By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist


Athletes and coaches, are you thinking of using the deadlift to reach the next level in your sport?

Here are some things to consider:

The deadlift typically refers to lifting a “dead” or motionless weight off the floor. Deadlifting conventionally has been done with a barbell but other pieces of equipment can also be used such as trap bars, kettlebells and dumbbells. Many strength and conditioning coaches use the deadlift in training programs because it develops whole-body functional strength.

A lot of athletes think they know how to deadlift, but in reality it is a tremendously technical task. While the deadlift can be beneficial, it can also cause long term problems if you have bad technique, especially early on. So it’s very important to teach new lifters properly.

The deadlift involves multiple joints of the body but the majority of the motion comes through the hips. Exercises that incorporate the hips as the prime mover fall into the “hip hinge” exercise category. Compound or multi-joint hip hinging movements are common throughout sport and the hip hinge often translates to athletic performance. Watch any athlete jump, sprint, or explode from an athletic stance. Their power comes from explosive strength initiated through a hip hinge.

One reason athletes from many different sports use the deadlift in training is that it helps them generate more force relative to their mass, which should result in more efficient movement. For example, long distance runners and sprinters both can improve stride length and frequency through deadlifting and posterior chain training. For a marathoner, a 2-3 inch improvement in stride length (20,000 steps in a marathon) means covering an extra mile in a race without taking any extra steps, making them more efficient runners.

There are several variations of the deadlift exercise but the key is to focus on technique and the hip hinging pattern for all forms of the exercise.

Here are the steps and cues we use when preparing our athletes to perform the conventional deadlift:

1. Set up with your feet hip width apart and your hands gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder width.

2. Once you get your feet set and your grip on the bar (overhand or 1 overhand/1 underhand) roll the bar over the shoe laces (tight to the shins).

3. Take a breath in and brace your core. Tighten your grip on the bar with your hands and pull your chest closer to the bar. Keep your arms straight (this lifts your chest) and push your hips back (this creates a slight arch in your lower back and pushes your knees back, making it easier for the bar path to go straight up and down).

4. Focus on the hips and the knees rising together as you lift the bar.

5. Once the bar clears your knee height, focus on the hinge movement, driving your hips through to a straight body line position while focusing on trying to bend the bar around your thighs. Keep your chest tall and shoulders back to  avoid rounding out your upper back.

6. Exhale in the top half of the movement, but do not let all of your air out on that breath so you can maintain your braced core. At the top of the movement you should take a breath in and reset your spine position (brace core) and reverse the movement down to the floor, starting with the hip hinge to just below the knees and then lowering the hips and knees together as you go from the knees to the floor.

At Sport Manitoba we use many different versions of the deadlift with almost all of our athletes.  It is great for teaching body awareness and to build a strong, powerful posterior chain that has many benefits to every athlete. If you are a load-bearing athlete – which is basically every athlete – then likely some sort of deadlift should be part of your repertoire. It is also a great lead in exercise to the Olympic Lifts, which are more advanced weightlifting exercises. If you can’t deadlift, you will have a difficult time performing the Olympic Lifts.

Overall the deadlift can be a great tool for achieving your athletic goals, as long as it is prescribed at the appropriate time, intensity, and volume.