Lifting Masterclass: How to Perfect Your Deadlift Form

For anyone who's faced the challenges of the backcountry, it's clear that mental grit and physical strength go hand in hand. 

The conventional deadlift stands as a key exercise in building the kind of strength that makes a difference out there. Getting the deadlift right is crucial; more than lifting weights, it’s about building real-world strength that enhances performance in the tough terrains of the backcountry. 

The difference between a good form and a bad one can be significant - it can mean the difference between success and injury, between enjoying the experience and facing setbacks.

In this guide, we’re breaking down the deadlift as we refer to video analysis and expert advice from MTNTOUGH’s Coach Bigham. Coach Bigham highlights the essentials of proper deadlift form by reviewing hip hinge, bracing, maintaining a vertical bar path, and more.

Never one to disappoint, Coach Bigham not only shares areas of improvement, but practical and effective exercises to help correct specific issues to ultimately gain the perfect deadlift form.

These exercises will target areas such as hamstring, glute and abductor activation, leg drive, core stability, and lat engagement to ensure a safe and efficient deadlift movement for all involved.

So, whether you’re a hunter or just into fitness, this article is your step-by-step guide to perfecting your deadlift form and building strength for your adventures. 

Afterall, the deadlift isn’t just another gym workout; it’s practical prep for the unpredictable wilderness.

Key Takeaways

  • Video analysis can help identify areas of improvement in deadlift techniques
  • Proper hip hinging, bracing, and vertical bar path are essential for a successful deadlift
  • Corrective exercises can target specific issues and enhance overall deadlift performance

Analyzing Proper Deadlift Form: How to Identify and Correct Common Mistakes

It’s a cornerstone of functional fitness - your go-to for fortifying the posterior chain, hitting the hamstrings, glutes, and abductors right where it counts.

Before we go any further, let's define the movement in simple terms.

What Is the Conventional Deadlift?

The conventional deadlift is a strength training exercise targeting multiple muscle groups. It involves lifting a loaded barbell off the ground to hip level and then lowering it back down. Proper form is crucial to maximize benefits and minimize the risk of injury during this compound movement.

To nail it, focus on three areas: proper hip hinge, maintaining a tight core, and ensuring a vertical bar path against your shins throughout the movement - start to finish. 

Like everything in life, practice makes perfect, and thankfully, deadlift form can be corrected.

In the following sections we’ll look over the shoulder of Coach Bigham (powerlifting world champion and thought leader of MTNTOUGH Form Lab) as he analyzes the biomechanics of three athletes performing a deadlift.

How to Evaluate Your Deadlift Form

Getting your deadlift right? It’s all about looking at the entire movement from the side - so grab your phone and get ready to record. This is your tool for uncovering what’s working and what isn’t, and for monitoring your progress.

Here’s an overview of the steps involved and what to look for when evaluating your deadlift form:

  1. Position the Camera: Set your device at your side, perpendicular, to catch your whole body in action. Level it to your hips for an accurate assessment of how they’re moving.
  2. Align with the Barbell: Make sure the camera is also in line with the barbell so you can accurately watch the bar path and how it works with your body while moving.
  3. Find the Right Distance: Stick the camera far enough to see the whole move, but close enough to check out the details like grip and knee position.
  4. Perform the Lift: Knock out three deadlifts, keeping your form in check. This way, you can spot any habits in your deadlift.
  5. Analyze the Big 4: Play back the video. You’re honing in on hip hinge, active feet, your grip, and core bracing during the entire movement.
  6. Make Corrections: Try out Coach Bigham’s tips below depending on which part of your deadlift needs some assistance; hand pressure, banded deadlift, etc.
  7. Do it Again and Check: After tweaking your form, record another round and see how you did. Continue this process until you’ve got it.

Our hope is that you’ll walk away with greater awareness of proper deadlift form and gain the knowledge to start correcting it yourself. But first, let’s all get on the same page.

1. Eliminating Slack for a Stronger Lift

‘Slack in the system’ is an extremely common issue when performing deadlifts. it simply means your hips are moving while the bar isn’t. A slack in the system is the result of not having enough tension.

It’s a glaring issue when lifting heavier loads (weighted packs for instance) and it’s a clear indicator to strengthen one’s posterior chain. Remember, the goal here is to create simultaneous movement of the hips and barbell, it’s the key to unlocking a strong and more efficient lift. 

Deadlift Improvement Techniques for Eliminating Slack

To create tension and remove slack in your system, Coach Bigham recommends adding two drills to your training regimen:

Partner-Assisted Hand Pressure:

This is a valuable exercise to improve your conventional deadlift performance, specifically focusing on maintaining proper form, leg drive, and stability during the lift.

If you're training with someone, they can place the base of their hand in the small of your back to help generate a bit of pressure. This will allow you to push off the ground more effectively with your quadriceps, improving leg drive.

  1. Set up in your deadlift starting position.
  2. Have your partner place the base of their hand in the small of your back, applying a bit of pressure.
  3. Perform a few reps while maintaining the pressure, focusing on pushing with your quads before pulling upwards.

This drill will help you create leg drive and prevent slack in the system, resulting in a better deadlift experience. You’ll know you’re doing it correctly when the initial lift feels lighter than before.

Kettlebell Stability Drill:

Even if you don't have a partner, you can still work on this issue. For this next exercise, you’ll need a resistance band and a kettlebell (40-50 lbs for men, 30-40 lbs for women).

  1. Secure the band under one foot and cross it over your opposite shoulder.
  2. Grab the kettlebell with your hand that’s on the same side as your foot holding the resistance band in place. 
  3. Keep your foot firmly planted on the ground and stand up straight, maintaining active feet and slightly soft knees.
  4. Perform a hip hinge movement, simultaneously lowering the kettlebell to the ground while raising your opposite leg into the air.
  5. Complete 3-5 reps as part of your warm-up to improve leg drive and core stability.

