Powerlifting isn’t an overly technical sport by any means, but even so, good technique is very important to lifting the heaviest weights you can, safely. There’s also probably more nuances than you’d initially expect! Therefore, it’s always a good idea to be constantly striving to improve your technique.
Some of the finer points of technique are debated a lot in the Powerlifting community, so on these pages I’m going to stick to the basic ‘essentials’ for good technique that almost everyone can agree on.
Great External Resources
The best resource to help with your technique that I’ve found and can offer you are the Juggernaut Training Systems 5 Pillars for great Squat/Bench/Deadlift technique series’ on YouTube (shown on the pages for each lift - there are 5 videos in each playlist and only the 1st of each are shown so remember to watch all of them).
Watching them all at once and trying to implement everything in one session may be a bit too much to think about. So I’d actually recommend watching one a week, and for that week of training, focus on just the cues in that one video.
If you’re a nerd and you like to know why good technique is good, and learn about moment arms and stuff like that, I can also recommend the technique videos by PowerliftingToWin on YouTube.
How do I go about building good technique?
Something to keep in mind when trying to build good technique is the maxim of treating your first warm up like your max, and your max like your first warm up. This means that even though, sure, you could just put 60kg on your back for a warm up and squat it easily, without thinking about it and with sloppy technique, you will gain a lot more benefit out of it if you focus on all these cues in all your sets, even your lightest warm ups. You can use your warm ups as a chance to practise your technique.
At the end of the day, building good technique in anything is about creating a learnt motor pattern, so that eventually, you don’t have to think about it - great technique is just ‘muscle memory’. Every time you deviate from this, you’ll be disrupting the learning of that motor pattern. So ideally you want every squat you do to be exactly the same: the set up, the walk out, the bracing… everything, because then (and this is the second part of the maxim), when you squat your max, the heavy weight won’t throw you off and you’ll replicate all that great technique, just like it was your first warm up. This goes for all 3 lifts and even variations of them.
How do I correct my technique if it’s wrong?
If there are significant break downs in your technique that could be putting you at risk of injury, it’s recommended to reduce the weight to a point where you can lift it safely, then work your way back up slowly with good technique. This being said, it can be common for some people to get so stuck on being able to do a certain weight with perfect technique, that they end up never putting the weight up!
Mike Tuchscherer recommends an 80% technique heuristic rule here. It’s a general rule of thumb that if your technique is 80% perfect or better, then you’re good to go and you can focus on just getting stronger. Of course always strive for that perfect technique, but the main focus can be adding weight to the bar. If your technique is worse than 80% perfect, then you need to focus on fixing it before you put more weight on the bar.
What does this mean? One or two minor technique errors are fine. But if you have a major technical error or very many minor errors you should focus on fixing it as your number one priority. Minor errors may be a little bit of knee valgus, some bar path wobble or even a little bar rotation. A major error in this sense is anything that would get you disqualified in a competition such as: butt coming up in the bench press or not squatting to depth (check the competition advice page and the IPF rulings on their website) or something that puts you at injury risk in the near-term such as: significantly rounding your back in the squat or deadlift.
Watching the videos is probably the most helpful for most people but if you’d rather read than watch, as well as learn some extra details:
A key point in both good squat and deadlift technique is keeping a neutral spine. The safest, most stable position for your back is flat, and significant deviation from this can put you at risk of injury. Flexion of the spine can commonly occur under really heavy weights if you don’t generate enough back/lat tightness and brace properly (see below).
However, it can also be common for people to try so hard to resist flexion of their spine, they actually hyper-extend their back which is equally dangerous and weak. This often comes from misinterpreting cues like “keep your chest up”. So you want to prevent flexion of the spine by keeping your back tight and bracing, but still be keeping it neutral, not extended.
1: The Set Up
A poor set up can be the cause of many problems later on in the movement.
Like most things, the perfect hand position will vary from lifter to lifter but, ideally, you want your hands to be as close as your shoulder mobility will allow for because a closer grip will give you more upper back tightness. However, this does not mean that a wide grip is incorrect, just that that person could maybe do with working on their shoulder mobility.
