Mastering the Deadlift: A Complete Guide to Perfecting your Form

Building towards strength goals? Then knowing how to deadlift is pretty much essential. The deadlift is viewed by coaches and researchers as one of the ‘big 3’ exercises for total body strength (alongside squats and bench presses). Properly done, a deadlift engages practically all your muscle groups, and builds strength throughout your body. 

Deadlifts look straightforward, but they are actually fairly complex and technical exercises. It’s important to learn how to deadlift with proper form to avoid the risk of injury. 

In this guide, you’ll learn what a deadlift is, what muscles it trains, and how to deadlift with correct form. You’ll also learn how to avoid potential injuries. 

Mastering the Deadlift: A Complete Guide to Perfecting your Form

Building towards strength goals? Then knowing how to deadlift is pretty much essential. The deadlift is viewed by coaches and researchers as one of the ‘big 3’ exercises for total body strength (alongside squats and bench presses). Properly done, a deadlift engages practically all your muscle groups, and builds strength throughout your body. 

Deadlifts look straightforward, but they are actually fairly complex and technical exercises. It’s important to learn how to deadlift with proper form to avoid the risk of injury. 

In this guide, you’ll learn what a deadlift is, what muscles it trains, and how to deadlift with correct form. You’ll also learn how to avoid potential injuries. 

What is a deadlift?

You’ve seen other people do them at the gym or at cross training sessions. Maybe you’ve even tried them yourself. But what is a deadlift, technically speaking? 

A deadlift is essentially a weightlifting exercise where a barbell (or sometimes other weights such as a hex bar or dumbbells) is lifted from the ground, until it’s at hip level. It’s commonly used in Olympic weightlifting, strongman events and similar competitions. 

There are several variations on deadlifts, including:

  • Conventional deadlift: The weight is lifted directly from the ground and returned to the ground between lifts. 
  • Romanian deadlift: The weight is lifted from mid-shin height, then returned to mid-shin height between reps. 
  • Sumo deadlift: the lifter’s legs are placed wider apart than in a conventional deadlift, with the feet pointing out to the side. 
  • Single leg deadlift: Typically uses a dumbbell or kettlebell. One leg stays on the ground, while the other lifts behind you as you tilt forward. 

What is a deadlift?

You’ve seen other people do them at the gym or at cross training sessions. Maybe you’ve even tried them yourself. But what is a deadlift, technically speaking? 

A deadlift is essentially a weightlifting exercise where a barbell (or sometimes other weights such as a hex bar or dumbbells) is lifted from the ground, until it’s at hip level. It’s commonly used in Olympic weightlifting, strongman events and similar competitions. 

There are several variations on deadlifts, including:

  • Conventional deadlift: The weight is lifted directly from the ground and returned to the ground between lifts. 
  • Romanian deadlift: The weight is lifted from mid-shin height, then returned to mid-shin height between reps. 
  • Sumo deadlift: the lifter’s legs are placed wider apart than in a conventional deadlift, with the feet pointing out to the side. 
  • Single leg deadlift: Typically uses a dumbbell or kettlebell. One leg stays on the ground, while the other lifts behind you as you tilt forward. 

What muscles do deadlifts work out?

There’s a reason that deadlifts are seen as essential by practically all fitness experts and coaches. It’s a pull and push movement which activates muscle groups throughout your body. That puts strain on your entire musculoskeletal system - which equals serious strength gains from one single, explosive movement. 

Deadlifts engage muscles throughout your body, but they particularly work your:

  • Quads (front of thigh)
  • Hamstrings (back of thigh)
  • Glutes (backside)
  • Calves (lower leg)
  • Hip flexors (front of pelvis)
  • Core (stomach)
  • Lats (mid back)
  • Traps (upper back)
  • Deltoids (shoulder)

What muscles do deadlifts work out?

There’s a reason that deadlifts are seen as essential by practically all fitness experts and coaches. It’s a pull and push movement which activates muscle groups throughout your body. That puts strain on your entire musculoskeletal system - which equals serious strength gains from one single, explosive movement. 

