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Beginning the Deadlift: Your complete Guide to starting right

by Cory Townsend

The deadlift is a significant portion of the ACFT. For soldiers new to this equipment and technique it can feel intimidating. Read on as Cory Townsend of Team Duwe Fitness teaches the beginning deadlift technique.

Lower body strength shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s required for lifting heavy objects, and necessary to prevent injuries or pain in the long-term.

And when the topic of gaining lower body strength comes up, squats are frequently the first thing that comes to mind. But what about your dead lift?

The dead lift helps gain lower and upper body strength. And while the squat is excellent for working the major muscles in the lower body, the dead lift targets these muscles, then some. It specifically targets your core and back muscles, which protects you from unwanted back pain or harm. 

If you’re new heavy lifting or just beginning to add the deadlift to your workout, we’ve got all the info you need. How do you perform a deadlift? What tips and tricks should you know? Are there other exercises you should perform to improve your dead lift form and weight? Beginning the deadlift can feel intimidating but really is a very learnable skill. Let’s take a look.

What is Proper Deadlift Form?

If you are just beginning the deadlift, getting the basic technique down before you add weight is critical to your success. Mike Duwe from Duwe Fitness advises to “always start with a weight that feels lighter than heavier. You will know if it’s too light or too heavy. If you can do 10 reps easily, it’s too light. If you can only do 2 or 3, it’s too heavy.” 

And consider using no weight for your first go at it. Here are the basics on beginning deadlift form and technique:

  1. Start with a shoulder-width stance. This means your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. When you add weight, try using kettlebells or dumbbells over the bar – at least to start. It keeps your form on point and is less likely to cause injuries since you won’t be standing over the bar. 
  2. Bend at your hips, keeping your back in a straight and neutral position.
  3. Slightly bend your knees and keep your shoulder blades down and back.
  4. Keep your arms long and down. As you pick up the kettlebell, weights, or bar, keep your back straight and push up through your heels. Think about trying to push the ground away from you.
  5. Your hands, kettlebell, bar, or weight should slide up past your shins and knees as you begin to stand up tall. 
  6. Thrust your hips forward at the same time, squeezing your glutes together. Fully assume a straight standing position. This is one repetition. 

Throughout the entire duration of the exercise, keep your head up, eyes forward, and maintain core engagement. Do not bend or hunch your back. This will leave you susceptible to injuries and will not load the correct joints or muscles. 

Image result for acft dead lift

Progressing Your Deadlift

We all start as beginners the first time decide to try the deadlift and pick up that hex bar- but you don’t have to stay there.

Once you get your form down, how often should you increase your weight? While there isn’t exactly a set way or set duration to add weight, Mike Duwe from Duwe Fitness recommends challenging yourself when you can. He says, “There is no right or wrong way. The key is to focus on feeling good, being consistent 1 or 2 times a week is ideal, and gradually increase your effort by adding weight that you will be able to control.”

Basically, never lift more than you can handle. This could set you up for injury and pain, which may create various setbacks when it comes to your goals. Listen to your body – it will tell you when too much is too much. Don’t push past this. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection. And make sure to focus on yourself and your own progressions versus others. 

In addition to progressing your deadlift weight, you should also include various other exercises in your regular regime. These exercises will help you strengthen the muscles required to advance your deadlift weight.

Mike Duwe recommends the following to further your gains and challenge yourself:

  • Lunges
  • Stiff leg deadlifts
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Goblet swings
  • Curtsy lunges
  • Side squats
  • Windmills
  • Planks

And you aren’t limited to just the above exercises. There is an unlimited number of exercises to help you improve strength; thus, helping you progress.

As Duwe states, “Deadlifts are great, but doing them alone is a bad idea. Total body workouts are the best way to increase overall body strength and size.”

Your mindset matters just as much. Instead of thinking ‘I can’t,’ think ‘I can’ and you will. Duwe further adds the following tips to help you reach your dead lift goals:

  • Focus on feeling good. Nothing good happens when you are feeling negative emotions. Find techniques and coping mechanisms to combat these negative thoughts. 
  • Stay consistent. Consistency is crucial. Inconsistency is the reason most individuals struggle to progress or get results.
  • Gradually improve and maintain a growth mindset. Again, don’t focus on what you can’t do but what you can do and will do.
  • Practice positive self-talk. 
  • Own your actions and don’t feel guilty about doing what you want to do. Other people will try to make you feel bad about improving yourself. Ignore these people and surround yourself with the people that motivate and inspire you.
  • Believe in yourself 100%. If you believe you can, you can. This counts for more than you think. Surprisingly, you literally become exactly what you think of yourself, so think big and dream big. In other words, think, act, and feel like who you are trying to become. What habits, behaviors, and thoughts do that person embody?
  • Ask yourself: what is the best thing you can do right now to get to where you want to be? Then, do it.
  • Relax, have fun, and enjoy the journey. It’s not entirely about an endpoint. It’s about learning, growing, and experiencing new things along your journey. You’ll surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

The fear of failure often gets in the way of people’s goals. Face failure head-on. Challenge it. Overcome it. And be patient. Goals take time to achieve. With consistency, perseverance, self-discipline, and time, you’ll get there. Everyone starts somewhere. And the hardest part is getting started.

Thanks Cory for this great post teaching the skills of Deadlift for Beginners- and for providing tips we all can use! At we want to provide the tools for your ACFT success. Follow for more great content and consider us if you need to purchase gear as well!

Read more of Cory’s work on Tean Duwe Fitness Blog