Coach Alicia Fong

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Health tip for week March 29th

  • Tips for performing Deadlift exercise

Definition: The Deadlift is a weight lifting exercise where one lifts a loaded barbell off the ground from a stabilized bent-over position.

The deadlift is a compound movement that works virtually every muscle, with emphasis on the Erector spinae, lower back, along with the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calves.  Deadlifts are considered one of the best overall weight lifting exercises.  I believe everybody should be doing some sort of deadlift.  There are many variations to it and one is better than others for an individual depending on his/her mobility, flexibility and weaknesses.  For instance, someone who has tight hamstring should not be doing romanian deadlift due to his lack of full range of motion while performing it.  This person is better off doing trapbar deadlift.  Whichever variation you choose to use, when deadlifts are performed properly, they strengthen the lower back, hamstrings, glutes and calves.  Some people believe it is the purest single event test of strength because it is one of the few lifts of dead weight (weight lying on the ground).  It is also believed to be the oldest test of strength dating back to cultures who competed at lifting the heaviest stones.

If you have never done deadlift before, start with kettlebell deadlift.  It’s easier to learn the basic techniques.  However, I suggest you get personal coaching with a trainer, to ensure you are doing it correctly.  It is best to learn it fresh (first time) from an expert to avoid any future injuries.  Whether you use kettlebell or barbell, there are few general tips to get your form correctly.

1)  Always arch your back (arching mean creating a dip or a U-curve on your lower back) at starting position and while performing the exercise.  By arching your back, you remove the tension from your lower back and reduce risk of hurting your lower back.  If you are unable to arch your back, keep your back as straight as possible.  If you are feeling it on your lower back, you are rounding your back (opposite of arching).  If you cannot keep your back straight or arched, you will want to work on your core stability and your posture first.

2) Brace your core muscles.  In other words, make your torso stiff and move your whole torso (while maintaining your lower back arched) as one solid unit.  Remember, core muscles are not just your stomach muscles.  Core muscles are all the muscles that are attached to the spine.  If you are unable to keep your torso stiff while you are  deadlifting, then work on strengthening your core first and lower the weights.  You can continue to deadlift while strengthening your core, just keep the weights low or at the weight you are able to maintain stability on your back and core.

3) Keep your head down at starting position and keep it neutral at all times.  Having your head up put a lot of stress on your cervical spine especially when you are lifting heavy weights, and this can cause major spinal issues in the future.  Keep it neutral.  Best advise I can give in this area is to tuck your chin in a bit at all times.

4) Use hook grip.  I know there are many different opinions out there on the types of grip use for deadlifts.  Some people use overhand grip both, underhand grip both, and over/underhand grip.  The best, in my opinion, is the hook grip, which is similar to an overhand grip, but the thumbs are inside, allowing the lifter to “hook” onto them with the fingers.  The hook grip can make it easier to hold heavier weights using less grip strength, and keeps both shoulders and elbows in a symmetrical position.   While using mixed grip (over/underhand grip), you are twisting your torso and putting more stress on your joints.  Twisting your torso will create imbalances in your body and that is the beginning of a serious of body issues including muscle imbalances, instabilities and bad posture.  Some believe that using mixed grip will allow you to lift heavier but if you use hook grip, you can lift as much or even heavier without the barbell slipping off your hands due to the “hook”.  A disadvantage of hook grip is that it can be extremely uncomfortable for the thumbs but like anything it’s a matter of getting accustomed to it.  So if you are a beginner, use hook grip and start getting used to it from day one.  Those who have been deadlifting for awhile and want to switch to hook grip, reduce your weight, get comfortable with the hook grip, then slowly add weight and build it up.

5) Always start with the barbell close to your body.  If you are starting from the floor, have the barbell touch your shin.  If you are starting from the top (barbell on your hands already), have the barbell touch your thighs.  You want the barbell close to your body as possible as you move because it creates balance. Think of it as center of gravity.  If you were to lift the barbell with weights of 2x your bodyweight one foot away from you, you will fall forward and all of the tension and stress will be in your upper body and ultimately hurt your back in the process.  Same tip applies to kettlebell deadlift, start with the kettlebell in between your feet.  Not forward as this will force you to use your knees more.  We want to use our posterior chain muscles, meaning your glutes, hamstring, calves and back.

Remember anytime you feel pain in your lower back or knee, back it off.  Don’t force it.  Go down to the weight you can maintain stability in your back.  All back pain is because of the inability to maintain the back arched due to weak core muscles.  Most knee pain is due to weak glutes and poor hip movements.  There are variation of deadlifts.  One type of deadlifts is better suited for one individual and another type for another person.  If you don’t know which ones are best for you, seek help from an experienced trainer who can advise you properly.  How do you know if a trainer is good and whether he/she has the correct knowledge?  Well, it’s very easy.  If the trainer gives you an answer immediately without knowing how your body moves, he/she is not good because the trainer is just guessing.  To really know what is best for the individual, trainers must know how your body functions and what are your weaknesses and instabilities. So this way, trainers can correct those first and then move on to coaching you the best suited deadlift for you. Without a proper assessment, it’s just a guessing game.  So make sure your trainer and/or when hiring a trainer, he/she completes a proper assessment on you before prescribing the workout program.

Good luck and you can email me at if you have any questions.

Here is two videos (two different angles) of a barbell deadlift.  Watch his form especially his back and his head.  He is using the hook grip and lifting over 400 lbs.  Yep, it is possible.  🙂   Thanks and enjoy.


March 30, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,


  1. Coach good article thanks for the detailed instruction. For most of your clients do you incorporate some sort of ankle mobilizations before they deadlift, as well as some T-Spine work?

    I know it does depend on the client restrictions/imbalances, but could you give a quick list of a general warmup/prehab you do with your clients? I’d be interested to have a look. Nice typo “Braised your core muscles: LOL.

    Keep up the great work!



    Comment by Craig | March 30, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Craig-

      I do lots of warm up with my clients and of course it depends on what the individual needs. I don’t necessarily do ankle mobilizations or T-spine work unless it is needed per individual.

      However, I do have few warm ups that all of my clients do before deadlifting or strength training. I start them with myo-fascial release with a foam roller, then we stretch only tight muscles, follow by hip/ankle/any spine mobilization, then glute activation exercises and lastly some core exercises. I do core exercises prior to training because I believe it’s important that the core is activated, engaged and fireup ready for any heavy training.

      I hope you find any of this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions.


      Comment by coachfong | April 13, 2010 | Reply

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