The Keys to Stronger Deadlifts

Over the past few years, I’ve delved heavily into the field of biomechanics, which has helped me achieve a much greater understanding of resistance training. I’ve worked my way through biomechanics textbooks, conducted hundreds of hours of experiments via EMG and force plate, and spent hundreds more hours consulting the literature. There’s another thing I like to do, and this is something that’s free and readily available to everyone. I often pull up YouTube and analyze video footage of the strongest lifters on the planet. The combination of learning scientific principles, lifting heavy weights, training other lifters, talking shop with fellow powerlifters, reading research, conducting experiments, and analyzing other powerlifters’ form makes for the ultimate combination of knowledge.

Regarding the deadlift, the most difficult position is right off the floor, at least in terms of joint torque magnitudes. Furthermore, your positioning and explosiveness off the floor play a large role in determining how hard the lockout will be. Therefore, proper lift-off position is crucial for successful deadlift performance.

In this article, I have freeze-framed and snipped pictures of bar lift-off positions from twenty-five of some of the strongest heavy conventional deadlift videos available on the internet. Though the list is dominated by powerlifters, I was sure to represent strongmen, Olympic lifters, and bodybuilders too. I stuck to heavier weight classes and ignored sumo pulling as that’s a different animal. Of course I could have posted pictures of Coan’s monumental 901 at 220 lbs, as well as Andrei Belyaev, Lamar Gant, Dan Green, etc., but I had to draw the line somewhere so I stuck to conventional deadlifts and the heaviest lifts. Let’s see what common trends are apparent with the strongest pullers on the planet.

Please examine the following kinematic aspects of the deadlift in each picture below: shin angle relative to the floor, hip height, torso angle, degree and location of spinal flexion, level of scapular protraction, shoulder position relative to bar, bar proximity to the shins, stance and grip widths, foot flare, and head-neck position.

Benedikt Magnusson: 1,015 lbs

Benedikt Magnusson

Andy Bolton: 1,008 lbs

Andy Bolton

Andy Bolton: 1,003 lbs

Andy Bolton 2

Zydrunas Savickas: 948 lbs

Zydrunas Savickas

Konstantin Konstantinovs: 939 lbs

Konstantin Konstantinovs

Marc Henry: 935 lbs

Marc Henry

Gary Frank: 931 lbs

Gary Frank

Vlad Alhazov: 925 lbs

Vlad Alhazov

Kevin Nee: 925 lbs

Kevin Nee

Mikhail Koklyaev: 920 lbs

Mikhail Koklyaev

Vince Urbank: 906 lbs

Vince Urbank

Brian Shaw: 905 lbs x 2

Brian Shaw

Doyle Kenady: 903 lbs

Doyle Kenady

Chuck Fought: 900 lbs

Chuck Fought

Steve Goggins: 900 lbs

Steve Goggins

Ed Coan: 887 lbs

Ed Coan

Stan Efferding: 837 lbs

Stan Efferding

Tibor Meszaros: 837 lbs

Tibor Meszaros

Mike Tuscherer: 832 lbs

Mike Tuscherer

Nick Best: 815 lbs

Nick Best

Vince Anello: 810 lbs

Vince Anello

Derrick Poundstone: 800 lbs x 9

Derrick Poundstone

Ronnie Coleman: 800 lbs x 2

Ronnie Coleman

Vytautas Lalas: 792 lbs x 5

Vytautas Lalas

Pat Mendes: 728 lbs x 4

Pat Mendes

What did you observe? Here’s what I see:

  • Shins are extremely vertical – this was the biggest eye-opener for me
  • Hips are high, but never higher than the shoulders – getting the hammies into the lift is absolutely paramount
  • Spines are flexed, but not too flexed, and more so in the upper back compared to the low back
  • Shoulders are rounded forward – scaps are never retracted
  • Bar skims the shins – it never drifts away from the lifter
  • Torso angle varies – some are more vertical while others are more horizontal, but it appears to stay between 10 and 50 degrees relative to the horizontal, so this is likely dependent on the individual
  • Stance and grip width varies – some lifters take a wider stance and some take a narrower stance, so this is likely dependent on the individual
  • Foot flare varies – some lifters point their feet straight ahead and some turn their feet out, so this is likely dependent on the individual
  • Shoulder position relative to the bar varies – some lifters have their shoulders in front of the bar and some have the shoulders directly above the bar, so this is likely dependent on the individual
  • Head-neck position varies – some lifters look down, some look forward, and some look up, so this is likely dependent on the individual