That caveat on shoulder mobility is important. If you’re shoulders or elbows or wrists start hurting, widen your grip! If you wish, you can slowly move it in closer over time as you do exercises to improve your shoulder mobility. But also keep in mind that the closest grip possible isn’t necessarily the end goal - just that your grip be close enough that you are able to generate enough back tightness to support heavy weights. Some people can generate a lot of back tightness with a wide grip.
Another caveat here is that the elbows need to be inside of the wrists, or you won’t be generating much tightness.
Squeeze everything into the middle of the body
Once you’re under the bar, before you unrack it, pull your scapulae together and your elbows towards the middle of your body, but slightly behind you (not into the side of your body), so that ideally your elbows are pointing towards your butt. In doing this, make sure you don’t hyper-extend your thoracic spine.
Push your elbows forward
The last thing you can do to generate a little more upper back tightness is to move your elbows forward and down just slightly. The focus here is not so much on shoulder rotation, but rather shoulder depression to engage your lats.
First you need to unrack the bar. When you’re doing this, try to bring your hips under you and unrack with your legs, rather than ‘good morning-ing’ the bar out. Before you unrack it, you’re also going to want to brace by taking a big breath in and push down and out through your obliques.
EXTRAs (not in the JTS videos above):
When you start squatting, you’ll have to work out whether you prefer squatting ‘high bar’ (with the bar high up on your traps) or ‘low bar’ (with the bar resting below your traps, on your rear delts), or anywhere in between. The vast majority of people can lift more weight low bar, because it shortens the horizontal moment arm between your hips and the bar, effectively shortening your torso. It also allows you to use more muscle in the lift, as you can synergistic-ally use your back and legs together, and it shifts the pressure more to your posterior chain, which for most people is stronger than their quads. That being said, some people with very strong quads and a weak back may find they are stronger with a high bar position as this takes the pressure off their back and puts it almost solely on their legs, with the emphasis on their quads.
Ideally you want to save energy in your walk out by taking as few steps as possible. This may seem trivial under light weights but when your maximum weight is on your back, it can be very easy to lose balance in the walk out. There’s no need to walk the weight out excessively far. Simply take one step back with your left leg, then one back with your right so they are level, then one step sideways to adjust your stance width.
Ideal stance width is another thing that will vary depending on the lifter. When you’re starting out, play around a bit with different stance widths to find which feels strongest for you. A good starting point is having your feet a little wider than shoulder width. Stance width will vary depending on your anatomy and where your strengths/weaknesses are. If your quads are very strong, you’ll probably find a narrower stance better, whereas if your posterior chain is very strong, a wider stance might be for you. Similarly, lifters with shorter femurs and a long torso may do better with a narrower stance, and those with longer femurs and a short torso may do well with a wider stance. It can also depend on the structure of your hips.
2: Breathing and Bracing
Before every rep you’ll want to brace. This means you take a big air in through your nose and mouth into your abdomen. The goal here is to push your obliques out and generate 360 degree pressure all the way around your abdomen. Wearing a belt while doing this is very helpful to get feedback, because you can focus on pushing out into the belt all the way around your abdomen. It may also be helpful to flex your glutes at this point which will neutral your hips underneath you. You then want to hold this maximal pressure all the way throughout the lift. Yes, this will mean you’re holding your breath throughout the lift and yes, it will be a bit uncomfortable (feels a bit like your head is going to explode).
3: The Descent
Ideally, you want to descend as fast as your technique will allow. Like the grip width, this will vary from lifter to lifter. This does not mean dive bomb into the hole as fast as possible, losing all that tightness you generated from bracing, and possibly your balance, in the process. As soon as you start to lose tension, you want to slow your descent. However, if you can descend quickly and confidently while keeping tension, then great! This will mean you will save energy and utilise more of the stretch reflex at the bottom of the squat. A mistake many people make is to descend confidently on their warm ups, but then on the really heavy weights, get nervous and descend much slower and shakily. Again, treat your max like your first warm up. Confidence is key.
You also may want to descend slower in the top half of the movement, speeding up a little towards the bottom to get some rebound out of the hole.
