4 Secrets to Mastering the Deadlift

male athlete in the gym preparing for a deadlift

A deadlift is one of the most challenging lifts you can do. | iStock.com

Of the three big compound lifts, the deadlift is often the most challenging — and yet, the most fun at the same time. It’s a very primal exercise; and despite its simplicity, is one of the most efficient and effective ways to build lean muscle. At its core, a deadlift is simply picking up heavy weight. That’s all.

But along with squats, you won’t find a more worthwhile, versatile, and effective lift. That’s what makes deadlifts so important, and yet, challenging at the same time.

For those getting started in weightlifting or looking to move from dumbbells and machines to barbells and plates, the deadlift can be intimidating — and rightfully so. Typically, when you see people doing the deadlift, it looks painful. There is a lot of straining, grunting, and sweat. But that’s how it’s supposed to be when you get right down to it.

For those of you who are having problems either getting started with the deadlift or with the actual lift itself, we’ve compiled a short list of secrets that will get you on the right track. Read on to see four secrets to mastering the deadlift. Hopefully, this will make things easier.

1. It’s all about form


Form is most definitely key. | Thinkstock.com

Most beginners make the mistake of thinking that it’s all about how much weight you’re able to actually get off of the floor. In the immortal words of Dwight Schrute, “false.”

The most important thing, especially for beginners, is to get your form down. If you develop bad form and continue to lift using what you’ve grown accustomed to, you’re going to hurt yourself, and possibly even find yourself with asymmetrical muscle growth. With that said, if you’ve never worked on your form, now is the time to start. And if you’re just getting started as a lifter, nail down your form before anything else.

Stronglifts may be your best resource for nailing it down.

2. There are many ways to do it

Man holding a barbell

There’s no one way to do this exercise. | iStock.com

The deadlift is an incredibly versatile exercise — meaning there are several ways that you can do it. We’ve even put together a short list of lifts you can do in lieu of a traditional deadlift if you find yourself unable to access barbells.

But in terms of variation, you should experiment with many different holds and bars to see what you are the most comfortable with, or even what you find most challenging. You should probably start out with the conventional deadlift, and then mix in some sumo lifts, or try using a trap bar. As you progress, you can even throw some chains and bands into your routine to see how it goes. Also, try different holds and various ways of staggering your feet. Like the squat, there are a lot of ways to deadlift.

3.  Hips, shoulders, knees, and chin

man at gym

Make sure your form is correct to prevent injury. | iStock.com

Now, during the course of the lift itself, you’ll want to pay close attention to how your body reacts to pulling up the weight. This goes back to getting your form down and choosing an effective deadlift variant — some are going to be easier and smoother, others, less so.

Specifically, during the course of your lift, you’ll want to make sure a few things are happening: You’re tucking your chin to your chest, your hips and shoulders are working and moving together in a unified motion, and you’re squeezing your shoulders tight to your core. Give this a shot and see how it improves your lift. Just make sure you’re maintaining your form as you do it.

4. The mental switch

weight lifting

There’s a large mental aspect to lifting weights. | iStock.com

Don’t imagine you’re lifting — instead, imagine yourself using the bar to drive your legs through the floor. That’s a mental switch that may help you gain a psychological edge against the weight.

Lifting has a large mental component to it. Essentially, it’s just you versus the bar — versus the weight. Nothing else should matter when you’re in the gym and getting ready to attempt some reps. If you’re having trouble, or merely getting psyched out or lacking confidence, change the way you’re thinking about the lift.

Again, when it comes to the deadlift, imagine you’re trying to drill yourself through the Earth rather than pick up heavy weight. It may help you out, or it may not. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger