The deadlift is one of the most popular barbell exercises for anyone trying to improve their posterior (backside) strength and power. Unfortunately, in the vast world of fitness not all educational content for beginners is created equal. The gap in fundamentals taught to beginners can often leave them making mistakes that they have no intentions of making.
To assist the avid deadlift beginner, we wanted to publish an article and video to help the beginner avoid some of the most common deadlift mistakes that we see in the gym. Some of the mistakes below are mechanical in nature, AKA how we move, and some entail how we conceptualize the deadlift.
If we can limit these mistakes upfront when someone is beginning their deadlift journey, then we can [hopefully] instill stronger habits and mechanics as one’s strength progresses.
Beginner Deadlift Mistakes
- Deadlift Mistake 1: Shooting the Hips Up
- Deadlift Mistake 2: Underusing the Quads
- Deadlift Mistake 3: Grip and Stance Widths
- Deadlift Mistake 4: Ramping the Bar
- Deadlift Mistake 5: “Rigid” Thinking
Also, make sure you check out the video below for visuals to help you better understand and conceptualize each of these deadlift mistakes!
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Deadlift Mistake 1: Shooting the Hips Up
Probably the most common mistake we see beginners make is shooting the hips up before they initiate their pull. This can be problematic for multiple reasons.
Why Shooting the Hips Up Is Problematic
When the hips rise before the bar moves, we’re essentially losing out on a lot of the tension needed to produce strong deadlifts. Think about it this way, a few of the prime movers in the deadlift are the glutes and hamstrings. If we’re shifting the hips (having them rise) before we initiate the deadlift, then we’re essentially not utilizing the tension we should be creating with them to produce force.
In addition to limiting our prime movers from actually doing their jobs in the deadlift, we’re also increasing our work by A LOT by not creating a consistent hip angle. When we see form breakdown in the shape of excessive flexion through the torso, oftentimes, this is a byproduct of the hip rising, then the weight following.
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How to Fix Hip Shooting Up In the Deadlift
There are two primary aspects we look at when working with clients to limit hip movement pre-lift. The first, and most common for beginners, is simply adjusting their starting hip position. Oftentimes, beginners will sit too low in the deadlift so when they start the movement, what ends up happening? Their hips rise to where they should be starting, then the weight gets lifted.
If you notice that your hips are too low before you pull the weight, then video yourself and watch where the hips land when the barbell moves. More than likely, where your hips rose and stopped at is going to be a good starting position to start working with. Remember, the deadlift is not a squat, so your hip position should not resemble what they look like in the hole of a squat.
The second aspect we look at if the hips are fine is a client’s ability to create pre-lift tension, often referred to as pulling the slack out of the bar. This is the process of creating tension through the body, the floor, and the barbell before you physically lift the weight. Essentially, it’s a means to prep your body for the weight that it’s about to lift. If tension is lost before we pull, then the default movement pattern is to usually shoot the hips up.
Deadlift Mistake 2: Underusing the Quads
When beginners think deadlift, it’s usually accompanied by a “posterior-only” mindset. If we neglect some of the anterior muscles that are needed to produce strong deadlifts, then we could be leaving gains on the table.
Why Neglecting the Quads Sells Deadlifts Short
The quads are fundamental for assisting with power production in the deadlift especially through the first 60% of the movement. Without a forceful knee extension to assist in the standing portion of the deadlift, then we can lose strength off the floor.
Use the Quads Better By Cueing This
There are a few things to think about to better utilize the quads in the deadlift. For starters, you’ll want to ensure the feet are active and engaged with the floor ? something that should be of cognizance during every exercise. On top of having active feet, it can be very useful to cue the body to push the floor away as you pull.
If we cue push and pull to initiate our deadlifts, then we’ll have both our knee and hip extensors firing and engaged to produce force and strength.
Deadlift Mistake 3: Grip and Stance Widths
Another common deadlift mistake that we see beginners make when deadlifting is grip and stance widths that don’t align with one another. Essentially, this is the process of having a stance that’s too wide for a narrow grip and so forth.
Why Deadlift Grip and Stance Width Are Important to Consider
From a topical level, if our grip and stance don’t align with one another, then we can see discrepancies in our deadlift mechanics. An example of this would be a narrow grip knocking in the knees mid-pull due to a stance width being too wide.
