Pick the weight up, put it down – simple right?
Sure, the deadlift is simple in nature, but when sh*t hits the fan, the movement all of a sudden seems to get a lot more complex. It’s easy to progress a movement when everything is going right, so this article is going to try and address fixes for when things start going off the rails. In this article, we’re going to discuss five common deadlift problems and address how to fix them.
To keep it simple and to help you navigate where your mistakes might be present, we broke down the five mistakes into sections that work their way from the ground up.
Consider the feet as the anchors for the deadlift. Often times, the hips and back overshadow the importance of the feet during the deadlift’s setup and execution, however, it’s time to change that rhetoric.
Common Feet Mistakes
- Rotating mid-pull
- Rocking back on the heels
- Coming up on the toes
- Going into eversion
Each of the issues above come with their own level of complexity when trying to fix them. For example, feet rotating mid-pull could be an issue with hip stability, while rocking forward onto the toes could simply be fixed with a change of mental cuing.
For this reason, it’s important to objectively consider where and when your feet are going wrong during the deadlift, then breaking down the chain of commands that could be responsible for this error.
If your feet are “spinning out” in the deadlift, then there could be an issue with hip external rotation. Before initiating a deadlift, the hips should be slightly externally rotated. This helps create a strong hip extension at lockout and can help for positional purposes.
There are a couple ways to address this problem. First, check how you’re positioning your feet before the deadlift. Are they straight or slightly externally rotated? At times, straight feet can lead to rotating feet due to the hips “wanting” to extend and move into external rotation mid-pull.
Second, are you rooting your feet correctly? Simply angling the feet out, but not actively “gripping the floor” can lead to feet that move. To grip the floor, take the base of your big and pinky toe, and grip as if you’re trying to pull the floor together between your toes and heel. Doing this can help keep the feet rooted and enable you to drive through to produce more power.
Rocking Back On the Heels
If you find that your weight is being shifted to the heels during your deadlift, then you might cuing the lift incorrectly. It’s a good thing to keep the bar close to the body, however, that shouldn’t come at the cost of losing foot contact with the floor.
To fix this problem, watch your hips as the bar passes the knees. Are you maintaining your strong hip hinge, or are you sitting back to ramp the bar up? At times, if you’re pushing the hips down and back while pulling the bar tight to the body, then the toes can lose contact with the floor.
Coming Up On the Toes
The issue of losing heel contact with the floor is generally more common in new lifters. This problem becomes present when the bar gets away from the body and pulls an athlete forward.
Typically, you’ll see two scenarios with this problem. First, the bar is forward in the setup. Do you have the bar relatively over the mid-foot, or are you letting it come out over the toes when setting up? If you find the bar is forward, then more than likely your shins are also too flexed, so bring the bar back over the mid-foot, and the shins should then become more vertical.
Second, watch your torso during the pull between the shins and hips. If the lats are disengaging, then the weight will be pulled forward, which would cause the shift onto the toes forward. To fix this, think about contracting the lats throughout the entire deadlift and cue yourself to “keep the bar close” and grip the floor with the feet.
Going Into Eversion
The problem of going into eversion (supination of the feet) is rare, and can generally be fixed by simply cuing the deadlift slightly differently. Eversion is when the inside of the feet lift and weight is shifts to the lateral sides.
Eversion, for most, is a byproduct of overcompensation for the cue “keep the knees out”. If you’re forcing the knees out to obtain positions in the deadlift, then your feet may be supinating. To fix this, think about driving through the big toe when breaking the pull and locking out.
The shins are incredibly important in the deadlift and often get overlooked when it comes to their impact on quality lifts. When it comes to the shins specifically, mistakes will be present when their angle is not conducive to mechanics. This is the most common shin mistake:
Excessive Knee Flexion
A great deadlift is the culmination of joint angles that serve to limit the length of an athlete’s moment arm in relation to their optimal joint angles. When thinking about moment arms and the deadlift, think about a moment are as being the most advantageous and safe position that a lifter can achieve based on their build and body structure. In layman’s terms, it’s decreasing the length between the hip and bar.
