Level-Up Series: Deadlift

Welcome back to the level-up series to help you get the most out of your lifts and get strong safely. This time around we’re looking at the deadlift.

A misconception about deadlifts – is that it’s a lower body only movement. Which yes, it engages all the major players in the legs, however – it’s a full-body movement when we engage our muscles correctly.

I get a lot of people that are intimidated by this movement because they feel like they’re not doing it right. And it can be a lot to think about – and i’m only going to add to the list of cues.
Lets first start with some simple cueing to help you get familiar with the movement – we’re going to use the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) for simplicity sake. If you’re beyond this point scroll until you see the ***

Begin by standing with feet under hips so that you’re in a stacked and stable position. From here – engage your core. You can think belly button to spine, or pinching your last rib and hip bone together. Whatever helps you “tighten” in the core.
Then you’re going to “pack the shoulders” – what this means, is rolling those shoulders back and down so that you send the shoulder blades into your back pockets (obviously not actually – please don’t peel your shoulder blades off your body – it makes a bloody mess.)
What these two movements do is get us ready to pick up the weight, and make sure we’re in a good starting position to deadlift well and deadlift safe.

Once you’ve done these two – you’re going to start with hands on thighs, and you’re going to hinge from the hips by sending your bum back as you bring your FLAT torso forward towards the ground.
I cannot stress this part enough – never, and I mean NEVER lock out your knees. You want them straight (for an RDL) but never locked out. You can think having just the slightest bend in them.

Once your hands reach about mid-shin you’re going to squeeze through the glutes to push your hips forward to stand – again, all while maintaining that flat back. Mirrors can be incredibly helpful here so that you can visually see that back and try to correct to get it as flat as you can.


Okay – so now that we have the basic movement down, we’re going to dive into how you can improve it.

We’re going to start at the toes and work our way up.

Grip Your Toes: Ah shoes! Our little bean protectors, foot fall softeners, warmth givers. They’re great, except when they’re not. Shoes have drastically decreased our ability to actually use our feet. The feet should be able to splay, grip, and curl. If you can’t do those things, it might be a good place to start to simply do those movements

Heres a youtube video you can follow:

Bringing that into the deadlift, kick your shoes off – and go barefoot. Grip your toes into the ground, not so much that you’re now standing on your toe knuckles. Just enough to get some engagement. The feet are your base, if you strengthen the base you strengthen the move.

Keep the Weight Over Arches: I see it quite often of people allowing the weight to drift away from their bodies. This changes your center of gravity and puts a lot of stress on your low back – which can lead to injury. Instead, think of either keeping the weight directly over the arches, or keep the bar/weight on your legs – essentially scraping the legs as you hinge up and down through the deadlift.

Squeeze the Legs At The Top: If you read the Level-up Squat you’re already familiar with this concept. Instead of only squeezing the glutes to send the hips through to stand, squeeze your legs at the top of the deadlift. This will engage the inner thighs (Which strengthens your legs as a whole, which is a thing we want)

Tuck the Pelvis Under: Proper core engagement can only serve to help you, not only in the deadlift, but all movements. Again – strong base, strong movement. Here are some additional ways you can think of eng

aging that core if tucking the pelvis does nothing for your imagination:
– Draw your hip bone and last rib together

– Pretend you’re going to crunch

– “accordion” your ribs and hips – yes, like the instrument

Break the Bar: If you’re using a bar for your deadlifts, actively turn those elbows away from you to further engage the back – AKA “break the bar”. Remember when I said the deadlift was full-body. This is the biggest piece of this. Breaking that bar is what’s going to get those lat muscles to fire, turning this from just legs and core, to full-body.
If you’re using dumbbells or kettlebells, your can also turn those toes out and get a similar effect, but just be mindful of where those dumbbells are.

There – some solid ways to take your deadlift to the next level and get those most out of your movements. If you still think you need some pointers, or are having a tough time doing a self-assessment, search out a personal trainer in your area and have them assess you in person!