Conventional Deadlift Coaching Points

Conventional Deadlift Coaching Points

***This is written for a physical performance viewpoint, not a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting perspective. The goal is health and longevity, not breaking world records. 

Bar Positioning

To prevent injury and maximize body position for the safety and efficacy of the lift.

  •  Make sure the plates you are using have the diameter of a 45lb plate (450mm).
    • Trying to deadlift with 5-10lb plates greatly increases the risk of injury.  
    • Some equipment manufacturers make 25-35lb plates with a 450mm diameter and include ‘“training plates” for 5-10lb varieties. 
  • If you do not have access to proper plates, position the bar inside a power rack (rack pulls) or place it on blocks/mats/plates to elevate it to the proper position. See pic below 


    To create an attachment point between your body and the bar so you can create a full-body tightness.

    • Use a traditional overhand grip just slightly outside of your knees.
        • More on the mixed grip to follow…
        • Utilize a hook grip if you know-how
      • Similar to the bench, try to ‘break the bar’ in half as you grip
        • Creating torque between your shoulders and the bar
        • This will create an immense amount of lat and upper back tightness


        To pull your body into a hip-dominant position where you can brace your core, properly load your posterior chain and utilize leg drive.

        • Standing tall, your shoelaces should be directly underneath the barbell.
          • Feet slightly inside shoulder-width.
          • Toes pointed out slightly with your weight on your mid-foot.
        • Brace your core
          • Shoulders pulled back and stable
          • Rib-cage set over your pelvis with your abs/obliques engaged
          • Glutes activated
          • Neutral spinal position
        • With a slight bend at the knee, hinge at the waist to reach down and grab the barbell.
          • If you don’t know how to hinge, read this first: Hip Hinge Coaching Points
          • Maintain a flat back, neutral spine as you hinge
        • Gripping the bar tightly, feel as if you are pulling your hips down into the proper position.
          • Your shins will slightly touch the bar.
          • Your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, lats and upper back) and core should be fully activated from pulling yourself into position.
        • Do not overextend (excessively arch) or round your back.
          • Pull/take/eliminate the slack from the barbell.
            • The greater the stability = the safer and more efficient you are.
          • Create upper back tightness by either thinking “flex your chest” or “retracting your shoulder blades”
          • Slightly drive your knees out into your forearms.
            • This will create torque in your hips = more leg drive
            • You are creating rotational force in your hip = greater stabilization

          Leg Drive

          To maximize the power source of your legs while preserving the integrity of your spine angle.

          • The pull is a misnomer. You are driving your legs into the floor, through your midfoot, with your upper body fully engaged to the bar close to your body.
            • You are not pulling the bar with your arms.
          • Your body moves at one speed with hips and chest rising at the same time.
            • Don’t let your butt shoot straight up at the beginning of the lift.
              • ‘A la Stripper deadlift.
          • Your arms stay straight throughout the entire movement.
            • Pulling with bent arms over time = elbow pain


          Completion of the lift without compromising your spinal integrity and maximizing hip extension

          • Squeeze your glutes together at the completion of the lift.
            • Do not arch your back at the top.
          • Driving your hips through to complete the lift is technically termed “hip extension”.
            • Glutes are prime movers for hip extension.
          • Maintain full-body tightness at the completion of the lift.

          Return Weight to the Floor

          To understand how to properly lower heavy loads safe and effectively

          • Replicate the hip-hinge as you return the weight to the floor while maintaining your tightness
            • Do not bend your knees to initiate the barbell descent.
            • Continue to keep the bar close to your body as you lower it. 
          • Once the bar reaches your knees, simply squat the weight to the floor.


        • What about a mixed-grip?
        • Yes, the mixed grip will allow you to pull more weight. However, the overall goal is to create total-body strength and this includes your grip. One can build immense forearms strength by employing a traditional overhand grip. Your body is also slightly offset because your grip is mixed. 

          You also create greater torque off the bar and into your upper-back employing a regular grip.

          Continuously pulling with a mixed grip over time also predisposes you to elbow pain because the shoulder, of the arm that is underhand, is in a compromised position.

          If you are trying to break a PR, then go with the mixed grip.

        • Can I drop the weight from the top at lockout?
        • Technically, yes you can. However, knowing how to properly lower a heavy barbell is paramount to injury prevention in and out of the weight room. It also doubles as a great way to build up your hamstrings and bolster back strength. If you are moving your buddy’s heavy couch/table/TV, you simply cannot drop it. It has to be lowered properly.

        • Touch and go reps?
        • The deadlift, by name alone, is self-explanatory: a lift from a dead stop. There is no eccentric loading (lengthening of a muscle), such as the descent on a squat. This is the main reason immense tightness must be generated before the lift and why the 1st rep is always the hardest. As you lower the bar on the second rep, you are eccentrically loading your body creating a stretch-reflex, this explains why 2nd, 3rd etc… reps are easier. 

          Deadlifts, relatively speaking, are performed within reps of 1-5. Once you can utilize touch and go reps or starting from a dead stop. Whichever method you prefer, make sure to generate and/or keep your full-body tightness.

        • What kind of shoes should I lift in?
        • I recommend either lifting with a flat-sole shoe, such as Chucks or Vans, or barefoot. Ultimately you want to avoid lifting in shoes with a thick cushion. You want as much contact between your feet and the ground as possible.

        • What about bloody shins?
        • The ultimate objective is to keep the bar as close to your body/center of gravity as possible. If done correctly, exposed shins will get beat up. Simply wear pants or leggings if you plan on pulling deadlifts.

        • What about RDL’s, stiff-leg or RDL variations?
        • The overall hip-hinge concept is the same but each variation has its own intricacies. If one can master the hip-hinge, performing other variations will be easy to perform. 

          HOWEVER!!! If you do not know how to properly hip-hinge, you will injure yourself regardless of what deadlift or variation thereof you perform.


          Trey Thornton is a NASM Certified Person Trainer. He spent 4 years interning with the University of TN Chattanooga Athletic Performance Dept. along with spending time at Harvard University Strength & Conditioning. He attained his Bachelor's in Exercise Science From UT Chattanooga and coached at D1 Sports Performance in Bowling Green, KY before joining the TF Staff.

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