Setting up for the Deadlift

Setting up for the Deadlift

Setting up for the Deadlift is the first step towards getting the deadlift right.

We’re getting straight to it, today, because we’ve got a lot to say and don’t want to keep you all day. You’ve read the title, you know this article is going to tell you how to set up for the deadlift, so let’s go…

(Disclaimer: I’m not a powerlifting coach, this is a basic guide to the deadlift start position for beginners or non-specialists.)

Why is it important?

The setup is where the movement starts. It’s not going to be possible to adjust your posture or movement on the way up, so you’re going to need to get this right or its near-impossible to get the movement right.

The whole thing starts with the setup so if you get it wrong, the best you can do is compensation. This is a problem for a few reasons…

Spine Health and Safety

Round-backed deadlifts are painful to watch, even now.

A loaded, flexed spine is a problem for spinal health, muscular health, and everything in between.

The spine is not designed to be loaded while it’s in this kind of loose, flaccid, fishing-rod shape. It’s why you feel awful after a deadlift that’s gone wrong, and this kind of pressure through the joints and discs of the spine is a serious risk factor.

It’s not just a problem for the spine being loaded, but it indicates poor muscular control of every single joint that’s transferring force. Equally, it produces far more muscular damage in the back than necessary, which means soreness, pain, and a long recovery between sessions.

You might snap your shit up, but equally you could just end up sore and weak next session. There’s no positive outcome to this, and setting up properly makes it much less likely to happen.

More Weight, Stronger Lifts

If you’re not totally convinced by the benefits of not hurting yourself when you deadlift, then maybe better strength will sell you.

A good setup is one of the best ways to improve your overall deadlift technique. However, it’s not just injury-avoidance or for looking pretty: it’s the best way to lift the most weight. The setup is the first step to setting personal bests and making challenging weights easier.

Progression is easier and simpler when your technique is tight and efficiently. In case you hadn’t guessed, that’s impossible if you’re starting in the wrong place – you’ll be wasting energy or getting pulled out of position on the way up, limiting your lifting.

Invest the time now – it’ll pay off soon.

Better Muscular Gains

The perks of better technique also include better muscular response to your training. Good deadlift technique puts the load in the muscles that should be doing the heavy lifting. Proper deadlift technique means proper distribution/training effect to what you’re doing.

Often, the deadlift is a back movement because of poor back positioning/setup. However, proper setup and technique load the glutes, hams, and upper back more effectively. This means less muscular damage (as mentioned before), and better response in the big, prime mover muscles.

If you’re doing a deadlift, this is the whole point. Doing it right means progressing more effectively and consistently. So here’s how you do that…


Setting the Stance

Stand with a thumb’s width of distance between the shins and the barbell. It should rest across the middle of the foot.

Your feet should be positioned slightly rotated outwards from parallel. The feet should remain under the hips, rather than letting them out further – too much distance between the feet will weaken the starting position, putting more stress on the back and cutting the legs out of the movement.

Your weight should feel like it’s somewhere in the middle of your foot, or ever so slightly backwards. The knees should feel comfortable as you reach down to the bar, as this position is going to become very familiar.

Setting the Back and Hips

The hips control the overall position when you’re setting up for a deadlift. Setting the hips and back is the whole point of the setup and it’s going to be in this area that you win or lose the fight with the deadlift. Pay attention: this is the important bit.

The hips need to fill a position between the height of the knees and shoulders. This means that the hips should be set back and down to get you into the position, also allowing you to keep tension in the glutes/hamstrings.

The position of the hips also controls the shins, which should be nearly vertical. Ease the hips backwards until the back is able to stay strong and slightly arched, with the shoulders above or slightly in front of the bar.  This allows you to keep the bar close by using the lats, keeping the pressure in the right part of the foot.

If your hips are too high, you’ll be unable to remain above the bar and your back is very likely to round. Equally, if your hips are too high, you’re likely to move weight too far forwards and remove the leg drive from the start of the movement.

The hips should be above parallel, but only as much as you can stay tight and keep the weight back through the foot. If you feel yourself falling forward, you’re too high.

Loading Up

The setup should involve actively bracing against the bar. This means there should be tension and the sensation of ‘loading’ certain muscles. The proper bottom position balances tension in the hamstrings, quads, and glutes to break from the floor.

The higher/further back the hips, the more you’re likely to feel the hamstrings. Proper hip position should put pressure through the whole foot, and you should feel like your knees and hips are sharing the load.

If your legs aren’t feeling anything, your hips are likely too high. Obviously, the opposite is true: excessively low hips cut out the hips and you’ll         feel like your legs are doing all of the work until you pass the knees.

You should also work some tension into the lats to keep the barbell close to yourself. Failure to set the lats and keep them tight throughout will let the bar drift forwards and cut any leverage you have on it with your legs/hips.

Breaking from the Floor

The first moment from the floor is what the setup is aimed at, so it needs to be deliberate and considered, too.

The idea should be to push the world down and ease your knees back. The idea is to push to your heels by driving the world down, while your back-angle remains consistent. This should inform how you set up, so it all plays into better movement.

Feeling the direction of the movement is an important part of setting up effectively – know where you’re going.


If you’re reading this guide, you shouldn’t be sumo deadlifting. Competitive powerlifting is one of the only reasons to pull sumo.

Final Thoughts

The deadlift is a crucial movement for brutal strength and great muscular development. However, you need to set it up right to get the most from it.

If you’re able to get the setup right then you’re in the best position to get everything right! Take the time to figure out your set up and practice it deliberately. If you implement these basics, there’s only so wrong you can go.

This isn’t a comprehensive guide to deadlifting, but it’s a great place to start. Fix the setup and your practice in the deadlift will become better – then you can focus on other bits and pieces!


About The Author


Professional sport/fitness writer, Weightlifter, high-performance enthusiast. Liam wears many hats, but they’re unified by a love for competition, performance, and engaging writing. You can get in touch (or hurl abuse) over at ApexContent.Org.