Deadlifts: Optimizing from the start


A post shared by Sin Leung (@sinjatakespics) on

Talk to anyone about deadlifts and you’ll get a million different comments about how it should be done. There is, afterall, more than one way to skin a cat (ew). Ok, back to the point. I’m going to break down a few technique tweaks that I’ve made over time that I felt have significantly changed my deadlift start position. I’ll even do one better and tell you how and where I felt the difference.

Note: I am a conventional puller.

Basics: Your body will dictate how you pull

Starting Strength: DiagramLet’s reference the ever common Starting Strength diagram.

Notice how bar, hip, and scapula make a triangle. Everyone’s leverages are different so all the triangles will be different. The general gist is here though:

  • Weight over middle of the foot
  • Shoulder blades over bar
  • Neutral Spine (Some say arch, I don’t like this I think it places unnecessary load on the spine and if you’re a hypermobile things can get pretty ugly pretty fast)
  • Locked out Arms

As I heard from a well respected coach.

Don’t jerk the bar

It’s something I harp about a lot. Stop jerking the bar. I found that while jerking the bar generates a lot of force from the ground, it also forces your body to lift the weight twice.

First when you jerk it, and second when you finally start the actual pulling movement (when your body reaches the optimal position). This is also what people mean when they say “pull the slack out of the bar.” I found this change caused continuous force to be generated from the ground through the lift as opposed to pulling it to the top of my knees and dying out.

Arms need to be straight and locked out. This will keep you tight and keep you from doing things like trying to curl the bar when the weight is light.

Screw your feet into the ground

We taked about this in one of my squat breakdowns. Same rules apply. I’ve always felt stronger from the ground if I have good torsion. My boyfriend would say if you’re doing it right you look kinda bow-legged. Feelsgoodman. Don’t overdo it though, that won’t feel good.

Deep Air

You hear people say stuff like “take your air into your belly.” If you were ever a performing singer (like I was) you will understand the concept of breathing deep using your diaphragm. If you’re doing it right your chest won’t move but your belly will look like you’re ready to give birth to a baby alien.

If all else fails. Practice sucking air in with pursed lips. You want to push your abs AGAINST your belt. You already paid for the belt, use the damn thing.

Torque your back… HARD

This was today’s improvement. It was my last little piece of getting tight from the set up. Remember how I told you a good deadlift starts with a neutral spine? Let’s think about this a little bit.

If you pull your shoulders far back from the bar and keep your shins super vertical to the ground (perpendicular) it becomes leg drive to get the weight to break. Which works to a certain point (for me) until you can no longer “squat” the weight up. Then it feels like a sack of bricks breaking off the ground. No bueno.

A rounded back turns the lift into a primarily back lift. I don’t want that either. We all know why.

So the compromise is neutral spine. Your shoulder blades should stay over the bar. If you have little T-Rex arms like me, your knees may come a little forward. Adjust your deadlift bar accordingly, pull it a little bit away from your shin. Bear in mind your spine WILL round when the loads get heavy. You’re looking to flex your back hard at the start. Well really you’re looking to flex everything. A great set up feels insanely uncomfortable. Think about compressing a spring. You are the spring.

Grip the bar and hold on for dear life

You’re looking to put the bar in the middle of your hand. Not the lower part where you feel you’ll be “comfortable.” During maximal weight the bar will most likely roll. You don’t want to let it drop if you hold it a little bit higher you should find it settles into a semi comfortable “groove.”

If your hand is looking like a J hook when you’re at the top of the motion you’re doing it wrong. You want to keep your fingers wrapped around the sucker the best you can.

Some call this overcompensating the grip (which I do more at higher weights). This is also called: grip the bar.

Some personal preferences

I wasn’t going to throw these in, but perhaps it may help a few of you. These are things that vary depending on personal preferences. So I’m writing these downs too for a little added content.

Place your hands a little bit in, use them as a gauge

I do not have particularly super strong lats so a snatch grip doesn’t really work for me. Remember how we talked about bowing your legs and good hip torsion? Yeah, I use my arms as a gauge for how well my knees are coming out. I like to place my hands just inside the “straight down” position. When I feel the outside of my quad just barely grazing my arms I’ll know I have turned out enough.

Pack your head back

You hear stuff like “keep your head up.” Yeah, I don’t like that cue. I have a tendency to take cues quite literally. Head up would make me crane my neck (see the diagram again you want to be neutral). One of my teammates screamed “head first” once which worked out to be a pretty good cue. A little later on my boyfriend would say pack your head back, chin in. Something to that effect. See what works for you.

Bar away from your shins

AWAY. I see 2 or 3 eyelets of my chuck taylors when I look down at my set up. Like I mentioned in the above, I have little T-Rex arms so my body kinda forces my knees to come forward a little bit. We’re not looking to kick the bar out in front of us when we pull (it can get ugly during maximal weights). The bar being “kicked out” is the bar moving to where it has to go in order for you to complete the lift.

Remember: The bar is going up and down. You have to find what works to keep the bar path correct.

Quick recap:

  • Your body forms a triangle when you pull: arms locked, spine neutral, weight over middle of foot (balance), and shoulder blades over the bar.
  • Don’t jerk the bar
  • Screw your feet into the ground
  • Deep air
  • Torque your back… hard
  • Personal Preferences: Hands in, pack your head back, bar away from shins


  1. Nice pic! Good form. Just looking at it makes me wanna go pull some weight!
    Good post to, gonna reblog it.


  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    And yet another of the fairer sex pull some iron up!
    Fred (LHXC)


  3. Reblogged this on Learn Adapt & Conquer and commented:
    A great article on the Deadlift. Very Helpful & clear! brought to you by the Diary of a Girly Powerlifter.


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