Deadlifts engage muscles throughout your body, but they particularly work your:

  • Quads (front of thigh)
  • Hamstrings (back of thigh)
  • Glutes (backside)
  • Calves (lower leg)
  • Hip flexors (front of pelvis)
  • Core (stomach)
  • Lats (mid back)
  • Traps (upper back)
  • Deltoids (shoulder)

Are deadlifts worth it? 5 key benefits

There are few strength training exercises that work so many muscle groups at once as a deadlift, so it’s definitely worth learning how to deadlift. Build deadlifts into your training routine and you’ll see serious results fast:

  1. Builds strength efficiently

As we’ve already seen, deadlifts engage muscle groups throughout your body. They’re a powerful method for increasing your overall strength and fitness. 

  1. Ideal cross training exercise

If you’re looking to build strength training into your cross training for other sports (be that running, football, training or anything else), deadlifts are a powerful go-to. They’ll build strength in many of the core muscle groups you rely on in other sports, and provide a super effective way of building strength fast. 

  1. Easy to learn

Although it’s important to know how to deadlift correctly, it is a relatively easy exercise to master (see below for more). 

  1. Can help manage injuries

There’s evidence that, when done correctly, deadlifts can in fact be used to manage pain and help treat back injuries - although you’ll need advice from a physio if you’re looking to use deadlifts as part of recovery. 

  1. Improves all round fitness
  • Besides increasing strength, studies show that deadlifts boost bone density, support long term health into old age, and increase resting metabolic rate (vital for weight loss).

Are deadlifts worth it? 5 key benefits

There are few strength training exercises that work so many muscle groups at once as a deadlift, so it’s definitely worth learning how to deadlift. Build deadlifts into your training routine and you’ll see serious results fast:

  1. Builds strength efficiently

As we’ve already seen, deadlifts engage muscle groups throughout your body. They’re a powerful method for increasing your overall strength and fitness. 

  1. Ideal cross training exercise

If you’re looking to build strength training into your cross training for other sports (be that running, football, training or anything else), deadlifts are a powerful go-to. They’ll build strength in many of the core muscle groups you rely on in other sports, and provide a super effective way of building strength fast. 

  1. Easy to learn

Although it’s important to know how to deadlift correctly, it is a relatively easy exercise to master (see below for more). 

  1. Can help manage injuries

There’s evidence that, when done correctly, deadlifts can in fact be used to manage pain and help treat back injuries - although you’ll need advice from a physio if you’re looking to use deadlifts as part of recovery. 

  1. Improves all round fitness
  • Besides increasing strength, studies show that deadlifts boost bone density, support long term health into old age, and increase resting metabolic rate (vital for weight loss).

How to deadlift: step by step guide

Ready to start deadlifting? Use our step by step guide to perform a conventional deadlift correctly. As mentioned above, there are plenty of variations of deadlifts and different grip positions. But start with the conventional deadlift before progressing. 

You’re going to need equipment - typically a barbell - so will need to use one at your gym (or at home if you own one). Use a barbell with large, removable weights - rather than one with smaller sized weights built onto the bar. This means you don’t need to bend down so far to grasp the bar itself. 

Choosing the right weight will depend on your existing fitness level. If you’re new to deadlifting, start low and build up the weight slowly. 

Here’s how to deadlift:

  1. Warm up: As with any exercise, you should start with a warm up, and focus on engaging the muscles you’ll use in the deadlift. 
  2. Get into position: Place the barbell on the floor. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. Your toes should be pointing outwards a little. The bar itself should be very close to your shins. 
  3. Bend: Hinge back from your hips with a bend in your knees. 
  4. Hold the bar: Grasp the bar with both hands, shoulder distance apart. Your knuckles should be facing forward. Throughout the lift, your arms should be straight. 
  5. Get ready: Now, engage your shoulders, core and back muscles. Keep a neutral (straight) spine. 
  6. The lift: Start straightening your legs, squeeze your glutes and leg muscles while driving your feet into the floor. Push your knees forward and hinge into an upright position. The bar should ‘graze’ your shins and upper thighs on the way up. 
  7. The top: Hold at the top for a couple of seconds, then lower while keeping the bar itself close to your legs. Your back should remain straight and you’re looking for a controlled hinging movement back to the starting position. 
  8. Repeat: Hold for a couple of seconds at the bottom with the weights on the ground, then repeat the lift. 

