The Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Deadlift: Top 5 Tips

Deadlift tips and mistakes

Tip 1. Get Your Head Right.

We all know training is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one, but one thing is for sure, your mind is stronger than your body and the biggest mental battle is the moment you approach that bar to deadlift. In my career I’ve seen many an athlete take way too long in their mental preparation to lift, they approach the bar and convince themselves they are psyching themselves up to lift when the reality is the majority of them are talking themselves out of it, thinking about what could go wrong, why they cant lift it, what they will say when they don’t lift, looking for a million reasons why!! Now this may not be a conscious decision, but I can guarantee the longer you take in prepping for a lift the more chance you have of letting self-doubt slip in.

Now this isn’t as common with experienced lifters, as they have spent years perfecting their prelift ritual, its more so with novice lifters who are full of doubt when it comes to the big multi joint lifts, so my advise to them is to walk away, have a word with yourself, run the lift over in your head 20 times then come to the bar and lift it just 1 more time.
So, Tip number 1 GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT, no point in even starting a session if your head not in the game, and another side tip on this one is don’t train with people who are constantly negative, don’t lower yourself to their level unless your strong enough to bring them up to yours.

Mistake 1. Sitting your hips too low.

This is a big pet hate of mine, when I see people trying to squat the weight off the floor by dropping the hips way too low, and this has become even more common since Eddie Hall pulled his 500kg world record because they see Eddie drop his hips and think “well if its good enough for a world record!!” but what they fail to notice is that Eddie doesn’t actually start his pull until his hips are back in the correct position, he may squat low into the deadlift to create tension but he doesn’t actually pull the weight off the floor until his hips are back above his knees.

At the same time, I’m not asking you to stiff leg deadlift it either but get someone to film you from the side and see how much hip travel you get before the bar even breaks the floor? This is wasted energy, the hips should be moving towards the bar not away from it, how many times have you heard the cue, hips to bar? Find that sweet spot where you are breaking the weight off the floor and your hips are moving towards the bar, this will give you the best leverages to complete the lift.

You need to find that perfect spot—run the check list through your head, where your hips are close to the bar, your shoulders are behind the bar, your lower back is arched, your upper back is rounded, your belly is full of air, and you can pull toward your body.

Tip 2. Learn to brace.

Possibly the most overlooked part of any multijoint movement like deadlifts or squats in beginners or intermediates is learning to breathe properly, or brace effectively. Personal trainers are taught to teach their clients to breath in and out in time with the repetition being performed, but if you do this on a squat or a deadlift you are guaranteed to fail your lift, why? Simple, without a solid foundation all buildings will fall.

If you want to maintain position in a lift then you need to learn to breathe, stand in front of a mirror and take a big deep breath in, do your shoulders rise? Then your breathing wrong, you need to learn to breath into your belly, so you can push your midsection into your belt thus creating a solid midsection foundation. Think of a coke can, it can support the weight of a human being when full, but empty it out and dent the side and watch it collapse the second any weight it placed on it, the same goes for your core, fill it with air and brace it against your belt and you will instantly notice how much more stable and powerful you feel, and trust me the weight will maintain a much better line when moved.

If you find that holding your breath during a slow rep is making you pass out or go lightheaded then let out very small shallow breaths throughout the grind part of the lift, this will help you maintain tightness while alleviating the lightheaded feeling.

Mistake 2. Rounding the Back

A very common mistake and one that even experienced lifters do when they should know better, apart from the obvious injury potential of having a rounded lower back, there are implications in the actual lift itself. If you pull with a rounded lower back then the rest of your body is definitely going to be out of position, your shins aren’t going to be straight your shoulders are not going to be behind or at least in line with the bar this in turn causes the bar t drift away from your body and work against your leverages and you will fail the lift mid shin or knee height.

There are many ways to strengthen your lower back to help avoid this issue including good mornings, reverse hypers and seated good mornings, work on these and focus on keeping your lower back tight when getting into position on a deadlift.

