The start position is the foundation of a strong deadlift, and so frequently discussed. Yet the best deadlift shin angle is often undervalued. The shin angle is defined as your shank position (lower leg) in relation to the floor.
So, what is the best shin angle for your deadlift? Your shin angle is going to vary on your size and strengths. Lifters with shorter arms, longer torsos or stronger quads will aim for having a less vertical shin. Alternatively, those with longer arms, shorter torsos or a stronger posterior chain will aim to have shin angles closer to vertical.
As well, shin angle will vary between sumo and conventional deadlifts. Sumo lifters will have a shin angle closer to vertical in comparison to conventional lifters.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the best deadlift shin angle for you and your strengths. I’ll also dive into the difference between the shin angle for conventional and sumo deadlifts.
Deadlift Shin Angle: Overview
The deadlift shin angle is the angle between your shank (lower leg) and the floor in the start position of your deadlift. This will be affected by your individual anthropometrics (bone and joint angles), strengths, and the stance you pull in.
The shin angle will be an outcome of several factors, including bar position, hip position, and knee angle.
The understanding is that you should aim for a vertical shin angle, but this tends to be more of a range of nearly vertical, and not an exact position.
For conventional deadlifters this angle is more of a range around vertical (70-90°).
With sumo deadlifters looking at getting far closer to this vertical angle (85-90°).
Is The Deadlift Shin Angle Important?
Deadlift shin angle is commonly overlooked, and often thought as merely a byproduct of performing other aspects of your technique well.
When in reality having the best shin angle enables you to capitalise on your strengths and ensures proper positioning of the rest of your body as well.
A poor shin angle also often indicates poor position further up the chain. If your shin position is off, then it’s likely your hips and torso are as well.
Read my article on the Best Back Angle For Deadlifts.
How Should The Shins Be Positioned In Relation To The Barbell? (4 Tips)
The barbell is a helpful reference point to figure out the best shin angle for your deadlift.
1. Start with the barbell over your mid-foot.
The first stage of your setup should be setting your feet so that the barbell is above the middle of your foot.
In practice, this allows you to pull the bar straight up without any horizontal travel.
2. Have your shins against the barbell in your start position.
Once you have grabbed the barbell and got into your start position, your shins should be touching the bar.
If you find there is still significant space between your shins and the barbell, you want to shift the bar back slightly.
If you find your shins are firmly pressed against the barbell, you may want to shift it forward.
If you find the barbell scraping your shins in the deadlift, then read my article on How To Stop The Barbell From Bruising Your Shins While Deadlifting.
3. Avoid kicking the barbell away from you.
Bringing your knees too far forward and creating a less vertical shin angle will push the barbell out in front of you (causing a deadlift hitch in the mid-range).
This will pull you out the position you want to be in and also increase the distance the barbell has to travel.
If you find yourself kicking the barbell away from you as you drop your hips into position and initiate the pull you should trial a slightly more vertical shin.
4. Keep the barbell against your body as you pull.
Your knees will move to vertical as you are pulling, make sure you keep the barbell against your body throughout the lift.
Whilst you may pull best with a less vertical shin, you need to allow it to become vertical as you’re pulling.
If not, you just end up having to awkwardly pull the bar around your knees and make it significantly harder for yourself due to the increased friction and distance the bar has to travel.
Ensuring You’ve Mastered These Positions
The easiest way to check these 4 positions is to film your deadlifts from the side.
Is the barbell too far in front of or too close to you?
Can you see the barbell drifting away from you as you get into your start position or as you break the floor?
From here you can apply the 4 tips above to prevent these mistakes.
How Your Limb Lengths & Body Proportions Affect Deadlift Shin Angle
Your limb lengths, height, overall body shape and muscular strengths are going to play a role in what the best deadlift shin angle is for you.
Hales (2010) analysed the deadlift and offers valuable insight into individual leverages. The table below gives quantified values to the discussion around short, average and long segment lengths.
To use this chart you are going to need to measure your height and torso, leg and arm length. To compare these you need to divide the length of each segment by your height, and times it by 100 to get the percentage. The percentages will then indicate which group you fall in.
Those lifters with longer arms will be able to set up with a more vertical shin angle. The same applies to those lifters with a shorter torso, or shorter femurs.
These all allow you to get closer to the barbell with a more vertical shin.
