The deadlift is often referred to as the most forgiving lift because you can probably get away with performing it inefficiently or incorrectly for a while, but that doesn’t mean doing so is in your best interest.
What are the top 19 deadlift mistakes lifters make?
- Wearing the wrong shoes
- Not warming up
- Not keeping the bar over midfoot
- Choosing the wrong stance
- Choosing the wrong grip
- Jerking the bar (Not pulling out slack)
- Not having adequate mobility
- Not engaging your lats
- Not using chalk
- Rolling the barbell
- Choosing the wrong hip position or back angle
- Rounding your back
- Arching your back
- Not pressing the floor away
- Relaxing on the eccentric
- Hitching the bar
- Not bracing and breathing properly
- Bouncing your reps
- Not locking out properly
Just because you can lift a certain way, doesn’t mean you should and the deadlift should be treated with as much care and attention as lifts such as the squat, bench, or overhead press. In this article, we will go over each mistake, why it’s bad, why it happens and what you can do about it.
1. Wearing the Wrong Shoes
A good lift starts at the feet, and this is especially true with the deadlift.
It’s not uncommon to see novices use running shoes or their squat shoes to perform the deadlift as well simply because they don’t know better. Running shoes are generally unstable as they are meant for running and squat shoes, while they are very sturdy, add inches to your deadlift range of motion which ultimately will compromise your bar path and your total strength.
For deadlifts, it’s important to choose shoes that provide a hard, flat sole, as close to barefoot as possible because it will provide the right support, improve your posture and protect you from injury.
Check out our specific brand recommendation here: Best Shoes For Deadlifts: Buying Guide & Reviews (2021)
2. Not Warming Up
It’s not enough to just warm up your body, for deadlifts it’s important to warm-up specifically with the deadlift in mind.
The deadlift is a multi-joint movement and one where you’re likely moving relatively heavy weights. While your body should be warm temperature-wise, the specific muscles and joints used in the deadlift must also be prepped before attempting your programmed sets.
This mistake occurs mostly due to time constraints, or just not knowing how to warm up for deadlifts; however, spending the extra 10-15 min will ensure your body is fully prepared to perform at its best and may help you minimize injury risk because all your joints will be ready to activate.
A good warm-up includes 4 parts: (1) a general warm-up (2) mobility exercises (3) dynamic stretches (4) activation exercises.
For a more in-depth look on warming for deadlifts check out our article: How To Warm Up For Deadlifts (4 Steps For Bigger & Safer Pulls)
3. Not Keeping the Bar over Midfoot
When you place your feet under the barbell it should look like it’s cutting down the middle of your foot, roughly where you would find your shoelaces or where the arch of your foot is located.
If you have the bar any closer to the ankle joint you’ll have trouble getting a flat back position and likely bang up your shins and knees on the way up. If you have the bar set up near your toes you will place a lot more pressure on your lower back when lifting.
Both scenarios will also compromise the bar path by causing the bar to likely drift away or toward you, rather than completely vertical.
Keep this in mind: your shins should be touching the barbell before you initiate the lift, but you should have to bend your knees in order for your shins to reach the barbell.
4. Choosing the Wrong Stance
Choosing the best position for your feet can be the key to making your deadlifts feel stronger than ever.
It’s not surprising stance width can be an issue for lifters because there are many possibilities for where to place your feet and several questions need to be answered, such as:
- Should you deadlift with a conventional or sumo stance?
- How wide should your sumo stance be?
- How narrow should a conventional stance be?
The answers to the above questions also mostly lie in the size and proportions of your body and so a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t ideal. Choosing a stance that is too wide or too narrow will likely cause you difficulty in activating the right muscles at the right time.
A sign you may need to adjust your stance is if your deadlift is weak off the floor or weak once you reach your knees. Additionally, if you find it hard to get your back in the right position your stance may need to be either widened or brought in closer.
5. Choosing the Wrong Grip
It’s important to not only have a good grip on the bar, but also choose the right spot on the bar to grab.
While there are 3 grip options: double-overhand, mixed grip, and hook grip. There are however some drawbacks particularly with the mixed grip that may be compromising your deadlift performance.