It’s worth noting that a handful of these lifters bend over significantly and don’t appear to rely on any leg drive whatsoever to accomplish these pulls, and yet they’re some of the strongest deadlifters that the world has seen. If they were training in a commercial gym, a slew of pencil-neck lifters would surely scoff at their form. If these accomplished deadlifters could pull greater loads using more leg-drive, they would. But it doesn’t suit their strengths, so they naturally gravitate toward pulling in a manner than maximizes their poundages. Furthermore, the squat is unlikely to transfer very well to these lifters’ deadlifts and vice-versa. Take home point – learn how to work with your body to maximize your strength, but remember that the lifter who trains injury-free week in and week out makes greater gains than the lifter who is consistently riddled with pain and injuries.

Conclusion

So what are the keys to stronger deadlifts?

  1. Having rather vertical shins and high hips (but not too high) as soon as the bar leaves the ground in order to get full output of the hamstrings into the pull
  2. Skimming the body with the bar as it rises
  3. Limiting lumbar flexion but allowing for some thoracic flexion and scapular protraction

Your torso angle will vary but shouldn’t be too upright or too horizontal – keep it in between 10 and 50 degrees relative to the horizontal. Stance widths, grip widths, and foot flares will vary, just don’t stand too wide – slightly outside shoulder width is acceptable. Shoulder position will vary but should either be slightly in front of the bar or right above – never behind the bar. Finally, optimal head-neck position will vary as well according to individual preference, but it’s never cranked too far back or too far forward – keep the head-neck in mid-ranges.

Take some pictures of your heavy deadlift form and compare it to the pictures in this article. If something is off, then you might be leaving some room on the table for increased strength. Remember, it’s highly unusual to learn a new technique and immediately set a PR in the gym. If your form isn’t up to snuff, start working with your technique, and remember to gradually increase the loading. However tempting it may be, be patient and let form improvements “cement” so you don’t end up reverting to old habits. Hopefully I’ve helped arouse excitement for your next deadlift session. Train hard and train smart.

53 Comments

  • Popp says:

    No sumo lifters here…!?

    • Bret says:

      As I mentioned in the article Popp, that’s a different animal.

      • Nemanja says:

        Hello Bret,great article!
        I know it is maybe an unrelevant question,but i always wondered why deadlifters use different grips (one hand pronated,and the other one supinated)? what is the benefit of doing that? I always thought of it as a bad thing to do,since i imagined it creates imbalances,because of the asymetrical lift?
        Thank you

        • David Cusick says:

          Grip reasons. Mixed grip is seen as a stronger grip than both overhand. In my opinion I used mixed grip for a number of years and didn’t switch my hands ever and never missed a lift to grip issues although I messed up my posture. One of my shoulders is lower than the other. It lead to hip issues and effected my squat. I then started using hook grip and wouldn’t look back. Already seeing a difference. Just some food for thought.

      • Chicken&Broccoli says:

        Can you please do an article critiquing the aforementioned different animal, sumo deadlifts.

  • Awesome article.

    I think it’s interesting that several of the parts of the form you consider to be variable or up to the individual when most people believe hard and fast that one way or the other is correct.

    Do you plan on expanding on how to determine which of those options is the most effective for an individual? IE Back angle, toe angle, etc

    • Bret says:

      Yes, I do plan on expanding in a future article and video. And you’re right, these pictures provide good anectodal evidence that certain aspects of deadlifting aren’t mandatory for successful performance.

  • Bob says:

    What a great set of pix! Given the bar touches the shin and the shin is vertical (and hands on the bar), there is only one degree of freedom left — how high the hips are, or how far forward the shoulders are. The two cannot be changed independently, but obviously depend on anthropometry. If you move shoulders forward, you decrease ROM of the knees faster than that of the hips, you change the distribution of bodyweight over the bar, and you change torque on the hips. Each lifter makes a slightly different tradeoff.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Good article Bret!

    “Bar skims the shins – it never drifts away from the lifter”
    – Remember what I told you when we were at the gym in Tempe?

