How to Deadlift with Perfect Technique to Set New PBs, Gain Strength and Build Muscle

How to Deadlift with Perfect Technique to Set New PBs, Gain Strength and Build Muscle

Aptly named the king of compound exercises, it's hard to beat the deadlift for a strength-building, muscle-gaining move. Still, a lot of lifters shy away from the exercise, for fear of poor form, complicated manoeuvring and getting injured. Or just perhaps the prospect of another chest and arms day being too good to miss (we get it).

But by learning how to deadlift correctly, no exercise works more muscles simultaneously. Think about it, to rip the iron from the floor you need a solid foundation, a super-strong core, great grip strength, conditioned arms, shoulders and back. It's a full-body move.

What's more, no move unites all lifters, from bodybuilders and powerlifters and crossfitters to complete novices, like the deadlift. But everyone can do with a brush-up on their technique from time to time.

Here, MH cover the muscles worked by the deadlift, the benefits, how to deadlift, how many reps, sets and which weight, variations, workouts and common FAQs. Grab a bar and let's get it.

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Muscles Worked by the Deadlift

As mentioned, there is tremendous bang for your buck when it comes to learning how to deadlift, here are the main muscles worked by this power move:

  • Quadriceps: Depending on the variation of the deadlifts you perform, according to evidence, there will be varying degrees of quadricep use, however they are still one of the primary movers when driving the bar off the floor and are responsible for straightening the knees.

  • Glutes: Due to the deadlift being a hip extension movement, the glutes are responsible for the hip hinge lock out.

  • Hamstrings: The hamstrings are one of the muscles worked during the deadlift by supporting the extension of the knees and hips. Depending on the set-up, you will also get a good stretch down the back of your legs.

  • Back: Some may argue that the deadlift belongs on back day due to its recruitment of the back muscles. The back (latissimus dorsi, erector spinae and trapezius muscles) mainly works isometrically during the deadlift. Evidence shows the back as one of the muscles working in the deadlift, which is why it could be a good exercise to place on back days as well as lower body training days.

  • Core: Your core engages during the entire movement. By bracing your core during the deadlift, you stabilise and protect your back.

  • Hips: During the deadlift, the hip flexors work to contract against resistance and extend during the hinge movement.

  • Calves: The calves play a role during knee flexion and stabilising the ankle joint during the deadlift.

  • Forearms: Holding onto the bar for the duration of your sets works your forearms and hands which could be beneficial for other lifts in your programme.

Deadlift Benefits

Three reasons why you need to start incorporating deadlifts into your training plan:

Gaining Muscle

Exercises like deadlifts increase the size of our muscles. Using progressive overload (increasing weight, reps, sets, etc) effectively, we can see massive results. By including deadlifts you are increasing the likelihood of building top to toe muscles mass.

Increased Testosterone

Because training your legs with exercises such as deadlifts uses multiple muscles groups, you will see more of a spike in intensity and therefore testosterone. According to evidence, when resistance training was carried out, strength training can induce growth hormone and testosterone release. The more muscles worked to a high intensity equals more of a high hormone hit. It's clearly time to start making deadlifts a staple in our programmes for an extra boost in T.

Improved Bone Health

Due to deadlifts being a form of resistance training, they can also improve bone mineral density and bone width. According to research, greater bone health and exercise have been shown to reduce the occurrence of falls in the elderly, which suggests that exercise is a good preventative measure. It might also slightly protect against further reductions in bone mineral density in those already diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia.

How to Deadlift: 5 Simple Steps

It's time to learn proper technique. We break down the conventional deadlift technique. Before you know it, you'll be deadlifting like a pro in no time:

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  1. Walk your shins to the bar with your feet underneath your hips.

  2. The deadlift is a hinge movement. Imagine shutting a car door with your bum while sending the hips behind the heels and reaching your hands towards the bar.

  3. Your shoulders should be over the bar and middle foot underneath.

  4. Keeping your back and head in line, put your shoulder blades in your back pockets while holding your torso rigid to create tension between you and the bar. You should hear the plates clink.

  5. Push the floor away from you while keeping the bar close. Lock out the hips without sending the weight back and reverse the movement.

