Wednesday, 23 August 2017

3 Common Barbell Deadlift Positioning Errors

The Barbell Deadlift is arguably the most complete exercise out there. Performed correctly, this exercise can be suitable for everyone, regardless of age, strength or training goals.

The Barbell Deadlift employs multiple large groups of muscles throughout the body, particularly through what's generally termed the 'posterior chain' which comprises the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

It's a shame, therefore, that many of us aren't getting the most from our Deadlift sets due to poor technical execution.

Here we explore 3 common positioning errors that I see every day. Master these 3 areas and you can be sure that your start position for this incredibly effective exercise is on point.

Foot Position

The first thing we need to look at is the placement of the feet. For reasons unbeknown to me, many people's natural inclination when setting up for a Deadlift is to position the feet too far behind the bar. This can lead to improper weight distribution through the feet and suboptimal movement of the bar on the upward -sometimes known as the 'positive'- phase of the lift.

The most efficient path for the bar to move on the upward phase of the lift is just that: up. We're essentially looking for a perfectly vertical path with no deviation. If we look at the position of the bar at the top of the lift - as shown in the image below - you'll see that the bar sits touching the upper thigh, directly over the middle of the foot.

It's therefore sensible to position the bar over the middle pf the foot, roughly an inch from the shin, when setting up for the lift. This will allow the lifter's bodyweight to be evenly distributed throughout the foot, providing a string base of support to push against.

I generally recommend that the feet are spaced roughly hip width apart (measured from the bony projection on the front of your pelvis which is known as the ASIS). Provided that the lifter's shoulders are wider than their hips, the arms should therefore sit snuggly on the outside of the legs when in the start position.


When it comes to hand position with the Barbell Deadlift you pretty much only have two legitimate options; double overhand or mixed grip.

Arguments can be made for both techniques but, in my opinion, the double overhand grip should be the one to be used 90% of the time for most lifters.

Firstly, ask yourself why you're using the mixed grip at all. You may have seen extremely strong people using intimidatingly heavy weights employ it with apparent success. Naturally, you'd be excused to therefore conclude that it it's an appropriate option for yourself. Alternatively, through personal experience, you might have found that this mixed grip allows you to hold on to heavy weights for longer without the bar slipping from your clammy grasp.

Let's consider the benefits to using a mixed grip. With one hand - usually the dominant one - gripping the bar with palm facing towards the body, and the other facing up, heavier than normal Deadlifts can be performed. The limiting factor around how heavy we can go with this lift is often down to the strength of our hands and forearms. I'm sure you've experienced that feeling of the bar slipping away from you and the subsequent soreness in the forearms the following day. With a mixed grip, as the bar rotates out of one hand, it rotates into the other, creating a strong and secure base for grinding out those last few reps of a heavy set. We know that the more weight that we can lift with good form, the more likely we are to force muscular adaptation with the accompanying associated body composition and strength benefits.


'Good form' is a subjective term. If to you working with 'good form' means maintaining symmetry throughout a movement then you might want to reconsider the mixed grip option.

The mixed grip requires one shoulder to be rotated internally and the other to rotate externally. The demands on the musculature around this joint are therefore different, turning this otherwise very effective and functional exercise into an unbalanced and asymmetrical movement.

The double overhand grip allows for the forearms to develop in strength at the same rate as the major back muscles that are recruited in the deadlift. It also allows for a truly neutral and symmetrical movement to be achieved.

In conclusion, I'd recommend reserving the mixed grip to those heavier sets when you're going for a PB or are prioritising your glutes, hamstrings and back over your forearms.

Head Position

'Neutral', 'flat', 'rigid', 'tight'. These are all words that can be used to coach someone into the correct position when picking a weight up from the ground.

The position of the back during a Deadlift is critical in executing the movement safely and effectively. That rounded back posture that we know all to well can be dangerous to those who adopt it because of the stresses placed on each individual joint running through the spine. Keeping the spine in a neutral position is generally acknowledged to be preferable because of the stability it can produce. When the back is kept neutral, the muscles assisting in the lift running down the spine are employed in what's called an isometric contraction. This is when the muscles are contracting but not producing any movement at the joint. When it comes to the Deadlift, the back should retain its natural subtle curve throughout the entirety of each repetition. This can be likened to the activation of the core muscles when performing a Plank.

Most people appreciate the reasoning behind the above explanation and, even if unable to execute perfectly, try to keep their back nice and rigid during their Deadlift sets. However, what I see lots of issues with lies further up, towards the neck.

In order to maintain a true neutral spine, the head needs to be in the same position, relative you the body, as it is when standing up straight. Therefore, if your head is up, eyes gazing forward, whilst at the start position at the bottom of your Deadlift, you're already setting yourself up for failure.

Imagine for a moment lifting your chin up into the air whilst standing up straight. Bearing in mind that the joints responsible for this are situated at the top of the spine, this certainly wouldn't be classed as a 'neutral' position.

I understand why people do this. Firstly, it feels appropriate to look forward instead of down at the ground when settling into the starting position for any exercise. Lifting the head also has the added benefit of helping to lift the chest and pull the shoulder blades together, preventing the rounded upper back that we all try to avoid.

My advice would be to take a look at your starting position for the Deadlift. Do you rely on lifting your head to maintain a strong torso? Of so, you might be lacking the fundamental upper back strength to lift the weights you've been using. The back of your head, upper back and tail bone should be in a straight line. Use mirrors, video yourself or ask a friend to take a look to ensure you're executing this important exercise correctly.


The position you find yourself in at the start of any exercise is important. Due to the complexity of the lift and the potential load that can be used, this is especially true of the Barbell Deadlift. Get yourself set up right and you'll be breaking PBs left, right and centre.


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