8 Deadlift Progressions From Beginner To Advanced

8 deadlift progressions from beginner to advanced

Powerlifters these days lift loads that are 4 times their body weight (or more), in the deadlift. But how do we start the process of getting to this level of strength? How do we go from beginner to advanced deadlifters?

Here are my top 8 deadlift progressions:

Although it can be confusing to decide which progression is right for you and how to progress, in this article we’ll discuss what key components we need to master to succeed with harder variations and how to know when to progress.

Deadlift Progressions: 8 Exercises

The following progressions are listed in order from beginner to more advanced variations of the deadlift:

1. Dowel Hip Hinge

The dowel hip hinge is the first progression for the deadlift because it teaches us how to properly hinge at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine, both of which are key components of the deadlift.

  • Grab a dowel stick (or a broom handle) and place it along your spine by reaching up and behind the back, with the other hand, reach behind the back to grab the other end of the stick and and rest the backside of the hand against the lower back
  • The stick will remain in this position as we hip hinge to provide feedback about the position of our spine – if the stick loses contact with the back or our bottom hand is no longer touching our lower back, we are losing position by either rounding or arching the back.
  • Once the dowel stick is in position, take a shoulder-width stance
  • Keep a soft bend in the knees, and allow the chest to come towards the ground while keeping the dowel stick in place
  • In this position, the hips should be lower than the shoulders but still remaining higher than where they would be if we were squatting
  • Push the floor away with your legs while squeezing the glutes back to midline to return to a tall stacked position

2. Kettlebell Deadlift

The kettlebell deadlift is the next progression because we have now mastered the hip hinge and we are ready to introduce a load. The load will teach us how to tighten the upper body into a strong position, and how to keep the load close to us throughout the lift.

  • Place a kettlebell on the ground and stand directly over top of it with a shoulder-width stance
  • Hinge at the hip while keeping the spine neutral, and then bend the knees to grab the kettlebell with straight arms (hips should be below the shoulders)
  • With arms lengthened, use the kettlebell to tighten your lats by actively trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together (some people call this “squeezing the armpits).
  • Once lat tension has been created, push the ground away with your legs to begin to stand and squeeze your glutes towards the midline
  • At the top, our arms should remain lengthened with the shoulders away from the ears, the core should be tight to prevent arching of the lower back, and the hips and knees should be locked out and stacked.
  • From this position, we want to reverse the motion by hinging at the hips and unlocking the knees to place the kettlebell back on the ground with a neutral spine

Wondering if deadlifting is something you should be doing every? Check out our article Can You Deadlift Every Day?

3. Rack Pull

Once we feel confident with the kettlebell, the next progression of the deadlift is to introduce the barbell with a rack pull. The rack pull is beneficial because it teaches the lifter how to lockout the lift and practice the neutral spine position, in a limited range of motion

  • Set the safety’s or pins of a rack at the height that allows the barbell to rest at knee level
  • Stand close the the bar with a shoulder-width stance
  • Hinge at the hip with a neutral spine, and bend the knees just enough to grab the bar (the hips should be below the shoulders) 
  • Arms should be straight and we should be gripping the bar outside the legs, preferably in line with the shoulder
  • With arms lengthened, use the bar to tighten your lats by actively trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together (some people call this “squeezing the armpits).
  • Once lat tension has been created, push the ground away with your legs to begin to stand and squeeze your glutes towards the midline
  • At the top, our arms should remain lengthened with the shoulders away from the ears, the core should be tight to prevent arching of the lower back, and the hips and knees should be locked out and stacked
  • From this position, we want to reverse the motion by hinging at the hips and unlocking the knees to place the bar back onto the rack with a neutral spine

4. Block Pull

The block pull builds on the principles learned in the previous exercises and increases the range of motion of the lift, taking us a step closer to the conventional deadlift.

  • The block pull requires blocks that put the barbell at roughly mid-shin. If no blocks are available, we can lay plates on the ground and use them to elevate the barbell
  • With the bar sitting approximately at mid-shin, take shoulder-width stance and stand close enough to the bar that when looking down, the bar cuts our shoes in half
  • Hinge at the hips with a neutral spine, and bend the knees to grab the bar with arms extended (ensure that the hips are lower than the shoulders)
  • Using the bar, tighten the lats by actively trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together or “squeezing the armpits”
  • Once lat tension has been created, push the ground away with the legs to begin to stand and squeeze the glutes towards the midline
  • At the top, our arms should remain lengthened with the shoulders away from the ears, the core should be tight to prevent arching of the lower back, and the hips and knees should be locked out and stacked
  • From this position, we want to reverse the motion by hinging at the hips and unlocking the knees to place the bar back onto the blocks with a neutral spine

To learn more about the how to use the block pull in your training, check our Ultimate Guide On The Block Pull

5. Conventional Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is the deadlift progression that we need to master in order to compete in powerlifting, and gives us foundational movement patterns that can be transitioned to weightlifting (while the pull in weightlifting is slightly different, the conventional deadlift will build competency in pulling positions)

