The barbell deadlift is a compound exercise involving lifting a weight from the ground to standing. It’s renowned for building strength, promoting functional movement, and delivering various physical and mental benefits. But proper form with a straight, neutral spine is critical.

Ah, the barbell deadlift. This is a great exercise for fitness newbies and bodybuilding pros alike. But don’t be fooled by its seemingly straightforward nature. When it comes to deadlifts, your form is critical.

Here’s everything you need to know about proper deadlift form, plus some safety tips for beginners.

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Warmed up? Good, okay. The setup is where we lay the foundation for a savage deadlift. Just like a skilled architect carefully plans every detail of a building, proper deadlift setup is the blueprint for a strong and safe lift.

Bear in mind that your build plays a role in how your deadlift form should look. Because everyone’s unique, your physical proportions come into play when setting up for deadlifts. Short thighs with a long torso? You’ll typically set up with lower hips than someone with long thighs and a short torso. So instead of copying someone else’s form, use appropriate form cues.

Place your feet

When it comes to deadlift setup, your feet play a starring role in creating a solid support base. Think of them as the reliable pillars that anchor your lifting prowess.

Start by positioning your feet shoulder-width apart, allowing for proper engagement of the lower body muscles. You want to find that sweet spot where you feel balanced and grounded, ready to take on the weight.

Your build and anatomy will influence the exact position of your feet, but they should be under the bar, with your shins close to or touching it.

Experiment with different foot positions to find what works best for you. The goal is to feel stable, ensuring your weight is evenly distributed through your feet. Avoid placing too much weight on your toes or heels, as this can throw off your balance and compromise your form.

Hold your breath

It may seem counterintuitive, but this technique is vital to unlocking your true deadlift potential.

When you hold your breath during the setup phase of the deadlift, you’re essentially creating an internal weight belt that keeps your core muscles engaged and protects your back from unnecessary stress.

But breath-holding doesn’t mean holding your breath indefinitely. Instead, it’s a controlled technique where you take a deep breath, brace your core, and hold that breath throughout the lift. Then, once you reach the top of the movement, you can exhale and take a fresh breath for the next rep.

Align your spine

Maintaining a neutral, straight spine is essential for perfect form. A neutral spine refers to the natural curvature that follows the anatomical structure of your back without excessive rounding or arching during the lift.

A straight spine acts as a powerful support system, protecting your spinal discs and reducing the chances of injury. In addition, it allows for optimal force transfer, ensuring that your power is channeled directly into the lift.

It also promotes proper muscle engagement. It activates the muscles of your core, back, and hips, creating a strong and stable base for the movement. This balanced engagement enhances your lifting capacity and helps you maintain control throughout the lift.

Hinge the hips

When you deadlift, hinge at the hips to shift your focus and energy towards your posterior chain — the mighty glutes and hamstrings. This movement pattern allows you to generate maximum power and force from these powerhouse muscles, giving you the strength to conquer heavy weights.

Pushing your hips back while maintaining a slight bend in your knees creates a favorable leverage system that optimizes force transfer from the ground to the barbell. This efficient transfer maximizes your lifting potential, minimizes stress on your lower back, and helps you maintain proper spinal alignment.

Grab the bar

Time to get a grip! Your hands are the direct link between you and the weight, so you need a rock-solid connection for each deadlift.

Grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands placed shoulder-width apart. You only need to alternate your hands if grip is an issue, and you can’t hold the bar through the set. Generally, this technique is for advanced lifters and powerlifters.

When gripping the bar, wrap your fingers around it, ensuring your thumbs are positioned alongside your fingers. This technique, known as a “hook grip,” enhances grip strength and helps maintain control throughout the lift. It’s like creating a vise-like grip to conquer the weight with confidence.

As you grab the bar, ensure your wrists are straight and neutral. Avoid excessive bending or hyperextension, as this can lead to discomfort and compromise your grip stability.