Avoid excessive butt winking
“Butt winking” in the squat refers to when a lifter posteriorly tilts their pelvis at the bottom part of the movement. While a little butt wink is okay and even unavoidable, excessive butt wink can be dangerous because it can cause the lumbar spine to flex. It also reduces force transmission. Butt winking normally results from either a lack of hip/ankle/thoracic mobility or bad positioning. Working on your hip mobility with piriformis or posterior hip capsule stretches, thoracic mobility, ankle mobility, or getting some shoes with a higher heel can help.
However, butt winking is often caused by lifters setting up with their pelvis excessively anteriorly tilted at the start of the lift (think fit-chick on instagram sticking her butt out as she squats). This restricts the range of motion at the hip joint, forcing them to then posteriorly tilt the pelvis at the bottom of the squat in order to hit depth. That glute flex at the start of the squat to neutral your hips before you descend can really come in handy here. 90/90 breathing drills and frog stretches focusing on your breathing and keeping your hips neutral as you bend your knees can also help. Some great videos on butt winking can be found here and here.
4. Feet and Knees
Foot balance and bar path
Throughout the whole squatting movement, the weight of the bar should be over your mid-foot. You want to avoid either tipping forward, or being so far back that the weight is all on your heels. The bar should move in a straight, vertical line throughout the whole movement, always staying over your mid-foot.
Hips and Knees
As you initiate the squat, the hips and knees should unlock simultaneously. It’s okay to let the knees travel forward as you descend. As long as you focus on keeping the bar balanced over your mid foot, and your stance width and bar positioning are good for you, your knees and hips should naturally move to the position where you are strongest. Ankle mobility and heel height of your shoes can also affect this (see equipment page).
Maintain the forward knee position out of the hole
As you come out of the hole, it’s critical to maintain that forward knee position for the first few inches. It’s a common mistake to shift the knees and hips backwards. This increases how leaned over your torso is and leads to the infamous “good morning squat”, where all the pressure gets shifted to your back. The back and legs should work synergistic-ally throughout the squat, not one, then the other.
Track your knees over your toes
Throughout the squat, the knees should also track over the toes. The error here is an inward, valgus movement of the knee, which weakens your squat and, if really severe, can lead to knee injury. A good cue to fix this is to think about screwing your feet outwards into the ground. If you can’t get your knees out over your toes at all, even to begin with, it may be that you need to work on your hip mobility or narrow your stance a little.
5: Head and Upper Back
This could be a minor point, but ideally your head position should be relatively neutral - so you’re not looking way up or way down at your toes. A good way to think about it is that the head and shoulders should act as a single unit, and as you descend your head should stay in the same position relative to your shoulders, as though you were wearing a neck brace. This doesn’t mean that looking up or down is instantly wrong, but both of those can cause people to extend or flex their upper back respectively, rather than keeping it neutral.
Push your back into the bar out of the hole
Out of the hole, you want to actively drive that head and shoulders unit up into the bar. The idea here is to create even pressure down into the floor and up into the bar. This helps you to use your back and legs together and can help to prevent the ‘good morning squat’.
1: Foot Placement and Pressure
Foot placement is the first step to a good set up. In IPF competitions and varsity the heel has to be on the ground. Generally a wider stance will allow you more stability in the lift but this may vary from lifter to lifter. Bringing your feet closer to your head will allow you to get a larger arch, but may reduce your leg drive. So you’ll have to play around with positions until you find the one that feels strongest for you then stick to it. If you want to bring your feet back further but can’t keep your heels on the floor, you may need to work on hip flexibility. Also, shoes with a high heel may help you. Another thing to consider is that the knees should be below the hips in order to generate the most tension in the legs possible
You want to generate pressure into the ground through both feet. If you simply push straight down, you’ll generate a lot of leg drive but it could cause you to lift your butt up off the bench, which would disqualify your lift. For this reason it is often recommended that you push ‘up’ the bench towards your head rather than off the bench. In terms of your feet, you want to imagine that you’re driving your toes into the ends of your shoes.
