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Setup. Setup. Setup. Setup. Setup . . .

Oh hey there! Sorry I was lost in my thoughts there for a second.

Ever say or think about a word over and over and over? It starts to sound really strange the more times you say it.

I don't know what that has to do with the point of this post, but it's just an observation.

Okay . . . so . . . moving on haha!

I actually really do want to talk to you about setting up. Particularly I want to talk about setting up properly for the deadlift so you can crush new PR's on a regular basis.

I read a fantastic blog post on Dean Somerset's website a month or two ago written by Travis Pollen. The post basically presented a concept of thinking of movements as transitioning between different static positions. It hit home for me to say the least. While I still think we have to evaluate movement as it is dynamically happening in front of us I don't think we can ignore where someone starts and ends the movement either.

I have written previously about an injury to what I thought was my back (ended up being more related to my SI joint) and how it has taken me more than a year to get back to being comfortable pulling heavy ass weight off the ground in a bilateral stance. I also wrote about some of the retooling I did to my deadlift technique that I think was the reason for my injury. Well that and the fact that I was basically doing heavy conventional deadlifts three times a week, but that's a topic for another blog post.

Anyways part of this retooling involved looking at previous videos of me deadlifting and trying to dissect out what things I could do better and what I could differently to prevent any further injuries because let me tell you from first hand experience back pain and injuries SUUUUUCCKKK!!! I am so thankful everyday I wake up that I don't have any chronic nagging injuries (knock on wood) and I plan to do everything in my power to keep it that way while living an active lifestyle.

However when evaluating those videos I didn't just look at the transition as Travis Pollen would put it, the part of the lift when I am actually moving the weight, but I also looked at the positions I started and ended in. The one position I didn't really like all that much was my start position and I believe a lot of it had to do with the way I setup for heavy pulls.

Actually I blame Eric Cressey for this. Haha just kidding it isn't his fault! It's my moronic fault for trying to copy the setup of a very experience and well trained deadlifter who competed in powerlifting for many years.

Yeah I kinda of thought Eric's setup looked cool and he was really strong using it so I figured why not just do what he does and I'll pull what he pulls.

You can see what I am talking about below:

Eric's set up:


*Disclaimer: I don't know Eric personally and have never talked to him about this particular topic, but I don't think there is anything wrong with it. Actually I think he has kind of quieted his set up down to as some of his latest videos show him doing a bit different set up which you can see here. Also please don't comment about his form in this video. This is a max effort pull in a competition and it is much different from training in the gym or coaching a client who wants to lose weight how to deadlift.

My old set up


Honestly I don't think it was necessarily a bad idea I had, but it just wasn't applied the best. I should have considered Eric's training age and experience not to mention the fact he probably has very different anthropometry than me.

I used this kind of setup until I suffered my SI joint injury. Then I started retooling everything like I mentioned earlier.

I did a lot of reading, a lot of watching, and a lot of listening to smart and strong people and came up with what I think is the best way to teach the setup for a deadlift and to put people in the best position to be safe, but still display their strength while deadlifting.

This is important because as Travis Pollen notes movement really is just about transitioning in specific ways into and out of specific positions. So if you start in the wrong position your likely not going to end up in the right position at some point during all the transitions.

In other words the setup matters!

I wouldn't dare ever to say that I came up with any of this stuff on my own. I give credit where it is due. I took a a lot of different pieces of the setup from guys I heard speak on the topic. I took the feet position and placement from Tony Gentilcore along with the idea of taking slack out of the bar. I took the method of getting to neutral from Kelly Starrett. The idea of starting from the top down and getting into the hinge first I got from Jessie Burdick.

I will also bet that there are other coaches and trainers out there who have come up with a very similar deadlift setup, but as far as the incorporation of all these concepts into one setup I take credit for that.

I think this will give you a really good place to start when you start pulling from the floor regularly. Then you can adjust it to fit you better as you grow and learn more.

1. Feet placement and position

I always address the bar by placing my feet so that the bar is directly over my mid-foot or a little further towards my ankle. This gives anywhere between an inch to two inches of space between my shins and the bar. I use to be of the camp who setup with their shins directly against the bar, but after reading a blog post by Tony Gentilcore I changed my mind. It makes a lot of sense too as far as trying to get the best leverage possible over the weight by keeping the bar as close to the center axis of motion (i.e. the hips). The reasons have a lot to with biomechanics and physics and are just to complex I feel to be worth of discussing in a blog post about setting up for the deadlift.

I believe in starting with a narrower stance than what you think would be appropriate then adjusting out from there. For most people a good place to start is a hip-width stance. I find my best position is somewhere between hip-width and a fist-width apart.

