How To Guide: Deadlifts


Wow, sounds super scary and something you have to be crazy strong, young and athletic to perform – right?!

Not so fast! Deadlifts are functional meaning, they mimic common movement patterns your body already performs without you even realizing it: picking up luggage or boxes off the floor, picking up kids or grandkids from beds, carrying groceries, moving furniture.

In my last “How To Guide”, you learned all about SQUATS! Like squats, deadlifts strengthen the lower body with the main difference being the muscle groups these exercises target. Deadlifts are a hip hinge while squats involve more bending at the knees.

The deadlift is considered a compound exercise meaning, it’s working numerous muscles and joints simultaneously. For this reason, the deadlift remains one of the most efficient exercises:

  • Scalable to All Fitness Levels: Deadlifts are an exercise everyone should perform, regardless of age or fitness level. Despite its intimidating name, deadlifts come in many variations and thus are easily scaled to match your fitness level. It’s less about how much weight you use and more about mastering the form to build proper strength, prevent injury (especially as we age) and make daily tasks pain free and easy!

  • Delivers More Bang for Your Buck: If you lead a super busy life, you likely want the most effective workout in the least amount of time.  Because deadlifts incorporate several different muscle groups including but not limited to the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back muscles, upper back muscles, quads, and core, it delivers one of the greatest full body workout exercises!

It’s time to learn the proper way to perform a deadlift for YOU considering your fitness level and goals to effectively build strength, enhance basic/daily movement patterns and stay injury free in both everyday life and the gym. This blog will teach you:

  • 6 Reasons to Deadlift

  • 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Step by Step Guide to Get Started


  1. Increases Overall Strength: The deadlift incorporates more muscle use than any other exercise by recruiting both upper body and lower body engagement as well as the back muscles therefore increasing overall strength in the process. 

  2. Burns Fat and Calories: Because the deadlift incorporates SO many muscle groups, it requires a lot of energy to perform thereby torching fat and building larger muscles in the process. This leads to MORE calories being burned both during and after your workout. 

  3. Enhances Posture:  Deadlifts target all our postural/core stabilizing muscles allowing you to stand taller and hold your head higher in regular, daily activities. 

  4. Improves Grip Strength: Your hands and forearms must be engaged to ensure you can lift the weights off the ground without letting it drop.  Doing several reps at any given weight requires massive amounts of strength in your hands which increases grip/forearm strength overall.  Research shows powerful grip strength correlates to living a longer, healthier life.  You grip lots of stuff everyday: your cup of coffee, your fave IPA, twisting a lid off the pickle jar, filling a tea pot….

  5. Mimics Functional Movement with Real World Applications: Deadlifts build muscles for real life lifting such as your sleeping child off the couch, heavy luggage through the airport, your pet’s carrier in/out of the car, moving boxes into your kids’ dorms, or heavy trash bags from the house. 

  6. Prevents Injury:  Many of us experience low back pain as we age due to a weakened core, excessive weight and/or sitting for most of our days.  The deadlift assists with increasing strength and stability in the muscles and ligaments required to ensure your low back will remain healthy as you age.  Hearing the name “deadlift” alone or seeing it performed may make you question if this is a safe exercise, especially if you have knee and or back pain. However, when done properly with a coach, deadlifts will alleviate those pains by making the muscles stronger.


Like most exercises, performing a proper deadlift takes patience and time.  Having a personal trainer/coach to ensure you are performing your deadlift without making these common mistakes is beneficial for you and your body in the long run. 

Always start off deadlifting using a weight appropriate for YOU.  Remember, it’s less about the weight and more about mastering the movement. This could mean using kettlebells, trap bar or barbell.  Work on form and range of motion first before attempting to add weight. If your form stinks and you add weight, this puts you at risk for getting injured. Here are the 5 common deadlift mistakes to avoid:

  1. Skipping the Warmup:  Performing a proper warmup incorporating all the muscles used during a deadlift enhances your range of motion and sets your body up to prevent injury.  Include movements that activate and enhance mobility in all the muscles utilized to deadlift prior to attempting it – for example: cat/camel, single leg glute bridge and bird dog. Neglecting your warmup to jump right in is the MOST COMMONT and to no surprise, the main cause of most deadlift injuries. 

  2. Poor Foot Placement:  Feet should be hip width apart when preparing to perform a deadlift.  Having your feet too far apart can cause the shoulders to round and compromise the integrity of your spine. It’s common to see feet too narrow or, too far out beyond the hips. This adds more tension to your knees and back which will hurt and cause injury.

  3. Rounding or Arching the Back:  Keeping your spine neutral when deadlift is crucial for preventing injury. This includes the head and neck position throughout the entire lift.  Rounding or arching your spine during a deadlift puts increased pressure and stress on your back. In this instance, you are likely pulling with your back instead of your lower body muscles.

  4. Poor Hip Position: Starting with your hips too low or too high is another common error when setting up your deadlift.  At its core, a deadlift is a hip hinge with the knees slightly bent and a flat back (not to be confused with a squat).  The goal is keeping your shins perpendicular to the floor with a slight knee bend, a neutral spine (no arching or rounding) and your chest roughly over your toes.

  5. Shrugging Shoulders:  The force from your deadlift should be coming from your legs extending and pushing into the ground. Since you are picking up weight off the ground, it is common to start pulling with your shoulders and shrugging towards your ears.  This is commonly done unconsciously but over time can lead to strain on the upper back, spine and neck.


Since the deadlift is not the easiest exercise to master, it is important to proceed with caution when learning the exercise. Working with a coach/personal that knows your movement patterns, training level and injury status means you can master the perfect deadlift injury free!  Here is a step-by-step process for getting started:

  1. Get a Coach: If you are new to exercising or deadlifting, do not try this alone (our certified coaches are happy to teach you!). Having a coach ensures you pick the proper weight and execute with flawless form. This may include using one kettlebell, two kettlebells trap bar, or barbell based on your fitness level.

  2. Warmup:  Perform a dynamic warmup activating the glutes, hamstrings, upper/lower back, hip flexors, and quads.  Ensuring that these muscles are ready to perform prevents injury. Warmup examples include a single or double leg glute bridge, cat/camel, bird dog, bodyweight squats or infant squats.

  3. Properly Place Feet: Start with feet hip distance apart and knees slightly bent.

  4. Hinge Back: Hinge your hips back by pushing your butt back and bending your knees slightly with your core engaged to maintain a flat back.

  5. Maintain Good Posture: Pull your shoulder blades back and your chest forward (roughly over your toes) to avoid rounding your upper back. As you place your hands on your weight(s) and prepare to lift, think about pulling the kettlebell/barbell apart to help you engage these muscles. 

  6. Stabilize Core: Keep your core tight while you push through your heels and begin straightening your knees while maintaining a flat back and reversing the hinge to stand all the way up.

  7. Get Full Range of Motion: As you stand back up knees straight, pause at the top to fully extending the hips and squeezing your butt to ensure the full range of motion. 

  8. Repeat!

If you have questions about how to deadlift, how to deadlift with existing injury, knee or back pain or just want to understand more about this movement, click the button now to schedule your free Strategy Session with an RF Coach!


Keep living healthy, happy + strong!


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