2: Upper Back Positioning
Retract and Depress your shoulder blades
As you set up, in order to generate proper back tightness you’ll want to retract your shoulder blades by pulling them together, almost as though you’re trying to pinch a finger between your shoulder blades. A common mistake here is, in an effort to retract your shoulder blades, also elevating them. Once your shoulder blades are retracted, you want to depress them (pull them down, towards your hips). This will engage your lats and put your shoulder joint into a safer position. You should feel a lot of tension in your mid back and lats as you do this. You want to maintain this tension all the way throughout the movement. Try not to relax and lose your back tightness as you bring the bar down to your chest!
Creating an arch
Arching your back in the bench press reduces your range of motion so that you can lift more weight (see #archlikesuzanne). Since the largest muscle in your chest, the pectoralis major, is actually directed downwards, keeping your chest high also puts more of the muscle fibres in the plane of motion of the movement, allowing you to use more muscle. Unlike in the squat or deadlift, arching your back is not dangerous in the bench press because the spine is not axially loaded so the shear forces on your vertebrae are minimal. However, a really big arch may reduce the amount of leg drive you’re able to get.
There are many ways to set up for an arch in the bench but a good one for most people is to do a glute bridge on the bench. Here is where you should retract and depress your shoulder blades. You want to be way up on your traps and driving your chest up as high as you can. From here, put your feet down onto the floor one at a time, focusing on keeping your back tight and your sternum as high as possible. You can also push into the rack, in order to push your shoulders down the bench, towards your hips.
A good arch should come from the thoracic spine, rather than the lumbar spine. Arching your lumbar spine may look impressive but it won’t help you to move more weight since your chest is no higher. Therefore, you may want to work on your thoracic mobility to get the best arch possible. Keep in mind that if you’re doing it right, it should feel uncomfortable!
Unracking the bar
You want to try to bring the bar out, not up and out, as this could cause you to lose some of that back tightness you just generated. You may need to adjust the rack height to find the perfect height for you. You also don’t want the rack height to be too high or you may lose your back position just when you go to grip the bar. Having a spotter who doesn’t yank the bar way up, then drop it on you, when giving you a lift off will help here.
3: Gripping the Bar
Again, ideal grip width will vary from lifter to lifter. It is worth noting here that in the IPF, you can’t have a grip that is wider than the rings on the bar - so at least one finger needs to be covering them. Generally, you want to find a grip where, at the bottom of the lift when the bar is on your chest, the bar is stacked over the wrist and the wrist is stacked over the elbow, so that your forearm is vertical. This should be the case when looking up from the feet or from the side. You also don’t want to overly tuck the elbows or flare the elbows as you descend the bar.
Some people find that taking a very wide grip works for them as this will reduce their range of motion. This could work for you if you already have short arms and a very big arch. However, again it is a trade-off, as an excessively wide grip will reduce your power a little.
After you’ve unracked the bar, you want to be creating the most supportive position for the bar in your hand. Therefore, the bar should be right over the wrist joint, sitting in the lower meaty part of the hand. This will mean your wrist is slightly cocked back and this is okay. Avoid having either your wrist excessively cocked back and the bar way up in your fingers, or your wrist being so straight that the bar is hanging on your thumbs. Both of these positioning will create unnecessary pressure on your wrist/finger joints. From here, squeeze the bar as hard as you can throughout the movement.
4: Breathing and Bar Placement
Bar placement on the chest
With regards to where the bar should touch on your chest, keep in mind again that the wrist should be stacked over the elbows when the bar is on the chest, when viewed from the side. This, your arch and your grip width will dictate where the bar should touch on your chest. For most people this is just below the nipples/pec muscles. A wider grip will force you to touch higher on your chest in order to keep the wrist and elbows stacked, and vice versa for a narrower grip.
Keep in mind as well that more elbow flare will cause the movement to be more pec and shoulder dominant, and more elbow tuck will cause it to be more tricep dominant, so it may depend on which muscle groups are relatively stronger for you. Also, some people with very large arches may touch lower than this recommendation as that is the highest point of their chest and so it allows them to further reduce the range of motion. But again, keep in mind that this is a trade-off.
