The deadlift is a seemingly simple exercise from an outsider’s point of view. After all, all you’re doing is picking weight up off of the floor and putting it down, right?
I think a lot of lifters and athletes forget that the deadlift is a skill. Much like a golf swing, a well-polished deadlift is a piece of art that requires continual refinement and fine-tuning and when we forget this we can run into deadlift mistakes.
It’s normal to not get it perfectly right your first time. I’ve been lifting for nearly 20 years and the deadlift is my strongest lift but I still find that I’m fine-tuning my form here and there. It’s normal to continue to evolve your form.
Don’t be afraid to reverse engineer your deadlift. For example, if you have to take a block to “regress” to focus on a specific issue you’re encountering that’s okay. This refinement will lead to stronger long-term gains, you’re not missing a beat.
Mistakes can ebb and flow when they present themselves during your deadlift. For example, you may not have hip shoot issues when working under 75% of your 1-rep max, but maybe at heavy loads, it happens. This is all part of the game of refining and practicing the deadlift and you’re not an anomaly here.
Table of Contents▼
On the market for new deadlift shoes? Make sure you check out my best deadlift shoes round-up to find the best shoes for strong pulls.
Mistake 1: Hips Shooting Up Before You Lift the Weight
I would say the biggest, and arguably most detrimental deadlift mistake I see in the gym, is the hips shooting up before a lifter initiates their deadlift. This is what many athletes and coaches call, “stripper hips”.
In practice, you’ll see this when a lifter gets ready to pull the weight and their hips shoot up before the barbell is lifted off of the floor. This then shifts the stress and load on the barbell heavily to the erectors/low back.
Don’t forget, the deadlift is a skill. As you get more proficient with this lift, you’ll learn many nuances to deadlift form that relates to things like height, limb lengths, and comfort preferences.
More often than not, when a lifter tells me, “I hurt my back deadlifting,” it’s generally because of this issue as their lower back and the tissues that compose it weren’t ready for the demands and thresholds of the set and rep. Thresholds exceeded their tissue capacity.
If I’m coaching a lifter that is working around hips shooting up in the deadlift I’ll typically implement a two-part strategy. From a low-hanging fruit context, I’ll first assess where their hips are currently sitting and how you’re pulling the slack out of the bar.
More often than not, hip shoot is a simple fix, and if a lifter just brings their hips up more then this issue somewhat fixes itself. Video yourself from the side and scrub the video with your thumb and watch your hip angle.
If there’s too much knee flexion then you may be too “squatty” with your position. Bring the hips up to a point in which you feel tension in the hamstrings and glutes.
Once we’ve established where the hips should be and have limited their movement, it’s now time to cement this change into the brain. From here, using a block where you utilize concentric tempos and/or pauses can be super useful.
For 4-6 weeks, scale back your deadlift intensity a little bit (think 7-15% for your current programmed days) and use a 2-3 second tempo during the lifting portion of the movement. This slower tempo will help you “feel” where and when your hips might be moving more.
You can also add a 1-2 second pause just below the knee or mid-shin to ensure you’re owning your hip position. If you’re pausing and your hips are shooting up, you’re going to feel that immediately.
It’s important to remember that hip shooting up will typically present itself at higher thresholds and intensities. This can be frustrating at times, but it’s part of the process of learning how your body changes and adapts to different demands.
Mistake 2: Underutilizing the Quads
Something that I think every lifter could improve on with their deadlift is learning how to better leverage their quads. Oftentimes, when we think deadlift our mind goes straight to the glutes, hamstrings, and back.
While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it sells the quads short and can create a bias of intention when you’re pulling. For example, when lifters think that “only” the posterior muscles are at play then they can subconsciously move sub-optimally.
In the deadlift, your quads should be active and involved especially when breaking the floor and initiating your pull. A forceful knee extension can be a make or break at heavier sets.
For your next deadlift day, pay attention to your knee angle and how you’re using the quads. If your shins are perpendicular to the floor or even angled backward then there’s a good chance you’re sitting back too much and only using posterior muscles for your pull.
Bring your knees a little more forward while maintaining the same hip position that you’re currently using. This will typically give you a feeling of being more “over” the barbell.
Once you’ve done this, cue yourself to “press the floor way” as you pull the weight. Generally, this cue will be enough to get more leverage out of your quads without changing too much. Think as though you’re pressing the earth away as you pull the weight.
Mistake 3: Using Improper Stance and Grip Widths
Another mistake that I frequently see beginners make with their deadlifts is using improper stance and grip deadlift widths. I couple these together because deadlift grip width is generally directly related to one’s deadlift stance.
