Troubleshooting the Deadlift

Troubleshooting the Deadlift

The deadlift could be argued to be one of the most valuable exercises in all of fitness.  The movement represents the safest and most efficient way to pick something up off of the floor and put it back down.   

Beyond its usefulness in real life applications, the deadlift is one of the best exercises available to accomplish the following:

  • Strengthen and protect the back and spine.  
  • Stimulate fat burning throughout the body (it recruits a staggering number of muscles)
  • Train the “backside” of the body (aka: the butt and upper thighs) 
  • Improve mobility of the hips

Unfortunately, it is also a movement that can be done in a way that jeopardizes the health of the spine, neck or hips when done poorly.  Shown here are the basics of an appropriately executed deadlift, a few of the most common errors, a bit on how to recognize them and drawbacks to less optimal variations of the movement.

The deadlift is the most recognizable of the movements in what we call “hinging” or “hip hinging”.  Here’s an example of the movement with a PVC pipe on the back to serve as a reference point for the shape of the spine.  


As you can see, there is virtually no movement in the torso as the movement occurs at the hips.  

If you cannot get your head, mid back and tailbone all in touch with the pipe, it’s ok…  just do your very best to keep your trunk in the same shape as you move at the hips.  Here are 

  • The spine remains in a “neutral” position (and is thus appropriately supported in a safe manner throughout the movement).
  • The shoulders stay “down” and “away” from the ears.
  • The hips move mostly “back” during the downward phase.
  • The entirety of the feet remain solidly connected to the floor.
  • The knees have some, but little forward movement.

When done with as little possible movement in the trunk (and thus the spine), the deadlift requires the muscles of the hips to generate the movement and the muscles of the torso to transfer it into the object being lifted.  

This combination of “moving hips” and “stable spine”  offers a safe and effective way derive incredible results from practicing this exercise.

Here are a few common movement “faults” seen in the deadlift

The following two examples are ways that we often observe too much movement in the torso. In these cases, the spine is not supported in the safest manner, nor is the movement being generated by the hips transferred efficiently through the “core”. 

The rounded back:

Too much movement in the head and neck:

Both of these versions fail to effectively develop the safety and effectiveness of “stable spine”, “mobile hips”

Here are a couple of common errors that involve too much use of the shoulders, neck and arms: 

The shoulders not staying “down” away from the ears:

Too much bend in the elbows:

Each of these versions show variations in the deadlift that place too much of the emphasis of movement on the limbs, and trunk.  The hips miss out on part of the fun, and the benefits of improved core strength and spinal safety are not maximized. 

What you can do with this information:

One of the greatest benefits of our smartphones in the context of exercise is that we can video ourselves (or your workout buddy!) and look to see if we meet the qualifications of the safest version of the movement.  

If you’re curious to try it, but don’t have a workout buddy, we’d love for you to send us a video of yourself doing a deadlift. We’d be happy take a look and let you know if you’re on the right track!

~Mark Reinke

They’ve given me the title Personal Training Director, but I really just love to help acac members and give my team the tools they need to do the same.  I graduated with a B.S. in Human Physiology and Biology from the University of Oregon and M.A. from Willamette University. I have over 15 years experience personal training and have also taught anatomy, physiology and biology. I love spending time outdoors and growing, cooking and eating great food.  Learn more about me and read more of my blogs on our website

Filter By Category

About Mark

I am a busy guy; husband, father, coach, mentor, gardener, outdoors man and cook are the primary hats I wear. To be the best of these I can be, I stay physically prepared for all those pursuits, and feed myself in a way that allows me to keep up the pace. I can help you to take the next manageable step in fitness and wellness to get you closer to your ideal self.