Major Keys to Your Deadlift Setup

Posted: February 23, 2016 in Lift Technique, Training
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Note: This post is courtesy of NLSP intern Andrew Murcia. Andrew graduated from Penn State with a degree in exercise science and has been with us since December of 2015 assisting with training of all of our athletes, with a little help from DJ Khaled.


DJ Khaled Success


Greetings and salutations everyone,

Andrew Murcia here and I’m channeling my inner DJ Khaled to give you some major keys to more effective and efficient deadlifting.  So read and apply these tips carefully because THEY don’t want you to lift better, so we’re going to lift better.

The theme for today’s article is all about the setup for your deadlift.  The quality of your deadlift pulls is largely determined by your set up.  Compound movements like deadlifts are all about how much leverage you can exert over the bar.  In other words, you must control the weight rather than allowing the weight to control you.  With that said, here are some major keys to remember when we deadlift.


MAJOR KEY’s to Remember:


Occasionally we will see a rounding of lower back from some athletes at varying points of the deadlift.  This results from a lack of proper core bracing. This is one of the more common issues with beginners, and can be one of the more abstract/difficult concepts to understand.

Deadlift form

Figuring how to brace your core properly is similar in concept to how would take a punch to their stomach/midsection.  When taking punch to the stomach, we innately respond by reflexively bracing, meaning we will tighten our abdominal region in order to prepare itself for the incoming blow.

Many athletes when they are starting out will fill their chest cavity full of air when attempting to brace.  This is actually counterintuitive for bracing as filling the chest with air provides minimal to no support for your midsection.  Rather, think about filling your body with air from the bottom up.  Breathe through your diaphragm.  To facilitate this bracing strategy, think about trying to fill out a belt that has been wrapped around your bellybutton (I recommend this as a mental practice but using this as literal practice could prove to be useful as well).  Another good way to practice this breathing technique was created by elite powerlifter Chris Duffin, pictured below. Check out his HOW TO SQUAT video for more info on breathing/bracing when lifting.

Chris Duffin deadlift

Face a mirror and place your hands on your collarbone.  Take a deep breath until you are completely full, hold it for a few seconds and observe if your hands rose during inhalation.  If so, then you have filled your chest cavity full of air rather than your diaphragm.  This is a great feedback tool to determine how well you prepare your bracing for a lift.  We want minimal chest rise when we fill our stomach with air to brace for a lift.  Once we have become proficient at this technique we can apply it to the lift itself.  Create the brace just prior to getting into starting position of your deadlift, and as you ascend upwards steadily exhale until you reach full extension at the top of the lift.  Before you descend back down to the ground, create that brace again to protect your midsection/back from injury.  And as with many things in sports, this breathing technique requires daily practice to achieve proficiency.

2) Pin Your Shoulders Back (Shoulder Retraction)

It is imperative that one keeps their shoulders retracted not only during initial setup of the deadlift, but at all times during the performance of the lift itself.  Essentially, you want to pull your shoulder blades together until they’re nearly touching each other.  Doing so will help prevent your upper back from rounding in addition to maintaining a neutral spine.  If the shoulders were to release forward, the upper back has a tendency to round over.  This can lead to serious problems, especially if the weight is significantly heavy for the athlete.  When the upper back rounds, the forces are then transferred down the line to the lower back region in order to compensate.  Once that happens, it becomes a matter of time before fatigue eventually sets in and lower back gives out, thus leading to a potentially significant injury.  So long story short, it is imperative to keep your shoulders pinned back!

3) Pull The Slack Out of the Bar

Leaning on the bar results in a bending in the arms at the elbow and wrist joint.  This kind of setup will more often than not result in an initial yank on the bar which will pull your body right out of proper positioning.  Not only will this put you in a position where the risk for injury increases, it will also result in a less efficient, “grinding” type of repetition.

Deadlift arms

A way to combat this issue is through a method called, “pulling the slack out of the bar”.  As we sit back on our heels, we will slightly tug on the bar before the main pull.  This will create tension in both our arms as well as the bar but also engage our latissimus dorsi (i.e. lats or upper-mid back region) muscles.  Engaging more of our musculature will greatly help our ability to pull significant weight as well as the ease with which we do so.  A good way to remember this cue is by imagining that you are squeezing oranges in your armpits.  Keep your arms pinned close to your body, bring your chest up but not out (bring chest out with result in an arching of the back – no good), and squeeze your shoulders back to keep these imaginary oranges in place!

4) Sit Back on Your Heels

This probably is the most prominent issue that I’ve seen during my time at NLSP.  Many times our athletes find themselves too far in front of or over the bar.  The further out forward our upper body is over the bar, the less leverage we have over the bar.

deadlift form

This leads to the athlete ‘muscling’ the bar using mostly their back rather than relying on their leg musculature (i.e. posterior chain) to take on a majority of the load.  This can lead to serious injury (ex: herniated disk in lumbar spine).  When we sit back and allow the majority of the weight/force to be channeled through our heels, things tend to fall into place given that the rest of our technique looks.  Meaning if we sit back on our heels and drive them into the floor, the knee-ankle angle becomes nearly vertical, the bar path throughout the lift straightens out, and the lift itself will feel smoother.


There you have it, some MAJOR KEYS in the deadlifting game.  All of these keys will lead you to a more effective and efficient movement pattern which will eventually allow you to handle heavier weights.  But remember that moving well comes first, not the weight!  Doing so the other way around and you will end up like Drake below:

Drake wheelchair

So read these points over, learn from them, and apply to your technique and form.  And don’t be afraid to ask questions!  There is no such thing as a bad or stupid question.  The strength coaches at NLSP are always happy to answer any you may have.

Oh and always remember…


dj khaled they don't want you to win

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