When deconstructing and building strong deadlifts, we like to take an approach that looks at every joint on the body. We check in with the feet, then the shins, knees, hips, and so forth. By breaking down the deadlift and analyzing certain areas of the body, we can improve our positioning and move more proficiently.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the shins and how they should be positioned in the deadlift. Often times, the shins get overlooked and the hips become the star of the show, but the shins can tell us a lot about your movement efficiency.
A lot of times, lifters say you need a “vertical” shin that’s “perpendicular” to the floor when you deadlift, however, we’d suggest treading lightly when defining limb positions with absolutes. Read on to learn more.
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How Should the Shins Be Positioned In the Deadlift?
At Pheasyque Lab, any time we see a word like perpendicular, vertical, straight, etc., we throw caution to the wind. Our bodies are not perfectly sharp-edged shapes, so why do we explain positions with finite and exact definitions. This is why we don’t like saying you need to have or keep a “vertical” shin when deadlifting.
When it comes to the shins and their angle in the deadlift, a perfectly perpendicular position when setting up can feel nearly impossible to perform for some lifters. This is why it’s important to recognize that there’s a range of “correct” for the shins and their position, and not a “one-position-fits-all” angle.
Some lifters, often taller individuals, will have a shin angle that is slightly more forward, while lifters with shorter legs can achieve a truer near perpendicular position. Neither is wrong as long as the deadlifts are being executed with technical proficiency.
Establishing your ideal shin angle will come down to anthropometric differences and optimizing leverages to create efficient deadlifts. The example above highlights four different athletes who have varied:
- torso lengths
- femur length
- arm lengths
All of them have different shin angles — and all of them could technically be correct.
The idea of a perfect joint angle can be misleading, so when analyzing your setup and watching the shins specifically, remember that “perpendicular” in this context is equivalent to a range that is ideal for your body.
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How to Check Your Deadlift Shin Angle
Shin angle is a simple concept to accomplish and the beauty of its importance comes with the intricacies of optimizing your body and its leverages.
If you want to self-check your shin angle, it’s simple. Film yourself from a front position with a diagonal angle, think about setting your camera up with a 45-degree angle from the way you’re facing (see below).
Generally, this angle will provide you with a solid visual of your shin angle at setup and throughout the deadlift.
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Why It Matters
This section is not intended to overcomplicate shin angle, but to provide you with a rationale and depth of knowledge to understand why it matters.
Plus… we’re nerds and love discussing these topics!
The deadlift resembles a type 3 lever system. Think about the hips as if they’re rotating on an axis that is going directly through them — this axis is the fulcrum for the deadlift.
The goal is to mitigate and displace effort so the hips can serve as the prime movers, a.k.a. allow the glutes and hamstrings to facilitate and produce strong hip extension. Regarding shin angle and why it matters here, the shins will assist the positioning of the fulcrum (hips) in the type 3 lever. Their positioning will support the barbell staying close to the body.
For context, let’s say the shins are too flexed forward — similar to their position in a squat. In this scenario, the bar will likely be pushed away from the body and the back will have to produce more effort to keep the bar from “floating away”, as the hips will be limited in their function.
If the shins are behind the bar, then the posterior chain will likely have a harder time engaging and you’ll be limiting initial power production that the quads can produce when breaking the ground.
Essentially, you won’t be pulling efficiently. Dialing in your shin angle position helps limit the hip moment arm, which will help facilitate mechanical proficiency.
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Deadlift Shin Angle Takeaways
Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb to use for establishing your natural shin angle is to position the barbell to sit over the mid-foot in your setup, so right about where the laces are on your shoe. Then bring the hips to their starting position. The angle in which your shins move into naturally will likely be their ideal positioning!
Bottom line: as in most cases, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for what’s “perfect”, and when it comes to shin angles and deadlifting, we need to factor in our anthropometry and form to make sure we’re getting the most out of our set up. From there, only practice can make us master a powerful pull.