    I also think it is best to learn/teach “technique” first (hip-barbell connection and tightness), and then find your “style”, otherwise people would keep doing crappy deads saying that’s their “style”.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

    • Bret says:

      Yes Carlo, I remember – you told me that I’m letting the bar drift out too far, which I believe because I rarely ever have bloody shins after deadlifting…pretty much never. I agree that lifters should learn technique involving good arch, hip hinge, tightness, etc., then finding their style. Otherwise you just see the horrific Youtube deadlifting videos!!!

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    Bret, let’s be honest, it’s not just the pencil neck lifting form police that get prickly when you suggest that really strong dudes don’t tow the “company line”. I can think of one well known strength coach who gets particularly bent out of shape when challenged on a few of these technique points.

    Most of these guys are doing an RDL, after clearing the floor with quad contribution. Looks like Nick Best is effectively doing an 815-lb. SLDL which is amazing! Amazing.

    I remember reading a Gray Cook article where he said that a toddler will squat to stand, but if you roll a light medicine ball their way, they will keep the hips high, and hinge. I saw a guy last night at the gym “squatting his 185-lb. DL’s”, and I wanted to go over and be “that guy”.

    But I didn’t. 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Great thoughts Derrick, as usual I agree with your points. And I’m never “that guy” either when I attend gyms, I just mind my business unless asked for advice, in which case I’ll talk their ear off haha.

  • Dylan says:

    Great article, thanks for compiling all of the photos. This is very timely for me, as I just recently realized I was not deadlifting with the most efficient bar path because my shins weren’t vertical. A question, though– you mention shoulders being in front of the bar, but if you pick up a barbell with your shoulders in front of the bar, wouldn’t it have a tendency to swing out, away from you?

    • Bret says:

      Dylan, I don’t feel the shoulders need to be in front of the bar…they can be directly above too. But if they are out in front slightly, form can be coordinated so that the bar doesn’t drift forward and so that it drags right along the body.

  • Ari Lipponen says:

    Bret, I’m a S&C coach myself and currently teaching young soccer and hockey players to deadlift and power clean. What makes this challenging are the different styles of pulling – powerlifting style vs. olympic lifting style. The powerlifter will pull exactly like you said, vertical shins and fairly high hips. But, the olympic lifting coaches stress the importance of driving the knees forward and keeping the hips fairly low. This makes the pulling more knee-dominant. A good example of this: (a Master’s age group olympic lifter): http://www.flickr.com/photos/painonnosto/2317935135/in/photostream/

    Since the deadlift has to be taught before teaching the power clean it becomes obvious, that you have to make a choice between these two styles. Which takes me to the power clean: what exactly is the most efficient bar path for a clean? And is the force transfer from the first pull (deadlift) to the second pull more efficient (as I suspect) when your torso is more vertical throughout the lift (olympic lifting style)? Or should the first pull be done with more vertical shins and high(er) hips… (powerlifting style)? But does this compromise the explosiveness of the second pull? Bret, I’d like to hear (or read) your thoughts on this.

    • Bret says:

      Good question – the bar path for cleans has been reported in the literature and it’s a bit of an s-shape. But with cleans, the torso angle stays pretty consistent during the first pull so that by the time the second pull comes around it’s similar to an RDL (but more explosive of course). Therefore, you end up working quads and hammies/glutes with cleans. The first pull should be done in the manner you described to allow for better positioning for the second pull.

  • Frank says:

    My question has to do with an olympic clean vs. a deadlift.

    The clean needs to use the bodies levers to thrust the weight upward. With the deadlift, the benefit levers have in accelerating the weight are a detriment when it comes to lifting as much weight as possible. Aren’t some of the form intricacies here due to the body slowly starting to fail? Not failing to the point where the weight cannot be lifted but failing to keep all the levers rigid?

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      I think you nailed it, Frank. The first domino to fall is the scaps moving eccentrically into protraction. The second domino to fall is the T-spine moving eccentrically into flexion, (although some PL’ers just skip this step and set up in T-spine flexion).

      The third domino to fall is the L-spine moving into flexion. Bad domino #3!

      This all presupposes that the grip doesn’t fail at any point along the way. The greater the relative load, the more the fishing pole bends, so to speak.