Make sure to maintain a stable and balanced position throughout the exercise. This drill is excellent for developing the leg drive and core stability essential for performing a deadlift. 

By incorporating these drills into your training, you can significantly improve your deadlift technique and performance, and in turn, strengthen your posterior chain.

2. Straightening Bar Path with Lat Engagement

A straight bar path is the hallmark of any well-executed deadlift. When the bar moves in an ‘S’ shape, that’s your cue – the lats, your back’s powerhouse muscles, aren’t pulling their weight. 

Engaging these muscles is the ticket to a tight, vertical bar path, making every phase of the lift a vertical game. Activating your lats  maximizes the benefits of the deadlift and enhances stability and power in the movement.

Deadlift Improvement Technique for Keeping the Bar Path Straight

If your bar path needs a spine adjustment, look no further than Coach Bigham’s banded deadlift technique.

Double Band Deadlift Exercise:

An ‘S’ shaped bar path calls for a dose of double-banded deadlifts. Coach Bigham recommends two bands because they create around 70 lbs of resistance on the barbell. As you lift, the bar should pull away from you.

Doing so encourages your lats to kick in and aids in creating a straighter bar path that’s closer to your body as it moves up. Here’s how to integrate this drill into your training:

  1. Attach a resistance band (or 2 like) to the center of your barbell. 
  2. Move the barbell away from its anchor position until the band is tight. Ensure it's tight enough to pull you forward once the weight leaves the ground.
  3. Securely grasp the barbell, maintaining proper deadlift form with feet shoulder-width apart and a straight back.
  4. Focus on engaging your lats and upper back to keep the barbell close to your body.
  5. Perform the deadlift, lifting the barbell while maintaining tension in the band and keeping the bar path straight.
  6. Complete the lift with your hips and knees fully extended, ensuring your lats remain engaged to protect your back.
  7. Lower the barbell back to the ground, maintaining control and keeping the bar path straight.
  8. Perform 3-5 reps, focusing on lat engagement and maintaining a straight bar path throughout the movement.

Again, you want the tension in the band to feel like it’s pulling you out of position in order to stimulate your lats. Over time, you’ll notice the path straightens as the bar remains closer to your body throughout the entire motion. In the end, you’ll protect your back, netting a safer and more efficient lift.

3. Balancing Hip Angle for Optimal Power

Getting the hip angle right is key to unlocking maximum leg drive in a deadlift. Mess it up, and you’re missing out on the initial leg power, making the lift feel like a mountain. Position your hips just right, and your glutes, hamstrings, and core will engage fully. 

When you roll the footage, pay close attention to the angle of your hips and knees. If you’re sitting high like in the video above.

Deadlift Improvement Technique to Balancing Hip Angle

What you’re looking for is the angle of your hip to your knees. If the angle is high, Coach Bigham has an exercise that can help: the modified Superman.

  1. Begin the exercise by lying face down on the ground in a relaxed position.
  2. Lift your chest up into a tall position, focusing on extending the upper part of your spine to initiate thoracic extension.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and lift your legs off the ground, engaging the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
  4. While maintaining the position, breathe in through the nose and create a 360-degree expansion around the midsection to brace your core and stabilize the spine.
  5. Stay active with your glutes and hamstrings, especially in the bottom position of the exercise.
  6. Execute the exercise for several repetitions, ensuring each rep focuses on thoracic extension, glute activation, leg lift, and proper bracing.
  7. After completing the desired number of repetitions, relax and return to the starting position.

It’s all about boosting efficiency in the lift, ramping up performance, and building deadlifting strength.

Elevate Your Strength Journey with MTNTOUGH

Mastering the conventional deadlift is truly a reflection of your commitment to building real-world strength and resilience. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely worth the pursuit.

We’ve covered the ingredients and recipe for a deadlift with stellar form, including:

  • Proper Tension: Engage your muscles during the lift, move the bar and your hips as one unit.
  • Efficient Power: Keep the bar path vertical and tight to your body by engaging your lats during the lift.
  • Greater Stability: Aim for a solid base and core stability, aligning your hips with the bar. Stability is one of the most important factors to executing the deadlift correctly.

The insights and techniques shared by Coach Bigham are invaluable in refining your form, enhancing your performance, and ensuring that you’re well-equipped to handle the heavy challenges of the backcountry or anywhere else. 

The journey doesn’t end here though; it’s an ongoing process of learning, adapting, and growing stronger. The MTNTOUGH community is here to support you every step of the way, providing expert advice, resources, and a platform for like-minded individuals to share their experiences and progress. 

Whether you’re a seasoned hunter, tactical athlete, or a fitness enthusiast, the knowledge gained from this masterclass is a stepping stone to achieving your strength goals and conquering the unpredictable wilderness - whatever form that takes in your life.

The pursuit of perfecting your deadlift form is not just about lifting weights; it’s about building a foundation of strength that translates into every aspect of your life and adventures. 

By incorporating the recommended drills and maintaining a focus on proper tension, efficient power, and greater stability, you are setting the stage for a stronger, more resilient you.

It's Time to Unleash Your Full Potential

Ready to take your strength training to the next level? We invite you to experience the MTNTOUGH difference by signing up for a 14-day free trial

This is your opportunity to explore every MTNTOUGH Form Lab with Coach Bigham, and any other MTNTOUGH program and workout for 2 entire weeks.

Dive deep into a world of strength, endurance, and mental toughness, and discover how you can optimize your performance in the great outdoors. Don’t miss out on this chance to learn, grow, and become MTNTOUGH!