Just like with the squat and deadlift, before each rep in the bench press, you want to take a big breath in and brace. As you do this, engage your lats even more and push your chest up to the bar as much as you can. A good cue to help you to engage your lats on the descent is to push your little fingers down into the bar, almost as though you’re trying to bend the bar. Hold your air in until you finish the lift. Don’t breathe out on your chest or even as you press! Because often when you’re breathing out, you’re relaxing.
5: Leg Drive and Bar Path
As mentioned before in foot pressure, when you use leg drive, you want to push up the bench towards your head, as well as out at a 45 degree angle. This is so that you don’t lift your butt off the bench. You also want to time your leg drive, so that you push hardest right before your press, so that the power surges up from your feet, through your body into the bar, in a kinetic chain. This does not mean you should relax your legs on the descent! Still maintain leg tension throughout the whole movement.
As you press, you should push the bar back over your shoulders. This should cause the bar path to look like an upside down ‘J’ from the side. This is because you want to get the bar back over your shoulders quickly as this is the most mechanically advantageous position to press from. Leg drive helps you to get the bar back over your shoulders.
1: Hip Hinge/Starting Position
Finding your stance
A good place to start is where you would do a vertical jump from - so the feet roughly underneath the hips. This is likely where most people are able to generate the most power, although it will vary from person to person. It’s probably best for your toes to be slightly pointed out, although not as much as you would in a squat. Toes pointing forward will generally make the lockout easier whereas toes pointed out will make the lift easier off the floor so it might depend on where you are strongest.
Just like in the squat, the bar should start balanced over your midfoot. You want to keep the bar close to you but there is such a thing as too close. From here in your setup, you’ll bring your shins forward into contact with the bar as you reach down to grip it. A near vertical shin position at the start is considered ‘ideal’ but whether you are able to achieve this will depend a lot on your body proportions
The Hip Hinge
Unlike a squat, the deadlift is a hip hinging movement. Therefore when you’re finding your start position, rather than squatting down to the bar, you want to push your hips back, and don’t worry about trying to start with your hips as low as possible. This will help you to keep your shins relatively vertical and the bar close to you, as well as load tension in your hamstrings.
A common problem people have in the deadlift is that when they start pulling, their hips will shoot up before their shoulders move. Often this is because they’re trying to start with their hips too low. The fix to this is actually pretty simple. Simply start with your hips higher! Your hips are likely shooting up because they’re getting into the position where they are strongest to pull from the floor from. It’s more efficient to start with your hips in this position.
2: Grip/Engaging the Lats
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to grip the bar just outside of your knees but as close to your shins as possible. Another thing to keep in mind is that, unless you’re a very large lifter and your wide stance forces you to take a wider grip, your grip width should be such that your arms are vertical. This will make it easier to keep hold of the bar and reduce your range of motion. For me, as a fairly average sized male, this means that my first finger is on the smooth of the bar. But this will of course depend on your build.
Almost no powerlifters will actually deadlift with a double overhand grip, because this makes it very difficult to hold onto heavier weights. The most common grip type is the over-under grip; where one hand is over the bar and the other is taking and underhand grip. This is easy to get the hang of, and is a good grip to start out with. Some people find some problems with this grip over time however, such as ‘windmilling’ (where the bar rotates towards one side), struggling to engage their lats as well as they could, or bicep tendonitis in the underhand arm.
For these reasons, some people choose to transition to a hook grip. This is where both hands are overhand, but you wrap your thumbs around the bar as much as you can, and grip with your fingers over your thumb. The goal in hook grip is to get as many of your fingers over your thumb as possible. This is a strong grip if you can get it right but does take some practise. It may also require you to have quite large hands to be effective… and it seriously hurts your thumbs! Neither grip is better than the other.
Engaging the lats
Lat engagement is really important in all 3 lifts, but probably most so in the deadlift. A lack of lat engagement is often the cause of significant upper back rounding off the floor. A good cue to engage the lats is to think about ‘protecting your arm pits’. You want to squeeze your arms into your sides and depress your shoulder blades, pulling them down towards your hips. This movement can also effectively elongate your arms which reduces your range of motion.