On the other side, those lifters with shorter arms, a longer torso or longer femurs will be aiming towards a less vertical shin and closer to the lower end of the 70-90° I’ve discussed.
Read my other article on Deadlifting For Tall Guys if you find yourself with long legs.
How Muscular Strength Will Affect Your Shin Angle
Your individual muscular strengths will play a role here as well.
If you have got a stronger posterior chain, you’re going to benefit from a more significant hinge off the floor making the most of these strengths with a more vertical shin and higher hips.
Whilst others (especially those with shorter arms we discussed above), may benefit from utilising your quads to start breaking the floor by having a less vertical shin angle and extra knee flexion.
How Your Deadlift Style Affects Your Shin Angle
Conventional and Sumo deadlifts are often treated as different conversations, and rightfully so.
With the conventional deadlift, you will see more variation in the angle of the shin within this 70-90° range due to the forward translation of the knees within the start position. However, with the sumo deadlift the goal is almost always to be closer to this vertical shin.
As discussed above, those with shorter arms, longer torsos or stronger quads may look to have a shin angle closer towards the lower end of the 70-90° range, whereas those with longer arms, shorter torsos, stronger posterior chain or those pulling sumo will be aiming towards a more vertical shin.
Despite these differences, the same principles still apply across all styles of deadlift.
You still want to have your shins against the bar in the start position, avoid kicking the bar out in front of you, and to keep the bar against your shins as you pull through the lift.
Deadlift Shin Angles Mistakes
Whilst this article has focused on how the best shin angle for your deadlift will be individual and fit within a range, there are some things to avoid.
Working beyond either end of the spectrum is going to leave you in a poor position to deadlift.
A shin angle going backwards, beyond vertical is simply putting you in a disadvantaged position to pull and leaves your body working as more of a counterbalance to the barbell rather than actively producing force to break the floor.
A shin angle too far forward, replicating a squat, also shifts the load from the hips, your knees end up getting in the way and you increase the distance you need to pull the barbell.
What Does The Research Say?
The deadlift shin angle also appears throughout several journal articles within powerlifters.
Escamilla et al. (2000) observed shin angles of 85° within the sumo deadlift and 77° within the conventional deadlift, with greater variance amongst the conventional deadlifters as well.
Perfectly demonstrating the difference between the shin angles for each style of pulling and how you will see a larger range of shin angles amongst those pulling conventional.
Beyond this, the study also supports the movement to a vertical shin as you’re pulling past the knee. At the point of knee passing, shin angles had moved to 93° for the sumo deadlifters and 91° for the conventional deadlifters.
Brown and Abani (1985) also concluded similar findings within conventional deadlifters; 76° in the start position and 99° at knee passing.
Interestingly though, when comparing skilled and unskilled (the highest and lowest deadlifts within each weight class), they observed significantly more vertical shin (76° vs 71°) and thigh (133° vs 141°) angles within the skilled group.
This was attributed to anthropometric differences (individual bone and joint angles). As above, even the simplest differences such as longer arms or a shorter torso can have benefits in allowing these more vertical positions.
How To Find The Best Deadlift Shin Angle For You
Whilst shin angle is going to be independent to you and will vary across the ranges we’ve discussed, there are several ways to find the best angle for you.
1. Film your deadlifts.
Filming your deadlifts, preferably from the side, will allow you to see you shin angle, bar position over your foot and changes as you pull.
You can then assess how this angle starts and changes as you pull, if the bar is drifting out in front of you or if your knees are getting in the way.
2. Consider your leverages.
If you have long arms, a short torso or short femurs, consider trialling that more vertical shin angle. It may set you in a better position overall to pull.
If you’re on the other side of this, then the less vertical shin angle should suit you better.
3. Play to your strengths.
If you’ve got a notably stronger posterior chain, use it. Allow yourself to have the more vertical shin angles and slightly higher hips to prioritise that hinge off the floor.
Or if you’re the massive squatter with huge quads, then utilising this and having the less vertical shin angle should benefit you.
The best deadlift shin angle for you will be the one that allows you to feel and perform strongest. This will be affected by your individual anthropometrics, strengths and which stance you pull in.
Lifters with longer arms, shorter torsos or a stronger posterior chain will aim to have shin angles closer to vertical. Those with shorter arms, longer torsos or stronger quads will aim for having a less vertical shin
This will also vary between sumo and conventional deadlifts. Sumo lifters will have a shin angle closer to vertical in comparison to conventional lifters.