The Deadlift: Understanding Good Technique

“There is no reason to be alive if you cannot do deadlift.” These are the infamous, heavily accented words of former Icelandic strong man and power lifter Jon Pall Sigmarsson. While this may be a tad over the top, the deadlift can help develop life-changing strength!

 If you’ve never done a deadlift, you’ve probably at least seen one. It is one of the best exercises to both display and train strength. However, as you may know, this exercise REQUIRES technique and concentration in order to eliminate injury risk. You see, there are several different areas where deadlift technique must be dialed in. You can’t simply say “pick that bar up with your back straight.”

What if the athlete doesn’t have the requisite hip mobility?

What if they don’t have the motor coordination to hip hinge properly?

Do they have sufficient core strength to stabilize the lumbo-pelvic complex?

 These are the types of things that a trained coach’s eye can identify and correct safely. We often see athletes who’ve been training on their own or at school demonstrate poor technique or poor knowledge of technique.

Here are the top three things that we think influence the success of the deadlift.


1.     Hip mobility is a critical component for any athletic movement, especially lifting weights. This is one reason we elect to teach the trap bar deadlift instead of the barbell deadlift. The trap bar’s handles sit a bit higher off the ground and require less hip flexion in order to perform the movement. Most people have issues creating and controlling hip flexion without some type of lumbar movement. While this is a relatively normal movement, it is very unsafe to load repeatedly. The barbell deadlift requires TREMENDOUS technique and stability to perform safely. The trap bar can also be easily elevated off the floor with plates or blocks for those who lack sufficient hip flexion- or for taller athletes who have a much longer distance to the floor. The other benefit of the trap bar is that the athlete is centered in the middle of the bar, and is subject to a more balanced load. In other words, the trap bar is a bit more spine friendly, and affords a much easier movement pattern to learn. Creating strength adaptations from lifting something heavy off the floor is what matters, not the specific exercise.


2.     Core Stability

If you read my previous post, Understanding the Core, you’ll recall that the core isn’t just your “6 pack.” The core is a combination of the entire midsection ‘s muscles that act to both move and stabilize the spine, depending on the activity. The important thing to remember when lifting weights, is that the spine should NOT MOVE. Inability to utilize the muscles of the core to stabilize the spine is a very common mistake, and is often what leads to injury. Individuals who are naturally strong and/or neglect core training often can find themselves with a cranky back. (I can tell you from personal experience) The ability to lift heavy weights must be EARNED through experience and a sufficient amount of core strength. Core stability should be an integral part of any program not only to improve the deadlift’s performance, but to increase health, longevity, and general athleticism.

The stability ball rollout, and variations like it, are excellent drills to acquire core stability.

3.     Technique

The hip hinge is a critical movement that happens in nearly all baseball activities. It’s characterized by a hip dominant motion that loads the hamstrings and gluteal muscles. The key to a good hip hinge is the maintenance of spinal neutrality, or in other words, no spinal movement. Think of a pitcher loading his rear leg as he sits back- this should be a hip motion, not a knee motion. The deadlift, and other hip hinge exercises, have tremendous carry over to displays of power and strength on the field of play. This might seem like a “no brainer” but the unfortunate truth is that few athletes are taught to properly deadlift in the high school setting. Large class sizes and equipment limitations often can get in the way of true learning experiences. Here is what we like to see with our deadlift set up:

  • Achieve a Neutral Spine (not overly extended)

  • Create and MAINTAIN core stability- brace!

  • Load the hips from the top down

  • Pull the Slack out of the bar

  • PUSH the floor- do not pull up with your back

  • Finish with the glutes

  • Re-LOAD the HIPS as you return to the floor

Though the trap bar deadlift technique is quickly learned if taught correctly, not everyone is a candidate. Young athletes or those who aren’t there with technique or stability can benefit from simple hinge drills such as kettle bell deadlifts, RDL, or cable pull throughs. These are often prescribed as warm ups, assistance work, or as teaching tools in place of the deadlift.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!