  • The bar should be loaded with bumper plates (plates that have a wider diameter) if less than 45lbs per side are being used (45# plates and up, will be the right diameter even if it’s not a bumper plate). This is to set the bar at the optimal height to get into the proper starting position
  • Take shoulder-width stance and stand close enough to the bar that when looking down, the bar cuts our shoes in half
  • Hinge at the hips with a neutral spine, and bend the knees to grab the bar with arms extended (ensure that the hips are lower than the shoulders)
  • Using the bar, tighten the lats by actively trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together or “squeezing the armpits”
  • Once lat tension has been created, push the ground away with the legs to begin to stand, and squeeze the glutes towards the midline
  • At the top, our arms should remain lengthened with the shoulders away from the ears, the core should be tight to prevent arching of the lower back, and the hips and knees should be locked out and stacked
  • From this position, we want to reverse the motion by hinging at the hips and unlocking the knees to place the bar back onto the blocks with a neutral spine

Are you struggling to build tension off the floor in the deadlift? Check out our article on How To Pull The Slack Out Of The Bar In The Deadlift

6. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift takes the conventional deadlift to the next level by keeping constant tension on the hamstrings and glutes, because we are not touching the ground between reps. While we are not as strong in this movement as we are in the conventional deadlift, it is used to build the muscles of the posterior chain and reinforce the positions of the deadlift.

To learn more about the Romanian deadlift and how it differs from other similar exercises, check out: Good Morning vs Romanian Deadlift: Differences, Pros, Cons.

  • While the deadlift starts from the floor, gets locked out at the hips, and ends back on the floor (bottom to top movement) the Romanian deadlift is viewed as starting from the lockout, approaching the floor, and then ending back at lockout  (top to bottom movement).
  • We start with the bar in the lockout position (feet shoulder-width, arms extended, core braced, hips and knees stacked). This is achieved by either deadlifting it up, or unracking it at this position from a rack
  • Hinge at the hips with a neutral spine while allowing the knees to bend, until the bar is approximately mid-shin
  • Once this range of motion is achieved, push through the legs to stand back up and drive the hips to meet the bar as the bar continues up the thigh to the lockout position, while maintaining a neutral spine
  • Begin the next rep from this position

Are your hips rising before your shoulders in the deadlift? Check out our 5 Tips On How To Fix The Hips Shooting Up In The Deadlift

7. Sumo Block Pull

The sumo block pull is an introduction to the other popular deadlift variation in powerlifting. Starting from the blocks is useful because it helps us transition to the wider stance and practice the lockout position, without worrying about getting into the starting position.

  • The block pull requires blocks that put the barbell at roughly mid-shin while in the sumo stance. If no blocks are available, we can lay plates on the ground and use them to elevate the barbell
  • Feet should be wider than shoulder-width with shins positioned so that they will be vertical in the start position, and the toes should be turned out to avoid contact of the knees with the barbell
  • Once the feet are set, hinge at the hips with a neutral spine, and bend the knees to grab the bar with arms extended (grabbing the bar directly in-line with shoulders, inside the legs)
  • Ensure that the hips are lower than the shoulders, but that there is tension in the hamstrings
  • Using the bar, tighten the lats by actively trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together or “squeezing the armpits”
  • Once lat tension has been created, push the ground away with the legs to begin to stand and squeeze the glutes towards the midline
  • At the top, our arms should remain lengthened with the shoulders away from the ears, the core should be tight to prevent arching of the lower back, and the hips and knees should be locked out
  • From this position, we want to reverse the motion by hinging at the hips and unlocking the knees to place the bar back onto the blocks with a neutral spine

Take your deadlift to the next level by checking out our article on the 10 Tips To Improve Your Deadlift Lockout (That Actually Work)

8. Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is an important progression for those who are wanting to compete in powerlifting, as it may be a stronger movement for some compared to the conventional deadlift.

  • The bar should be loaded with bumper plates (plates that have a wider diameter) if less than 45lbs per side are being used (45# plates and up, will be the right diameter even if it’s not a bumper plate). This is to set the bar at the optimal height to get into the proper starting position
  • Feet should be wider than shoulder-width with shins positioned so that they will be vertical in the start position, and the toes should be turned out to avoid contact of the knees with the barbell
  • Once the feet are set, hinge at the hips with a neutral spine, and bend the knees to grab the bar with arms extended (grabbing the bar directly in-line with shoulders, inside the legs)
  • Ensure that the hips are lower than the shoulders, but that there is tension in the hamstrings
  • Using the bar, tighten the lats by actively trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together or “squeezing the armpits”
  • Once lat tension has been created, push the ground away with the legs to begin to stand and squeeze the glutes towards the midline
  • At the top, our arms should remain lengthened with the shoulders away from the ears, the core should be tight to prevent arching of the lower back, and the hips and knees should be locked out
  • From this position, we want to reverse the motion by hinging at the hips and unlocking the knees to place the bar back onto the floor with a neutral spine

9. Kickstand Deadlift

The kickstand deadlift is the first progression for unilateral movements of the posterior chain. It allows us to build unilateral strength, without having to balance on one leg at a time.

