This isn’t your average deadlift article.
I’m not going to talk about the standard deadlifting mistakes that you’ll find in every other post on the interwebs. If you lift, you probably already know that it’s important to “maintain a neutral spine” and “not round your back” when you deadlift.
So instead, I’m going to list some of the common mistakes that even experienced lifters make and what to do instead.
Here they are, in no particular order…
1) Not Using A Proper Grip
Lining up your grip with the wrong part of your palm will drastically reduce the amount of weight you can move because it inhibits your ability to produce tension and torque in your shoulders and upper back.
A common grip error that I see is lining up the bar with middle of the palm. When you do this, it causes you over-flex your wrists. Then as you lift, you lose the wrist flexion and the bar starts to slide down your palm, weakening your grip and reducing the tension in your upper bak and shoulders.
I like to teach the hook grip for deadlifts because it allows you to handle a heavier load, it prevents the bar from sliding, it makes it easier to create torque on the bar which stabilizes the upper back and shoulders, and it transfers to other lifts — like the clean and snatch.
To form a hook grip…
- Line the bar up along the junction between your palm and the base of your fingers (where your calluses form).
- Wrap your thumb around the bar.
- Then wrap your fingers over your thumb.
(If you don’t want to use a hook grip, then at least follow step 1 and line the bar up with the right part of your palm.)
2) Forcefully Retracting The Shoulder Blades Instead Of Creating Tension In The Lats
This is one of the most common mistakes that I see. Instead of stabilizing the upper back and shoulders by screwing the head of the humerus into the back of its socket and creating tension the upper back muscles, lifters often pull their shoulder blades together.
Forcefully retracting your scapulae won’t really have a negative effect if you’re lifting really light weight, but as soon as you start to increase weight, it becomes impossible to hold this position. With a heavy weight, your scapulae will protract (pull forward) and this will kill the tension and stability in your upper back and prevent you from lifting heavier.
Rather than forcefully pulling your shoulder blades together think about stabilizing your shoulders by screwing your hands into the bar or “breaking the bar” (which in turn screws your shoulders into the their sockets). Then stiffen your upper back muscles, especially your lats. To do so, it can be helpful to think about "pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets" and "squeezing a tennis ball with your armpits."
3) Failing To Brace And Create Tension During The Setup
Setup is key.
So many people just walk up to the bar and pick it up without taking the time to create full body tension and eliminate slack from their bodies.
Doing so will seriously limit the amount of weight that you can lift and will also increase your risk of injury.
To protect your back and maximize the amount of force you can produce, you have to consciously brace and create tension in your body.
One of the best ways to setup for a deadlift is to organize your spine, pelvis and shoulders, and create full body tension BEFORE bending over to grasp the bar.
Here’s how to setup…
- Walk your shins up to the bar so that the bar bisects the centre of your feet. Position your feet directly under your hips.
- Screw your feet into the floor to create torque and squeeze your glutes to set your pelvis into position.
- Pull your shoulders into the back of their sockets and externally (outwardly) rotate your arms.
- Pull your ribcage down so that it’s balanced over your pelvis and brace your abs to hold it there.
- Keeping your back flat, push your hamstrings back and hinge forward at your hips until you can touch the bar.
- Grip the bar (see section 1 above) and screw your hands into the bar creating an external (outward) rotation torque. This will ensure that your shoulders are still set in a stable position.
- Actively create tension in your hips, hamstrings, back, and lats without changing the position of your spine.
- Without releasing any of the tension that you’ve created, use the bar to pull your body into the start position by lowering your butt slightly. Keep your shins as vertical as possible and ensure that the bar is positioned directly under your shoulder blades.
4) Failing To Pull The Slack Out Of The Bar
Another common mistake — also related to creating tension — is jerking the bar off the floor.
Usually there’s a little space between the bar and the top of the holes in the plates. It’s important to eliminate this gap before pulling the bar off the floor.
If you pull the bar off the floor before eliminating the slack, you lose tension in your spinal erectors and lats. The end result is often forward flexion of your spine — or rounding of your back — which reduces the amount of weight you can lift and puts you at an increased risk of injury.
Instead of jerking the bar off the floor, take the slack out of the bar during your set-up. As you drop your hips into position on your set up, pull up on the bar just slightly and use it to “pull" your body down into position. As you do so, you’ll feel the bar click into contact with the top of the plate holes — hold this position for a brief moment before actually lifting the bar off the floor.
5) Squatting The Bar
A deadlift is a hinge, not a squat.
Squatting the bar is another common error related to setup. I see a lot of people starting their deadlift from a “squat position” with their hips too low, torso upright, lower back hyperextended, and shoulders too far back.
This setup is problematic because it reduces your ability to create full body tension, it reduces the amount of leverage you can produce because it places your centre of gravity behind the bar, and it places greater stress on your lower back.
Instead, use the setup that I described in section 3 (above). Make sure that the bar is behind your shoulders directly underneath your shoulder blades. And also make sure that your hips are higher than your knees.
6) Bouncing The Bar Off The Floor
Bouncing the bar off the floor between reps is a common technique error and it’s essentially cheating. It also reduces the amount of force that you can produce and puts you at a greater risk of injury (see section 4 above).
Think back to elementary school physics… Remember Newton’s Third Law? It states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
If we apply Newton’s Third Law to this common deadlifting error, when you bounce the bar off the floor, the floor returns the same amount of force to the bar.
So if you are initiating reps from a bounce, then you’re essentially lifting less weight and missing out on the primary benefit of the deadlift — getting really fucking strong.
If you want to reap all the benefits from deadlifting, let the bar come to a complete stop and rest on the floor between reps.
7) Hyperextending The Lower Back On Lockout
Lots of lifters finish off their deadlifts by extending their lumbar spine — or arching their lower back — instead of extending their hips. This places unnecessary stress on the lower back.
Instead, the deadlift lockout should be completed with a solid hip extension.
In other words, as you reach the standing position, use your glutes to thrust your hips forward and stand tall. Resist the urge to lean back or arch your lower back.