From July until the end of September, CrossFit Prototype will be posting a blog per week as part of our Accessory Series. These blog posts will review 1 of the 13 CFP foundational movements (Air Squat, Back Squat, Front Squat, Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, Pull-Up, Overhead Press, Push Press, Push Jerk, Clean, Snatch & Rowing) and provide tips on accessory exercises to help improve that area of your CrossFit game.

By Bethany Farrar (B.S., CF-L1)
Why do we deadlift? To pick up as much weight that your body can handle safely and build major muscle groups such as the glutes and hamstrings. There are many things that can limit a successful deadlift. In this post, I’m going to break down the deadlift itself and provide some accessory lifts to help you perform this movement at the best of your ability.

Basic Steps of the Deadlift:

  1. Feet are hip width apart and will keep full contact on the ground.
  2. Full hand grip of the bar, just outside of the hips.
  3. Shoulders are slightly out in front of the bar, bar moves over the middle of the foot.
  4. Neutral spine maintained throughout movement.
  5. Hips are just above parallel, higher than your clean position.
  6. Hips, shoulders, bar all rise at the same time.
  7. Hips and knees at full extension at bar meets hips.

There are many important features to a successful deadlift. I’m going to point out ones that were mentioned and add in more that were not.
In many of our classes, we teach the movement top to bottom. First step is to take a big breath (belly breathing) before bending over and getting a grip on the bar. This breath needs to held until the full lockout of the knees and hips. If we let go of that breath as the bar moves, we will lose all tension. Keeping the breath/tension will lock down the rib cage and protect the lower back. Using a weight belt can be helpful with maintaining an engaged core. This is also a good time to practice belly breathing. You don’t want to breathe up and puff the chest. You want to breathe with the diaphragm causing the belly to move in and out.

Taking that first breath for the deadlift, we push our abdomen into our belt. This is a good point of reference for making sure the core is locked down. When we reach full extension of the hips and knees, the breath can be released. It’s important to regain that breath before beginning to put that bar back down.
Neutral Spine:

What is a neutral spine? The natural curves of the spine. In the picture above, the first image shows a rounded back. This starting position would cause the back to lead instead of the hips and shoulders to rise together. The second image is an over extended back which will make the shoulders rise first without the hips. In the clean, we might hear the cue of “chest up”. The deadlift we want our spine to stay the same the whole time so the chest would not come up. This is in the third image. A good cue would be to have our neck in line with our back. Pick a spot on the floor in front of you and stare at it the whole lift. Your eyes do not need to be forward like in the clean or squat.
If you find that you can keep a neutral spine but your low back rounds once you start moving the bar, here are some movements that will help you.

Deadlift Accessory Movements


The Romanian deadlift or stiff leg deadlift. This movement can be more difficult to perform than the deadlift. You cannot have more than a slight bend of the knees to help you move the bar down your legs. It really forces you to keep your back flat and hamstrings loaded. This will increase strength in the glutes and hamstrings. The stronger your glutes and hamstrings are, the more you back is protected.
Glute Bridges/Hip Thrusts:

This video is from Coach Mike. This movement will teach you to activate the glutes to help bring the hips through which is crucial for completing the deadlift.
You can also perform this with a barbell. Demo video below:

Lat-Specific Movements (to keep the bar close):
The glutes and hamstrings are the primary movers of the bar in the deadlift. These muscles are not going to keep the bar close.  If that bar starts to move out away from the center of your foot, you end up putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on your back.
First step is to make sure the knees move out of the way of the bar. The bar path is straight and does not go around the knees. The knees move out of the way so the bar remains in the center of our foot.
Second step is being able to activate our lats. This will help keep the bar locked into position as you move throughout. Building strength in our lats will help keep tension on the barbell and protect our back.
Lat Pull downs with band

Strict Pull-Ups

Bent Over Row