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

Here, the team at lay out a very comprehensive article on the deadlift. The take home points here are the intricacies at the set-up:

  • Proximity of the shins to the barbell;
  • Distance between the feet;
  • Deep breath to activate intra-abdominal pressure (midline stability);
  • Forcing the abdominals outward prior to lifting.

For more visual demonstrations of these common issues, Mark Rippetoe  (a ubiquitous source in the CrossFit community) thoroughly explains the dynamics of the deadlift in this series of videos. In four separate segments, he models the set-up with different athletes and emphasizes the key relationship of how the bar must align with the body in order to pull successfully.

Consolidating all these useful resources, below is a summary of common deadlift set-up faults, corrections, and why each are important:




Barbell is too close or too far from the shins. The barbell should be anywhere from 2”- 3” in distance from the shin. Too close or too far directly influences the engagement of the hips and glutes.
Feet are too far apart or too close together. Feet should be anywhere between hip (iliac crest) and shoulder width. This allows for proper engagement of the biceps femoris (hamstrings) as well as the glutes.
Hips are too low or too high. Hips should be above the knees in an angle constituting a partial squat. Having the hips too low or too high disconnects the posterior chain and decreases power output as well as increasing the chance of injury.
Lower back is rounded. Lower back is in an extended position with the erector spinae engaged. Angle is between vertical and horizontal. This properly disperses the stress across the posterior chain while stabilizing the lumbar vertebrae (lower back).
Not engaging the rhomboids (retracting scapula enough). Slightly retract the shoulder blades to engage the rhomboids. This properly disperses stress across the posterior chain and stabilizes the thoracic vertebrae (upper back) through the lift.
Arms are bent. Arms should be “belt straps”, but without any slack. Maintaining this tension ensures that the posterior chain is primed for a steady pull rather than a “grip and rip” off the floor.
Shoulders are too far behind or too far over the barbell. Shoulders should be right over the barbell. This helps keep the barbell as close to the body as possible.
Looking down or looking too far up. Look straightforward. This helps maintain midline stability throughout the lift and takes undue stress off the cervical vertebrae.

Armed with this knowledge, your spine can rejoice in the prospect of many proper set-ups to come. Intensity does not have to come at the cost of form!

Workout 11.27.13
Deadlift 40%x5 50%x5 60%x5+
WOD:  “Richard”
Partner WOD
50 air squats
100 m run
40 power cleans 115/75
100 m run
30 ab mat sit ups
100 m run
20 kb swings 70/55
100 m run
10 push ups
All movements must be done in unison or rep doesn’t count.  Both will do all reps.
Runs must be together also.
Score is total time!!!