The deadlift is perhaps the king of compound exercises, and when your deadlifting technique is spot-on, you will experience amazing results. This routine should be part of everybody’s hypertrophy program.
There are variations of this multi-joint routine, but proper deadlift technique has one big common denominator: Never allow the back to round out!
Maintain a solid arch in the lower back at all times throughout the movement. Straying even slightly from this giant rule can put you at risk for a nasty injury to the low back.
1. Romanian Deadlift Technique
This style of deadlift is perhaps the most commonly observed.
If you’re familiar with the good-morning exercise, the RDL resembles a good-morning except that the barbell is below one’s hips rather than on top of the upper back.
Preliminary Rundown Of Proper Deadlift Form:
• Feet: shoulder width or a bit wider apart
• Hands: shoulder width or a bit wider apart, palms facing you (pronated grip)
• Head position: Use a mirror and keep eyes on neck or face throughout the movement; this will automatically keep head positioned correctly. Never look down.
• Chest: Keep it “proud” throughout. This means a big, puffed out chest as you straighten and hold the top portion of the exercise, yet also keep it proud as you lower. At the bottom of the movement, the chest is parallel with floor.
• Shoulders: Keep them relaxed, not tense or rigid. At top of movement retract the scapulae a bit (bones in upper back) so that shoulders peel back a little.
• Legs: Never lock out knees; they are always “soft” at the top of the routine. At bottom of movement the legs do bend as if going into a squat, but it’s not a full squat. Do not let knees cave in towards each other.
• Posture: At top of movement your lower back is slightly extended, meaning that you’re standing a little past vertical, but do not create pronounced low back extension. A partner can give you feedback on this.
Always perform this routine before a mirror.
Execution Of Proper Romanian Deadlift Technique
Beginners should practice first with an unloaded bar and perform 20 reps just to make sure that their deadlift form is down solid.
If you feel any tweak or twang in the lower back, this means that the form needs improvement.
Once you feel confident, increase the weight, but don’t make large weight increases. Work up to a weight that’s challenging to do 8-12 times.
The school of thought is mixed when it comes to the ideal rep max for any kind of deadlift.
Some say to avoid very heavy weights due to the injury risk factor, while others believe in using only very heavy weights to keep the rep max low, since (according to this approach) the more reps you do, the more likely you’ll break form.
Grab the barbell and applying the previously mentioned guidelines for the various body parts, start lifting. Keep the bar as close to your shins, knees and quads as possible.
If it rubs a little on your shins, knees and thighs, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary.
The more you allow the bar to stray away from your shins, etc., the more unsafe the movement becomes, as this lengthens the “lever arm,” meaning, the source of the resistance is further away from the fulcrum (your lower back).
This forces the lower back to absorb stress that these tiny erector muscles are not designed to handle.
So make sure you keep that bar moving as close as possible to the shins, knees and thighs as you straighten (and lower).
The lowering (“negative” or eccentric) portion of the exercise is the reverse of going up.
As for how to set the barbell down before the next repetition, this can either be a touch-and-go style, in which the plates barely make contact with the floor and then you immediately move into the next rep; or, you may prefer to set the weight down completely before proceeding to the next rep.
In this latter case, never let the barbell crash or slam to the floor, even if it’s the last rep of a failure set. This can send a shock wave through the lower back and injure it.
2. Sumo Deadlift Technique
The legs and feet are positioned similar to that of a Sumo wrestler taking his position right before he charges his opponent: legs are very far apart, feet pointed outward.
Both palms may be pronated, or, one is facing you, and the other is facing forward (supinated grip).
It’s safer to have both palms facing the same direction in any style of this exercise, including both supinated.
The rest of the Sumo technique is the same as the RDL.
Some trainees swear that this technique is easier than the RDL, while others say they feel no difference in difficulty.
3. Straight Leg Deadlift Technique
This version is also called stiff leg. Again, everything is the same for this as with the previous styles, except that the bend in the legs is minimized when you lower.
But the legs are not literally straight. There is a soft bend in the knees the entire time, though for the most part, the legs do appear straight.
Some people allow a little more knee flexion, however. The straighter the legs, the more difficult the movement and the more hamstring recruitment there is.
4. Dumbbell Deadlift Technique
This is a much less common version, though it offers variation in hand position.
Apply the same technique and safety rules as with the other versions, and you can do Romanian, Sumo or straight-leg variations.
With a pronated grip, the dumbbells can be brought up to remain in front of yourself, with the width between hands mimicking that used with a barbell.
Or, as you straighten, you can bring the dumbbells to your sides, palms remaining pronated, for a little extra range of motion to the shoulders. Palms can also face outward.
But also realize that with dumbbells, you can start the movement with palms in a neutral grip (facing each other), the starting position of the weights on either side of your feet, and remaining on either side of your body throughout the motion.
This minimizes risk of low back injury because it minimizes length of the lever arm.
Tempo (speed of movement) can vary, but it is not safe to apply a “super slow” technique with heavy weights. Let what your body naturally gravitates toward, dictate the tempo.
With ultra-heavy weights, speed will naturally be slowed down, but just make sure that the speed feels comfortable and works best for maintaining solid deadlifting technique.
Once you have proper technique for deadlift perfected, you will become hooked on this super compound movement and realize its potential for building strength and mass.
For a more in-depth look at this marvelous multi-joint routine, as well as other classic compound exercises, you can read Vince DelMonte’s No-Nonsense Muscle Building Program.
Here, you will be presented with 29-week programs (including meal plans) ideal for both beginners and intermediate/advanced trainees seeking to build lean muscle mass.