The Deadlift, Part I.

The Deadlift, Part I.

This mighty Dora Milaje warrior goddess hybrid is here Deadlifting 205 for 1. Her all time max.  She also Squatted 140 for 1.

“And lo, there was a great thunder upon the land. The skies opened, the ground shook, as if Jormangander the serpent of the Midgard has awakened.  The Metal clanged ferociously from the skies as the sound of a billion swords rang out in mighty unison. What was this glorious sound? Battle? Had mighty Yahweh sent Christ for his encore upon the Earth?  Was it the end of the very world? The ground shook as if the Celestials of Marvel had come to view the world with judgement. The oceans roared.  The air erupted with sonic booms.  What was this?

It’s Deadlift Day.”

Sidenote: Here’s some cool music to listen to while you read this.



Today, had been a long time coming.  I write with my soul but certain articles take everything, so I end up putting them off to make sure they are eloquent entries of excellence, backed by a mighty pursuit that screams passion of the profession labored with the zeal of a warrior priest. Basically I wanted to make sure you understood how important this is.  Today we are going to talk about one of the greatest lifts that the gift of battle has given us.  Today we talk about the Deadlift.  And when I mean Deadlift, we are sticking mainly with the Conventional Deadlift.  We’ll talk about stiff legged, Rdl, snatch grip and all that other stuff later.

Primal Purpose:

The Deadlift is one of the greatest and simplest things known to man.  Why?  You literally, pick something up and put it down.  Specifically you pull as if you’re pulling the head of a giant troll from it’s body.  You must be present.  You must pull with intent. There is a grit in this exercise. A ruthless and focused ferocity that is required. Heaving pulling is one of the greatest things in strength training.

Who should Deadlift:


Who shouldn’t:

Cowards, Pansies, Girly men, Squeamish women, Dead people. However, I’m sure there’re spirits that are deadlifting in Heaven right now.

Do you have to?

Yes. I don’t care if you’re doing snatch grip pulls, clean pulls, or deadlifts in your program, but you must do some heavy vertical pulling from the floor. Since the focus will be in the pursuit of general strength and fitness, we’ll focus mainly on the conventional deadlift.

Muscles Worked

Everything.  Yes everything.  More specifically, I’ve attached a detailed chart of what muscles are worked and how to strengthen them.  If you’re wondering, this is straight from the wise sage of Strength, Tim Henrigues himself from his dope book, “All About Powerlifting.”  It’s pretty much the textbook bible of Powerlifting.  I go through it periodically and am often amazed at how whatever answer I’m looking for was already right there.  Yes…a bible.  It’s also on kindle right now.  I own both the hardcopy and the digital copy.  I’ll even make it easy on you. You can access it now:



Key terms to understand,

Flexion – Think flexing. Look at your arm.  Curl it.  That’s flexion. Open your arm.  That’s extension.

Hip wise – Squat, bend. That’s flexion.

Stand up, and as you stand up, thrust your hips out.  That’s extension.

To recap the Muscles, Hips, Quads, Hams (Hamstrings), Core, Glutes, Calves, Lower Back, Middle Back, Traps, Biceps. Again…everything.

As you can see, it’s a compound movement which means it works more than one muscle group.  To put in perspective,  if you’re short on time, you can literally just deadlift, add in some additional core work and go home.  You’ve hit the major steak and potatoes of the body for the day.  

What to avoid.

Having a round back while deadlifting is akin to asking for a messed up spine, it’s literally insane.  Always tell yourself, “chest up, shoulders back.” There are many other things to avoid such as bending your arms, having hips to low, jerking the bar as you pull,  and having the bar away from you as pull.  We’ll touch up on more in part two of the article.


I’m going to give you what I deem is the simplest deadlift instructional step by step guide in the world. I use the methods employed by Alan Thrall of Untamed Strength (probably one of THE best youtube channels on Strength Training) combined with a gem and story that I learned from Tim Henriques of NPTI, you will have all you need to become a deadlift demi god. 

The video below is the Alan Thrall Untamed Strength Video. It’s based off the book “Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe.  A great resource.  Again, I use this EXACT BLUEPRINT to teach EVERYONE how to Deadlift, complete with systematized instruction and anecdotes. I even do this method myself. If it’s good enough for the mutant, it’s good enough for the mutate ( I’m aware of how nerdy that sounds. It’s awesome. I know)

Here’s the short version

1. Barbell over mid foot.
2. Place hands on barbell.
3. Bring shins to barbell.
4. Squeeze chest out/up – Chest up, shoulders back ( Keep your back straight at all times).  Alan says this, but this is also where the slack is pulled out of your body.  I have a cool story and real life application of pulling the slack out of your body below.
5. Drag barbell up body.


