5 Step Checklist for a Perfect Deadlift

Deadlifts are one of the best exercises to develop strength, build muscle, and increase longevity.

However, a poor deadlift setup leads to poor technique. And poor technique will inevitably lead to injury.

I don’t want you to experience injury and become fearful of this exercise. Rather, I want you to benefit from this amazing exercise by utilizing the best possible deadlift setup and technique.

Follow the 5 step checklist below for a great looking deadlift.

Bonus tips are included after each step to help you become a deadlifting powerhouse!

Note: this checklist applies to the conventional deadlift, but many of these steps can also be applied to sumo.

Step 1: Stand so the barbell is over mid-foot

Take a stance where the barbell is directly over your mid-foot. This will ensure you are balanced and in the best position to deadlift.

If the barbell is over your toes or too close to your heels, you will waste energy to bring the barbell back over your center of mass (i.e. your mid-foot), which will lead to poor technique or even injury.

Bonus tip: Your stance width should be the width where you can jump the highest. The easiest way to determine this is to perform a vertical jump. Take note of your stance just before you jump. Use this stance width when you deadlift for optimal leg drive (for most, this is roughly hip width).

Step 2: Assume the optimal grip

Take a grip of the barbell that is just outside of your legs. It’s critical that during this step, you do not move the barbell at all, otherwise you will lose the barbell over mid-foot position you created in step 1.

A grip that is just outside of your legs will lead to the most efficient range of motion.

If you assume a wide grip, then the movement turns into a snatch grip deadlift, which will increase the range of motion and make the movement more difficult. This isn’t necessarily wrong; however, when you perform a conventional deadlift, you want to be as efficient as possible, which means utilizing the shortest range of motion with arms close to your legs.

Bonus tip: If you are a beginner, I recommend you deadlift with a double overhand grip. This will help you to build a foundational level of grip strength needed for optimal performance. As you become more advanced, you may experiment with a mixed grip or a hook grip.

Step 3: Take the slack out of the barbell

Create full body tension to take the slack out of the barbell. This is the most important step of the checklist, because if you fail to properly take the slack out of the barbell, you will create energy leaks which will decrease performance and may lead to injury.

At this point, you have the barbell directly over your mid-foot (step 1), with your hands gripping the barbell just outside of your legs (step 2). To take the slack out of the barbell, perform the following:

  • Take a deep diaphragmatic breath and brace your core. This will engage all of your core muscles around your trunk to optimally stabilize your spine.

  • Slightly bend your knees until your shins are in light contact with the barbell. This will set your hips in the correct starting position.

  • ‘Bend the bar’ around your shins and fully depress your shoulders. This will tense your lats like crazy, which stiffen your trunk and prevent unwanted back rounding.

  • Initiate leg drive without lifting the barbell off the floor. This will cause the barbell to be pressing against the top of the plates – now the barbell will have no slack (in fact, if the weight is light, the plates might actually begin to hover off of the ground!). This will cause your glute muscles to fire up, which are the prime movers of the deadlift.

The bullets above should be executed in smooth succession. If performed correctly, you will have the full body tension required to deadlift safely and effectively.

Your lats, glutes, and core muscles should be turned on like crazy, with all the slack taken out of the bar. At this point, the barbell will be begging to come off the floor.

Bonus tip: If you are having difficulty with this step, I recommend you practice taking the slack out of the barbell as its own exercise. You can perform reps and sets of just taking the slack out of the barbell to improve your ability to turn on your lats, glutes, and core muscles before actually lifting the bar off the floor.

Step 4: Utilize powerful leg drive

Drive as hard as you can into the ground while maintaining full body tension to lift the barbell off the floor. If you’ve performed step 3 correctly, this step should be a breeze.

Your lats and core muscles should be tensed like crazy as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hips are actively working to move the barbell.

Do not exhale as you lift the barbell – doing so will decrease the intra-abdominal pressure you created when you performed your breath and brace in step 3. This will lead to a loss of trunk stiffness, which can cause unwanted rounding of the back and may lead to injury over time.

Bonus tip: Visualize leg pressing into the Earth to stand up. This visual cue helps you to optimize your leg power to lift massive weight!

Step 5: Finish with the proper top position

Finish the deadlift strong by standing tall like a pillar. Avoid the common mistakes of either:

1) Not fully extending the hips at the top, or

2) Over-extending your hips, which will cause the lower back to overarch.

Standing tall like a pillar will ensure you maintain a neutral spine with rib cage stacked over pelvis. This is the most optimal position when your body is under external load.

Bonus tip: Contract your glutes, quads, and core at the top for a strong finish to your deadlift!

Conclusion

If you correctly perform this 5 step checklist, you will become a deadlifting machine with increased strength, muscle, and durability. I included the important steps needed to deadlift with optimal technique.

However, the fastest path to learning your best technique is to work with a professional with years of experience who will teach, motivate, and keep you accountable.

If you want to take your deadlift to the next level and unlock your strength potential, book a free intro with me today!

Bonus Video

Click here to watch my video tutorial of the deadlift!