  • Standing with feet at shoulder-width, holding a kettlebell or dumbbells in front of the body
  • Step back slightly with one foot and place the toe on the ground to keep balance, while keeping the hips square (not rotating)
  • Hinge at the hips with a neutral spine and bend the knees until the weight is almost touching the ground
  • Push through the front leg to begin standing back up and squeeze the glute to bring the hips back to midline
  • All the reps on one side should be completed before switching sides.

10. Single Leg Deadlift

The single leg deadlift is the most advanced progression of the deadlift, because it requires us to perform a hip hinge while only using one leg for support – requiring strength and stability.

  • Standing with feet at shoulder-width, holding a kettlebell or dumbbells in front of the body
  • Shift weight to one leg
  • The unloaded leg will lift behind us, while keeping the hips square (not rotating), as the chest approaches the floor
  • Hinge at the hips with a neutral spine and bend the knee of the working leg until the weight is almost touching the ground and the unloaded leg is extended and parallel with the floor 
  • Push through the front leg to begin standing back up and squeeze the glute to bring the hips back to midline
  • All the reps on one side should be completed before switching sides.

Differences Between Beginners And Advanced Deadlifters

differences between beginners and advanced squatters

Beginners and Advanced squatters are determined by their capabilities  in the following categories:

  • Movement Capacities
  • Movement Patterns
  • Maintenance Of Technique With Increased Demands

Another advanced deadlift exercise is the Isometric Deadlift. Check out my complete guide for more details.

Movement Capacities

Beginner and advanced lifters will have differences in their movement capacities. Beginners may have limited mobility in their hips, and thoracic spine that could limit their ability to achieve the necessary positions in the deadlift.

In addition, beginners will have less strength in the quads, glutes, hamstrings, lats, and core which are all important for us to move optimally in the deadlift. For example, if the quads are lacking strength compared to the posterior chain, the hips will try and take over off the floor forcing us to finish the lift at a mechanical disadvantage.

Advanced lifters will have all the necessary capacities (mobility and strength) to perform the movement with an ideal position for their specific leverages.

To learn more about the muscles involved in the deadlift, check the Ultimate Guide For Muscles Used In The Deadlift

Movement Patterns

Beginners will have less movement capacities to work with, but in addition they may not have the body awareness to know where their body is in space. This will affect their ability to deadlift because they will not know when they are in the correct position and when they are not.

Beginners will need lots of repetition to reinforce the right movement patterns. They may experience inconsistency in their start positions, and an inability to maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift due to lack of body awareness and/or core stability.

Advanced lifters will know what the right deadlift position feels like, and they will be able to identify when their position is off and know how to adjust to fix the issue.

Wondering how to maintain the core position during the deadlift? Check out our article on How To Breathe Properly In The Deadlift

Maintenance of Technique With Increased Demands

A beginner will struggle to maintain their newfound technique with increased demands, such as more time under tension or a load is presented. Again, this could be due to a lack of body awareness, or inadequate strength to maintain the proper positions. 

An advanced lifter can maintain their technique with increased demands, and should only experience technical breakdown at maximal loads (and this should be minimized). This is accomplished through repetition of optimal movement patterns, and proper strength progression that comes from following a periodized program.

Struggling to maintain a neutral spine when deadlifting? Check out the article on How To Keep Your Back Straight While Deadlifting

How To Know When To Progress To A Harder Deadlift Variation

how to know when to progress to a harder deadlift variation

It is time to progress to a harder deadlift variation when you have mastered the technique of the previous exercises, and are able to maintain those positions when a load is presented. We should be able to maintain a neutral spine, get the hips and shoulders to rise at the same time, and keep the bar close by keeping tension in the lats.

We also need to ask ourselves whether we need to progress further in the bilateral movements. Even If we have mastered the conventional deadlift, we may not need to move on to the sumo deadlift – if we lack hip mobility and our proportions don’t allow for an optimal position, it may be more worth our time to stick with the conventional pull.

That being said, I believe that everyone should progress to unilateral variations. But, the basics must be mastered first in order to ensure that we are able to hinge hinge and maintain a neutral spine, before complicating the movement.

Benefits To Harder Deadlift Progressions

the benefit to harder deadlift progressions with the bilateral movements, is the potential to lift heavier loads

The benefit to harder deadlift progressions with the bilateral movements, is the potential to lift heavier loads. Progressing to the conventional deadlift and the sumo deadlift, allows us to compete successfully in powerlifting and to build more muscular strength. 

Progressing in our level of competency will also allow us to incorporate these newfound movement patterns to other sports, and activities. The conventional deadlift can help build the foundations for a smooth transition to weightlifting, and is a movement incorporated in most athletic training for football, basketball, hockey, and more.

Unilateral movements are important in every lifter’s program, because they help with injury prevention by strengthening stabilizer muscles, and they help to correct muscle imbalances when one side is stronger than the other (which is the case for most people).

Other unilateral movements include: 

Other Powerlifting Progressions

Final Thoughts

To go from beginner to advanced we need to go through the progressions and master each movement. Putting in the work to master the basics, will set us up to lift the most weight we can in a powerlifting competition and to get stronger for other sports and activities as well.