Driving Strength with the Deadlift


A Part of Fierce Play’s Barbell Powerlifting Series

The deadlift is one of the most functional weightlifting exercises that can be performed, as it mimics the everyday movement of picking things up off of the floor. While the deadlift can have a bad rap for creating injury in the back, it is certainly an exercise that can be performed safely when proper form is utilized. The movement itself relies on the athlete’s ability to pick up a barbell from the ground, raise it up to hip-level as he/she stands upright, and then lower the barbell back down. The deadlift is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups throughout the body. Athletes will immediately feel the backs of the legs activated as they perform the movement, with the bulk of the exercise focusing on the use of the hamstrings and glutes, as well as the core muscles which hold the back in a safe position.

Watch the video clip below for a full explanation of technique, tips and tricks for performing the movement with efficiency, as well as precautions for staying safe.


  1. Keep Core Tight: Focus on keeping everything between the shoulders and hips static while performing the movement. To achieve this stability, squeeze your abdominal muscles and push your shoulder blades back. This will provide a solid trunk throughout the movement and prevent strain on the back.
  2. Feet Below Hips: Keep your feet directly below your hips, versus taking a wider stance, as this will actually help you generate more power during the lift. Moving your feet out will put you more into a sumo deadlift position, another version of the conventional deadlift.
  3. Heels Locked on the Ground: Besides keeping that tight torso throughout the movement, the second most important piece of proper form for the deadlift is keeping your heels locked on the floor. As athletes increase the weight for the deadlift, the tendency is to move further into the toes. However, it’s critical to keep the heels locked down so that you can fully engage your hamstring muscles and get the most power from your legs.
  4. Hips Fully Open: Just as you would do with a squat, open the hips fully at the top of the deadlift movement.
  5. Bar Close to Shins: Efficiency of the deadlift movement is all about how far the bar has to travel. The closer the bar stays to your shins and legs, the less distance it has to travel. Therefore, try to imagine the bar almost grazing your shins and thighs as you raise and lower it. Ultimately, you’re creating a straight line for the bar to travel, which is key for maintaining proper torso form, preventing back injury, and also creating as much efficiency in the movement as possible.
  6. Lean and Squeeze: The heavier the weight becomes on the bar, the more we want to use gravity to our advantage to help us raise and lower the bar. Two ways you can do this are by squeezing your butt and leaning back as you lift the bar. Firing up the butt muscles enables you to gain even more strength from your lift. Slightly leaning back as you lift also gives you more leverage as you raise the bar off the ground. Both of these coupled together should give you more of an advantage while you deadlift heavier weights.



  1. Shoot Knees Forward on the Pickup: Sometimes athletes find that their backs curve while performing the deadlift. One reason may be a lack of mobility in the ankles or your leg length / torso length / arm length may not allow you to set up in the proper position. If you’re struggling with this, let your knees shoot forward slightly as you drop down to pick up the bar. This will help you focus on maintaining a straight torso. The key is to swipe your knees back as you lift the bar upward, so that your knees are out of the way. Otherwise, you will find that the bar can hit your knees or you’ll have to do unnecessary work of moving the bar out around your knees as you lift upward.
  2. Keep Knees Back on the Drop: Interestingly enough, while it helps to shoot knees forward as you go to pick up the bar, shooting knees forward while you’re at the top of the movement can actually have the opposite effect. When you’re at the top of the deadlift, your back is already in a nice, straight position. To keep the torso straight and prevent your back curving as the weight drops with gravity, shoot your butt back and focus on keeping the knees back and slightly unlocked until the bar gets below the knee line. Once the bar is below the knee line, it’s once again safe and effective to let the knees come slightly forward.
  3. Switch the Grip: The weight on the barbell can begin to feel heavy on your grip quite fast. To prevent losing a good grip, consider using a hook grip, where the first and second fingers of the hand wrap on top of the thumbs. This provides more grip stability as you perform the deadlift. You can also use a flip grip where one hand has the knuckles facing forward and the other has palm forward. This counter positioning of the hands provides additional grip strength that helps you lift heavier weights with ease.

QUESTIONS: Ready to get started, or curious to learn more about how Fierce Play can help you meet your health and wellness goals? Contact us for more information. Also feel free to check out more of our videos series to learn how to perform the basics with solid form and efficiency. 


Fierce Play’s Barbell Powerlifting Series focuses on proper technique, as well as tips & tricks, to master some of the foundational movements that will be integrated into many of the workouts you will perform. Start your next workout with the confidence and skills to do the movement safely and effectively.


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Mark Mancuso started his fitness journey while enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Like most individuals, at first, he only focused on bodybuilding type workouts. Mark learned quickly that focusing just on the aesthetics of the body would get you only so far. In 2013, Mark found out about Crossfit and fell in love with everything that it stood for.

In June of 2015, Mark was Honorably Discharged from the Marine Corps and returned from his duty station in Okinawa, Japan to his home in Maple Grove, MN. Not having any formal coaching in Crossfit he was on a mission to find a Crossfit Box to call home. Fierce Play welcomed him with open arms, and he hasn’t looked back. Mark obtained his Level One Crossfit certification in November 2015 and plans to add additional certifications in the future. He also intends to compete in a variety of Crossfit competitions as opportunities arise.


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Jeff Birthler has a contagious passion for fitness. He graduated and obtained a personal training certificate from the National Personal Training Institute in 2010. On his way, he discovered and fell in love with CrossFit. Jeff hasn’t stopped learning, and still seeks a well-rounded education within the health domain, going beyond physical facets. He has trained clients at several corporate gyms, including Fitness 19 and LA Fitness, as he established a plan for his own gym.

Fierce Play was established in 2012 in a 500 sq. ft. garage. After a few moves and upgrades, it now has a permanent, 4800 sq. ft. location in Maple Grove. Jeff calls it “home”.


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