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Starting Strength in the Real World


Scraped Shins on the Deadlift

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC | October 26, 2017

Training at a black iron gym brings with it a bunch of benefits, especially when compared to having to train at a commercial gym. Being around bodybuilders, powerlifters, and Olympic weightlifters who train hard and are strong provides a useful perspective to the novice/intermediate lifter, one that can be hard to appreciate for someone training alone or surrounded by the top-heavy Bros at a commercial gym. People who train hard are often humble and willing to help a new guy. And if you have the opportunity to train at a place where a 315 squat isn’t heavy, you can’t convince yourself that a 315 squat is heavy.  

But training at a place where everyone is squatting and deadlifting also creates a situation where lots of guys have gotten strong in spite of their training. Some seriously goofy things can occur even in the most serious of gyms. If you’ve spent any time in these places you’ve seen at least one guy who walks around with horrific scabs, scarring, and bruising on his shins from the deadlift, clean, or snatch. You yourself may have scraped your shins with the bar on a pull and left your DNA on some training equipment. Rest assured that this can be fixed – the problem is usually due to an incorrect pull off the floor.  

There are a couple of reasons that the bar may be gouging out chunks of your shins each time you train. The first one is a completely incorrect and inefficient setup. The commonly given advice to set up “behind” the bar and “use your legs” to pull a deadlift off the floor leads to the lifter slamming the bar into the shins at the start of the pull as the bar swings back toward the middle of the foot. This usually occurs on warmup sets or lighter pulls as heavy deadlifts have a way of working themselves out by either approximating The Standard Pulling Position early on or just not budging off the floor.  

But this isn’t you. You know how to set up. You know the five steps to A Perfect Deadlift, and your start position is rock solid.  Your hips are high, your back is flat, and when the guy on the next platform tells you to drop your butt and lift with your legs, you smile, thank him, and ignore him.  Despite your careful and efficient set up, though, you still manage to tear up your shins when you deadlift and power clean, and you either start to question whether deadlifting is right for you or you just wear your scabs like a badge of honor. 

scraping the shins in the deadlift

Dianne pulled the bar off the floor using a hip extension.  Her knees slid forward and the bar bumped her shins on the way up.  Notice that the arms are nearly vertical and the back angle is more vertical than it should be at this point in the lift.

Your problem is that you’re pulling the bar off the floor. That’s right, you’re pulling the bar off the floor, meaning that you’re initiating your pull with a hip extension rather than a knee extension. A correct deadlift starts with the shins at a slight forward angle, shoulders slightly in front of the bar, the hips high, and the bar over the middle of the foot. If your initial movement off the floor is a hip extension, the bar will start to move up, but the shins haven’t gotten out of the way yet, resulting in an upward moving bar hitting a not-vertical-enough shin. This leads to other problems further up in the pull, but let’s focus on the start for now. 

avoiding scraped shins on the deadlift

Here Dianne started the deadlifts by thinking about pushing the floor away.  The bar stayed over the mid-foot but did not scrape the shins.  Notice that the back angle is more horizontal and that the arms are at a slight forward angle. 

Since your shins are angled forward, a correct deadlift allows for an initial knee extension – an action of the quads – to start the bar. Your back angle is anchored by the hamstrings in the beginning of the pull, and in the first inch or two of the deadlift, both your back angle and shin angle will begin to get more vertical. Both knees and hips finish extending at the top simultaneously. But the correct way to ensure the proper sequence off the floor is to think about knees first, then hips. You can cue yourself to push the floor away, or you can think of the initial movement as a leg press using the middle of the foot against the floor.  

While you want the bar to remain close to the legs, your shins should actually be gradually moving out of the way of the bar enough that any contact with the legs won’t result in massive trauma to the tissues of your shin. If you’re having trouble with the initial pull off the floor and the bar is crashing into your shins on the way up, try thinking about pushing the floor away at the start and using your knees to start the bar. The result will be not only the cessation of skin debridement from your shins, but also a more efficient deadlift. 


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