Perfect your deadlift technique to work tons of muscle at once

By Sara Angle

If you're new to strength training, deadlifting is one of the easiest movements to learn and incorporate into your workout-because, chances are you've performed this move before without even thinking about it. Deadlifts are an incredibly functional move, meaning you'll take this skill outside of the gym and into your life. Think grabbing your suitcase off a luggage carousel or lifting all those Amazon Prime packages.

"This exercise is also great for people who sit behind a computer all day because it creates a stronger posture," says Stephany Bolivar, CrossFit coach and personal trainer at ICE NYC. (You can also do these genius chair exercises for an office Tabata workout.)

Conventional Dumbbell Deadlift Benefits and Variations

Conventional deadlifts (demonstrated here with dumbbells by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) strengthen your entire posterior chain, including your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. You'll also engage your core throughout the movement, so it can improve core strength (and in a way more functional way than crunches do).

Learning to do this essential move correctly will help you avoid lower-back injuries not just in the gym, but when you're doing things like moving furniture or picking up a baby. (If your back isn't feelin' it, try this weird trick to prevent back pain during deadlifts.)

"It's easy to get a lower-back injury if you don't focus on the spine during this movement, or if you allow yourself to lift too heavy before you're ready," says Bolivar. It's crucial to maintain a neutral spine during this movement, which means you shouldn't be arching or curling your back at all.

If you're new to deadlifting, start out with light weights until you feel comfortable with the movement. From there, you can progressively increase the load. To scale down, don't reach the dumbbells as far down your leg. To make it more difficult, change your foot position to a staggered stance and, eventually, try a single-leg deadlift.

How to Do a Conventional Dumbbell Deadlift

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells in front of hips, palms facing thighs.

B. Squeeze shoulder blades together to keep spine in a neutral position. Inhale, first hinging at the hips then knees to lower dumbbells along the front of legs, pausing when torso is parallel to the ground.

C. Exhale and drive through the mid-foot to return to standing, maintaining a neutral spine and keeping dumbbells close to the body throughout. Fully extend hips and knees, squeezing glutes at the top.

Conventional Deadlift Form Tips

  • Keep your head in line with the rest of your spine; don't arch neck to look forward or curl chin into chest.
  • For strength, do 3 to 5 sets of 5 reps, building up to a heavier weight.
  • For endurance, do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Comments (8)

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March 23, 2018
Yes. These are really helpful and efficient techniques when you are going for dead lifts. Form is crucial as mentioned and it is recommended to have a trainer to guide you if you are a beginner. I was helped by my trainer at Steel Gym in Hyderabad and I remember him employing almost all the techniques suggested above. And it really helped me transform.
March 22, 2018
Hi Sara, Thanks for the wonderful article and video on deadlifts. How right you are, because deadlifting helped me transform from obese to a much fitter version in about a year of training. One tip that helped me and might help your readers is to lift your chest before starting the lift. So, if you are doing a barbell deadlift, you would do 5 steps, 1. stand under the bar with the bar midfoot, about an inch from your shins. 2. reach down to the bar and establish your grip. 3. move your shins forward till they touch the bar, without lowering your hips. At this point, your hips will be in the correct position for the deadlift. 4. Now lift your chest and this will automatically straighten your back in the right position to prevent back injury. 5. take a deep breath and as you said press against the floor while lifting the bar up along your shins in the most vertical line possible. This 5 step deadlift was created by Mark Rippetoe, a powerlifter and coach, and it has helped me a lot. And if it helps me at 61, it can really help all the younger and older folks out there as well. I like this deadlift set up so much, I wrote a summary here: , please let me know what you think.