    • Bret says:

      I suppose you could think of it like that. The body can’t hold a rigid arched position and “leaks” by moving into eccentric contractions until the external and internal torques are balanced so that the bar begins to rise. By “leaking” you bring into play passive forces – titin, myofascia, thoracolumbar fascia, which aids considerably in the lift. However, this is powerlifting – you don’t get points for lookin’ pretty!

      • Mark says:

        Great article Bret!

        Here are my thoughts

        Olympic lifting is all about HITTING ‘positions’

        Since we are limited by how much we can catch/recover and jerk in the clean or catch/recover in the snatch – it allows us to use a pull technique that is optimal for hitting ‘positions’ (low hip set up for many lifters) but suboptimal for hitting our greatest load potential

        Powerlifting is all about hitting our greatest load potential

        This makes powerlifting more about HOLDING positions (versus hitting positions in weightlifting)
        When pulling loads > 90% (which is a different animal altogether than lifting loads < 90%) we often see the following set-up position: 1. High hip position (positioning their COG closer to the bar) 2. Spinal flexion (thoracic > than lumbar) to decrease the length of the hip-shoulder line/lever arm relationship and the fulcrum of loading in the lower back (‘long aint strong’ in powerlifting)

        3. Scapular protraction (coupled with spinal flexion) to lengthen the arms and support the high hip set up position and its pulling advantage

        Here is the important part (what i feel is important)

        Once a lifter finds their optimal pull technique with loads > 90% – training becomes all about building strength and experience in that technique (HOLD and GROOVE training)

        Perform every pull (heavy or light) from your optimal pull position – rather than trying to maintain a more ‘ideal’ set-up position and waiting for the load to call you a dumb ass and reposition you
        In my experience a lifter that has spent the time ‘grooving the technique’ and built the strength to ‘HOLD IT’ is in a much better position (safety why’s) than the lifter that waits for the load to drag them into positions where they have less experience

        So train as you mean to lift!

        “When I deadlift, my back remains in the same rounded position throughout the lift, irrespective of whether I can lift the weight or not, and this protects it from injury.”
        Konstantin Konstantinovs

        Thanks Bret!

        • Mark says:

          Hi Bret

          The above comment got butchered (the middle section is missing) when i sent it – not sure why

          I have sent you the full comment to your Facebook account… so please delete the above one and replace it

          Cheers buddy

  • Jp says:

    A few observations; why would it be advantageous to have your shoulders rounded(rhetorical)? I feel if you round your shoulders by protracting your scapular then you are leaking power and stressing the lumbar. I feel if you can’t DL the weight with shoulders pulled back to maintain optimal lower back position, then it shouldn’t be done! I guarantee you all of these guys will have or already have lower back issues that will plague them the rest of their lives. Obviously these guys are all on the sauce it’s the only way weight of that magnitude will be lifted. The DL is a great functional lift but there is a limit to how heavy one should try to lift. The greater the weight the greater the risk of injury. 1.5 to 2 times BW DL is sufficient! A person pulling 450 versus a person pulling 315 is no more functional. Face it a 150 piece of furniture or some other object is at least a two man job due to the size and weight distribution. Train smart!

    • Bret says:

      JP – the scapulae function independently of the thoracic and lumbar spines. Shoulders rounded forward is scapular protraction (abduction). This allows for a slightly higher torso angle to give a mechanical advantage. The shoulders can round with a flexed, neutral, or extended spine.

      Furthermore, I’m aware of no research showing that powerlifters have more tissue damage or incidents of back pain than the average population, but I would suspect that you are correct. However, these folks are professional powerlifters, strongmen, bodybuilders, and Olympic weightlifters. They’re choosing to go down this path, and they accept the risks. I’m sure that golfers have more back pain than average folks and runners have more knee pain than average folks too, do you feel that people shouldn’t golf or run?

      If you’re going to scrutinize powerlifting then you have to scrutinize all sports, including football (concussions, back injury), basketball (ankle injuries, knee injuries), baseball (shoulder injuries, back injuries), and hockey (concussions, hernia/groin injuries), etc. Remember, this is a sport – they’re not lifting to be functional, they’re lifting to set personal, state, national, and world records. Hence the title of the article.