3: Breathing and Bracing
There are 3 ways you can take your breath in. You can breath and brace at the top, before you set up, at the bottom, or both. The ideal is to take your air in at the top as this is where you have the most space to brace as hard as you can. However, this requires you to then hold that breath and tension as you set up. If you find you lose your tension during your set up, you may want to brace at the bottom right before you lift. Or, you can breath at the top, set up, then take another breath in again and brace right before you lift to regain any tension you lost in the set up.
Just like in the squat, when you brace in the deadlift you want to breathe into your abdomen and push down and out, creating 360 degrees of circumferential expansion in your abdomen. You should be able to feel yourself pushing into your belt in all directions if you are wearing one. You can practise this with 90/90 breathing drills. Also like in the squat, you want to keep your spine neutral as you breathe in. You don’t want to breathe into your chest and extend your back as you do so. A quick forceful exhale to push your rips down, then focusing on keeping that neutral position as you take in your air can be helpful here.
4: Initiating from the Floor
As you start the lift, again, just like in the squat, you want to maintain even pressure throughout your feet, in your big toe, little toe and heel. It’s sometimes cued to have your weight way back on your heels in the deadlift, but this is a weaker, less stable position, and can cause you to fall backwards (yes, it happens).
Another important point here is to be patient off the floor. This is even more important in the sumo deadlift, but it’s still relevant to the conventional deadlift. Rushing off the floor and trying to yank the bar up can cause you to lose position and round your back. This will then make the lockout much harder. While there are some lifters who can conventional deadlift huge amounts of weight with a rounded back, this is not considered ideal since it does put you at increased risk of injury. In theory, the lockout should be the easiest part of the lift. If you’re finding you often fail at the lockout, it’s probably actually because you’re losing position off of the floor.In a good deadlift, your shoulders and hips should rise at the same rate off the floor. Your hips should not rise much faster than your shoulders.
Right before you start the lift, you want to flex the triceps hard to make your arms as long as possible, continue to draw air in and again, tighten the lats as much as possible. This tightening of the lats should already put some tension into the bar. You then want to push the floor away from you to initiate the movement.
Just like in the squat, the head position should probably be relatively neutral throughout the lift.
5: The Lockout
In the deadlift, you want to initiate the lockout as early as possible. You should bring your hips forward to meet the bar as it rises up your legs. You’ll want to avoid letting the bar get too high before you bring your hips through, and then having to lean back into the lockout. This will also help to keep the bar path straight and vertical, which is the most efficient way to move it, rather than it coming up and back. You should begin to drive your hips forward as soon as the bar reaches the bottom of your knees.
Some lifters opt to compete with a sumo style deadlift rather than a conventional deadlift. This is where the feet are wide and the arms are inside of the knees. This type of deadlift can be advantageous for some lifters as it reduces your range of motion. It also takes the pressure off your back and moves it onto your legs, particularly increasing the work done by your quads. A sumo deadlift is harder than a conventional deadlift off the floor, but then easier at lockout as long as your form remains intact.
The sumo deadlift is also considered a more technical movement than conventional, and the technique needs to be pretty spot on for it to be effective. The sumo deadlift also requires more hip mobility. For these reasons, most lifters start training with a conventional deadlift, but then may choose to give sumo a go for a few weeks to see if it works for them. I’d recommend trying out sumo at some point to see if you prefer it, but keep in mind that it doesn’t work for everyone! Generally, lifters with shorter femurs and long arms should find a sumo deadlift to be effective for them.
Many of the aspects of the technique, such as grip, lat engagement, balance in the foot and breathing and bracing are the same for the sumo deadlift as in the conventional deadlift, but other aspects are very different.
1: The Stance
First you’ll need to work out how wide your stance should be. This varies a lot from person to person. Some lifters sumo deadlift with their toes almost touching the plates, some deadlift with their legs only just outside of their hands (see Ed Coan and the ‘semi-sumo’ style of deadlifting). A wider stance will reduce your range of motion further, but could reduce your power off the floor, and does require you to have better hip mobility in order to keep your knees out over your toes in this position.