Mixed grip preferred.  That’s going to be one hand under, and one hand over.  Which hand? For me it’s your dominant hand that will be over and the not as dominant hand ( because I don’t believe in weak hands! Neither should you!) will be under.

Breathing and Bracing.

If you recall, I spoke on the Valsava Maneuver in my squat article.  In short, you’re taking a big breath in your belly and exhaling slowly as you perform the concentric portion of the lift. This is all done with a braced stomach. This is why I prefer dead stops on my deadlifts, and why I take my time during squats.  I prefer to treat each rep as a single and get some good air in for each rep.  For me, it also keeps everything under control. Here are some videos on breathing.


Should I wear a belt?

I’ve used a belt, and I’ve not used a belt.  I prefer to do everything without a belt as 1) I’ve spent years developing a strong core and 2) I don’t want to overly rely on stuff.  Should you use one?  If you’re a beginner, no.  You need to work on positive habits, like technique, bracing, and consistency. In short simplification, it helps brace your core, enabling you to lift more weight. No it doesn’t “protect your back.”  How is strap of cowhide going to “protect you” against a heavy loaded barbell?  The belt isn’t magic.  

I’ve seen so-and-so use a belt.

So in So is probably strong. I’m not anti belt at all, but if you’re not even deadlifting 315lbs and you’re a man, then you need to just focus on doing it. For the sake of competitions, actual heavy training sets, maximal heavy PRs (personal records) in the gym, I totally get it. Use away. What it does though is you help you with intra-abdominal pressure.  To me, it’s just a tool that you can use or not use.  

I’ve seen cats on IG use a belt for everything, and I think that’s kind of soft. Like golly young? (Maryland dude for son, cuh, bruh, or bro, etc) Why are you using a belt just for your sub maximal assistance lifts? You’re not doing anything.  It’s not heavy.  

However you don’t have to listen to me at all.  I don’t care for real.  I’m more concerned that you are lifting regularly with good form and not being a cur.

If you do buy one, avoid the nylon ones.  Get something sturdy. 

Story time. More on getting the slack out of the bar

December 6th, 2015.  In the year of our Lord and getting freakishly jacked, and coming off the best cut I ever had, thanks to help from Juan as I embraced the path of macros (you can read my Macro article for the millionth time here… )

I met Tim at our Atlas Fitness Powerlifting Seminar.  Atlas Fitness is owned by Tim Bruffy who also went to NPTI.  Tim would often tell me about his wizard-strength professor Tim Henriques and how knowledgeable and cool he was.  Then later he set it up so that we could have a Powerlifting Meet/Seminar at the gym.  It was an awesome day.  Things like this are great ways to build  fun memories, educate, and bond with other folks.  The bond of a gym bro or gym gal is unlike any other bond in the world.  There is a air of camaraderie as you see your friends while your crushing it on the platform.  This day was no different.  It was a fun filled informative day filled with pizza, knowledge bombs and gains.  After Squatting, and Benching, the staff starts to Deadlift.  Now I had been pulling 500 for years, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to pull 500 lbs.  Now, key note, as you get strong, you’re not adding weight to your lift as quickly as you once did as a beginner unless 1) Your programming is great (it aint going to be beginner level “under the instruction of a trainer level” great) or 2) You’re on drugs ( your hero might be on gear – men and women- not a judgement call at all).

So Tim tells me to get the slack out of the bar.  Makes perfect sense.  I had never “consciously” thought about it.  You’ll know the slack is out when you hear the “click” as you set up.  Many beginners and uninitiated intermediates mistakenly jerk when they lift, robbing themselves of gains.  Pulling the bar tight making it “heavy in your hands” (credit to Alan for that terminology).

Anyway, I effortless pulled 525 which at the time was my all time strongest pull ever ( I later pulled 550  in 2017 but hey).  Here it is on the gram

So by focusing on remaining tight, I was able to pull more weight on the bar. Now to exaggerate, what if I was wasn’t tight or pulled the bar an inch or two away  ( yes makes a difference), then you could 1) end up stiff legging the bar, as your chest could be more likely not to come up with the bar as it should ( a different exercise albeit a good one, however even when I stiff leg deadlift it, I like to keep it close to my body to…you guess it pull more weight) 2) throw off your form and possibly run the risk of injury (my opinion).

Again, pull the slack out the bar.  Chest up, pull against your shins.  Engage your lats.

