You need to keep your back straight, otherwise you risk injury.
It’s also worth mentioning that anyone with lower back problems should avoid SDLs.
The snatch grip deadlift does what it says on the tin - it’s a deadlift performed with a snatch grip.
Because your hands are further apart like in the snatch, the range of motion is significantly greater. You have to travel further to the ground to put the bar down, and the bar has to travel further up your thighs before it gets to the lock out position. This makes the snatch grip dead a great variation for improving both the lockout and the pull from the floor.
To perform the snatch grip deadlift, either use the hook grip or, a set of lifting straps.
The deadlift is a fantastic all-rounder that builds strength throughout your whole body. It benefits everyone from runners to wrestles, and should arguably feature in some form in any training programme.
Deadlifts aren’t as simple as picking up the barbell and putting it down again, but neither do they have to be complex or intimidating. By following the steps outlined above, you can nail your form and drill these patterns down so that they become second nature.
Beast. Your. Goals.