Welcome to the heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping section of the deadlift — the lift! The lift is where the rubber meets the road, where all your preparation and technique come together to showcase your true lifting prowess. So grip the bar, channel your power, and conquer the weight before you.

Pull the bar into your body

When initiating the lift, focus on pulling the bar into your body. As you exert force and start the upward movement, imagine pulling the barbell toward your shins and thighs. This close proximity allows for optimal leverage and engagement of your glutes and hamstrings. Think of it as summoning the weight towards you, harnessing its energy, and unleashing your strength.

By pulling the bar into your body with controlled force, you maintain a more efficient bar path, minimizing the distance traveled and reducing the strain on your lower back. It’s like cutting out the detours and taking the express route to deadlift success.

Drive your chest up

As you rise from the initial pull, imagine a string attached to your chest, gently pulling it upward. This cue helps you maintain a strong, upright upper back position. Driving your chest up counteracts the tendency to round your shoulders and upper back, promoting proper spinal alignment.

Engaging your upper back muscles and maintaining an open chest position also improves your overall body tension, allowing you to better transfer force from your lower body through your upper body.

Keep your shoulders back and down, away from your ears, to achieve the lifted chest position. Imagine puffing out your chest slightly without excessively arching your lower back. Find that sweet spot where you feel tall, confident, and ready to conquer the weight in front of you.


The grand finale! As you near the top of the lift, focus on fully extending your knees. This means straightening your legs until you reach a standing position. This extension maximizes the engagement of your quadriceps and demonstrates the completion of a successful lift.

But lockout doesn’t stop at the knees. It’s a full-body affair. Emphasize an upright, proud posture, with your shoulders back and your chest lifted. This creates a solid upper back position, enhancing stability and control.

Imagine reaching for the sky as you lock out, elongating your spine and standing tall. Then, squeeze your glutes at the top, embracing that moment of victory.

Maintaining control and stability during a lockout is essential. Avoid leaning back excessively or hyperextending your lower back. Instead, find that sweet spot where you feel strong, balanced, and in complete command of the weight.

Remember, the lockout is the culmination of your deadlift journey, showcasing your strength, determination, and proper form. So embrace the power of fully extending your knees, getting tall, and owning that lockout position.


The finish is where you wrap up your lift with finesse. As you lower the barbell back down, maintain control and avoid haphazardly dropping the weight. A controlled descent demonstrates your strength and discipline and minimizes the risk of injury.

While lowering the bar, focus on keeping your spine neutral and your core engaged while gradually releasing tension. Avoid excessive rounding or arching of your back. Instead, think of it as a graceful dance, smoothly guiding the weight back to the ground with precision and control. It shows respect for the barbell and reflects your commitment to safe and effective lifting.

As the barbell touches the floor, take a moment to appreciate the completion of the lift. Stand tall, shoulders back, and chest proud. You’ve conquered the weight, showcased proper form, and completed a deadlift that would make Hercules himself nod in approval.

Here are some of the many benefits of adding deadlifts to your workout:

  • builds overall strength and power, targeting multiple muscle groups
  • enhances functional strength, mimicking everyday movements, making daily tasks easier
  • improves posture and spinal health, promoting good posture and supporting a healthy spine
  • increases bone density as a weight-bearing exercise, helping to prevent conditions like osteoporosis and promoting long-term skeletal health
  • boosts athletic performance by improving strength, power, and explosive force
  • supports metabolism and fat burning by engaging a large number of muscles, leading to an increased metabolic rate and calorie burn
  • improves grip strength as you hold onto heavy weights
  • betters overall body stability and balance, which is essential for maintaining proper form during exercises and reducing the risk of falls or injuries

Proper form is key to a successful deadlift. It involves maintaining a neutral, straight spine and hinging at the hips while keeping a slight knee bend. You’ll then pull the barbell into your body, drive your chest up, and fully extend your knees during the lockout.

By mastering proper form, understanding the nuances of setup and technique, and embracing the power of this exercise, you can transform your body, enhance your performance, and unlock new levels of strength and confidence.