Eddie Hall's Guide to Deadlifting

If anyone knows how to deadlift, it's Eddie Hall. The man who deadlifted half a tonne has explained to us what every part of your body should be doing as you approach the bar. Not always orthodox, Hall's advice will help you lift more than you ever thought possible.

Foot Positioning

'The number one mistake guys make with the deadlift is incorrect foot positioning,' says Hall. 'You should always put the bar in the middle of your feet – when you’re standing over the bar, it should be halfway between your heels and the end of the toes.'

'Make sure your feet are pointing straight like train tracks and shoulder width apart. That’s how you lift safely – and with power.'

Back Positioning

'People say that a straight back is a must have, but I actually find that a rounded back works fine,' says Hall. 'It’s all about training your body to withstand that roundness. Training with smaller weights with a slightly untaught back will prepare your muscles for a massive 1 rep max.'

'If you’re rounding it to the point that you can feel your spine popping out of your back or your muscles pulling, then it’s too far. Otherwise, round is sound.'

Head Positioning

'Whatever you’re most comfortable with will improve your lift,' advises Hall. 'However, I tend to look down at the bar – that’s my way of concentrating on what I’m doing. If you look away at what else is going on around you then your mind could start to wander and you’ll lose your mental edge.' Those of you who admire each rep in a mirror, consider that a warning.

Hand Positioning

'Keep them an inch wider than your shins either side. It’s quite a wide grip, but that’s where you get power and stability,' instructs Hall. 'And make sure you’re lifting with an overhand grip with the bar deep into your palms. That way you prevent your biceps ripping off your arm.'


'I may slightly inhale on the way up, but I’ll keep hold of my breath and not let out anything until it’s over,' says Hall. 'Steering clear of big breaths is a great way of stabilising your body.'

The Pull

'Move the bar from A to B,' says Hall. Can't get much simpler than that.

Supportive gear

'I train all year round without a belt or any supportive gear. That’s the best way to build all-round strength, and the only way to hit your stabilising muscles,' says Hall.

But if you're prepping for a half ton lift (or your 1RM)? Then’s the time to grab the gear: 'Wearing a weight belt for the big lifts makes sure your body is properly supported. I don’t wear the knee braces though – if you do the right form then your knees shouldn’t strain.'

boly deadlift
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Deadlifting: How Many Reps, Sets and Which Weight?

Choose a rep range and weight to suit your abilities. As a general rule of thumb, for strength 3-4 sets of 2-6 reps. For hypertrophy (building muscle) 4 sets of 6-12 reps should be sufficient.

To choose an ideal weight, familiarise yourself with the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion). This is a scale from 1-to-10, 10 being maximum exertion, 1 being minimum exertion. For strength and muscle gain, towards the end of your deadlift sets, you want to be sitting at around an 8 out of 10. This means that at a push you could complete 2 more reps at the end of the set with your weight of choice.

Why Is It Important to Have Good Deadlift Technique?

Perfect deadlift technique looks different on everyone, depending on their biomechanics and length of levers, training history, past and current injuries, and even their age. As well as this, because of the magnitude of force we can generate from all muscles used in this compound lift, whilst it isn’t necessarily the exercise choice that causes injury, it is more predisposed to cause injury due to larger weights being lifted.

In a study on powerlifting moves including the deadlift, it was mentioned that since all three lifts engage multiple joints and expose the lifters’ bodies to high physical demands often several times a week, it has been suggested that their injuries might be related to the excessively heavy loads, the large range of motion during the exercises, insufficient resting times between training sessions and/or faulty lifting technique.

This research, with other contributing evidence, suggests that the deadlift in itself may not be inherently more dangerous than any other lift, but the weights you’re able to use, ramp up the risk factor. Effectively, the deadlift allows for some parts of your body to write cheques that other parts may not be able to cash.

Due to these high weights being lifted, proper form suited for your individual body is highly important for beginners in order to efficiently and economically move the weight from A to B and remain injury free.

<span class="photo-credit">Westend61 - Getty Images</span>
Westend61 - Getty Images

How to Deadlift for Beginners?