      I wrote a good article for TNation that you’d like titled, 21 Exercises for Injury Free Mass. This article is likely right down your alley. Cheers, BC

    • Jeff says:

      Hate to break it to ya JP but retracting the shoulders does not protect the lower back. I spent months retracting my blades, flexing my abs and lats, bracing and putting my chest out and when it came down to really pulling real weight, form always deteriorated.

      The real way to keep a flat back while Deadlifting is to do good mornings with a flat back, which takes years before it can be strong enough to help with DLing, Or what works for me is power squating in a stance that is close to your deadlift. My squat stance is about 3″ wider than my DL and its all Butt, Back and Hamstrings, which is the same muscles as a DL even though the hips obviously drop lower.

      The reason these work is it teaches your spine to stay tight while lifting heavy .

      When I don’t do squats my back rounds terribly and my deadlift weight falls dramatically. I made the huge mistake of skipping them last week and did swings instead figuring that this could do the same as squats but not only did my back round I dropped from 635 to 595. I never have lost more than 20 Lbs before when missing squats but this (for me) shows how dependent I am on squatting to help my DL. I am still PO about it but all I can do is get back to squatting and hope I can get my strength back in a few months. (I do conventional DLs and not sumo just in case you thought I was a wide stance Squatter and Deadlifter.

    • Damon says:

      Jp, i assure you that rounding your shoulders does nothing to your lower back. It basically helps to extend your arm to the bar, meaning your torso is slightly higher up, making the lift that much more easy, as you can lift more weight when your torso is more upright. That has nothing to do with your lower back. I have lifted in that manner and i have no lower back problems at all.

      I`m 133 lbs, and so far i have deadlifted about 400 lbs. I don`t agree that the greater the weight, the greater the risk of injury. Remember that when you lift heavier….you get stronger. As long as your technique does not waver, and your body can actually support the weight….you should have no problems. Your body also eventually learns to get used to the heavier weight. Then…it doesn`t feel so heavy.

    • john backos says:

      Jp, you’re not rounding the shoulders, you’re allowing the shoulder blades to be pulled down with the arms. This has the effects of lengthening the arms, raising the shoulders, and shortening the distance that the shins must move backwards at the start. What they do is attain thisposition, then brace so the position remains constant. Properly performed the risk of injury is no greater than bending over to tie your shoes.

  • jim says:

    Bret, a little off topic but have you ever measured muscle EMG during the Olympic lifts? I would be really interested in seeing glute, hamstring etc activation during all variations of the Olympic lifts.

    • Bret says:

      I did a huge experiment a few years back but I didn’t tape down the wires so I got too much artifacts interfering with the data. I need to do this again as I’d really like to see this too.

      • Jim says:

        Thanks for the reply.
        Really looking forward to this one. Your EMG articles were real eye openers for me. It will be interesting to see EMG differences between Olympic lifts from the floor, hang & blocks

        • Bret says:

          I suspect that you wouldn’t see much differences. We just reviewed an article that showed that deadlifts and RDLs elicit the same hamstring activity, contrary to popular opinion. But I’d like to see it too!

  • Jonny says:

    very interesting article Bret. It would be interesting to see what their forms look like when they train sub-maximally day in day out. Regarding the protracted shoulders, would this not exaggerate a lifter with a kyphotic tendency to drop too far into t spine flexion? How do you normally cue someone to keep their t spine neutral and what would commonly be their limiting factor in the deadlift in your experience? Cheers

    • Bret says:

      I guarantee that the lifters are more strict in their regular training. I don’t feel that scapular protraction/retraction highly influences t-spine posture, contrary to popular opinion. Do this for me – get into a good deadlift position with a solid thoracic arch. Now let the shoulders roll forward as if a heavy bar is pulling down on them. Note that you can maintain t-spine extension. Scapular kinematics are therefore uncoupled from spinal kinematics for the most part. I think that with the scapulae retracted you could possibly get some extension synergy assuming the scaps are stable, based on analyzing the scapular retractors’ lines of pull, but not nearly as much as what the thoracic extensors provide. You want to keep a strong arch – cue to keep the chest up. Just my two cents…

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Jonny, most DLers are going to protract the scaps with a heavy load. Some may set up in retraction, but their scaps will then eccentrically unwind as the bar comes off the floor. Some just go ahead and set up in protraction.