If you’re new to deadlifts, it’s definitely worth asking your gym buddy (or, better yet, a fitness coach) to spot you for your first few deadlifts. They can keep an eye out for poor form and help you correct it.

How to deadlift: step by step guide

Ready to start deadlifting? Use our step by step guide to perform a conventional deadlift correctly. As mentioned above, there are plenty of variations of deadlifts and different grip positions. But start with the conventional deadlift before progressing. 

You’re going to need equipment - typically a barbell - so will need to use one at your gym (or at home if you own one). Use a barbell with large, removable weights - rather than one with smaller sized weights built onto the bar. This means you don’t need to bend down so far to grasp the bar itself. 

Choosing the right weight will depend on your existing fitness level. If you’re new to deadlifting, start low and build up the weight slowly. 

Here’s how to deadlift:

  1. Warm up: As with any exercise, you should start with a warm up, and focus on engaging the muscles you’ll use in the deadlift. 
  2. Get into position: Place the barbell on the floor. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. Your toes should be pointing outwards a little. The bar itself should be very close to your shins. 
  3. Bend: Hinge back from your hips with a bend in your knees. 
  4. Hold the bar: Grasp the bar with both hands, shoulder distance apart. Your knuckles should be facing forward. Throughout the lift, your arms should be straight. 
  5. Get ready: Now, engage your shoulders, core and back muscles. Keep a neutral (straight) spine. 
  6. The lift: Start straightening your legs, squeeze your glutes and leg muscles while driving your feet into the floor. Push your knees forward and hinge into an upright position. The bar should ‘graze’ your shins and upper thighs on the way up. 
  7. The top: Hold at the top for a couple of seconds, then lower while keeping the bar itself close to your legs. Your back should remain straight and you’re looking for a controlled hinging movement back to the starting position. 
  8. Repeat: Hold for a couple of seconds at the bottom with the weights on the ground, then repeat the lift. 

If you’re new to deadlifts, it’s definitely worth asking your gym buddy (or, better yet, a fitness coach) to spot you for your first few deadlifts. They can keep an eye out for poor form and help you correct it.

Avoiding injuries when doing a deadlift

If you follow the correct form, then deadlifts should be a safe exercise. However, a poorly performed deadlift can cause back pain and, in the worst cases, damage to the spine. Here are some tips for avoiding injuries when doing deadlifts:

  • Keep a straight back: One cause of deadlift injuries is lifting with a curved back. This puts serious pressure on your spine. Always keep a straight back and neck throughout the deadlift to avoid issues. 
  • Avoid overextending at the top: Many people mistakenly believe they should perform a ‘hip thrust’ at the top of the deadlift. This places unnecessary stress on the lower back and should be avoided. 
  • Don’t lift too much, too soon: We get it - you want to grind hard and get results fast. But going too heavy too soon means your muscles just can’t engage, so your bones (and spine in particular) try to take the strain. Once again, that equals serious injury risk. Build up weight and number of reps slowly. 
  • Avoid pulling with your arms: Your arms and shoulders will be engaged during a deadlift, but they shouldn’t be the primary pull force. Really, a deadlift is about that push through the feet and hips. Pulling too much with your arms will risk rounding your spine and putting too much strain on your arms and shoulders. 
  • It’s not about squatting: When doing a deadlift, your knees will bend. But this doesn’t mean you should be doing a squat. The motion is ultimately about an explosive push with your hip thrusters. Picking up a barbell from the ground while squatting could place too much stress on your back and knees. 
  • Don’t have the bar too far away: When you deadlift, the bar should almost drag along your shins and then thighs. That can be uncomfortable on bare legs, so some people try to lift the bar without that contact. But once again, this risks putting too much strain on your lower back. If you find it uncomfortable, wear long training socks, leggings or training trousers. 

Avoid slippery hands: Last of all, you don’t want to drop the weight during the lift. Wearing proper training gloves that keep your hands dry - or even using chalk - will give you a more reliable grip.

