Deadlifting: The Ultimate Guide

People both love and hate the deadlifting. There’s a whole community that looks at it as a pointless liability with a billion moving parts. Those same people tout the power clean like it’s some holy grail superpower. Others treat the deadlifting like it’s the only lift that matters. Well, to cut through the gym-bro nonsense, we’re going to take an honest look at the world’s most controversial hinge movement. We’ll break down how to do it, how not to do it, and when to do it.


What Is A Deadlift?

The beauty of the deadlift is in its simplicity. You’ve probably done 5 of them today. Picking up your cat? That’s a deadlift. Drop your wallet? That’s a deadlift. A deadlifting is nothing more than a hip hinge with the object in question on the ground. This is what separates it from, let’s say, a good morning, where the weight is on your shoulders. The primary deadlift muscles are your erectors, your gluteus muscles, and your hamstrings. You can deadlift in a variety of ways, the two most popular being “conventional” and “sumo”. The internet is full of nonsense regarding which is better. One isn’t better than the other. It depends on your comfort level which, not surprisingly, often corresponds with your limb and torso length called “levers”. So either way, you cut it, a deadlift is simply picking something off of the ground.

Basic Form

The basic form of a deadlift has a few key factors:

  • Keep your back as straight as possible
  • Tuck your shoulders back and down
  • Keep the bar close (at least midfoot)
  • Keep your torso braced, and try, as much as possible, to pick up the weight in a smooth motion, with your knees and hips coming to a locked out position around the same time.

Sounds like a lot to keep in mind, huh? Well, that’s because as natural as it is to pick something up off the ground, injuries can happen if you’re not careful.

The Steps

Here’s the basic step by step breakdown of the movement:

  • Take off your shoes. If not, wear flat sole shoes. Nobody should be deadlifting in those disgusting “Lunarlons” or “Y3”. Get serious.
  • Step up to the bar and get close. The bar should cross the middle of your foot.
  • Brace your abdomen by lightly flexing your upper and lower abs. Keep it flexed.
  • Take a deep breath, push that air against your flexed abs.
  • Reach down, grab the bar, create bar tension by pulling on the bar slightly.
  • Spine straight, shoulders retracted, and look straight
  • While gripping the bar, stand up straight, squeeze your butt cheeks at the top.
  • Take another deep breath, and lower the bar in a controlled motion.

Frequency and Volume: Hypertrophy

How many times you deadlift is left primarily up to the individual’s goals. If you’re a bodybuilder, naturally, you’re going to be using it as a primary posterior chain stimulus to build a back or leg routine off of. Your aim is back, glute, and hamstring hypertrophy. So twice a week with sub-fatigue volume is sufficient with enough rest. This is a classic bodybuilding model. For example:

  • Monday: Deadlift 4 sets of 6-10
  • Tuesday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Arms or Rest
  • Thursday: Deadlift 4 sets of 6-10

Frequency and Volume: Power

If you’re trying to build strength like a Bulgarian lifter, you’re largely going to be greasing the groove and working with percentages or Rated Perceived Exertion. This means you’ll likely visit the lift more often but with lower reps and higher intensity. This method is meant to keep your body from being too fatigued. It is the exact opposite of bodybuilding philosophy. If you exhaust your body to the point where it takes a week to recover, you’re not going to make much strength gains in time for a competition or a meet. It might look like this:

  • Monday: Focus on Deadlift 3 sets of 3
  • Tuesday: Bench Press
  • Wednesday: Focus on Squat, Deadlift with 65% of Monday’s weight for 2 sets of 3
  • Thursday: Overhead Press and Bench Press
  • Friday: Work up to a heavy Deadlift set of 3 reps using 5% more weight than Monday

As you can see, the powerlifting philosophy has your lifting more weight, for fewer reps, but more frequently.

Read Also: How to Relieve Sore Muscles After Work

Trust us, German Volume Training on the deadlift is not very smart. Ask any Physical Therapist. But neither are heavy singles once a month. There’s a goldilocks sweet spot. As long as you’re smart about it, you should progress nicely on this lift. Don’t lift with your ego. Don’t be the guy yelling and slamming plates. There’s always someone waiting to warm up with that max you screamed your lungs out doing. So be patient. Trust the numbers. Trust your body. Be humble. Live to lift another day.