Barbell Deadlift

How To Do A Conventional Barbell Deadlift
By Alli McKeeFebruary 11, 2016

Barbell Conventional Deadlift Exercise

The barbell conventional deadlift is a great exercise to strengthen the musculature of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) and hips, the muscles of the lower, mid and upper back, scapula stabilizers, upper arms, forearms, and anterior core. Basically, the conventional deadlift covers the entire body.

Equipment needed:

A barbell should be used for this exercise. A traditional barbell may be used, and to increase the resistance users may add weight plates to each side. Some gyms have fixed weight barbells which are shorter than a traditional barbell and the resistance is not adjustable. These fixed weight barbells often increase in resistance by 5-10 pounds (50 lbs, 55 lbs, 60 lbs, 65 lbs, and so on). If lifters are not using the larger bumper plates or the regular 45 lb plates, they might need to place blocks, weight plates, (or use the squat safety bars) below the weights as this will decrease the overall range and will allow them to perform the exercise with proper form.

Ability level:


The barbell conventional deadlift may be too advanced for women who are just beginning to strength train. Beginners may prefer to start with a different deadlift variation which allows them to start with a lighter resistance, or one that is slightly less technical. Great deadlift exercise options for beginners include resistance band deadlifts, band pull-throughs (teaches the hip hinge), kettlebell deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, landmine deadlifts, block pulls, and trap bar deadlifts.


The barbell conventional deadlift is a great option for lifters who have an intermediate level of experience, and who have mastered some of the deadlift variations listed above for beginners. Intermediate lifters should place the barbell conventional deadlift towards the beginning of the workout as it is important to perform this exercise when you are mentally and physically fresh. If a full body workout is being performed, the barbell conventional deadlift can be paired with some type of pushing or pulling movement, but don’t pair it with any exercise that will compromise grip strength, or one that will fatigue the core muscles. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the barbell conventional deadlift.


Women who are comfortable with the barbell conventional deadlift may choose to use this deadlift variation as well as increase their weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). The barbell conventional deadlift may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit or barbell complex, but only once a high level of technical proficiency has been achieved. Lifters can also perform negative reps and really focus on the eccentric component, deficit deadlifts, or can add chains/bands for additional resistance. The conventional deadlift is one of a few barbell deadlift variations. Lifters can also perform the barbell sumo deadlift where their stance will be much wider and their hands will be on the inside of their legs.

Benefits of Barbell Conventional Deadlifts:

How a woman chooses to use a conventional deadlift is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general barbell conventional deadlift can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing lower body strength, primarily in the hamstrings and glutes
  • increasing upper body strength in the lats, traps, upper arms and forearms
  • increasing core strength in the erectors, scapula stabilizers, and the anterior core
  • building muscle, especially in the hamstrings and glutes
  • increasing speed and power, which will be beneficial to running, jumping, and other sports specific movements
  • increasing performance in the weight room
  • increasing athleticism and sports specific performance
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
  • increasing flexibility

How to perform a Barbell Conventional Deadlift:

  • Place a loaded barbell on the floor so it's about mid-shin height.
  • Make sure that the bar is close to your shins and that your shins are vertical.
  • Set your feet so they are about hip width apart. You can keep your feet so they are pointing straight ahead, or can angle them out a slight amount.
  • Lower yourself down to the bar by hinging/pushing your hips back and pulling your body down to the bar.
  • As you push your hips backwards, keep your spine neutral (do not bend at the waist and do not round your upper back), and keep your chest up (but do not over arch your back).
  • Your hands should be just on the outside of your legs. Grip the bar so your palms are facing you. If you are lifting a heavy weight and for low reps, you can opt for a mixed grip, but aim to use a regular grip for the majority of your sets.
  • Before you go, take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (I like to pretend that I am about to block a soccer ball with my stomach), lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection), and press your body away from the ground using your legs. A deadlift that is properly executed is a pressing motion, not a lifting motion.
  • Lock out at the top by extending your knees, squeezing your glutes, pushing your hips into the bar, and bracing your core. Create tension in your upper body by squeezing your upper arms into your arm sides. You can even pretend that you are crushing something in your armpits. Also, bring your shoulder blades together and down and pretend that you are tucking each one in the opposite back pocket of your pants.
  • Make sure that your weight remains on the mid-back portion of your feet but keep your toes down, particularly your big and baby toe. This will dramatically improve your stability, and ability to perform this exercise.
  • For the duration of the exercise, it is imperative that you do not allow your rib cage to flare or lower back to arch. You will accomplish this by actively tucking your rib cage towards your hips (closing the space in your midsection) and keeping your core braced.
  • Lower the bar by hinging your hips back, not by rounding your back. Your spine should remain in neutral alignment for the duration of the exercise.
  • The bar should travel right along your body the entire time (make the bar paint your body).
  • Keep your chin tucked and neck in neutral alignment. Many lifters make the mistake of looking up.
  • Reset, and repeat.
  • Lifters can also perform the barbell sumo deadlift. With the sumo deadlift variation, your feet will be in a much wider stance and will be angled out, and your hands will be on the inside of your legs. Your torso will be more upright, your hips will start more closely to the bar, you will actively push your knees out, and there will be a greater degree of quadriceps involvement. This deadlift variation is a blend between the conventional and trap bar deadlift.
  • When you deadlift, wear flat shoes, or bare feet.

