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If you’re deadlifting with the barbell close to your body, you may experience your shins bruising. Even worse, some lifters experience cuts and abrasions from the barbell rubbing against their shins. This is a common problem for several powerlifters, both beginner and elite alike.
So how do you fix bruising your shins while deadlifting? To avoid bruising your shins you should think about ‘pushing the floor away’ with your legs, using your knees to extend the barbell off the ground vs lifting the barbell from your hips. You should also wear knee-high socks, use baby powder on your legs, and in some cases, wear shin guards.
In this article, I’ll explain that bruised shins while deadlifting are near impossible to avoid altogether. However, I’ll discuss specific technique tips that will help minimize how much bruising you get. There are also pieces of equipment you can consider if the problem persists.
Quick solution: The only way to guarantee that you don’t bruise your shins while deadlifting is by using shin guards. I recommend the Weightlifting Shin Guards from The Fit Guy (check today’s price on Amazon). It’s a 5mm neoprene material that straps around the shin to provide the ultimate shin protection.
The Reason Why You Get Bruised Shins In The Deadlift
You get bruised shins while deadlifting because of the friction between the barbell and your shins.
If the barbell connects with your shins, then over the course of multiple sets and reps, you will find that bruising may occur.
This is especially the case if you are actively ‘pulling the barbell’ into your shins while you deadlift.
Given this, you might assume that the answer to avoiding any bruising is to simply never have the barbell in contact with your shins.
Not so fast. There are several reasons why you need to keep the barbell in contact with your shins (discussed in the next section).
What this means is that getting bruised shins, to some extent, is not 100% avoidable (unless you wear shin guards). It’s normal to experience some bruising as a result of having good deadlift technique. So the answer may not be to stop bruising altogether but to minimize it as much as possible.
Check out my complete review of the Best Deadlift Shin Guards.
Want to improve your deadlift technique?
Bruised Shins Are Unavoidable In The Deadlift
One of the best practices in the deadlift is to keep the barbell as close to the body as possible.
This means keeping the barbell in contact with your shins and thighs as you lift the barbell from the floor. Ultimately, this may cause some bruises on your shins.
There are three reasons why having the barbell close to your body is optimal for your deadlifting technique.
I’ll discuss these reasons below, but the main takeaway is that we must balance keeping the barbell close to our body, and at the same time, limit how much our shins bruise while deadlifting.
Here are the reasons why you need to keep the barbell on your shins and thighs when you lift:
You won’t feel like you’re falling forward
If the barbell leaves your body during the deadlift, the weight will shift forward over your toes and you’ll start to feel like you’re falling forward.
This loss of balance will make the lift harder because not only will you have to continue to apply force through the floor with your bigger muscle groups, you now have to engage all of your stabilizers in order to prevent yourself from falling forward.
So while maintaining contact between your shins and the barbell may cause bruising, it will also prevent you from losing your balance.
You have a greater application of force through the floor
The most efficient transfer of force is when the barbell moves in a vertical (straight) line while deadlifting.
So, if you were to track the bar path during the deadlift, it should look like a straight line from start to finish.
When you try and lift the barbell without maintaining contact with your shins and thighs, you’ll notice that the bar path changes from a vertical line to more of a half-moon shape, which is more work to lift the barbell the same distance.
While avoiding contact with your shins can prevent bruising, you are in a much weaker position when the barbell is not traveling in a straight line.
Your lower back will work less
The primary deadlift muscles are your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and low/mid-back.
Each of these muscles are responsible for producing force at certain times within the range of motion.
Any changes to your technique can alter the activation of these muscles throughout the movement.
For example, when the barbell leaves your shins/thighs, it will cause your lower back to be more activated, which may contribute to unnecessary fatigue.
In other words, if your low back fatigues too quickly early in the range of motion, you won’t have the ability to extend the torso when it’s needed in the deadlift lockout.
Additionally, if you increase the loading demand of your low back, and it’s prone to injury, then you put yourself at a greater risk.
So you may avoid shin bruising if the barbell doesn’t rub against your shins, but if you don’t maintain contact between your shins and the barbell, you may compromise your low-back position (a common deadlift mistake).
Fixing Bruising Shins While Deadlifting
By now you should be convinced that there is a fine balance to strike between keeping the barbell on your body while deadlifting and limiting how much friction the barbell creates on your shins.
Let’s talk about how you should set up your technique so that you’re optimizing both your technique and shin bruising.
