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Starting Strength in the Real World


Common Deadlift Error: Hips Too Low and the Bar Forward

by Nikki Burman, SSC | June 18, 2019

nikki burman coaches the deadlift

The famous Five Steps to a proper deadlift ensure that your deadlift is as efficient as possible – that the bar starts over the middle of your foot and travels up in as straight a vertical line as possible to the lockout at the top. At least that’s what happens when you perform the five steps correctly. Scraped shins are a sign that your hips were too low and your knees too far forward. This means that an error in your setup created unnecessary moment force to overcome, and that costs you extra time and energy to complete the rep. A low-hips starting position is one of the most common deadlift errors, and one that can limit your progress if it goes uncorrected.

A review of the 5 steps to perform a proper deadlift:

  1. Take your stance so that the bar is placed over your mid-foot, about an inch away from your shins.
  2. With stiff knees, reach down and grip the bar just outside your legs without moving the bar.
  3. Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar; do not move the bar.
  4. Squeeze your chest up; do not drop your hips.
  5. Push the floor away from the bar, and drag it up your legs.

Step One is the easiest and most important, but people still place the bar too close or too far. If the bar is too far away, your hips will be too low and the bar too far forward when you do Step Three.  As you squeeze the bar up, your butt will rise first, and you'll have to work extra hard to pull the bar back over your mid-foot in order to keep it in contact with your legs.

More commonly, a lifter will push the bar forward during Step Two or Step Three, and the same error occurs. It is critical that the bar stays over your mid-foot during your setup. You took the time to carefully set up correctly in Step One, so don’t mess it up! Once your shins touch the bar in Step Three, that is where your hips go and no lower, and the bar does not move.

A third common error happens in Step Four. When you squeeze your chest up and squeeze all the slack out of the bar, your hips should not move. If they drop during the squeeze, your shins will push the bar forward. People who struggle to set their back, i.e. get it into proper extension, do this. They want to drop their hips to make this movement feel more comfortable. I hate to break this to you, but nothing about your deadlift setup should feel comfortable. Squeeze your chest up and patiently feel the wave of extension go down your entire back, while keeping your hips high. Thinking “tailbone to the ceiling” helps, as does “push your bellybutton down to the floor.” You are now in an efficient position to “push the floor away” as you continue to squeeze all the way up.

Lastly, you could follow all the steps correctly, but if your center of mass is forward, adding a Step 4.5 may be needed. Cue yourself to “rock back off your toes.” If your weight is forward on your toes during the pull, this makes the bar want to go forward and come off of your legs. Your lats are already working really hard to keep the bar in close and tight, so save the extra energy for more weight to be lifted.

To master your deadlift, you must master your setup. Take your time going through each step. I see people correctly complete their first reps of the set and then struggle with a consistent setup for the rest.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If this is new for you, stand up and reset in between each rep until you have a better feel for the setup.
  • While lowering the bar for the next rep, make sure you aren’t dropping your hips too soon. Keep your hips high a little longer so that the bar doesn’t have to go around your knees. If it does, it tends to land forward, and you have to constantly pull the bar back over your mid-foot.
  • If needed, cue yourself “hips high.” Take your time to return the bar to your mid-foot each rep. Once your shins touch, rock off your toes, and that is the placement for your hips. From there, you can efficiently squeeze the weight up and work towards a stronger deadlift.

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