What Is A Deadlift Hitch? (And, How To Avoid It)

a deadlift hitch is when the bar is supported on the quads after the bar passes above the knees

Many people can present poor technique in the deadlift. One way poor technique can present itself in the deadlift is through hitching. Lifters have different ideas for why hitching exists and how to fix it.

But what is a deadlift hitch? A deadlift hitch is when the bar is supported on the quads after the bar passes above the knees. The shoulders are often behind the bar before the hips and knees have a chance to fully extend. During a deadlift hitch, the bar may appear to no longer move continuously upwards in one motion.

The deadlift hitch is considered bad technique, and therefore, illegal in powerlifting competitions. It can appear very apparently or it can be very subtle. To the trained eye, they can be spotted very easily.

Example Of Deadlift Hitches

Take a look at the following examples of what a deadlift hitch can look like.  In each case, you can see that the lifter ‘rests’ the barbell on their thighs throughout the movement. 

Subtle deadlift hitch:

Very apparent deadlift hitch:

Why is a Deadlift Hitch Considered Bad Technique?

There are two main reasons why a deadlift hitch is considered bad technique: 

  • It is illegal in powerlifting competitions
  • It creates a rounded-back posture

1. Illegal in Powerlifting Competitions

If a lifter executes the deadlift with a deadlift hitch then it renders it pointless as you will not have a valid score for that lift.

You can check out my other article discussing all of the deadlift rules.

This is the main reason to make sure that it does not occur in training. If you practice the deadlift with a hitch occurring, you reinforce that movement pattern when you come to lift maximally on the platform.

I always like to tell my lifters “the worst rep in training” will be the best rep you can expect to have in competition. 

2. It creates a rounded-back posture

The deadlift hitch is often linked to a loss of flatness with the lower back in the initial set up. This is associated with a higher risk of back injury.

The deadlift is meant to be an extension of the hips and knees, but people who hitch often put excessive back extension demands through starting in a flexed or rounded position.

There are some instances where a rounded back is acceptable in the deadlift, which I cover in my article on Is It Okay To Deadlift With A Round Back?

Deadlift Set-Up:  Leading Indicators That Indicate A Hitch 

A poor initial deadlift set up can lead to a deadlift hitch, especially if you start with a rounded back. 

poor initial deadlift set up can lead to a deadlift hitch, especially if you start with a rounded back

In an ideal world, the deadlift should start with the lower back in a more neutral range and stay at a fixed muscle length throughout the movement.  

Unfortunately, for those who tend to hitch start with the pull with a rounded back and end up having a harder time locking the weight out. 

By the time the bar is halfway up the leg, the hips struggle to lockout any further and the lifter has to rely on the weaker muscle groups specifically the lower back muscles to finish the lift.

If the lower back muscles cannot finish the pull then the lifter will compensate by rebending the knees to load the quads in an attempt to put them back in a better position to lockout.

The is when the lifter schools their thighs forward and let’s the barbell rest on the quads.

This is the hitching movement.

What Causes A Deadlift Hitch?

the 3 most common causes for the deadlift hitch
Deadlift Hitch

The 3 most common causes for the deadlift hitch are:

  • Misunderstanding of proper technique
  • Weakness in certain positions
  • Lack of discipline

1.  Misunderstanding of Proper Technique

The first reason for many newer lifters who hitch is a misunderstanding of proper technique. 

Many individuals who hitch in the deadlift often do not know how to set up and execute the deadlift.

Lifters who often do not know how to set up correctly with good back and hip alignment or do not know how to brace will suffer from a poor execution that will lead to hitch when it gets hard enough.

A really common misconception of the deadlift is that the deadlift is a lower back exercise. This puts newer lifters into the mindset that they should be hinging through their spine. This leads to a risk of hitching at maximal effort repetitions.

2.  Weakness in Certain Positions

The second reason why some lifters hitch is that they are weak in certain positions. 

In other words, the lifter has an inability to maintain good positioning after fatiguing or at certain weights.

This is often associated with certain muscle groups struggling at certain muscle ranges. 

Check out further resources for overcoming weaknesses in the deadlift: 

3.  Lack of Discipline or Awareness

The third reason why some lifters hitch may be due to a lack of discipline and complacency (a common deadlift mistake). 

For newer lifters, when they fatigue during a set, it is likely that they lose concentration and execute the lift with poorer set up.

They may not have the discipline to permit themselves to only performing repetitions that are of high quality. 

Overly committing to executing repetitions in a set when they should stop is going to potentially cause hitching when the hip muscles fatigue.

Newer lifters may not be aware that the quality of their set up is getting poorer during the set as they may not have a good awareness of body positions.

