How to deadlift without pain
The deadlift gets a bad reputation about causing back injuries. Often when injuries occur in the deadlift or just lifting things off the ground it is usually from just not being prepared - a sudden quick movement in an awkward position, lifting more weight than you were ready for, or performing more reps than you were conditioned for. Hopefully, this guide allows you to continue lifting without pain.
Foot Position and stance
If we start with the conventional stance (narrow stance), your feet should be around hip-width or slightly wider. The feet should be pointing “naturally” forward. Some people’s forward may have some toe-out and occasionally there is some noticeable difference between right and left foot position. As seen in the squat article, I recommend an “active foot” and shoe wear depends on your personal preference - although I don’t recommend a heeled shoe to deadlift in.
For wide-stance (sumo-stance), your feet will be outside of shoulder-width so your arms can fit in between your legs to grab the bar. When compared to conventional-stance, there is usually a bit more toe-out rotation that allows for a more upright torso. As far as which to choose, this depends entirely on your comfort. Depending on your torso, arm, and leg length, most people find that one stance is more comfortable than the other. Whichever once is more comfortable usually allows you to pull more weight.
Not much to say here but just a few key points. Keep the bar close to your legs, scraping gently up the front of your shins. Once you get the bar to your knees your shins should be completely vertical so you don’t have to pull the bar around your kneecaps. If you find yourself hitting your knees hard, try slightly pushing your hips back to fix the issue. A cue I use commonly at the top of the movement when I see people overarching their low back is to simply squeeze their quads and glutes at the end.
Torso and Arms
Probably the most hotly debated topic with deadlifting if it is good or bad for your back. Well, we have plenty of research that shows resistance training (lifting heavy stuff) is beneficial for your health and we all have to pick things up off the ground occasionally, so it just about proper dosage. The main thing concerning torso position is just trying to keep everything “neutral”. Now, realize that there WILL BE some movement in your torso/back as you perform a deadlift. The whole point of the exercise is to RESIST THE MOVEMENT of your spine trying to bend forward because of the massive amount of weight in your hands as you lift it off the ground!!! So, focus on a good position before you lift more weight. In my opinion, I think many people easily get overconfident with a deadlift because if you can’t lift the weight, it just goes back to the ground in contrast to bench press or squat when you are under the weight. But, that’s just like my opinion, man.
Depending on your height and anatomy, the wide-stance will usually put your torso in a more upright position when compared to the narrower stance. The stance you use will also create some variation in your arm position as well. With the narrower conventional stance, your arms will be just outside your legs and the wider stance will have your arms inside of your legs - usually straight down from your shoulders (seen in the top images).
The main grips used in deadlifting are double overhand grip, hookgrip, and mixed grip. You can also use lifting straps with these if you want. The double overhand grip is simply grabbing the bar overhand. The main complaint with this is the tendency of the bar to roll backward out of your hands. The mixed grip helps this as you turn one hand with your palm facing away from you. Now, the bar twisting in fact creates more torque in your hands and makes it harder for it to roll out. This does create some small amount of imbalance between the two arms but in most cases is negligible. The third option is the hookgrip where you grab the bar overhand and instead of wrapping your thumb around your fingers, you place your fingers over your thumb around the bar creating a “hook” that is more secure than a normal overhand grip. This is the preferred grip in Olympic Weightlifting but takes some time to adapt to as it places more pressure on your thumb and can be uncomfortable. Lifting straps are a cotton or leather strap that goes around your wrist and the barbell which minimizes the amount of grip strength needed to lift the same amount of weight. It’s often used to minimize grip fatigue with higher volume lifting.
Putting it Together
Let’s put it all together now:
Choose a stance width - either narrow or wide
Keeping your torso neutral, bend over and grab the bar
Keeping your torso braced enough to not flex forward, lift the bar upward, keeping it close to your shins
As it passes the knees, focus on standing up straight and squeeze your quads and glutes at the top
Lower the bar back down the front of your legs and onto the ground