1. The deadlift is not a squat.
  1. The deadlift’s prime mover is not the “lower back” nor should it be categorized as a lower back exercise, primarily.
  1. There is not one deadlift that will look the same, but every good deadlift will follow certain principals.

The deadlift is not a squat. 

Where the hips start in the deadlift is dependent upon a person’s anthropometrics (it’s a matter of how you are built). During a squat there is a nice balance between knee extension and hip extension working sequentially. In the deadlift the bar is out in front of you during the pull and this position allows for little to no moment arm for the knee joint, as the bar should be against your shin as you pull; so the leg extensors have very little effect on the deadlift when they are compared to the squat. You can experience this with that trap/hex bar deadlift, most people can deadlift more weight when using a trap/hex bar simply because the knees can shift forward and create a longer moment arm thus allowing the leg extensors to really contribute to the lift. The trap/hex bar does not have the hindrance of the bar having to start and stay in front of you during the lift.


The deadlift’s prime mover is not the low back.

This is the biggest mistake made during the deadlift. Correct deadlift technique can add slabs of muscle to your back, but not the way everyone generally perceives it.

Let me explain.

When you want to add muscle to you biceps you use concentric and eccentric contractions to cause a homeostatic stress to the system and the system comes back bigger and stronger; while in the deadlift the eccentric and concentric contraction should not occur at your low back i.e. your spine in spinal flexion and extension. It should occur at the hips, in hip extension and flexion. The spinal erectors (low back) will receive stress from an isometric contraction holding the spine stable and neutral. The prime movers in the deadlift are those muscle that control hip extension:

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Hamstrings
    • Semitendonosis
    • Semimembranosis
    • Biceps Femoris (lateral )
    • Posterior Adductor Magnus

Every good deadlift will follow certain principals

Principal 1

No matter where someone starts the deadlift, hips high or hips low, the bar will ultimately break from the floor with a vertical shin angle, there may be a very slight forward angle, but this is not optimal as the bar will move towards you as you pull and we want it to go up.

Principal 2

No matter if you have short arms, long arms, short torso, long torso etc. etc. when the bar breaks from the floor it will ultimately be underneath your shoulder girdle. You don’t want the bar away from your shins at this point because once again it will shift back on to you. Why do we want the bar going horizontal when we want it to go vertical, up! Besides if the bar is not under your shoulder girdle as you pull that would be one heck of a front deltoid isometric hold.


Principal 3

The major limiting factor in the deadlift is hip extension torque. The ability for the hips to extend. Heavy loads are not “missed” because you are weak in the movement. The lift is “missed” because your weakest link in the movement could not overcome the load. In general, if you want to improve your deadlift train your hip extensors, not your low back.

Principal 4 (advanced)

CoachAdamMillerDeadliftSumoWhen pulling heavy loads athletes will often start with a lower hip position (relative to their own anthropometrics) to increase the amount of assistance their quads have within the movement. The novice athlete will sometimes be taken forward by this if not prepared. The novice athlete will often times try to lift from a lower hip position, but when the bar breaks from the floor they are not ready to handle the weight and can often times be pulled forward or off balance. If you watch a video of yourself and you notice when the bar breaks from the floor and your shins go away from the bar you may need to pull from a lower hip position. If the bar breaks from the floor and it looks like you are doing an RDL, but your shins are against the bar; this is your body’s anthropometrics (long arms and short torso) and no amount of training with a lower hip position will help.

The deadlift may be the most misunderstood exercise in the gym, take these tips and understand what you are actually trying to accomplish with this great lift. Too many lifters never progress this lift to its true potential because they lack some simple biomechanical understanding of what is actually occurring.


Adam Miller – MI40 Strength Coach



Nuckols G. 2014. Everything you think is wrong with your deadlift is probably right

[Internet] Available from http//www.strengtheory.com/everything-you-think-is-wrong-with-your-deadlift/

Rippetoe M. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. 3rd ed. The Asgaard Company 2011

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