Play around with the stance width until you find the one that’s right for you. Generally, it’s recommended that you set up so that your heel is positioned underneath your knee. Make a mental note of where this foot position is and try to replicate it whenever you lift. What I do is make sure the rings on the bar are in the same position relative to my shins whenever I set up. Also, the wider your stance, the more pointed out your toes will need to be. A wider toe angle will mean you’re a little less stable and it will be a bit harder to keep your balance.
Stance set up
From here, as you lower yourself to the bar, your shins should stay perpendicular to the ground. Like in the conventional deadlift, your weight should stay in your mid foot. This will mean that, unlike in the conventional deadlift, the bar may start just a little bit away (~1/4 inch) from your shins. If you set up too far away from the bar, you may find that your weight goes into your toes on the floor and your knees travel forward as you lower yourself to the bar, which is not optimal. You also don’t want your weight to be too far back in your feet. If you would fall over if you were to let go of the bar, your weight is too far back. You want to be balanced in the start position.
2: The Set Up
There are a couple of different ways to find your ideal start position. One way is to push your hips back with your legs straight, then drop the hips down and bring the knees forward into position. The only issue with this is that you can end up sitting back too far. Another way is to squat straight down into position. This helps to keep the balance in the right place in your foot.
Another thing you’ll have to keep in mind is your hip position at the start. You want your hips to start as close to the bar as you can in the horizontal plane. A good cue that helps this is to focus on pushing your knees out, over your toes. However, you don’t necessarily want your hips to be as low as possible. Some people try to start with their hips really low so that their back is very upright in the start position, but then just like in the conventional deadlift, their hips shoot up at the start of the movement. Since you’re in a worse position to use your back at the lockout, this is even more detrimental for the sumo deadlift than it is for conventional.
Find the ideal height for your hips where your back is still relatively upright, but there is still tension in your hamstrings at the start of the movement. From here, when you initiate the lift, your hips should move up at the same rate as your shoulders, and your back angle should stay the same. This is when you know you’ve found the right start position.
3: Tightness in the Starting Position
The cues here in terms of bracing and lat tightness are the same as for the conventional deadlift. One thing to look out for even more in the sumo than conventional however is to avoid hyperextension of the back. Again, this often occurs as lifters push their chest up in an effort to keep their torso upright. You still want to maintain a neutral spine in a sumo deadlift, and in fact some slight curvature of the upper (not lower) back is fine, unlike in the squat. You just need to focus on preventing the bar from drifting forward.
4: Patience off the Floor
Another point that’s even more important in the sumo deadlift than the conventional is patience off the floor. You really want to avoid yanking the bar upwards. The bottom of the lift is much harder in a sumo deadlift, so there’s potentially even more incentive to lose that great position off the floor in an effort to get it moving quickly. But this is even more damaging in a sumo deadlift as if you round your back and your hips shoot up, you’re in a really bad position to lock the weight out.
Accept that in a sumo deadlift the weight will some off the floor slowly. Charge up the lift. Pull all the slack out of the bar before you lift. Squeeze your lats as hard as you can, feel the tension building in your hamstrings and glutes as you push your feet into the floor, then squeeze the weight up. You’ll see some good sumo deadlifters on maximum attempts taking even as much as 4 or 5 seconds to break the floor, but once they do, the weight accelerates up towards lock out. In the first few inches of the movement, the force should be coming almost entirely from your legs.
5: The Lockout
In the sumo deadlift, you need to initiate the lockout even earlier than for the conventional deadlift. Almost as soon as the bar comes off the floor, you should be driving your hips forward to meet the bar. If you drive your hips forward too late, you can end up having a disjointed movement where your knees lockout before your hips, and the pressure in the lockout shifts onto your back, making it very difficult. You want your knees and hips to lockout simultaneously, and your hips to come forward to meet the bar so that the bar path is straight, vertically upwards, just like in the conventional deadlift. Similarly, you want to avoid excessively leaning back in the lockout.
You also want to keep your shoulders and traps relaxed to allow the bar to hang as low as possible. Your lats should be tight, but not your traps. Your shoulders should be depressed rather than elevated and shrugging the bar upwards. This is because having your shoulders shrugged will make the lockout even harder, and increase your range of motion.