It's worth highlighting that while deadlifting is an effective tool in your muscle-building armoury, it's a move that you need to take care over. If you're a beginner, follow these tips before trying to lift heavy. As ever, nail your form first.

How to Master The Hip Hinge

The deadlift is a hip hinge exercise. It's important to start with the dowel hip hinge exercise in order to learn how to deadlift. This ensures a flat back during the movement before we move onto weight bearing movements. To perform the dowel hip hinge, hold a dowel rod from the base of your spine to the back of your head using both hands. Send your hips behind your heels with a slight bend in the knees whilst hinging at the hips. Try to keep contact with the rod with the lower back, between the shoulders and back of head. Reverse the movement back to standing.

Choose the Right Variation

Try other deadlift variations before the barbell deadlift. For example, after you've mastered the dowel hip hinge, continue onto the kettlebell deadlift and dual kettlebell deadlift. The trap bar deadlift is also a fantastic option for beginners learning how to deadlift due to it being easier on the back.

Don't Lift with Your Ego

Work within your parameters of fitness: don't try to lift your 1 rep max in your first week of learning how to deadlift. Start within your weight lifting capabilities and work from there. There is no harm is scaling the weight to just a kettlebell or a stripped bar. It can save you from injury and ensure you lift with confidence.

Deadlift Variations

There are many deadlift variations to choose from, we run you through them all ranging from low difficulty to higher difficulty:

db dumbbell deadlift
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Dumbbell Deadlift

With your dumbbells on the floor just outside your feet, hinge down and grip them with a flat back and neutral spine. Engage your lats, pinning your arms to your sides and stand upright, ‘pushing the ground away’ with your feet and keeping your chest high. Your arms should be hanging straight throughout this movement, think of them as hooks.

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: With two weights that you’re able to manipulate freely through space, the dumbbell deadlift allows you to discover and capitalise on the most effective, pain-free range of motion for your own physiology.

trap bar deadlift
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Trap-Bar Deadlift

Stand inside of your ‘bar’ and hinge down, gripping the handles with a flat back and neutral spine. Squeeze your lats and tighten your core, breathing in to fill out your midsection. ‘Push the ground away’ with your feet, driving through the legs and standing upright. Reverse under control to the floor and repeat

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: Specifically designed for the purpose of keeping weightlifters with lower back injuries pulling heavy from the floor, the design of a hex or ‘trap’ bar allows trainees to step inside of the centre of mass. When compared to a barbell deadlift, where your shins keep you positioned just behind the weight, this enables you to drop your hips lower and use an enormous amount of quad drive, mitigating lower back involvement (and injury risk). The neutral grip handles also allow for a much stronger grip on the bar, whilst being far more forgiving on your arms and shoulders

deadlift from blocks
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Deadlift from Blocks

Use a block or plates to raise the bar. Walk your shins to the bar with your feet underneath your hips. The deadlift is a hinge movement. Imagine shutting a car door with your bum while sending the hips behind the heels and reaching your hands towards the bar. Your shoulders should be over the bar and middle foot underneath. Keeping your back and head in line, put your shoulder blades in your back pockets while holding your torso rigid to create tension between you and the bar. You should hear the plates clink. Push the floor away from you while keeping the bar close. Lock out the hips without sending the weight back and reverse the movement.

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: While deadlifting from the floor is the more popular method, deadlifting from blocks is a great option for those with lower back problems or trainees due to the reduced range of movement allowing more of a flat back and braced core. Research has also shown it can still be beneficial for muscular strength.

sumo deadlift
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Sumo Deadlift

Walk your shins to the bar. Assume a wide stance and with your back straight. Bend the knees and send your hips behind your heels with your chest slightly lifted. Hold onto the bar in line with your shoulders. Pull your shoulders back and down. Keeping your core braced, push the floor away, driving back upwards to a standing position. Lock out the hips, lower the bar and repeat.

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: Due to the reduction in range of movement and less stress on the lower back, the sumo deadlift can be preferable to the conventional deadlift in trainees and potentially those recovering from injury. According to research, the sumo deadlift is a technical movement with close similarities to the conventional deadlift which can optimise individual biomechanics, thus improving an individual’s ability to lift heavier loads.

