How to Do a Deadlift

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 27, 2022
5 min read

What is a deadlift? It's a full-body exercise that's often done with a barbell. But there are some types of deadlifts that can also be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, and other weighted fitness equipment. Other variations can be done using resistance bands or cable machines. The basic movement includes picking something up off the floor and lifting it up, but the technique is a bit more complicated than that.

The traditional type of deadlift is often done with a barbell. Follow this step-by-step guide to get your deadlift in proper form. You can work with a coach to perfect your form and make sure you are deadlifting safely.

Step 1. Stand behind your loaded barbell. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart. The bar should be over your shoelaces and nearly touching your shins.

Step 2. Sit back as if you were going to sit in a chair. Keep your chest up and look forward, so your back is straight.

Step 3. Grab the barbell from this stance. Many deadlifters use an "over-under" grip with one hand grabbing overhanded and the other using an underhand hold for added strength. 

Step 4. Push your hips forward to stand up. Press your feet into the floor for stability. Keep your core strong and your back flat while standing up.

Step 5. Keeping your back flat, send your hips back to return to your starting position with your rear out, the bar on your floor and against your legs, and your chest up and looking forward.

Step 6. Release the bar and stand up.

Improper deadlift technique can result in lower-back and leg injuries. When you deadlift, you should feel your glutes and leg muscles doing the work, not your lower back. Keeping your back straight during the lift helps prevent back injuries. Here are some other deadlift safety tips to follow:

  • Work with a coach or fitness instructor to establish good form when you are just starting out.
  • Always do a warm-up before you work out with heavy weights.
  • Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
  • Use proper lifting technique when moving barbells and weights around the gym. These movements are often similar to deadlifting.
  • Some people prefer to deadlift barefoot. However, that puts you at risk of injury if you drop a weight on your feet. Experts advise wearing shoes with good traction.
  • Use safety clips on the barbell when deadlifting. This will stop the weights from sliding off suddenly.
  • Stop deadlifting if you feel pain. If the pain doesn't go away after a few days of rest and icing, talk to your doctor.
  • Don't sacrifice technique to get a heavier lift than you can manage.
  • Take rest days between workouts to give your muscles time to recover.

The deadlift is a full-body exercise. It works muscles in all different areas of your body, building your overall strength. The muscle groups it works on includes:

  • Back extensors
  • Core muscles
  • Hip and leg extensors
  • Shoulder muscles
  • Arm muscles
  • Hand muscles (grip strength)

Because deadlifting targets the muscles that help you to sit upright, having good deadlift form may help to improve your posture.

It's also a functional lift. In your daily life, there are many occasions when you might need to pick something up off the ground. Other lifts, like the bench press, do build strength for function in life, but that lift itself won't come up naturally in your day-to-day events.

The deadlift is safe to do on your own. You don't need spotters like you do with other powerlifts like the bench press or squat. When deadlifting, there is no risk of getting trapped under the bar or dropping it onto your body.

When done in higher reps, deadlifts can actually be a form of cardio exercise! You might start to feel out of breath after doing 10 or more.

Chances are, you can find a way to do a deadlift with whatever fitness equipment you have lying around at home or at your gym, even if there is no barbell available. Here are some options.

Sumo deadlift. The sumo deadlift is similar to the barbell deadlift, except you place your feet much wider. The wide stance means you must squat somewhat deeper in the beginning of the lift. This lift is popular with some powerlifters because the amount of space the bar needs to move is shorter than with the traditional deadlift, and sumo deadlifts are allowed in competition.

Romanian deadlift. To do a Romanian deadlift, you start by standing with the barbell in your hands and your arms straight, so the bar is by your hips. Move your hips back to lower the bar to your knees, then press your hips to stand up again. Keep your back straight throughout the whole movement. This changes the movement to focus more on your gluteus and hamstring muscles.

Kettlebell deadlift. You can also do this variation with a dumbbell in an upright position. Similar to a barbell deadlift, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and place the kettlebell slightly in front of you. Reach down and grab it with both hands, sending your hips back and keeping your back straight. Press your hips to stand up while holding the kettlebell. Then reverse the movement and send your hips back to set it down. If you're using a dumbbell, hold it with both hands on each side.

Dumbbell single arm deadlift. Try this to work on balance while working on your deadlift at the same time. Place the dumbbell on the floor a little in front of you with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Send your hips backward to pick it up with one arm. Press your hips forward to stand up. Some people find it helpful to stick the opposite arm out for balance. 

Single leg resistance band deadlift. Attach a resistance band low on a rack or to the wall. Grab the handles and step away from the rack until you feel some resistance. Keeping your back straight, bend forward, lifting your left leg straight behind you and keeping your right leg only slightly bent. Extend from your waist to stand up straight and bring your leg back to meet your right. Repeat on the opposite leg.