Many who have observed a powerlifting meet have said out of the three lifts the deadlift is the most awesome and impressive looking of the three. Many times a superior deadlift means the difference between first and second place in competition. This is why powerlifters say, "The competition isn't over until the bar touches the floor." The deadlift combines overall strength, explosiveness, and power. It is one of the few lifts where you have no idea what the weight feels like until you start the pull. This means proper mental preparation is necessary to move those heavy singles.
The deadlift is not just for powerlifters. As you will find, this exercise will build overall body mass more quickly than any other single exercise. Many weight lifters are afraid to try this mass building exercise, and have seen some pretty bad form used by the few who utilize this exercise.
There are two types of deadlift stances being used today: the conventional style and the sumo style. With the conventional style the lifter takes a stance about shoulder's width and the arm will hang straight outside the knees. This stance utilizes more of the quads and low back...so keep those hips down and that back straight. The second stance is sumo. Sumo stance is a position any where from past shoulder's width to a more extreme wide stance. Of course the arms will hang inside the knees. As you can see, the sumo stance gets the lifter a little closer to the floor so the bar actually has less distance to travel. Also the lifter is starting in more of a half squat position. As we all know you can half squat much more than full squat. With this stance more of the stress is taken off the low back and put on the hips and glutes. Which stance is the best...well world records have been set by lifters using both stances. This subject could be discussed to the end of time, so my suggestion is to try both styles and see which is the best for your body type.
Feet should point out to a 45 degree angle. The shins should be two to three inches from the bar and then when you actually bend down, the shins will touch the bar. Most of the weight will be on the heels of the feet just like the squat. During ascent the bar will travel as close to the leg and shins as possible.
With either stance a reverse grip should be used. That is with one hand supinated and the other pronated. This will help keep the bar in your hand. Do not use a hook grip...hold the bar high up on the palm to compensate for any roll of the bar when pulling the weight up. The grip should start with the index finger and the little finger bordering the knurling in the middle of the bar. If you are having trouble with the weight twisting the body to one side or banging the shins, try moving the opposite hand in to the middle just slightly to compensate.
Just like the form for squats, the head should be up, the hips down, and the back flat. I can't over emphasize the importance of this bit of advice, simply because it will help the lifter avoid low back injuries. By keeping the hips down, the stress is taken off the low back and put on the more powerful quadriceps. Keeping the eyes and head up, aids in keeping the spine in proper position.
The belt is utilized to maintain lumbar integrity through ascent and descent. Get a belt that is as wide in the front as in the back. Refrain from wearing a belt during lighter sets. Try to only wear a belt for near-maximal and maximal sets or the heavy work sets. The beltless sets allow the deep adominal muscles to receive a training stimulus without placeing excessive compressive forces on the spine disks. The lifting belt should be worn as low on the hip as possible. It is not necessary to have it super tight, but just snug. This will enable the abdominal muscles to maintain adequate pressure to keep the spine in proper position.
Lifting suits are another necessity for big deadlifts. They are not only a safety aid but they actually enable you to train with heavier weights by adding extra support to the hips and glutes. There are many different brands of lifting suits on the market. Try several different brands until you have found a suit that you like. I personally have found that the brands with the locking legs work best. This feature will prevent the bottom of the suit from sliding up on the leg when you deadlift. Thus, losing some support. It is recommended that very tight suits be used for those that sumo lift and a looser suit for the conventional stance deadlifters.
When To Use A Lifting Suit: Once you start getting into the sets of five repetitions, put on a suit. I like to use three different suits. One that is a little loose fitting, one that is tight fitting, and a contest suit that is a size or two too small. The lifting suit should get tighter as the weights go up and the repetitions go down. So you would use the loose fitting suit for the sets of five and the contest suit for your heaviest sets and contest. The heavier the weight the more support you will need. Many experienced lifters even leave the straps of the suit down until they start doing singles.
Warning: Always check you squat suit for tears or runners. Do not deadlift in a suit that that may possibly rip or "blow out." When the suit blows out all support will suddenly be lost. This could possibly cause you to completely loose control of the bar and even fall with the weight. The chance of injury is not worth the price of a new suit.
The closer the lifter is to the floor, the less distance the bar must be pulled. Thus, less total work and possibly more weight lifted. Many lifters prefer to deadlift in their socks or a thin slipper. Neither of these two provide very much traction. It is very possible that the lifter may slip. Another popular shoe is the wrestling shoe. The wrestling shoe has a very thin sole, has good traction, and also provides ankle support. In my opinion this is the better choice of foot apparel.
Most lifters use a magnesium carbonate chalk when deadlifting. The chalk will help to maintain a tight grip on the bar. It is highly recommended that the hands lightly chalked to prevent any slipping of the bar. Too much chalk may actually cause more slipping resulting in skin tears to the palm. Many lifters use powder on the thighs to cut some of the friction that is encountered when the bar is pulled up the leg. DO NOT use hand chalk. It will only make the friction problem worse, so use baby powder for the thighs.
There is no place for touch and go repetitions when doing the deadlift. If you are going to do reps, treat each rep as a single. Slowly set the bar to the floor, reset, and pull again. Another word of warning, this is a very safe mass building exercise when done in correct form. Remember....keep the head and eyes up, the shoulders back, the back flat, and the hips down. Psyche your self up really well, let out a mighty yell and pull like crazy!
Here's a link to a calculator that will help you plan a periodized workout specifically for the deadlift. Click here.
MS, RD, CSCS, MSS
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Sport Nutrition Consultant