For conventional deadlifts, there are certain things with your technique that should be universal and certain things that should be individualized. Catering the technique to the individual is important because we are all built differently. One thing that should be individualized is your deadlift stance width.
So what is the best deadlift stance width for our size? The best deadlift stance is going to be either shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Taller individuals, or those with a bigger stature, will benefit from slightly wider stances, but still within the shoulder-width apart distance.
What you want to avoid at all costs is having a deadlift stance that is wider than shoulder-width apart as it will make the lift harder for all types of lifters. I will be taking you through everything you need to know to find out your ideal stance.
What Is The Best Deadlift Stance?
The best deadlift stance width will be somewhere between shoulder width and hip widths apart.
Most people will have shoulders that are broader than their hips. So, a shoulder-width stance places a lifter’s feet directly under their shoulders, while a hip width stance places their feet narrower than their shoulders (directly under their hips).
This is usually determined by a lifter’s bodyweight.
Most lifters who are:
- ~85kg and below are able to keep a hip widths stance
- ~100kg and below are able to keep a shoulder widths stance or less
- Lifters who are larger may find that they need a shoulder widths stance (and in some rare cases wider)
What ever stance width you should, it should ideally satisfy three conditions:
- Stance width should be as narrow as possible
- You should be able to maintain a flat lower back
- Your knees should be in line with your knees
Here are the reasons why the three conditions need to be met:
1. Stance Width Should Be as Narrow as Possible
While the stance width should be as narrow as possible, it should also be as comfortable as possible for your muscles and joints.
When you widen your stance, you end up increasing the width that you need to grip the bar.
When your grip width increases, you need to lower your shoulders closer to the bar.
This means that you need to hinge and bend over more through your hips.
Consequently, you end up increasing the range of motion you have to go through to execute the deadlift.
Ultimately, meaning you need to do more work.
Therefore, we need to narrow our stance as much as possible so that we can stay as tall as possible to minimise how much range we move through.
This makes it more efficient to execute the deadlift.
Read my article on choosing the optimal deadlift grip width, which will advocate for a narrower vs wide grip on the barbell.
2. You Should Be Able to Maintain a Flat Lower Back
While being as narrow as possible, you should stand in a stance that allows your hips to move well in a deadlift.
When your hips move well, you can then control your back posture better and keep it flat throughout the deadlift.
Keeping your back flat through will be key to minimising risk of back injury.
3. Your Knees Should Be in Line with Your Feet
Being able to keep your knees in line with your feet will minimise stress on the knees and put your body in a position that uses all the muscles optimally.
Having your knees in line with your feet puts your glutes, adductors and quads in position to execute the deadlift with better force off the ground.
Thus maximizing how much you can lift.
If you have problems with keeping your knees in line with your feet, read my article on How To Stop Your Knees From Caving.
3 Things To Consider When Picking Your Deadlift Stance
There are three things you need to consider when figuring out your deadlift stance, they are:
- How your arms hang next to your shins
- Hip position/back posture relative to your stance width
- Shoulder position relative to your stance width
How Your Arms Hang Next To Your Shins
Your stance should allow your arms to naturally hang from the shoulders and grip outside of shins. You shouldn’t have to force your grip wider on the barbell because your stance is preventing your arms from naturally hanging toward the floor.
You should grip in a way that when your arms are straight and get taut during the deadlift, and it does not impede on your knee alignment with feet. If this happens, your arms may force your knees to cave inward.
This would cause friction between legs and arms, which would make the lift harder, and increase the range of motion the barbell has to travel.
Hip Position/Back Posture Relative to Your Stance Width
Your stance width should allow you to keep a neutral hip position that lets you keep your lower back flat. If the stance is too close, it limits your hip mobility that results in a rounded lower back.
We ideally want our hips to be as high as possible but as close to the bar as possible.
This enables us to have a balance between using our quads and glutes and hamstrings during the execution.
Having a stance that enables you to fold at your hips well means you are unlikely to round your back.
Shoulder Position Relative To Your Stance Width
A correct deadlift stance should allow our armpits to be directly above the bar and our shoulders to be slightly in front of the barbell.
If your deadlift stance impedes your ability to keep your shoulders slightly in front of the barbell in the start position, then it can impact how the barbell travels throughout the movement.
