Prep and PositionPhysical Therapist Working With Athlete on Deadlift Form

  1. Stand with feet just outside hips-width but close enough so your arms can hang comfortably alongside both knees when you bend over and forward.
  2. With feet in the correct position, take the bar with an overhand grip (thumbs wrap under the bar) or an over-under grip in which one hand grasps the bar overhanded and the other underhanded (typically used for heavier weights and powerlifting).
  3. Before beginning the lift, we must “take the slack out” of the bar and your upper body, including the neck, shoulder blades, and upper spine. “Slacking-out” includes pulling shoulder blades back as far as possible, positioning into a seated or squatting position, AND lifting the bar just enough to barely lift it from the floor, which will cause your upper body to extend and arms to straighten.
  4. Once the “slack is out,” (at the bottom of this movement, the lumbar is flexed. This speaks to the importance and emphasis of the uppermost spine segments during the prep phases of the Olympic deadlift. If the T/S and C/S are actively being extended BEFORE this lift begins, then the first movement of the flexed lumbar spine will be into extension. This is how to save the lifter’s lumbar spine during this lift) begin the lift by driving your weight through your heels and straightening (extending) your knees and then back and hips in one motion:
  • A good cue is to feel like your chest is rising high and before everything else.
  • Being careful to maintain a rigid neck (“packed” or “double chin”) position and upper body posture as possible will ensure safe technique throughout the lift.
  • The bar should maintain as straight a path as possible, ensuring the bar doesn’t move towards or away from you during the lift. Any movement that isn’t in a straight line is less efficient and may point to faults in the prep or obvious strength issues that need attention.
  1. The lift is complete when the hips and upper body are fully extended. Lowering the bar can be done in one of two ways:
  • If you are using bumper plates and are training for strength, the lift is most safely completed by dropping the weights to the floor in a controlled manner. Once the lifter has fully extended their hips, the bar is let go with both hands simultaneously and guided to the ground with an open palm and a squatting motion similar to the lift itself. If both hands do not release the bar simultaneously, guiding the bar to the ground with an open palm can prevent the bouncing bar from becoming a hazard to the lifter or those in the general vicinity.
  • If we are using steel plates and training more for endurance purposes, the lowering phase of the deadlift is performed in reverse to lower the bar to the floor. It is vital before returning to the floor, the shoulder blades and upper spine remain rigid and strong. The hips and knees are bent (flexed), and the bar is lowered to its resting position.
  1. When performing repeated lifts, the bar may come into contact with the ground and the lift repeated, but it is vitally important that the shoulder blades and upper spine remain strong. IF “slack” is introduced in any portion of the descent, extra work and inefficient movement patterns will reduce effectiveness and injury if not corrected.


  • The goal of an efficient deadlift is to ensure that all of the effort produced is used to move the bar in as short a path as possible. If the bar path is not straight, much of the effort is likely being used to overcome inefficiencies or a lack of control or mobility in this exercise.
  • As is common with many squatting movements, hip activation in the correct planes and in the correct timing is important for safe and effective movement.

Keys to Watch or Feel For

  • Excessive knee adduction or abduction (knees too far in or too far apart). Either of these faults should provide a coach with insight that a more square/stable position should be attained during the setup and lift before progressing. If this is hard to correct, care may need to be directed at improving the activity tolerance of the lateral hip muscles. This will ensure the safest lift and decrease excess stress on the knees and ankles.
  • "Slack" and proper form. As described above, ‘slack’ or excessive movement of the trunk or shoulders is important to focus on.  If you find your shoulder blades moving forward (protracting), head and neck moving backward (cervical extension), and spine rounding (lumbar or thoracic), you are performing the lift incorrectly and should stop.  Incorrect form not only makes the exercise ineffective but also puts you at risk for serious injury.

Dr. Carlos J Berio, PT, DPT, MS, CSCS, CMTPT is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and a Certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist. In addition, he holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology. He has treated high school, collegiate, recreational, and professional athletes of various sports including baseball, softball, football, hockey, tennis, swimming, golf, and martial arts. His experience as a collegiate and semi-professional athlete as well as a professional baseball coach make him a sought-after resource among elite-level athletes on the field and in the training room. The concept of ‘all the way well’ in his work as a physical therapist and fitness professional is what continues to drive Dr. Berio to be the best movement specialist there is.

Carlos remains active in several sports and is an avid agility training, powerlifting, and adventure race runner. He is an advocate for his patients, clients, and his fellow PT colleagues. He can be reached at [email protected].