The Start Position
When setting up the deadlift, you should start with your midfoot underneath of the barbell with your shins about 2-4 inches away from the barbell.
As you bend over to grab the barbell, your shins should move forward to touch the barbell.
When you touch the barbell with your shins, it should happen lightly, and you should avoid slamming your shins into the barbell where the barbell rolls forward on the ground.
It might seem counter-intuitive to start with the barbell on your shins if you want to avoid bruising. But, here’s the problem if you start with the barbell off your shins:
As you pull the barbell, your weight will shift forward onto your toes. As a result, your body will overcompensate and lean backward in order to regain your balance. This rapid shift between shifting your body forward and backward will cause the barbell to slam into your shins.
Having the barbell slam into your shins will create more bruising than any amount of friction that may occur from the barbell rubbing against your leg.
Picking The Barbell Up
As you pick the barbell off the floor, you should be thinking about “pushing the floor away”.
If you think of the deadlift as a “push with the legs” rather than a “pull from the hips” then you will activate your quads more to extend the knee.
When you extend the knee first the barbell should travel straight up. While the barbell will still be on your shins, if the load is traveling in a straight line then the friction should be minimal.
What you want to avoid is the barbell traveling back into your shins as you deadlift. This would feel like the barbell pressing and dragging into your legs or hitting your knee caps on the way up.
So, the key is to initiate the deadlift by extending the knee first and lifting the barbell in a straight line along the path of your shins. To do this, think “push” rather than “pull”.
Check out my article covering all of my favorite deadlift cues.
Putting The Barbell Down
A lot of shin bruising actually happens as a result of incorrectly returning the barbell to the floor.
I mentioned that on the way up you want to have some slight contact between the barbell and the shins. However, on the way down, you definitely need to break contact with the barbell from your body, especially as the barbell travels around your knee.
At the top of the lift, you should start by hinging forward from the hips and drawing your shoulders slightly in front of the barbell. Once the barbell has broken contact with your body, you can then start bending the knees.
However, most of the downward motion should happen through hip-hinging, flexing forward at the hip, with the legs only bending slightly.
Once the barbell is on the floor, you want to reset the deadlift by returning the shins to the barbell and ensuring the next lift has the barbell traveling in a straight line close to the body.
Deadlift Gear To Stop Shins From Bruising
In addition to working on your deadlifting technique, you should also implement one or more of the following pieces of gear that will help reduce the risk of bruising your shins.
Deadlift using knee-high socks
Most powerlifters will deadlift wearing knee-high socks.
In fact, in a powerlifting competition, the deadlift rules make it mandatory. This is because not only do deadlift socks prevent bruising, but they also limit the amount of blood that might get on the barbell if the shins get scraped.
While wearing knee-high socks might not look fashionable at the gym. It can drastically reduce how bruised your shins get.
I would recommend wearing knee-high socks over long pants because the pants might wear down with friction over time. So rather than ruining a pair of $50-$80 pants, a pair of knee-high socks is only $12. So if you wreck them, they’re cheaper to replace.
My favorite socks for deadlifting are the Adidas Rivalry Field OTC Socks (click for today’s price on Amazon).
Deadlift using shin guards
If you’re looking to guarantee a reduction in shin bruising, and you want something that doesn’t wear down over time with friction (like socks), then you’ll need to invest in a pair of shin guards.
I absolutely love the design of the Fit Guy Weightlifting Shin Guards (click for today’s price on Amazon). It’s a 5mm neoprene material that straps around the shin to provide the ultimate shin protection.
Put baby powder on your shins
If you decide not to invest in socks or shin guards (I highly recommend the shin guards), then you can reduce the amount of friction between the barbell and your shins by wearing baby powder.
Prior to deadlifting, you would place baby powder on your shins. However, for a lot of people, this isn’t a practical solution because most gyms don’t allow it since it causes a mess on the floor.
However, if you have a home gym or lift in a specific powerlifting facility that allows baby powder then it can be a good solution.
What Is The Best Deadlift Shin Angle?
You can alter your deadlift shin angle to reduce scraping your shins. But it's more important to have the best deadlift shin angle for strength.
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.
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.
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.
You can fix bruising your shins while deadlifting if you keep the barbell in a straight line and extend from the knee first off the floor.
You may not be able to avoid bruising altogether, but with these deadlift technique tips and additional pieces of equipment, you can limit the amount of bruising you experience.