The deadlift set-up is an important piece for building strength in pulling weight from the ground. Foot placement, hand placement, hip placement, and muscle tension all play a key role in a proper set-up for a deadlift. Set-ups may vary for different variations of deadlifts but the checklist remains the same. In order to improve strength, it is important to make sure that you not only have a proper set-up, but that you practice that proper set-up each and every time you go to pick up the bar. Here is our checklist for a proper deadlift set-up:
- Foot placement: Your mid-foot should be placed directly underneath the bar. For a traditional deadlift, your feet will be underneath the hips, while your feet will be outside of the shoulders for a sumo deadlift. Your feet can be planted with the toes pointing straight ahead or slightly outward, no more than 10-15 degrees.
- Hand placement: The hands should be placed slightly outside of the hips during a traditional deadlift. For a sumo deadlift, the hands should be placed inside of the legs. Regardless of the variation, your hands should always be placed where your legs are not obstructing them during the pull. For heavier loads, a mixed grip with one hand pronated and one hand supinated is recommended for a more secure grip.
- Hip placement: During your set-up for a deadlift, your hips should be high, inline or slightly below your shoulders (Figure 1). It is not a squatting position (Figure 2) where you are sitting with your hips low, and if your hips are above your shoulder (Figure 3), you will be putting a lot of unnecessary tension on your lower back. There should be a slight bend in the knees, with shins remaining vertical.
- Muscle tension: Before you begin the pull, you should be engaged, creating tension throughout the entire body. You need to engage your posterior chain (the hamstrings, the glutes, and lower back). This can be achieved by keeping only a slight bend in the knees and hinging at the hips, pushing the butt back as far as possible, creating maximal tension. You also need to engage the upper body, squeezing the shoulder blades together, keeping them slightly over the bar with the head remaining in a neutral position. The arms should remain long at the start and throughout the lift. Many beginners make the mistake of bending the arms and then trying to “jerk” the weight from the floor. The deadlift is a lift designed to work the posterior chain, not the biceps and forearm. Last but not least, you need to make sure that you are engaging your core in order to protect your spine. Brace your midline by compressing your abdominal muscles and breathing through your diaphragm. This means no belly breathing.
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The deadlift is a great exercise to improve posterior chain strength and power. The power and explosiveness needed for dynamic lifts such as the snatch and clean is generated from your posterior chain, which many lifting coaches refer to as your powerhouse. In order to get the most out of your lifts, you need to make sure that you have a proper set-up. This includes having proper feet, hand, and hip placement, as well as muscular tension throughout the body. Having a proper set-up will help to improve your deadlift strength as well as efficiency, which can translate into improvements in other lifts and exercises.