This exercise can be effectively used as part of a rehabilitation program for patients with lower back pain and for sports performance.'

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Romanian Deadlift

Lift a barbell to hip height, feet at shoulder width and glutes tensed. With a slight bend in the knees, push your hips back and slowly lower the bar towards the ground, pinching your shoulders back and maintaining a flat back. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, pause and lift to the starting position.

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: The RDL is a fantastic exercise for teaching the correct hip hinge movement pattern. The Strength & Conditioning Journal mentions that 'the RDL establishes the correct body positioning (stance and posture) through initiation of the posterior chain segment of the hips, buttocks, and hamstrings (i.e., low back-hip hinge), which is required to allow lifters to maintain optimal alignment'

landmine deadlift
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Landmine Deadlift

Set up side on to the landmine with a wide sumo stance. Begin with the barbell at hip height, held in both hands. Hinge at the hips and send the bum behind the heels. Maintain a lifted chest and braced core. Let the plate touch the floor and reverse the movement.

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: The landmine deadlift locks you into a pretty linear ROM, in the form of a lever, while also giving you enough freedom to find a comfortable position for your own anatomy.

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Staggered Stance RDL

Start with a dumbbell in each hand. Take one foot just behind you with a bent knee and the weight on the ball of the foot. Hinge at the hips whilst keeping the weight in the supporting leg. Feel a big stretch in the working hamstring and reverse the movement back to standing.

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: If you haven't nailed your single leg deadlift yet, the staggered stance (or B stance deadlift) could be a good option. It allows you to keep balance with the back foot while also increasing load on the supporting leg.

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Landmine Single Leg Deadlift

Begin facing the barbell and attachment holding the end of the barbell with one hand. Maintain a locked core and lift up the opposite leg behind you. Keep a straight line from your heel to the top of your head and lower the torso to horizontal. Reverse the movement back to standing.

Men's Health Fitness Editor says: My love affair with the landmine is no secret. Although I don’t include an abundance of landmine movements in my own training, I think it’s an incredible tool for everyone from beginners, to those working around injuries and limitations right through to athletes looking to unlock the sport’s specific potential of the barbell. Whenever I see a movement performed landmine style, I can’t help thinking that maybe we’ve been using the barbell wrong the whole time.

Top 10 Deadlift Workouts

Now you know how to deadlift, try incorporating them into a workout. Here's ten of our favourite deadlift workouts for you to get your teeth into.

  1. Take Leg Day to Another Level with Our Squat and Deadlift Ladder

  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger Shares an Advanced Chest & Back Workout from His Bodybuilding Days

  3. Eddie Hall Shares a Bodybuilding Back Workout Designed to Pack on Size

  4. Mat Fraser's Strength Wave Workout to Build a Bigger Deadlift

  5. Get a Taste for the CrossFit Games with This Brutal Workout

  6. Build Full-Body Muscle Using The ‘Push, Pull, Legs’ Method

  7. Master Three True Tests of Fitness with These Hacks

  8. Burn Fat and Build Muscle With This All-In-One Barbell Burpee Workout

  9. This 10-Minute WFH Version of a CrossFit Classic Will Pump Up Your Arms and Shoulders

  10. Crush Calories and Stack On Serious Strength With This 200+ Rep Challenge

Are Deadlifts Bad for Your Back?

Instead of causing injury, deadlifts can be used as a rehabilitation tool. A 2015 study by Swedish researchers found that patients with low-back pain could benefit from performing deadlifts, depending on the intensity of their pain. In a 2021 study on chronic lower back pain, the following key points were concluded upon:

  • Posterior chain resistance training is more effective in reducing pain and disability and improving muscle strength in patients with chronic low back pain than general exercise.

  • Posterior chain resistance training does not have significantly more adverse events than general exercise in patients with chronic low back pain.

  • Clinicians should strongly consider the prescription of 12–16 weeks of posterior chain resistance training to maximise outcomes in their patients with chronic low back pain.

So, while it is the height of importance to be mindful of technique and weight choices, there is some evidence that deadlifts could potentially help back pain instead of exacerbate it. As if we needed another excuse to include deadlifts in our programme!

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