Tip 3. Pull the bar back.

When you think of a deadlift most of us think about puling the bar off the floor to get into a standing position with no real thought about the direction of the bar. Think of it more like a seesaw, if the weight on one end is going down then the other end is going up the same applies to the deadlift, if you’re falling backwards then the weight has to go up, but if you’re leaning over the bar and your weight is over the bar then the weight stays down.

This is where positioning is really important, if your too close to the bar and your knees and shoulders are over the bar then the weight has to move forward before it can come up, same applies with a rounded lower back, your weight needs to be behind the bar in order for the bar to move up off the floor, if you find that when you do this your weight is shifting onto your toes instead of through your heels then you have a weakness in your glutes and hamstrings and your quads are over powering your posterior chain, a good fix for this is glute ham raises, pull throughs and reverse hypers.

Mistake 3. Deadlift for reps

Strongmen/women quite often have a deadlift for reps event in their competitions, and more often than not touch and go reps are not allowed but yet whenever I see people training for this event that’s exactly how they train it, now the biggest problem with this style of deadlift is maintaining position, watch anyone that does this and you will notice the first couple of reps the positioning is spot on but by rep 3,4 and 5 the positioning is awful, the bar drifts away from the body, the lower back has lost all tension, the brace has gone out the window and the end result is missed lifts and failure.


There are 2 fixes for this, you can either learn to brace at the top of the deadlift and lower under tension, thus keeping tightness at the bottom, which will work for the first 4 or 5 reps before you get to out of breath to hold position or you can straighten the legs at the bottom of your deadlift, rebrace, reposition and then complete 1 rep at a time, this way maintaining position and making the reps more efficient, remember most the time you will have a 1 minute time limit in a comp so not point in blowing out after 5 reps in 20 secs, take a second to reposition and rebrace and pace yourself for the full minute, better to get 1 rep every 5/6 secs and hit double figures than to blow out after 5, cause one you loss breath and rhythm its very hard to get going again, how many times have you seen this happen where guys stop and are lucky if they squeeze out 1 more ugly rep?

Tip 4. Pull the slack out of the bar.

Possibly the best tip I could give anyone when learning the deadlift set up because not only does it help you maintain position, but it also creates tension throughout the body giving you more acceleration off the floor.

Even if your not using a deadlift bar you should still aim to pull the bar up against the plates as you pull yourself down into position, this will keep your arms straight and your shoulders behind the bar, if you snatch at the bar due to the fact you have no tension in the body all your power will be lost in that momentary yank at the bar, instead by keeping tension in the bar when you start to pull the power you generate with be directly loaded to the bar and the weight will move, aim to squeeze off the floor then accelerate as fast as you can when you feel the weight move.

Mistake 5. Pulling the shoulder blades together.

How many times do you hear people say keep your back flat when deadlifting? And they are right but sometimes I see them pulling their shoulder blades together to keep the shoulders flat, which is wrong, your shoulders should actually be slightly rounded forward! Why? Well, try this, stand relaxed with no tension in your shoulders and see where the tips of your fingers sit, now squeeze your shoulder blades together and back and you will notice how much shorter your reach has now become!

So, by keeping the shoulders relaxed and our scapular down, we put less stress through the shoulder joint, and we shorten the distance we have to pull the bar. So, keep your spine in its natural position and your shoulder blades down.

Tip 5. Shin Placement

You’ve probably heard the rule of 2 fingers, where you place 2 fingers between your shin and the bar to get correct foot position, but this is only a general rule as different body types require different positions, for example a taller thinner lifter can have the bar on their shins whilst still keeping shoulders behind the bar, where as a thicker set lifter will need to further away from bar, so their knees and shoulders stay behind bar.

Basically, find the foot position that allows you to maintain a vertical shin position, knees, and shoulders behind or at least in line with the bar, so you can pull back and up, rather than forward.