2. Get to neutral

After organizing our feet we need to get the rest of our body organized to move some heavy ass weight. Most importantly in relation to deadlifting we need to get our spine and pelvis in proper alignment so that they are able to transfer force between our upper and lower halves without any problems.

The best way I have found for doing this is by placing one hand on the top of your pelvis and the other just below your sternum. Then you take a big diaphragmatic breath and then exhaling forcefully while squeezing your butt cheeks. Then you brace your abdominal musculature and relax your glutes to hold you in neutral.

Doing this should put you in a really good neutral position from which to finish your set up from and start your pull from. The only thing I have to watch on myself and a lot of other people is making sure that the neck (which is an extension of your spine) also stays in neutral. Easiest way to do this is to think about making a double chin and picking a spot about 6 to 12 inches in front of you and staring at it.

3. Hinge into position

Next you perform a good hip hinge while keeping your neutral position. You can monitor this by keeping one hand on the top of your pelvis and the other just below your sternum and making sure that your hands don't move further away from each other or close together. If they do stand up and get reorganized and try again.

Hinging properly means you are only moving through your hips. I like to think about trying to touch the center of my butt cheeks to the wall behind me. In the bottom position of the hinge you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings and your glutes. You should also feel your weight in the heels of your feet.

4. Pull yourself down with the bar

At this point you should be bent over at the hips and you should have a really slight bend in your knees.

From here you take your hands off your pelvis and chest, reach down by allowing the shoulder blades to fully relax and protract (come apart), and grip the bar with a width that places your hands and arms just outside of your knees. I won't get into the topic of grip here because arguments could be made for many different approaches, but I typically think if you aren't a powerlifter going with an overhand grip is the best bet.

Once you have gripped the bar you are going to use the bar's weight to pull your self down towards the bar. As you do this bend your knees slightly and squeeze your hips down so that your hips are now either even with or lower than your chest (the height of your hips will depend a lot on your torso, leg, and arm length you'll find the right position after a few times deadlifting).

If you did it correctly you should feel quite a bit of tension through your body. However you should not feel a lot of tightness or squeezing in your lower back. Chances are if you are feeling this you are arching your lower back way to much and are actually cramming your vertebrae into one another (not a good thing).

Also remember your still keeping your abdomen engaged at this point and holding yourself in a neutral position. Bending your knees and squeezing your hips down shouldn't pull you out of neutral.

5. Create pressure, and take the slack out of the bar and engage the lats

The last thing you need to do before starting your pull is to engage the lats, increase your intra-abdominal pressure through breathing in, and place tension on the bar.

I'd start first by engaging the lats. The best way to do this is to think about pulling the bar against your shins and trying to shove your shoulder blades into your back pocket. If you engage the lats correctly you should feel increased tension in the area just behind your arms on the side of your torso just below your arm pit. You will also see that your shoulders move slightly closer to your hips as the lats depress the shoulder.

The next part can sometimes happen almost simultaneously when you engage the lats. It's want I refer to as "taking slack out of the bar" (I first heard this after watching one of Tony Gentilcore's videos about proper deadlift setup) and for those of you who aren't weightroom regulars this may be a foreign concept so I'll explain a bit more. Most barbells have a bit of give to them when you pull on the bar. It's a very small amount of movement, but the bar does move slightly within the sleeves (part that holds the plates) of the barbell. The idea is to remove that movement of the bar by placing tension on the bar upward with your arms. This creates tension through the entire system made up of you and the barbell you are about to lift reducing any wasted energy or requirement of extra work to address the additional movement in the bar when you begin your pull.

You do this by simply just pulling back and slightly up on the bar. Typically I find that if you use the bar to pull your hips down like in step 4 and can engage your lats correctly you automatically remove the slack from the bar.

Finally the last thing you'll do before starting the pull is to exhale forcefully and completely one last time then follow it with a inhale through your nose or mouth. I prefer the nose, but you could also draw in the air through your mouth. At this same time you are going to fully engage your abdominal musculature. I like to think about tensing my stomach as if someone is going to strike me in the stomach. The tensing of your abdomen along with the deep inhale should make you feel like the pressure inside your body is going through the roof because it is. This increase in intra (inner) abdominal pressure helps to protect your spine during the lift. Once you have inhaled fully you are ready to pull.

Just in case you're wondering I hold my inhale throughout the lift. Some people may argue for exhaling as you lift, but I feel more stable and comfortable maintaining the inhale and bracing.

Below is a video of me demonstrating my entire set up. I hope it gives you a great visual representation of what I described above. If you have any questions feel free to comment below. I'd be happy to answer any and all. Or if you just want to offer your opinion on the setup for the deadlift I'd love to hear it!


Happy moving and heavy lifting!

Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training