Mixed grip is often chosen as a stronger alternative to the double-overhand grip, however with one arm facing up and another facing down, without adequate upper-body mobility this position may be placing you in a twisted position and lead to muscular imbalances.
A better alternative to the mixed grip would be a hook grip, however, it does often take some practice as it likely will be uncomfortable at best.
In addition to grip style, grip width is also an important factor to a good deadlift and can be done incorrectly. Grabbing the bar too wide or too narrow will both result in poor lat engagement and a lack of efficiency in muscle activation.
For most lifters you will want your wrists and your shoulder in-line with each other when looking from a front view. Sumo lifters will have their hands right on their thighs at lockout while conventional lifters should have their hands just outside of their legs.
If you are struggling with your grip make sure to also check out our article: How to Maximize Your Deadlift Grip (Never Fail Again On Grip)
6. Jerking the Bar (Not Creating Tension/Pulling out Slack)
A common deadlift mistake you’ll find even among those with some lifting experience, is not creating enough tension before initiating the lift.
Your muscles should be maximally engaged and ready to pull the weight off the ground before you actively start to lift. This tension should especially be felt through your legs, glutes, core and upper back and will result in the bar feeling like it just “floats”off the ground as soon as you start to pull.
Part of creating this tension is pulling slack out of the bar. Every barbell has some degree of “give” to it, so if this slack isn’t removed, the bar will instead pull down on you and cause you to jerk the deadlift and shift your body out of position.
With the slack removed and your whole body tensed and activated for the deadlift, you will be surprised at how weights that normally felt heavy all of a sudden are moving with greater ease.
7. Not Having Adequate Mobility
If you cannot perform a hip hinge, you should not be performing deadlifts… yet.
Not having adequate mobility in your hips, knees, and back may be the underlying cause for why you are experiencing difficulty in setting up and harnessing strength to pull the weight off the ground.
Being able to perform the hip hinge is the bare minimum for preparing to do barbell deadlifts safely. To test and then also practice the hip hinge, try holding a broomstick or dowel down your back and practice moving your hips back until you feel tension in your hamstrings.
Check out our article on 8 Deadlift Progressions from Beginner to Advanced for more insight on moving up from the broomstick hip hinge to a full barbell deadlift.
8. Not Engaging Your Lats
A common mistake is ignoring the important role your upper body plays in executing a strong deadlift.
Your lats are responsible for holding your shoulder, or scapula, in place and so without proper lat engagement, your shoulders are free to move during the deadlift.
Forward shoulder movement on the deadlift is not recommended because it will take the barbell off course and make your lifting less efficient. In addition, a lifter who rolls their shoulder back at the top of a deadlift is one who hasn’t set their shoulders in the correct position at the start of the pull.
To ensure your lats are fully engaged, try using the deadlift cues “protect the pits” or “flex your armpits” to create tightness in the upper body. By mentally preventing someone from seeing or touching your armpits you inadvertently flex your lats and depress your scapula, placing you in a great position to deadlift.
9. Not Using Chalk
Leaving strength on the table because of sweaty hands is a mistake often seen in beginners who have never tried using chalk.
As a novice, I sometimes felt like I wasn’t “strong enough” to justify using chalk, as if there is a strength threshold for not lifting with clammy hands.
However, this was a mistake and chalk should be at your disposal, regardless of your experience level, to ensure you aren’t missing lifts or ending sets early because the bar is slipping out of your hands.
If chalk is not permitted in your gym, you can opt for liquid chalk which is far less messy and accomplishes the same goal.
10. Rolling the Barbell
Your body is meant to position itself around the barbell, the barbell shouldn’t be moved or forced to position itself around where you happened to be standing.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that once your hands touch the barbell, the barbell should not move anywhere except upwards. The reason you don’t want to do this is because you’re causing extreme inconsistency with the start position of every set and/or rep and increases the likelihood of the bar not starting at midfoot due to it being in motion beforehand.
If your barbell has rolled away due to an uneven deadlift platform, roll and adjust your barbell’s starting spot before you begin to set up your own start position.