If the shins are flexed excessively forward, then the barbell will be pushed forward, which means it will be even further from the hips. This then causes two problems. First, it’s not conducive to keeping the bar close when breaking the floor, which is one of the toughest parts of the deadlift. Second, it’s going to increase the moment arm at the hip, which is going to increase the amount of stress produced on the body during the pull.
For fixing excessively flexed shins, check your hip angle and bar placement. The deadlift is not a squat, so the shins and hips should not reflect positions of the squat. To fix this, place the bar over the mid-foot and bring the shins forward without moving the bar, and once the shins make contact with the bar, then that will serve as your hip angle.
The hips are a make or break for strong pulls. A lot can go wrong at the hips, but for this article we’re going to highlight two of the most common issues.
- Sitting too low
- Lacking stability/shooting up
Sitting Too Low
We briefly mentioned this above, but the hips should not reflect a “squatting” position in the deadlift. Sitting too low can result in poor bar path and weak hip angles when initiating and finishing pulls.
To check and fix your hip angle, watch your deadlift from the side when setting up and during pulls. Pay close attention to your shin angle, where the bar is placed, and what the hips are doing when breaking the floor. The angle at the hip will vary based on height and anatomy, however, if you notice that the angle is incredibly acute – as in your thighs are extremely close to your mid-torso – then it’s likely time to reevaluate your positions.
Lacking Stability/Shooting Up
Another common issue that can plague the hips is having them shoot up too quickly. This can happen when breaking the floor or during the mid-pull. Why is this problematic? Besides putting them in a poor position, it can also shift stress into the lumbar spine and result in flexion of the lower back.
Similar to sitting too low, observe your deadlift from the side and watch what the hips do in relation to what the bar does in the 20 percent of your pull. Are they moving before the weight does? If so, then there’s likely a cuing issue when breaking the floor.
Often times, this issue is a product of poor bracing and pulling the slack out of the bar. To fix eager hips, try to be patient off the floor by producing full body tension into the barbell. Bracing correctly can keep the bar and hips moving simultaneously.
The upper back and lats play a critical role in bar path for deadlifts. They keep the bar tight to the body and help to maintain a strong neutral torso. There’s one mistake we’re going to look at here:
Lack of engagement
One of the most common lat mistakes you’ll see during the deadlift is lack of lat engagement, or a shift in engagement during pulls. A lack of initial engagement will usually result in the hips shooting up too quickly or the upper back excessively flexing, while a shift in engagement during a pull can result in a broken bar path and a shift forward.
If you notice that lat engagement is a consistent struggle, then it might be worth reconsidering how you’re cuing them. When setting for the deadlift, try this sequence of cues when getting ready to pull,
- Show the posterior delts to the person behind you.
- Pinch a pencil between the scapula.
- Put the scapula into the back pockets.
- Breathe deep and maintain that tension.
This string of cues, while not the only string of cues that can be used to contract the lats, may help you think about lat engagement slightly differently.
Before diving into grip, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between weak grip strength and gripping errors. If you’re missing deadlifts due to grip, then there’s a strong chance it’s a strength issue and not necessarily a grip issue. There’s one issue we’ll take a close look at today:
Poor grip sequencing
When it comes to traditionally gripping the barbell (and with hook grip), it’s often thought that simply grabbing the bar and lifting — “grip and rip” — is the best bet. While this methodology isn’t necessarily wrong, there is a better way to sequence your grip to use the bar’s knurling to your advantage.
Knurling will serve you best when you can create opposing torque in the hands with the knurling, as this allows for the knurling to truly dig into the hands. Try the three steps below to sequence your grip more strategically,
- Place the barbell over the middle of the fingers.
- Roll the tips of the finger over the barbell.
- Roll the barbell into the hands.
This slight change in grip sequencing can leverage the knurling to your advantage by creating torque.
The deadlift is a relatively easy movement to conquer and progress in… until it isn’t.
These common deadlift mistakes are not limited to beginners and lifters at all levels can find use with being mindful of them during every deadlift session. If you find yourself struggling with any one area on the deadlift, then the best course of action is reverse engineering the problem and finding which links in your kinetic chain might be weak. And when it comes to mistakes, don’t underestimate the power of video!