      The ones who don’t protract their scaps are the ones who either pull sumo, or have freaky long arms, and start out with a pretty vertical torso off the floor. The more vertical the spine, the less the direct angle against gravity pulling the scaps apart.

      The reason is that the hamstrings, glutes and lats are powerhouse muscles and can handle far more load than the scapular retractors can hold in a contracted position.

      Another experiment to try: Set up on a bench chest down, 45-degree angle. Perform progressively heavier scapular shrugs/retractions. Have a couple of spotters hand you progressively heavier barbells. Make a note of when your scaps can no longer hold a retraction.

      Call it a hunch, but I suspect that this load is going to be WAY less than your max DL. If not, then you either have the strongest rhomboids/middle traps in human history, or your DL needs some work!

      And BC is right. T-spine extension and scapular protraction/retraction are different actions. Put your back against a wall and stretch your arms out as far as possible. The back doesn’t have to come off the wall. It can stay in perfect extension as the scaps protract.

      (I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately!)

  • Chuck says:

    Bret, thanks for posting the pictures. ALL had vertical shins. Eye opener for me. I don’t have any pictures of myself dead lifting, but I can almost bet the bank that my shins are not vertical. Would you explain the mechanical advantage of vertical shins vs not vertical? I don’t think all these guys are going with vertical shins because they think it looks cool. Has to be a very good reason.

  • Frank says:

    What do you think about saying these aren’t true deadlifts? Here is a question for Bret. If you took all the torque and levers into account would the amount of force generated be very similar with the best good form deadlift vs a max deadlift?

    It would make sense because these guys aren’t keeping their hips down because they aren’t strong enough. As the form gets worse more of the force us due to pure weight and less through torque.

    • Bret says:

      Frank – I’m not sure if you adequately understand forces and torques. A dl is a slow lift, so the force is pretty much equal to the load in kilograms times around 10 (acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s^2), to give you the force in Newtons. So these lifters are generating more force than their weaker counterparts.

      As far as torques, here’s my guess. With “perfect form,” characterized by a neutral spine and neutral scapulae, these guys would have to reduce the load between 10-20% depending on the lifter. I bet that the knee extension torques would be slightly similar between the great form and “poor” form, the hip extension torques would be slightly smaller with perfect form, and the spinal extension torques would be smaller with perfect form. The reason why greater torque production is produced with poorer form is due to the passive elements (tissue that stretches out) coming into play. The spinal erectors stretch and the titin filaments wind up, the thoracolumbar fascia stretches a bit, etc. This allows for greater total muscle force (less active but more passive) and hence more torque.

      Even with “perfect form” these guys are still the strongest deadlifters in the world. Hope that helps!

  • AmberDawn says:

    Thank you. I enjoy advice that factors individual body types into the equation.

  • Galen says:

    Great article! And the comments are super! Your fans are a knowledgeable bunch. I have low back issues. I know the first rule of training is if it hurts your joints to do an exercise don’t do the exercise. So, I DL off blocks only and I use a slower tempo and strict form. In this way I am still able to train “DL” . I reviewed my shin angle after reading the article and that is a really good tip. Vertical shins is an easy cue to remember.

  • Frank says:

    Bret,
    I see what your saying. I hadn’t considered those passive elements.

    As far as torque, I was referring the difference in the lever arm with a great form deadlift vs a max deadlift.

    Torque being the lever arm distance and force I’m sure you know. So the question is, since we know the lever arm is reduced with a max deadlift though there is higher force.

    Lets say a 30 inch lever instead of a 35 inch lever… or something along those lines. The difference here is there are multiple levers at work…. The femur the spine etc…

    Just as you have asked the question, “why are people the strongest with a rounded back?” I am asking, are they really stronger since you are only looking at the load and not all the forces involved?

    Is it possible the force needed to overcome all of the disadvantageous levers with perfect form equals a similar total when torque is taken into consideration compared to a max dead?

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Interesting thoughts, Frank. I think I get where you are going. It’s kind of like a mechanical drop set, and why a snatch grip is harder than a regular DL. Compromising one joint angle to create a more favorable angle at another joint, and making up the difference with loading.