How to Avoid the Deadlift Hitch? (2 Practical Solutions)

Here are the two ways you can avoid the deadlift hitch: 

  • Understand proper technique
  • Improve strength in certain positions

1.  Understanding Proper Technique

If you hitch in the deadlift because you misunderstand what good technique involves, then you need to practice being in the positions that are considered desirable, efficient, and ultimately, safe.

You will need to understand what good technique looks like and what you should be feeling.

It would be useful to practice the technique with an empty bar and start from the top as it may be easier to practice technique from the top down rather than the bottom up when you may be struggling to get into good technique in the first place.

Practice moving through the deadlift with a slow speed and controlled manner, and pause at the knees and at the bottom position.

For someone who has a hitching issue, you will need to pay particular attention to keeping your back extended and armpits over the bar at all times. Also, ensure that the pressure is constantly midfoot and not too far on your toes.

When the bar reaches the knees, ensure that the shins are vertical.

ensure that the shins are vertical when the bar reaches the knees

It is also useful to record your practice with a video recording device so that you can self analyze how well you are doing.

An important skill is also to associate with what good form looks like with how it feels and reflecting upon practice sets.

2.  Improve Strength in Certain Positions

If it is the case that you struggle with the strength of being in a certain position, there are some warm up movements you can do at the start of training and exercises that can help you get into proper positions.

Cat Cow or Cat Camel

This is a really good warm up movement that gets you to exercise your full range of motion of your spine to improve your skill of maintaining appropriate posture for the deadlift.

It is important that you have good proprioception or bodily awareness of what it feels like to be in spinal flexion and extension.

Wall Reference Romanian Deadlift

This exercise is really good at warming up for any hip hinge exercise. I recommend using this movement as a warm up without any loading and you will feel a good stretch in your glutes and hamstrings.

Things to remember for this movement is to keep the loading on the front foot and bodyweight evenly distributed across that front foot.

Block Pulls or Block Deadlifts

Block pulls are a great exercise to practice positioning right before any hitching may occur. Light weight is recommended and with a slow and controlled eccentric portion ie. slow and controlled on the descent.

Ensure that you reset your starting position between reps. Make sure it is where you need it to be and that it is consistent between reps.

You can read more about Block Pulls here.

Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts are a good alternative to block pulls or block deadlifts for the purpose of improving position and strength to prevent hitching in the deadlift.

The main difference between the Romanian deadlift and the block pull is mainly that the Romanian deadlift can be a longer range of motion.

The Romanian deadlift can therefore also be a posterior chain and hip dominant movement.

The purpose of the Romanian deadlift is to train the hip extensors and posterior chain muscles over longer muscle lengths and improve the lifter’s ability to stay over the bar more.

Want an alternative?  Check out my 9 Best Romanian Deadlift Alternatives.

Toe Elevated Split Squat

A toe elevated split squat is a useful exercise to train the lower body unilaterally and improve the body’s ability to load through the heels more.

You may find that this variation increases more tension along the glutes and hamstrings.

Paused Deadlift

The paused deadlift is a very versatile variation of the conventional deadlift. 

Traditionally, the paused deadlift is performed with a pause right above the floor.

Given that you can maintain a good position you can execute this variation and pause at a point along the legs before you start to hitch in the deadlift. Ideally, this would be at the kneecap.

The pause enables more time under tension at a position that is weak. This enables you get stronger in a position you do not naturally find strength in.

I wrote an entire article on the paused deadlift here

Tempo Eccentric Deadlift

A tempo eccentric deadlift is a regular deadlift that is performed at a much slower speed on the descent.

This variation takes advantage of the fact that eccentric muscle contraction fatigues much later than concentric contraction.

This variation allows you to slow down and overload the muscles in a desired movement pattern.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Okay to Hitch on My Last Reps?

No, you should avoid hitching in the deadlift. When you train, you reinforce the movement patterns that you go through. Practice makes permanent. If you are hitching, it is probably an indicator that you have a poor set up.

Is Hitching Allowed in Strongman?

Yes, hitching is allowed in strongman competitions, unlike powerlifting competitions.

How Do You Fix Hitching in a Deadlift?

You will need to regress your training for the deadlift, and reinforce a good technique and set up. Reduce the training load and training difficulty so that you can revise how well you move.

Conclusion

Hitching is generally not something you would want to occur in training as it might occur on the platform in a powerlifting competition. Your attempt will not qualify in the competition rules.

Even if you are a general gym goer, hitching is best to be addressed as it is an indicator of a poor set up.

It will require you to swallow your ego and deload in order to improve the competency of your deadlift technique.

Ultimately, having better technique leads to you having training more sustainably, and lifting more mechanically more efficient. That enables you to be able to lift more and make more gains long term.


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com