Video Transcription: 

In general a barbell deadlift is considered to be more advanced than a kettlebell deadlift or a trap bar deadlift. Today I am going to show you two different variations: conventional and sumo.

First and foremost you will get your bar loaded up and you want to make sure that you put clips on either side of the bar. If you were to pick up the bar up without clips and you are off kilter a little bit the weight could slide off that could be really dangerous. Make sure that you put clips on either side of the bar and make sure that the weight is pressed all the way to the end of the bar.

And I mentioned this in the trap bar deadlift video, but a lot of people deadlift barefoot or a flat soled shoe like a Chuck Taylor.  The shoes that I am wearing are actually physical therapist recommended because I have some posture issues -- that’s why you will see me deadlift like this. But again you will often see people deadlifting barefoot, in socks, or a really flat sole shoe.  You’ve got to find out what feels good to you. Also when it comes to deadlifting there are some general principles that you should be absolutely be following but it is really important to know that everyone’s deadlift is going to look slightly different, based on your height, your limb length, your movement history and just what feels comfortable to you.

So when you are setting up for a conventional stance deadlift, you want to set up with your feet about hip bone width apart. And you are going to walk right up to the bar. Some people like to start with their shin right up on the bar, other people like to start with the bar maybe an inch or two away. You are going to set up with your feet right in line with your hip bones and, just like we have done with every other deadlift demonstration, you are going to hinge back into your hips. But before you do that, you really want to set your core.

The way we set our core is to breathe in through our nose, blow out hard through our mouth, and thinking about getting our rib cage towards our pelvis. That is going to give you a nice stable core. Then you want to breathe in again and fill up with 360 degrees with air. What you don't want to do is to fill up only in the front because, as you will see,  that puts me in lumbar hyperextension. When you breathe in, blow your air out, and breathe in again, you want to fill up circumferentially --  all the way around.

Once you set your core you are going to push back into your hips. There are two different ways to get down to the bar.  Sometimes people like to push back into their hips, and then when they feel their hamstrings kind of catch, or give them a lot of tension, then they push back into their hips as they bend their knees to get to the bar. Other people like to do it in one smooth motion, it's kind of what they call the short stop motion, I got this from my good friend Justin Ford. You put your hands on the front of your knees and you push back like you are getting into a short stop position, then you continue that motion down to the bar. What this does is it puts your butt about halfway in between your knees and shoulders which is going to work really well for a lot of people. If your butt gets any higher it kind of turns into Romanian deadlift and if your butt is any lower it turns almost into a squat. Having the hip and butt about halfway in between the shoulder and knees works really well for a lot of people.

Once you get down to the bar you are going to pull on it and create a little bit of tension on the bar. I like to compare this to going tubing, on a lake with a boat.  You would never just be on the tube and the boat would take off all of a sudden. What would happen is that the boat would start pulling you a little bit, get a little bit of tension on the rope and take off. Same thing with this. If you are lifting heavy weight off the ground the last thing you want to do is to jerk it off the ground. You are going to squeeze the bar hard, get tension in your body, and you also want to tighten your lats which are right here. So you when you tighten those right next to your body, that's going to help stabilize your entire spine. One way to think about that is to protect your armpits. If someone were to come and tickle your armpits you would squeeze your arms down by your side to protect them.  

So once you grab the bar, got into position, and gotten really tight, you are going to think about pulling the weight back. It is really important not to think about lifting the bar up, because often times the bar will swing away from you if you do that. If you think about thinking about pulling it back and dragging it straight up your legs, that's when you will be in the position for a successful deadlift. So I’m right up next to the bar, I am going to push back into my hips and grab the bar. I want my shins almost vertical, my hips are about halfway between my shoulders and knees, I am nice and tight and I am going to stand up and bring my hips forward. Reverse the motion to put it back down.

Another really important thing to mention is that you should finish a deadlift with your glutes and not your lower back. When you stand up with the weight you don't want to stand up and finish with your lower back. You want to finish with your glutes. So you’ll see that nice, strong hip thrust but finishing with the glutes instead of the lower back. You will notice all I do to put the weight back down is to reverse the motion.

And now I am going to show you what a conventional barbell deadlift looks like from the side. Remember the most important thing here is to make sure that your spine is nice and neutral, and that the load is evenly distributed, along your hips, your glutes, your hamstrings and your core. You definitely don't want your lower back taking all the load, that's why it is important to keep a neutral spine including a neutral head. I see a lot of people deadlift with their chin back, looking up at the ceiling.  The rationale behind that is that your body is going to go where your head and eyes go. I can understand that, but it’s not the best long term strategy for your spine. For woman who just want to look good, feel good, feel healthy and strong we have them deadlift with a neutral spine.

One more thing: I have been deadlifting with the double overhand grip and this works really well when the weights are a little bit lighter. At some point, when the weight gets really heavy, you might want to flip your grip under so you will be able to hold on to the bar a little more. The point at which you do that is going to be slightly different for everyone but I generally find that when I worry about holding on to the bar, then actually being able to pick up the weight that is when I flip my grip.

So I’ll show you what this looks like from this side. Still using this double overhand grip, I walk right up onto the bar, I am going to push back into my hips, and stop when I feel my hamstrings catch, bend down to the bar the rest of the way, shins are almost vertical, lats are nice and tight, pick it up. Again you will notice that my butt is about halfway between my knees and my shoulders and my spine stays neutral the whole time. And that's the conventional barbell deadlift.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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