In an ideal world, you want the babell traveling in a straight (vertical) line from start to finish.
Two mistakes that can happen is that the barbell either scrapes your shins or drifts away from your body.
If the barbell scrapes your shins, it will create friction, making the deadlift harder. In addition, it can lead to bloody shins or bruises.
If the barbell drifts away from your body, you can lose your balance forward, which would make it physically harder for your hip and back muscles to compensate to prevent falling over.
Two Common Mistakes: Deadlift Stance
The two most common deadlift stance mistakes are:
- Standing too narrow
- Standing too wide
Mistake #1: Standing Too Narrow
You should be standing as narrow as possible to ensure the deadlift is performed with the least range of motion possible, but there is a limit. The narrowest you should ever stand is hip width apart. Standing too narrow can lead to poor posture and technique including a rounded lower back.
If you stand too narrow, 3 things can happen.
One thing that may happen is that you may put your hips in a more uncomfortable position where it cannot fold that well when you sit down towards the start position of the deadlift.
If you limit your hip range like this, you may find that your lower back will compensate and round. This will make your back more vulnerable to injury.
Something else that can happen is that you may not be providing enough space for your belly when you sit down to the bar. If you do not provide belly room between your thighs, you will physically force your lower back to round.
The third thing that can happen with standing too narrow, is that in order to keep your back flat, you may turn your feet angle much wider.
This provides the problem of having your knees push into your elbows in order to provide space for your belly or hip mobility.
Having the knees push into the elbows will either force you to hold the bar wider or if you do not, the arms will force the knees to collapse during execution.
This puts unwanted stress on your knees and potentially hips and back too.
Mistake #2: Standing Too Wide
If you stand too wide, you have to adjust your arms out as a consequence and thus make your shoulders start lower and closer to the bar.
This means that your torso has a more forward leaning angle making your hinge more through your hips.
The result is that you end up having to move through a longer range of motion. You end up doing more work with your posterior chain muscles such as your lats, low bar, glutes and hamstrings.
Where Should You Point Your Toes In Your Deadlift Stance?
As a rule of thumb, your toes should be in line with your knees and thighs. For most people, they will find pointing toes pointing forward to be optimal.
Some people may find it a bit more comfortable to have their feet point 5 to 10 degrees outwards, but they will ultimately have their toes point in line with their thighs and knees.
Pointing the feet out too wide should be avoided. Anything more than 30 degrees outwards would be considered too wide.
The problem with pointing the feet too wide is that it encourages the knees to push out too much. This may consequently make your elbows to bend when they are by the side of your legs.
You will then be forced to widen your grip and ultimately increase range of motion, or the arms that want to be straight when taut will force your knees to cave in. This will impact your hip muscles from working as well.
Should Your Deadlift Stance And Squat Stance Be The Same?
Your deadlift stance should not be the same as your squat stance. The squat stance should be wider than your deadlift stance in most circumstances.
The reason is that your deadlift stance does not require your hips to sink as deep in the squat.
Having a squat stance as narrow as a deadlift stance may not allow you to move as freely in the hips and may even cause the back to round as the hips get deeper.
Some people with short femurs or just generally have good hip mobility may have the mobility to squat to depth in a deadlift stance. But just because you can, does not mean that you should.
Interested in learning more about different squat stances? Check out my other resources:
Choosing Between The Conventional vs Sumo Deadlift Stance?
In this article, we’ve focused on the optimal deadlift stance for the conventional deadlift.
However, many people may prefer to deadlift in the sumo stance.
Neither the conventional nor the sumo deadlift variation is inherently easier for everyone.
The conventional deadlift puts a greater demand on the back muscles and the sumo deadlift puts greater demand on the quads.
Read this article here if you want to find out more regarding whether you should choose the conventional or sumo variation. If you do end up deadlifting sumo, you can check out read my complete guide on how wide should you sumo deadlift.
There is an ideal deadlift stance width for your size, but there is not a formula to predict it. At the end of the day, it will require some trial and error when adjusting your stance or figuring out your stance.
Choosing your best deadlift stance width is important but it is also important that good and safe technique is maintained as well.
For younger or newer lifters, you will need to remember that as you go up in body weight, your deadlift stance width may increase too. Adjusting your deadlift stance width will require training to be somewhat submaximal so your technique can adapt to changes in technique.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
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