I personally am big on controlling the weight.  Even on the eccentric (the way down) portion, I control  the bar on the way down. It’s  not much of a slower eccentric pull ( I have done this before on a program) but a controlled descent.  You may see people seemingly throw the weight down or let it go or just fall with it, probably to put more energy on the concentric portion ( the way up). Hopefully the deadlift platform is strong enough to accommodate such:

To illustrate an example of a controlled descent, here’s a vid of my dude Merk from Ballou High School. He recently turned 18 and hit an all time PR (Personal Record) on his deadlift – 290 for 1. 


Here’s an example of some slow eccentric pulls.  I was running a program from Mash Elite Performance at the time.  Mash Elite Performance is a fantastic resource for strength and programming.


My gym won’t let me Deadlift, what do I do?

Leave.  It might be wrong of me to say that you should do it one more time as you quit that horrible strength forsaken land of curs, but trust me when I say that gym is not GOD’s plan for your life lol. If you’re in D.C., then come on down to Balance Gym.  If you need some assistance, I’ll help you ( see what I did there?).  If you live close to Tysons, then hit up Tyson’s Playground.  Tim told me about this place.  It was like looking at a beautiful gladiator arena combined with the mystical sight of Valhalla.  It was pretty much Heaven.

My Gym doesn’t have a platform?

Tell the owner(s) to get one.  At my old gym, No Excuse Workout of Oxon Hill MD, I was told that some of the members there were the reason that they had a deadlift platform in the first place.  If they don’t do it, and they just may not, then deadlift on the floor anyway.  If they say, hey you can’t do that here, then see the aforementioned entry above and plot your exodus of excellence.  Also, deadlift one last time, because to Hell with those guys.  Take a few members with you, and chart your new path of glory together.  I know two cats who did that, and they’re both cool strong cats at Balance.


Benefits of Deadlifting.

Deadlifting can get a bad rap from the community of Curs who may claim, “it’s bad for your back” or some nonsense.  Bad technique is bad for your back.  Bad coaching is bad for your back.  Not heavy pulling is bad for your back, as your neglecting the strength that comes with it.  Think about the bad posture that you humans accumulate while enjoying the comforts of the first world armed with the time spent at your current career or job.  Most of you are slouched over at the computer or on your cell phone.  Many of you are slouched over right now as you read this masterpiece.  Stop reading for a moment, and sit up and pull your shoulders back.  Chest up.  Tighten your stomach.  Now your in good posture.  The Deadlift will strengthen the muscles you need to move and pick stuff off the floor.  How many of you probably bend down and round your back to pick up something.  Probably all of you.  As of now, stop doing that.  Bend down like your deadlfting and pick it up properly.  Per the picture above, when you’re deadlifting you are strengthening your lower back.  And also by working  your core, you’re working the muscles that will protect you from impact.

Take two athletic teams.  One lifts and one doesn’t. I can guarantee you, the lifters will grant the non-lifters salvation by the children of Thanos.

And no, we’re not talking about going to failure in the deadlift so that you can point out your uninitiated friend who hurt him or herself from doing crazy stuff.  We’re talking about basic strength training.  If you want to become a stronger more capable human being, then heavy pulling will do that for you.  When I train folks, one of the first things I’ll do after I deem them capable is train their squat and deadlift, with squatting being trained immediately.  

How many reps?

For beginners, I personally like to start with 5.  It’s enough for repetition, but without the lack of form that can possibly come with fatigue.

Ultimately there is no magic rep range, but I’d focus on going heavy.  There is a benefit from 1-3 reps, a benefit from 5 reps, and a benefit from 10-12 reps.  I will say when volume and workload is identical, muscle growth will still occur but however the person who focused on lower reps will be overall stronger.  However, that person will take more time in the gym as heavier sets take more energy and require more rest.

Do I need chalk?

If you want.  Chalk dries your hands which is better for your grip.  However it’s not magic.  Once I learned, all it did was dry your hands, I stopped using it.  

How often should I deadlift?

Depends on your body’s ability to recover. Once a week a good.  If you do two, then your intensity ( % of your 1 rep max aka how heavy or light it will be) will change.  If your like me, and you’re also doing the Olympic Lifts, then it’ll be different than someone who runs a more pure Powerlifting or Bodybuilding type template.

We’re going to stop this right here, as there is more information I’d like to include.  Keep your eyes open for Part 2.




Bill Walker is NASM  (National Academy of Sports Medicine) CPT (Certified Personal Trainer), Youth Strength Coach with DCPS, a trainer with Black Girls Lift, and the fitness Contributor of the greatest website known to man,  He’s also a Trainer and Boot Camp Instructor at Balance Gym in Washington DC at both the Thomas Circle (14th and L), and Capitol Hill (2nd and D Se) locations.  If you would like to purchase a customized program for yourself, or train with him in person, you can reach him at [email protected] or follow him via instagram @billiusmaximus929  





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