Additionally, some lifters as part of their deadlift set up intentionally roll the barbell around and then yank the bar up, this strategy is not recommended for most people and should be a habit you avoid for the reasons mentioned above.
11. Choosing the Wrong Hip Position or Back Angle
Setting your hips too low or too high and creating a suboptimal back angle is a mistake that can be fixed by understanding how you are built and the demands of the deadlift.
If your hips shoot up as you initiate the pull, it may mean that your hips started in a position that was too low and where they couldn’t harness enough strength and so they compensated.
Having your hips set too low will also make your deadlift become a more leg-dominant lift than is required. This can be problematic especially for those who sumo deadlift with their hips too low, as persistent hip discomfort can creep up.
Alternatively, having your hips start too high will turn your deadlift into a stiff leg deadlift and significantly impact how much weight you can move as well as place too much stress on your back.
To figure out the best back angle or hip height for your deadlift style and body proportions check out our article: Best Deadlift Back Angle For Your Size & Build and Best Hip Angle For Your Size & Build.
12. Rounding Your Back
While some rounding can be acceptable especially among powerlifters, excessive rounding especially in the lower back is an issue that should be addressed.
Unless you are a well-seasoned powerlifter or experienced deadlifter, your goal should always be to keep a straight and sturdy back position. This is especially true for the low-mid back region that is particularly vulnerable to rounding and injury in beginners.
Rounding the back stems typically from not creating a good brace in your abdomen by inhaling a belly breath, pushing your ribs down and creating pressure around your trunk. Doing this locks your torso in place and will prevent rounding from occurring.
Others may find rounding to be a result of poor hip mobility, where you simply can’t reach the bar without rounding, or, from not pulling slack out of the bar.
Therefore, to prevent your back from rounding, spend quality time learning how to brace well, create full body tension and make sure you have adequate mobility to get into the right position.
If you want to learn more about when rounding of the back is acceptable, check out our article: Is It Okay To Deadlift With a Round Back? (Powerlifters Say Yes)
13. Arching Your Back
In contrast to rounding your back, arching your back, instead of keeping it neutral and flat, is also a mistake seen in beginners that can be fixed with practice.
If you notice that you feel deadlifts most prominently in your lower back and hamstrings, you may be hyperextending your spine and putting yourself in the opposite of a rounded back position.
This is not good because you are not likely engaging your glutes, core and lats very well and can result in discomfort of injury in the low back.
To overcome this, try to avoid cranking your neck up and looking at the ceiling when setting up for the deadlift as this can force an overextension. In addition, practicing proper bracing technique and slightly tucking your pelvis down when setting up may help resolve this issue.
14. Not Pressing the Floor
The deadlift is normally called a pull or a hip hinge, however, a lot of your strength will come from thinking about pressing into the ground.
It’s easy to make this mistake because, visually, it looks like not that much is happening with your legs beyond just levering the weight up. However, applying force directly into the ground under you is the key to getting the bar up.
A good way to also picture this is by thinking of the ground as a leg press machine where you are physically pushing it away and eventually straightening out your legs.
Not only will thinking about pressing the floor help you build tension and be stronger, it will also cue your knees to extend at the right time so you aren’t scratching up your shins or bumping the bar into your knees on the way up.
If you are bruising your shins in the process of learning the technique check out our article: How To Fix Bruising Shins During Deadlifts (Technique Tips)
15. Hitching the Bar
Not only is hitching the bar grounds for disqualifying a lift in powerlifting competitions, it also places you in a vulnerable position for injury.
Hitching the bar is when you attempt to support the barbell on the front of your quads to prevent it from moving down. It’s usually a sign that you have hit a weak spot and can’t lift the weight, have set the deadlift up incorrectly or just lack discipline regarding good technique.
The best ways to avoid hitching are to practice creating a flat back and perfecting your starting position. Additionally, adding in accessories such as Romanian deadlifts or pause deadlifts may also be helpful if it is a persistent weakness.
Finally, just having awareness can be enough to make it stop occurring and if you feel the urge to hitch, learn to place the bar down on the ground and try again in a couple minutes or once you’ve adjusted your position.