Avoiding injuries when doing a deadlift

If you follow the correct form, then deadlifts should be a safe exercise. However, a poorly performed deadlift can cause back pain and, in the worst cases, damage to the spine. Here are some tips for avoiding injuries when doing deadlifts:

  • Keep a straight back: One cause of deadlift injuries is lifting with a curved back. This puts serious pressure on your spine. Always keep a straight back and neck throughout the deadlift to avoid issues. 
  • Avoid overextending at the top: Many people mistakenly believe they should perform a ‘hip thrust’ at the top of the deadlift. This places unnecessary stress on the lower back and should be avoided. 
  • Don’t lift too much, too soon: We get it - you want to grind hard and get results fast. But going too heavy too soon means your muscles just can’t engage, so your bones (and spine in particular) try to take the strain. Once again, that equals serious injury risk. Build up weight and number of reps slowly. 
  • Avoid pulling with your arms: Your arms and shoulders will be engaged during a deadlift, but they shouldn’t be the primary pull force. Really, a deadlift is about that push through the feet and hips. Pulling too much with your arms will risk rounding your spine and putting too much strain on your arms and shoulders. 
  • It’s not about squatting: When doing a deadlift, your knees will bend. But this doesn’t mean you should be doing a squat. The motion is ultimately about an explosive push with your hip thrusters. Picking up a barbell from the ground while squatting could place too much stress on your back and knees. 
  • Don’t have the bar too far away: When you deadlift, the bar should almost drag along your shins and then thighs. That can be uncomfortable on bare legs, so some people try to lift the bar without that contact. But once again, this risks putting too much strain on your lower back. If you find it uncomfortable, wear long training socks, leggings or training trousers. 

Avoid slippery hands: Last of all, you don’t want to drop the weight during the lift. Wearing proper training gloves that keep your hands dry - or even using chalk - will give you a more reliable grip.

Gear you need for deadlifts

To do a deadlift, the most important bit of equipment is your barbell. But it’s worth using other performance gear to help:

  • Training shoes: Proper gym training shoes give you maximum ground contact and stability - vital when you’re driving so much power through your feet. Try the men’s and women’s UA Reign 6 for total stability, or Project Rock training shoes for something more dynamic. 
  • Leg cover: As mentioned above, you need to ‘graze’ your shins and thighs when doing deadlifts. Mid-length socks, training leggings, or training bottoms help avoid that discomfort. 
  • Gloves: Weightlifting gloves keep your palms dry and cool. That equals a more secure grip. 
  • Base layers: You’re going to get hot performing deadlifts, and that equals sweat. To avoid distractions, wear flexible UA HeatGear® - it’s a highly efficient, breathable performance base layer that works with you through every single lift.

Gear you need for deadlifts

To do a deadlift, the most important bit of equipment is your barbell. But it’s worth using other performance gear to help:

  • Training shoes: Proper gym training shoes give you maximum ground contact and stability - vital when you’re driving so much power through your feet. Try the men’s and women’s UA Reign 6 for total stability, or Project Rock training shoes for something more dynamic. 
  • Leg cover: As mentioned above, you need to ‘graze’ your shins and thighs when doing deadlifts. Mid-length socks, training leggings, or training bottoms help avoid that discomfort. 
  • Gloves: Weightlifting gloves keep your palms dry and cool. That equals a more secure grip. 
  • Base layers: You’re going to get hot performing deadlifts, and that equals sweat. To avoid distractions, wear flexible UA HeatGear® - it’s a highly efficient, breathable performance base layer that works with you through every single lift.

Master how to deadlift and see the results

Deadlifts are probably one of the most important full body exercises you’ll ever learn. They engage practically all your major muscle groups, they’re challenging, they get results fast, and they give you a seriously satisfying workout. Start deadlifting today, and you’ll soon see why coaches recommend them to anyone who’s looking to build strength and fitness. 

Master how to deadlift and see the results

Deadlifts are probably one of the most important full body exercises you’ll ever learn. They engage practically all your major muscle groups, they’re challenging, they get results fast, and they give you a seriously satisfying workout. Start deadlifting today, and you’ll soon see why coaches recommend them to anyone who’s looking to build strength and fitness.