The deadlift is a relatively simple movement, where the bar is pulled from a dead stop position, with the feet flat and the arms locked out, off of the floor and up until the knees, hip and shoulders are locked out. Most of the largest weights will be lifted with this movement and it has tremendous carry over for strength, speed, power, hypertrophy and overall athletic performance. This lift is of even higher importance for strength athletes such as Powerlifters, Weightlifters and Strongmen, since it is highly specific to their sport.
However, it is commonly performed with poor technique which can slow down or prevent progress at the least, and in worst case scenarios, lead to injuries and subsequent avoidance. As such, it is well worth spending time to master the coaching points below to help drive effective and continual progress whilst minimising the risk of injury.
Stance is very individual, but a good starting point would be a width roughly the same as that adopted for performing a vertical-jump, with the toes pointed slightly out. Pointing the toes out allows for more glute and adductor involvement in the movement.
Assume this stance, with the bar positioned directly over mid-foot, which will mean the bar cuts the whole foot exactly in half. The bar should stay in the position all the way up to lock out, since the most efficient bar path is a straight, vertical line. Any deviation will result in wasted energy to complete the lift.
THE GRIP & START POSITION
Bend at the waist, without lowering the hips and keeping the legs relatively straight, to reach down to grab the bar with the hands just outside of the legs. This may seem very narrow, but a wider than necessary grip will increase the distance the bar needs to travel until being locked out.
Once your grip is secure, bend the knees and lower the hips until the shins touch the bar. As soon as the shins touch the bar, do not lower the hips any further and do not allow the bar to roll forward or back. (I have already highlighted the importance of keeping the bar directly over mid-foot).
Getting tight before the pull is vital to a successful lift.
Lock the hips in place and push the knees out so that they are in-line with the toes.
Lock the arms out and rotate elbows in-wards as if you were trying to snap the bar in half (imagine trying to crush an orange between your arm pits) and lift your rib-cage up simultaneously. This initiates tightness in lats and upper back whilst putting the whole back into a tight, slightly extended position (you are aiming for a tight back with a natural lordiotic curve, not excessive lumbar or thoracic extension).
Important to note, you should squeeze your shoulder blades as tight as you can, but you should NOT pull them back. It is the job of the upper back muscles to hold them in place, not to pull them back during the lift.
Keep your head in a neutral position and your gaze down at the floor a few feet in front of you.
If you have assumed the correct position before you start the pull, the bar, your mid-foot and scapulas (shoulder blades) will all be perfectly aligned. Note, that this will mean your shoulders/deltoids will be in a position slightly in-front of the bar, not in-line with, or behind it.
Keep the back tight and locked in place along with the hips by squeezing the glutes and hamstrings and take a deep breath in to fill the stomach (not to inflate the lungs).
Initiate the movement by driving the feet through the floor, trying to push it away from you to extend the knees and break the bar off of the floor.
The back angle should remain constant and the bar should never leave contact with the body throughout the duration of the lift.
Drag the bar up the shins and as soon as it passes the knee, drive the hips forward (it is at this point the glutes and hamstrings actively contract) to drag the bar up the thighs until the knees and hips are locked out to full extension, the chest is up and the shoulders are back at the top of the lift.
THE RETURN TO THE FLOOR
To return the bar to the floor, simply perform the exact opposite of the above.
Keeping the tension in your back, unlock the hips and knees simultaneously and push your hips back to slide the bar down your thighs.
As the bar passes the knees, bend them to complete the return of the bar down to the floor.
When performing multiple rep sets, ensure to re-set yourself and take a new breath at the bottom before starting each rep. Every rep should be deliberate and identical so that they look and feel exactly the same every time.
These are the general coaching points that will help to ensure you are able to get into a good position consistently with each training session. If you are unfamiliar with these steps it is worth while practicing with lighter weights to learn how to adopt these positions and develop the necessary tightness to perform the lift. Training with weights that are so heavy they detract from allowing you to perform perfect technique will only lead to faulty movement patterns being developed and ingrained. Of course, everyone wants to lift heavy and at near maximum loads there will inevitably be some form of technical breakdown. If you are a competitive lifter but know your technique needs work, my suggestion would be to have a least one day, most likely a recovery or light day where technical development is the main focus of the session. If you have a long gap between now and your next competition, you can most probably afford to dedicate some more time to technique work.
To finish, it is worth noting that these coaching points are generalised. They are very sound points to follow initially however, individual anthropometrics, lifting styles, strengths and weaknesses will have a bearing on the exact technique adopted and slight alterations may be necessary to optimise the lift for each person.