Using stance and grip widths that don’t align with your anatomy and pulling style can lead to sub-optimal results and inefficient deadlifts. It’s always surprising to lifters how much these can influence pulls at heavier thresholds.
In the context of stance, if your knees are collapsing in when deadlifting then there’s a good chance you’re stance is too wide and you’re not “stacking” correctly.
For grip width, if your arms are knocking your knees in then it’s likely too narrow, and if your hands are barely on the barbell or your arms look like an upsidedown “V” at lockout then you’re too wide.
Generally, your stance should be around hip-width apart. This can vary a little bit but that’s often a good starting point for most lifters. You basically want the feet, knees, and hips to align as this will give you better quad leverage and a more stable stacked position.
When it comes to grip width, in most cases, you’ll want the insides of the arms to be lightly touching the outsides of the knees when you’re setting up for your deadlift. In a perfect world, the arms should be fairly perpendicular to the ground.
This will usually result in “longer arms” which can be advantageous for your deadlift as it can help limit the overall range of motion you have to lift weight. Below is an example of two grip widths that lead to suboptimal pulls.
Longer arms will allow also you to have more surface area for the hands on the barbell which can add to your gripping abilities and strength which will result in more barbell security.
Mistake 4: Ramping the Bar Up the Legs
When deadlifting, you want to keep the bar close to the body, however, this idea and cue is often taken too literally by beginners. If you’re ramping the barbell up the shins and thighs then you could be missing out on stronger pulls.
This friction will not only result in red and sometimes bloody skin, but it can also disadvantage your pull as it causes additional friction and will force your mechanics to shift.
The cue, “keep the bar close”, requires context and it’s important to remember that close exists on a spectrum and it shouldn’t be taken as a literal cue for keeping the barbell glued to the body.
If you notice that you’re ramping your deadlifts up your legs, then you’ll want to do two things. First, video your deadlift from the side and focus on “when” you start the ramping of the barbell. Watch the tip of the barbell to focus on your bar path.
If you notice that you’re ramping the barbell up the thighs then that’s a good indicator you’re sitting back too much as you approach your deadlift lockout. Unless you’re competing in strongman competitions, this is a sub-optimal way to pull.
Instead of sitting back with the barbell, think about staying over the bar more. Your bar path should be relatively vertical and if you stay over the barbell properly then you’ll notice that your bar path remains fairly vertical.
If you want to implement a fun drill to practice keeping a better bar path, take two foam rollers and set them on each side of the end of your barbell about 6-8 inches apart. You can also have a friend hold two dowels.
You want to be able to lift the weight without knocking over the foam rollers or dowels. I like to use 6-8 inches here because some deviation in our bar path is normal as we’re not robots. We want to avoid grandiose shifts and swings.
Mistake 5: Being Too Rigid With Your Deadlift Conceptualization
The final mistake that I see lifters make with deadlifts is being “too rigid” with their way of thinking about deadlifts. This mistake is the most nuanced on this list and is based a lot on my opinion of how I approach deadlifts.
I think at times lifters can get in their head about deadlifts and what they should look and feel like at all times. For example, the cues “set the back” and “maintain a neutral spine” are great, but I often see them limit a lifter’s performance.
More specifically, I think lifters neglect to realize that their deadlift form will always change a little bit based on the context and demands of the moment. A 225 lb deadlift will look different than a 500 lb deadlift as the body will sequence differently.
The ability to understand that form will always change as demands change is a superpower in the gym. The goal should always be establishing strong deadlift form and keeping mechanics within a manageable deviation that allows you to perform strongly and safely as demands increase.
As the weight on the barbell gets heavier, keep in mind that it’s normal to see your form change a little bit. There are two things that I’d suggest keeping in mind as you continue your deadlift progress.
- As the weight on the barbell gets heavier, you’ll always have more spinal flexion present, this is inevitable. The goal is to mitigate “how much” flexion you allow within a deviation that once again keeps you safe and performing strongly.
- As the weight on the barbell gets heavier, you’ll always move slower and things will feel a lot “heavier”. Stay the course and be patient with heavy pulls. Don’t rush your mechanics.
If you can keep these two things in mind then you’ll be well on your way to making strong deadlift progress as most will overanalyze and get in their own way because they expect their form to look the same at 60% and 90% of their 1-rep max.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:Is it okay to deadlift as a beginner?
Q:Where should I feel deadlifts?
Q:What happens if you deadlift wrong?
The deadlift is a skill and it requires continual practice and refinement. As you progress through your lifting career, you’ll likely run into deadlift “mistakes” here and there.
This is all part of the process of growing as a lifter and when working around form that is lacking it’s important to be strategic and patient with your progress.
If you have additional questions about any of the deadlift mistakes mentioned in this article, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).