How to Do a Deadlift: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

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Target: Full body, hamstrings, quads, glutes, lower back, radius

Necessary equipment: Weightlifting

Level: Advanced

Deadlift is a great way to build nice legs and backside. In the deadlift, you lift the weight from the ground to thigh level using mainly your leg and hip muscles, but with the support of most of the major muscle groups in your body. Deadlift is usually performed with a barbell or a stationary barbell but can be performed with barbells. This is a specialty of weightlifters that should not be overlooked in general weightlifting exercises. To build muscle and functional fitness, make the deadlift part of your strength training workouts.


The deadlift uses the hamstrings (back of the thigh), quadriceps (front of the thigh), glutes (buttock), and lower back (upright muscle). The stabilizing muscles of the core, abs, shoulders, and upper back also come into play. It is highly regarded for building muscle mass, not only for bodybuilders but also for those who want to boost metabolism or prevent muscle loss due to aging. You can use the deadlift to build overall strength as well as core strength and stability. The deadlift is one of the best exercises to mimic the lift you do throughout the day, so it’s a functional exercise. By learning the deadlift with good form, you’ll be able to lift and carry less risky items in everyday life.

Step by step instructions

Choose a light weight dumbbell to start with.

  1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart (or no more) with your toes under the barbell. Feet point straight forward or may be slightly turned outward. The heel should be flat on the surface. As you lift, the bar will move near your shins and may even graze them. Your head (and eyes) should reflect a neutral spine position – no significant upward or downward curvature, although a slight upward tilt is not uncommon or unsafe with effort.
  2. Stabilize your abs by contracting them.
  3. Squat down, bending at the knees. The drop-down form is similar (but not the same) to the squat, with the back straight or slightly arched and not rounded at the shoulders or spine.
  4. Grasp the bar just outside the knee line with an overhand or mixed grip.
  5. Raise the bar by pushing up with your legs from the knees. Exhale on exertion. Be careful not to raise the front hips so that the trunk moves forward and the back becomes rounded. Don’t try to pull the bar up with your arms. Arms stay tight as you grip the bar as your legs push up. Consider the legs and shoulders moving upward at the same time as the hips as a point of balance.
  6. The bar almost grazes the shin and is across the thigh when you reach your maximum height. Pull your shoulders back as much as you can without leaning back.
  7. Lower the dumbbells to the floor with the opposite motion to make sure your back is straight again.
  8. Repeat for your desired number of repetitions.
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Common mistake

Avoid these mistakes so you can get the most out of this exercise with less risk of strain or injury.

Round back or shoulders

Keep your back straight, without rounding in your shoulders and spine. You will be hinged at the hip. Keeping that hip down, push your butt out. Contract your abs to support your straight back.

Lift by hand or back

The key to beginner lifting is lifting with your legs and hips, not with your arms, shoulders or back – although their stabilizing role is important. Keep your arms straight throughout the lift. Bending your arms can strain your biceps.

Too heavy

When starting out, work with light weights until your body is satisfactory. A personal trainer or gym trainer can check your correct form. Practice in front of a mirror if necessary.

Partial elevator

With light weights, you can do repetitions where you lower the barbell to your shins or even the floor and then straighten back without releasing your hands into the bar. This is not really a deadlift repeat. It is better to practice the full lift and lower to the floor and then start again from a standing position.

The bar is too far from the body

The bar must go close to the body for maximum efficiency and safety.

Modifications and Variations

Deadlifts can be performed in a variety of ways to suit your goals and fitness level. Some advanced variations may be available with alternate foot and handle positions.

These are the possible grips:

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  • The standard hand grip has both hands with the palm facing down. If you can see the back of your hand, that’s an overhand grip. This is suitable for lighter weights.
  • The mix grip has one hand grasping the bar with the palm under the bar (lying on your back) and the other hand with the palm above the bar (proportional). Mixed forehand grip for heavier weights. This grip gives you peace of mind that heavier weights won’t slip out of your hands.

The handle can be wider or narrower on the bar. A common starting position is the fist perpendicular to the point of the shoulder with the arm extended straight down. A slightly wider racquet may suit some people, and the wide-grip deadlift is a valid variation. The standard grip uses the quadriceps (instead of the hips and back with a wide grip) and is better suited for heavier lifts.

Need a modification?

For all exercises, when you are new to the deadlift you should only lift light weights or even barbells without adding weights. Have a coach coach you and give you feedback on your form. Only when you do it properly should you start gaining weight.

If you can’t use the barbell or the bar weight is too difficult, you can try lighter weights or upright barbells. You grasp the object with both hands and hinge at your hips to lift the object, as with a barbell.

Want to join a challenge?

You can improve with the weight you use in the deadlift as you perfect your form. When you do it right, you can experiment with which grip works best for you. There are also several variations you can use to change your habits.

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With the sumo deadlift variation, the feet are spread wide but the arms are still lowered vertically, now just inside the knees.

Perform the Romanian deadlift with your legs straighter, lower the dumbbells from thigh height to just below the knees, then repeat. It is especially good for strengthening the hip elongates and stabilizing the spine.

You can also perform the Romanian deadlift with the foot off, which can mimic more realistic scenarios of picking up and moving heavy objects.

Safety and Precautions

Deadlift is a weight lifting exercise. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if it’s right for you if you have any injuries or conditions affecting your legs, knees, ankles, hips, back, shoulder or wrist. Make sure you get the right training to do the right technique. Use light weights to start and stop if you feel pain. During pregnancy, it’s best to use lighter weights, and you may want to use a broader sumo stance.


Incorporate this and similar moves into one of these popular exercises:

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