The deadlift — an exercise that involves lifting a bar or barbell from the floor up to your hips and back — may look like a simple move, but it's actually pretty easy to screw up. After actress Alison Brie shared a video of herself doing one, writer Casey Johnston pointed out two common mistakes: her back was bent and the bar wasn't on her shins.
According to Christine Kuczek, certified personal trainer and partner at Spindle Fitness, Johnston was right. When you initiate the lift — aka when the bar is still on the floor and you're about to pick it up — look down at the bar's positioning above your feet: The bar should be even with the middle of your feet, not your toes, and as close to your shins as possible, preferably touching them, so that you don't strain your lower back. (Brie's misplacing of the bar, along with her failure to engage her lats — the muscles that help you keep your shoulderblades "pinned" to your back — is probably also what led to her to bend her back.)
"It is really important to keep the lumbar spine neutral or in a tiny bit of what would look like an arch when initiating the lift," says Kuczek. "If the start position is not correct, it is nearly impossible to correct during the course of the lift."
So, that's how you shouldn't do a deadlift — but how should you do one?
There are several kinds of deadlifts, says Kuczek, but most have a few things in common: You bend at the hips, and once you get all the way down to grab the bar, your hips should be below your shoulders and above your knees.
Here's how to do the most popular type, which Kuczek calls the "conventional barbell deadlift." (If you've never tried it before, you'll want to start with a light weight and work your way up gradually.)
1. Stand in front of the bar so that your shins are touching or almost touching it, your feet are hip-width apart, and your toes are pointing a little bit outward.
2. Engage your back and core to "get tight" while still standing, then reach down to grab the bar with your hands outside your shins. Both palms can be facing your shins, or you can try an alternating grip with one hand facing away from you.
3. Lean back on your heels and lower your hips slightly below your shoulders, making sure your shins are still touching the bar.
4. "Pack" your shoulders — i.e., pull them back and engage your lats.
5. Look at the floor a few feet in front of you so that your neck is pointed straight ahead but not arching upward.
6. Pull the bar upward in a motion perpendicular to the floor, keeping it in contact with your shins. Your hips and shoulders should move up in tandem.
7. Once you've stood up, squeeze your abs, lats, and glutes, almost as if you're in an upright plank.
8. Lower the bar back down to the floor using the reverse of the motion you lifted it with.
9. Repeat once or more depending on the heaviness of the weight (usually no more than six for a heavier one) and your strength training goals.
Here's a video to demonstrate.