Are you deadlifting wrong?

By: Dr. Marc Morris CSCS

Avoid these 3 common mistakes

The deadlift, a cornerstone of any resistance training program, is one of the most effective and bang-for-your-buck exercises you can perform. It is also the most poorly performed movements in the weight room, putting trainees at risk of injury, and even worse, not getting stronger or improving muscle.

Here are three mistakes to avoid to make your deadlift effective and safe:

1. Stop squatting the weight up

Since they are both full body, compound movements the squat and deadlift often get lumped together - from a categorical and performance perspective. But they are entirely different movements – the deadlift engages muscle on your backside (or “posterior chain” – hamstrings, glutes, lower back and lats) much more than the squat. To get the most out of the deadlift, keep the hips higher – sinking them only as low as needed to grab the bar, narrow your stance – you don’t need to be as deep in the set-up, thus feet can be placed within shoulders, and pull yourself behind the bar to get in position. Do these things and you’ll improve your set-up and maximize your leverage, making the most of your deadlifting (and not just doing “hands down squats”).

2. Your arms are just hooks

This is probably the most common and cringe worthy of deadlift mistakes. A young enthusiastic gym goer gets all fired up, approaches the bar and yanks it off the floor. Pulling the bar aggressively off the floor throws you out of the good position you created – once your back changes position (typically rounds and gets in front of the bar), you’re not going to be able to lock the weight out using your musculature. You’ll be finishing the movement by pulling, IF you got enough momentum. Instead, pull the slack out of the bar as you get into position (you’ll hear a “click”) and then initiate the movement by pushing through the floor. Create tension throughout your body by thinking of your arms as hooks, not the primary movers. By creating this tension through your arms, you’ll engage more musculature throughout the movement and keep an ideal position to lockout.

3. You aren’t breathing properly

Performing the compound movements – like the deadlift, squat, bench press – require you create tension so you can connect the different parts of your body pushing and pulling the weight. To do so, you need to create tension and brace. The latter is completed by taking a big breath into your belly (don’t keep the air in your cheeks or breathe for the sake of breathing – use it!) and making your midsection rigid (flex and keep that rib cage down) before starting the movement. Don’t let the air out or tension cease until you are done the movement. Feel free to reset your breath between repetitions. Proper bracing in the deadlift moves more weight and keeps you safe.

Deadlifts are one of the most effective movements you can do – avoid these mistakes to improve your movement.

Dr. Marc Morris PhD, CSCS is a Strength and Health coach living in Saskatoon. Marc’s experience in fitness is varied: he is a competitive powerlifter and International Team coach, and a national level physique competitor. Marc leverages his athletic experience and credentials in biochemistry and human nutrition to provide evidence-based but practical recommendations to clients and the fitness community. Marc can be found on Instagram @marcwmorris, Facebook @Marc W. Morris and reached by email at