To learn all about hitching in more detail check out: What Is A Deadlift Hitch? (And, How to Avoid It)
16. Relaxing on the Eccentric
In powerlifting, as long as you don’t drop the deadlift, you won’t be disqualified from competition; however, relaxing and turning into a limp noodle after your lift is not a good habit to get into.
Firstly, if you are lifting weight that is very heavy and difficult, one wrong relaxation of a muscle or joint can make it vulnerable for injury and the last thing you want is to have a successful lift end by pulling a muscle.
Additionally, if you are doing deadlifts for more than one rep, returning to your start position as you place the bar back on the ground will help you maintain tension and get you prepared for the next rep. This increase in overall efficiency will translate to better muscle endurance and strength especially on high rep sets.
Implementing this commonly just requires conscious awareness and thinking less about putting the barbell on the ground, but rather like it’s an opportunity to set up for another deadlift.
17. Not Bracing and Breathing Properly
The key to a strong deadlift is a rigid core, which can only be accomplished through proper bracing and breathing.
Breathing and bracing go hand in hand and often novices and beginners haven’t been taught the proper technique before trying to deadlift or are under the impression that you have to breathe while exercising in order for it to be effective.
Proper bracing starts with a big inhale into your belly along with pushing your rib cage down; you should feel your trunk expand 360 degrees around you. It should feel like you’re preparing yourself to get punched in the stomach.
Additionally, during the deadlift you do not want to be actively inhaling and exhaling as this will release the pressure you created with the brace. If you are lifting for multiple reps, exhale at the end of your rep and make sure to re-brace before initiating again. It is not advised to exhale at the top of the deadlift because you need to maintain the tension to keep the weight lifted.
For more on this topic, check out this article: How to Breathe Properly In The Deadlift
18. Bouncing Your Reps
Deadlifts are meant to be initiated from a dead-stop on the ground and allowing the bar to bounce between reps should be avoided by most.
Resetting your deadlift between every rep will ensure you harness the most amount of strength with the best technique and it will be more specific to powerlifting competitions if that’s something you’re working towards.
Bouncing your reps or doing “touch-and-go” deadlifts makes you rely on the rebound of the bar to get the weight off the floor, rather than working to create tension to pull it off the floor yourself.
Additionally, speeding through your reps and relying on a bounce to get the weight up may end up hurting you down the line because the bar is not in your full control.
Therefore, make sure to always place the bar on the ground for at least a second before going for the next rep.
If you’re interested to learn more about reset deadlifts, check out our article: Which is Better? Touch-and-Go or Reset Deadlifts
19. Not Locking out Properly
The lockout is a crucial part of the lift as it signals that the weight has been lifted successfully; however, not all lockouts are created equal.
A bad lockout is one where your lower back is arched, your body is leaning backwards and there is some softness in your knees.
Overextending usually occurs because the lifter has not maintained their brace adequately and hasn’t squeezed their glutes and thrust them to the bar. Instead of bringing their hips to the bar, those who make this mistake are bringing the bar to their hips.
This is a very dangerous and injury-prone position to be in, particularly as the weights get heavier and it needs to be corrected as soon as possible.
Some ways to mitigate this is to practice performing a good lockout using your glutes with lighter weights, strengthen your glutes with paused or banded deadlifts, as well as ensuring you have a good brace throughout so you aren’t tempted to lean back and hitch the bar.
Check out our article on 10 Tips to Improve Your Deadlift Lockout (That Actually Work) for even more information!
This list isn’t just a list of deadlift mistakes you may be making, but is also a lift of mistakes I, and those around me, have made over the years. Unfortunately sometimes we have to learn by doing things incorrectly, but the important thing is just that we continue to seek answers and ways to improve.
The deadlift is an incredibly powerful movement when done correctly and is worth the time and effort it will take to get it to a place where it is not only strong, but also safe.
Curious to learn about other mistakes that are made in powerlifting? Check out the following resources:
- 17 Squat Mistakes (How To Avoid & Correct)
- 19 Bench Press Mistakes (How To Avoid & Correct)
- 55 Powerlifting Mistakes Competitive Lifters Make
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.