Deadlifts: The Set-Up

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If you are reading this article, chances are you enjoy or are forced to enjoy the practice of picking up heavy objects and putting them back down on a regular basis. It’s a simple task that you as a Crossfitter perform almost daily, even outside the gym. Benchmark WODs such as Diane, Grace, and Elizabeth all possess a deadlift movement. Herein, however, lies the problem: habituation has reinforced oversight of the crucial set-up.

What is a deadlift?

As defined by, a deadlift is a weightlifting movement where a loaded barbell is lifted off the ground from a stabilized, bent over position into a fully upright position.

Why are deadlifts important to CrossFit?

Aside from the obvious high volume and high intensity practice of this lift in CrossFit, the deadlift actually serves a purpose separate of being an excuse to grunt like a caveman or hog all the bumper plates. It is an exercise essential to strength, movement, and stability.

“The stronger you get, the more important technique becomes, and one inch can make the biggest difference in the world”.
-Dave Tate
The deadlift largely targets and conditions the posterior chain of muscles (i.e., rhomboids, erector spinae, gluteals, biceps femoris). These muscles not only provide midline stability in sagittal plane exercises, but they also provide for the large power output demanded by the barbell and gymnastic movements in most WODs. Most barbell movements begin with the loaded barbell on the ground — thus making the deadlift an essential skill. Because WODs can vary between high-volume and high-intensity (or possess both), it is imperative that the posterior chain, among other things, is properly conditioned.

Also, both the highly-advanced Olympic lifts (clean & jerk and snatch) are a staple in CrossFit. These high-velocity lifts are posterior chain intensive, making the deadlift a crucial part of any strength-building phase leading into an Olympic lifting cycle or program.

Since both the starting and finishing position of the deadlift are the same, it is vital that the set-up is properly executed in order to obtain the optimal benefit of the lift and to prevent the chances of injury.

What is the proper set-up position to begin the deadlift?

Tabata Tidbit: To find your foot stance, try jumping up and down a few times. The landing position of your feet is your deadlift stance.
Though the set-up for a proper deadlift is fairly straightforward, it is often done improperly or compromised for the sake of intensity. If this sounds familiar to you, we can help you diagnose your specific area of improvement below.

In this great informative article from T-Nation, Dave Tate goes through the common faults of setting up for a deadlift. These mistakes include the following:

  • Setting up too far from or too close to the barbell;
  • Rounded lower back;
  • Starting in a full squat position (hips are too low);
  • Starting with little to no bend in the knees (hips are too high);
  • Looking down;
  • Failure to breathe properly (not engaging the abdominals).

Rounded lower back

Looking down

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