      That’s pretty much what a max DL is all about, ha ha! But some joints are just so much stronger than other joints that something has to give. The torque on the T-spine may be greater if it stays extended, but now the hips are not going to be tested maximally.

      (It’s entirely possible that I am misunderstanding here, if so, very sorry. 🙂

  • Frank says:

    Exactly right Derrick, a mechanical drop set that’s a great way to put it.

  • Kelly says:

    Hi Bret,

    I have a bad ankle, should I keep my shins verticle.
    Would regular or Sumo’s DL’s be better for me, any advice would be great.
    Keep up the great work

  • EctoJosh says:

    Pretty cool idea, Bret. Interesting to see the similarities and differences on display here. Question — any chance you might try putting together a similar write-up for those of us who find sumo deads more natural?

  • Brandon S. says:

    Sucks I’m getting to this article a few weeks late and after I deadlifted this week. However, after looking at some of my videos, pictures, etc. I see that I’m falling right in line with almost all these. Being a shorter lifter (5’1″), I’m wondering if I still need to make a minor tweak somewhere to get me into the 500 range (current best is 490). I’m stalling after I pass the knee, so looks like glutes, hammies, and hip flexor mobility are needs I should be working in. Great article, Bret!

    • john backos says:

      Once the bar passes the knee the aim is to thrust the hips forward thereby pushing the shoulders upward to lockout. If the thrust is strong enough there won’t be much grinding. The word mobility should be banned. The hip flexors are the antagonists of the extensors (glutes, hams, calves). Do you really think that tight hip flexors can overpower the posterior chain ? Your issue is a weak posterior chain. This begins at the calves and end at the rhomboids and lower traps. The cure for me was pulls from below the knees, good mornings, RDL’s, tons of upper and mid back work along with abs.

  • Micke says:

    I think the most important thing in a good deadlift is the hip position and it`s individual.
    The most of these lifters if not all have there hips in the most advantageous position.
    Look at Kevin nee deadlift, his hips doesn`t shoot up before the bar leaves the floor.
    In my opinion perfect technique.

  • Mayra says:

    This is great! I just deadlifted 175 X2 yesterday and I weigh 114 at 5’2 (female). I will def compare my form to these pics.

  • Shane says:

    When you are finding videos and analyzing them what software are you using? Dartfish? I’m trying to come up with a practicum for next semester (I’ll be a second year biomechanics grad student) and one of my ideas was to learn/use analytical software like Dartfish to give real-time feedback to athletes at the school. Just wondering what you use and how you like it. -Shane

  • Andrew says:

    As someone who’s been only deadlifting for 7 months and has read every article and watched every YouTube clip on the Internet, I found this to be a great article for 2 reasons
    #1. Shins up!! just about EVERY other article you read says to allow your knees to come forward in the set up until shins touch the bar. This always transferred my weight too far forward over the bar and I could never push from the heels. Vertical shins fixed this instantly and and everything else seems to just fall into place naturally (hip height, should position etc). 5-10 mins of hip mobility work before lifting really helps with the flexibility to keep shins vertical and hips back.

    #2. The article acknowledges so much of the setup comes down to personal preference. I’m so sick of reading feet “must” be shoulder with and shoulders “must” be this and foot placement “must” be that and everyone else is doin it wrong. It’s such bs to talk in absolutes.
    I would definitely recommend newbies also watch a few videos from Kelly Starrett on creating tension for deadlifts and doing mobility work. His advice makes great sense and goes beyond the standard 10 point checklist that every other guy has already said about the deadlift.

  • anon says:

    “Shoulders are rounded forward – scaps are never retracted”

    Yet you include Mike Tuscherer as an example, might want to add a note there.

    Also to finish the lift a lot of people (right or wrong) will bring the shoulders back, and slightly retract the scapula.

  • Kellcie says:

    No women in the photos? I can’t relate to male proportions. My femurs are same length as torso, and shins are two inches shorter than they should be for my femur length, and arm span is zero index. This means that in order to start with my legs in the average position that the men in the photos have (120 degree angle or so), my hips must be higher than my shoulders. Or, in order to be as upright as some of these men, my legs would have to be in a deeper than 90 degree squat. I’m screwed! I’ve tried sumo. It feels terrible.

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