Part 1: Deadlifting technique and cues
You might have heard your coach or gym buddy yell out, “breathe into your belt!” or “shoulders back and down!” These are two of the common cues used by coaches and lifters as a reminder to keep the body in an appropriate position for the deadlift. In this article we will discuss the common technique cues used by many coaches and lifters to ensure appropriate body position and bracing throughout the conventional deadlift.
The deadlift is the mother of all exercises! and when performed with great technique the number of muscles active during the deadlift is out of this world! Whether you are a first timer with deadlifts or a seasoned lifter, technical cues will give you the help you need to make sure your deadlifts are moving with great technique for a more effective and safe lift.
Deadlift technique cues:
You might already have some go-to cues that you use during your deadlift, but here are a few of the cues I like to use when I deadlift or when I teach the deadlift to patients of mine during their rehabilitation. Let’s start from the positioning of the feet and move up the body talking about the knees, hips, upper back, shoulders and bracing of the core:
1. Shoe laces under the bar:
Before starting the deadlift position your feet so that your ‘shoelaces’ are under the bar. This will stop you from starting too far away or too close to the barbell.
2. Hinge from the knees and hips (sit onto the toilet):
Think of it like you’re sitting on to the toilet!
This will stop you from coming into too much of a squat (bottom left image) and forgetting about hinging from the hips, and it will also stop you from only relying on hip hinging and using your back to lift which can lead to injury (bottom right image).
The combination of hip hinge and knee flexion is very important throughout the deadlift to ensure that both the quadricep muscle group and the posterior chain (gluteals and hamstrings) are activated during the movement.
Side note! If you have trouble hip hinging try an RDL (Romanian deadlift) or stiff legged deadlift accessory to train your body to hip hinge.
3. Shoulders back and down/switch on the lats:
Keeping the latissimus dorsi (lats) switched on will ensure the upper back stays straight throughout the lift and especially assisting with moving into the finishing (lock out) position.
4. Hands under shoulders:
This cue is used prior to lifting the barbell telling the lifter to hold the barbell with the hands directly under the shoulders making sure the grip is not too wide because a wider grip adds difficulty to the deadlift.
Side note! Some lifters like to use the cue ‘knees into elbows’ to make sure the arms stay tight and narrow under the shoulders. Think of this like you’re pushing your knees into your elbows while keeping the arms touching the sides on the knees in the set up position.
5. Big breath
This cue ensures that the abdominal muscles are activated prior to lifting the barbell. Keeping the abdominal muscles tight allows for a strong foundation from which to perform the lift and will ensure the barbell stays controlled throughout the movement.
Tip: breathe before moving into your deadlift position to get the maximum activation (image on the left). It might be tough to take a big breath when you’re already in a deadlift position (image on the right).
6. Keep the bar close
This cue is an important one as it reminds the lifter that the barbell must stay close to their body during the entire lift so that the barbell moves up and down in a straight line. As we know it’s more of a mechanical advantage to lift something close to your body rather than having it far away and trying to lift it.
Things to remember
Keeping these technical cues in mind or getting your coach or gym buddy to repeat them to you during your deadlift session will help you to deadlift with better technique. You might develop your own cues that are personal and easy to remember for you but using easy cues for technique will help you to lift safely especially as the weight becomes heavier. Filming your deadlifts is always a great way to constantly reassess your technique!
Happy lifting and stay safe!