Down Low on the Deadlift

By Jaime Rice

I absolutely love deadlifts! I think it is one of the best exercises anyone can do for overall strength and enhancing your physique. I believe some form of deadlifting should be incorporated into any fitness routine

This does not mean everyone should lift super heavy deadlifts twice a week. Instead, listen to your body and know your limits. Deadlifts are not an exercise that should be taken lightly. Utilizing proper form is key for preventing injury and getting the most from this awesome exercise.

There are so many variations of deadlifts available for all fitness levels. For example, Romanian Deadlifts, single leg deadlift, conventional, and sumo deadlift. Today’s post is going to focus on Sumo and Conventional.

Let me first say I am by no means an expert on deadlifting! I am constantly working on my form every week trying to make that mind muscle connection and create muscle memory. Prior to taking on powerlifting I was a causal deadlifter and my form was definitely in need of an overhaul!

With the help of my coach and watching countless YouTube videos, I finally was able to “feel” the proper form for sumo and conventional. Sumo is my preferred deadlift style and is slightly more technical than the conventional deadlift.

At the end of the post is a link for Dr. Layne Norton’s Deadlift Tutorial. I suggest anyone interested in deadlifting watch the tutorial. Dr. Layne Norton is one of the expert powerlifter’s and is a form guru!

Before you start deadlifting you need to make sure you have the proper footwear. Barefoot or a flat sole shoe is the best for deadlifting, no matter which style you prefer. An athletic shoe with a soft sole and a heel will make the lift much harder and throw off your balance and form. A flat shoe or barefoot, minimizes the distance you have to move the bar and a hard sole ensures you have a stable base at the start of the lift. If you are just starting to deadlift, then barefoot is a good option. If you are wanting to incorporate deadlifts more often/frequently, I would invest in a pair of Chuck Taylors or wrestling shoes.

Before I get into all the technical aspects of deadlifting, here is a short video of me performing deadlifts. I start with  Pause Deadlifts,  then Sumo deadlift, and last conventional deadlifting. You will be able to see the difference in sumo and conventional. Pay attention to how quickly I break the floor (pull the bar off the floor) on each version. Sumo is slower to break the floor but faster to lock out at the top. The reverse is true for conventional, faster to break the floor but a slower lock out. After the video I will break down Sumo and Conventional

The Sumo Deadlift

Like I stated before, the Sumo Deadlift is more technical than Conventional. It will take time and practice to learn it properly. I would begin with lighter weight to prevent injury until you have the lift form down. You don’t want to start with bad form and risk potential injury; take your time and learn the proper form.

I prefer sumo because it does not strain my back as much as a conventional pulling, I have a shorter distance I have to move the bar, and it feels more natural. If you have back issues or have a hard time getting into position for conventional, then try sumo.

  1. Getting into position. Sumo Stance requires your feet are wider than shoulder width apart. How wide is up to the lifter. I prefer to have my shins match up to the markers on the bar. Toes will be point outward. Mine typically are at a 45 degree angle but some lifters prefer a more pointed out toe.
2015-10-21 08.08.35

My shins line up with the markers on the bar. Toes are pointed out at a 45 Degree angle

Your shins should be perpendicular to the bar, I have my shins up against the bar to keep myself in position. You do not want the bar to be too far in front of you or your body too far behind the bar, this will make the lift much harder.

2. Drop down to the bar. Dropping down and grabbing the bar seems easy enough but if you are too far forward over the bar then you will be lifting more with your back and not your quads/glutes. Make sure your back is straight (neutral spine) and your bodyweight is behind the bar. You want tension in your lats, this is achieved by pulling the tension out of the bar by pulling the bar to into your body. Once you are in proper position and slack is out of the bar, take a deep breath and prepare to lift.

2015-10-25 13.03.03

Back is straight, body is behind the bar, and the bar is pulled into my body

3. Spreading the floor. Now your ready to pull. You want to achieve this by spreading the floor with your feet. All that means is you want to feel as if you are spreading the floor apart with your feet, spreading outward. As you pull the bar upward, your quads are the main muscle activated. In essence you are spreading the floor apart with your feet while your quads are lifting the bar using your hands as hooks to hold the bar; keeping the bar close to your body.

Once you have broken the floor and the bar is moving upward, drive your hips to the bar and squeeze your glutes. This locks out the lift and keeps pressure off your back. If performed correctly you will feel this in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. One big difference with Sumo Vs Conventional is Sumo is very slow off the floor but quicker to lock out.

The below video discusses some common mistakes with Sumo

The Conventional Deadlift

Conventional deadlifting is a bit easier than Sumo. It doesn’t require as much setup and allows you to drop down, grab the bar, and lift. In conventional the movement is related to a leg press. You want to press the bar off the floor, push the floor away from you as your pull.

  1. Getting into position. Simply place your feet under the bar, feet usually no wider than shoulder length, and toes are pointing forward. Place shins against the bar- may want to wear pants or long socks due to the bar having a tendency to scrape your shins.

2 Grabbing the bar. Your hands will grab the bar outside of your legs, unlike sumo which grabs in between your legs. You do not want to squat down to low or dip your hips too much. This will have you “squatting” the bar off the floor instead of pressing it off the floor. Pull the bar in close to your shins to allow for control of the bar as you pull. Hips above your knees, keep neutral spine, and a slight bend at the knee.


Lisa- shins up on the bar, hips not too low, and a neutral spine.

3. PULL. Making sure the bar is over your midfoot, take a deep breathe bracing your abdominal wall and press the bar off the floor. Drive your hips to the bar and lock out at the top of the movement by squeezing glutes. You should notice how quickly you are able to break the floor during conventional deadlifting but slower in the lock out.

This post is an introduction into the world of deadlifting in an attempt to pass along what I have learned in my short time powerlifting. I know deadlifts can be an intimidating endeavor but I promise you will see the benefits of deadlifts within weeks of adding them to your routine.

If you are interested in putting deadlifts into your routine I highly recommend you click on the below link of Dr. Layne Norton’s deadlift tutorial. He breaks it down even further. In addition to Dr. Layne Norton’s video I have included other links that have great advice on deadlifting. Happy pulling!

Dr. Layne Norton Deadlift Guide

Abdominal Bracing for Deadlift

Conventional Deadlift setup

2 thoughts on “Down Low on the Deadlift

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s