Taking it a step further, our grip and stance widths should promote stronger pulls by working with our joints, anatomical differences, and how we prefer to deadlift. So, for example, if you’re using a wider stance that doesn’t work with your hip structure and pulling mechanics, and the knees are not able to forcefully extend, then you could be limiting yourself from a strength perspective.
Checking Your Deadlift Grip and Stance
There is no one-size-fits-all deadlift grip and stance width that can be applied to the masses. There are only better means for individuals to increase their deadlifting potential and these aspects should be individual in nature. An easy to check your grip and stance widths is to video yourself from the front, then watch what happens to the legs throughout your reps.
Are they fairly consistent or are the arms causing them to move a lot? Generally speaking, if you want to make a grip and stance change, bring your grip inward to a point where the inside of the elbow is lightly grazing the outside of the legs/knees. This will usually provide you with a grip width that will not cause any form of discrepancy with the lower body.
Deadlift Mistake 4: Ramping the Bar
When we talk about ramping the bar up the legs traditionally, we’re referencing the hitch style deadlifts you’ll see strongman competitors perform. Note, that is not what we’re talking about here. Ramping the bar for beginners will generally look like pushing the barbell down the thighs during the descent.
Why Ramping the Bar Can Be Problematic
There are two primary reasons why we want to draw attention to when ramping the bar down the legs during the lowering process during the deadlift. For starters, this movement discrepancy suggests that someone’s hinge patterning is weak. The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern and it’s needed for a variety of lifts.
If a beginner is ramping the bar down the legs, then there’s a good chance that their hip hinge might need a little work which is essential to note as deadlift strength increases. In addition, a strong hip hinge is needed in movements like Romanian Deadlifts.
The second reason why ramping the bar is problematic is because it can throw one’s bar path into disarray. When deadlifting, we ideally want a bar path that is relatively straight up and down. We say relatively because perfectly straight is limiting and often not attainable. If we push the bar away during the descent, then there’s a good chance the barbell will land fairly far from the shin and we’ll be utilizing musculature that is not the goal for the deadlift.
How to Rework Eccentric Deadlift Patterns
An easy way to start reworking mechanics is to focus on breaking at the hips first once you hit lockout. By doing this, we can create a hinge movement pattern and keep the bar more over the mid-foot which will provide us with stronger positioning. We’d suggest dropping the weight slightly so you can slow down and zero on this specific range of motion.
Generally speaking, once you’ve hinged and the barbell hits around the bottom of the quad, then you’ll bring knee flexion in. This will often result in solid mechanics for most and will keep the barbell over the midfoot. However, do note, this could vary slightly based on deadlift preference, anatomical differences, and what’s comfortable and natural for you.
Deadlift Mistake 5: “Rigid” Thinking
How we conceptualize an exercise can be just as important as how we perform them. For this mistake, we want to discuss how beginners can often misconstrue what it means to keep a rigid and neutral spine.
Why “Rigid” and Neutral Can Be Misleading
This is where coaching language and explanation matter. When we explain the back in the deadlift, we often say, “set the back and keep it neutral”, but what does neutral actually mean? It can be incredibly useful to understand that neutral is a range and it’s not a perfectly straight line.
At times, beginners can get stuck at various weights because they’re trying to achieve an unattainable straight back angle. It’s important to remember that the torso will always have a natural range of motion, so whether we’re deadlifting, squatting, rowing, it’s normal to see the back flex and extend slightly as these are primary functions of the back.
How to Conceptualize the Back Instead
We always want to do our best work within our means and capabilities while fighting to maintain proper form, but remember that it’s normal to see some flexion occur when deadlifting, especially as the weight starts to get heavier. Obviously, we want to limit excessive lumbar loading and flexion if we can, however, please note that we say excessive here.
If we think our deadlift back angle will maintain a perfect rigidity through every set, then we can fall into the never feedback loop of creating problems where there likely is none. This is also why working with a coach can be paramount for long-term, foundational success.
The barbell deadlift, or a variation of it, is likely going to be a mainstay in a majority of strength training programs. If we can build better habits and mindsets toward the movement when just starting out, then we can have better success in the long-run.