Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of people using a deadlift stance that is too wide. This limits the amount of weight you can pull off the floor and in some people can put unnecessary strain on the knee ligaments.
I often get clients coming to me who have been lifting before and want to get their form checked. When I ask these new clients why they have adopted a wide deadlift stance, they often say that they have just not thought about it, or that they’ve always deadlifted this way.
I imagine that many more people are in this position. Perhaps even you?
What is the ideal deadlift stance?
The ideal deadlift stance for a conventional (i.e. not sumo) deadlift is for the feet to be around hip-width apart, and the feet slightly turned out. Another way to find the ideal stance is to do a couple of vertical jumps as high as you can; where your feet land is where your stance should be for deadlifting.
However, a lot of people are using a stance that is closer to their squat stance: shoulder-width or even wider.
Compounding this is the tendency for the knees to collapse inward when the feet are too wide – as you can see happening in the top picture.
The reason many people start with a wide stance is that it is easier to get down to the bar with a flat back when the stance is wide. Your arms don’t have to reach as far!
But this is not the strongest mechanical position for pulling a bar from the floor. In a hip-width or vertical jump stance, all your force can bear downwards in a straight line to push against the floor.
Also if your knees tend to collapse inwards when pulling heavy weights, a wide stance puts more pressure on the knee ligaments.
This stance width is great for Julia:
Deadlift stance and mobility
The number one reason for people adopting a wide deadlift stance is mobility. It makes it easier to get down to the bar, especially if you are tall or have relatively long legs.
What I see happening is that people’s mobility has actually improved over time, but they’ve never altered their stance since day one.
Another scenario I come across regularly is that people haven’t been given the right cues to pull themselves into the correct start position with the correct stance, so they’ve always naturally adopted a wider stance.
If you think you can’t get into the right position with a narrower stance, try these cues and see what difference they make:
Push your butt out not down – imagine you are trying to touch the wall behind you with your butt
Point your chest forwards, not up – imagine you are trying to show the world the motivational slogan on your tshirt
Pull your shoulder blades into your back pockets, i.e. back and down
Brace your core, as if you were about to lift a heavy weight (which you are!)
All of the above should make a significant difference – and many of you will suddenly find yourselves with a narrow stance and a nice flat back, ready to lift that weight.
For those of you who still don’t have a flat back after all of that, my suggestion is to raise the bar a couple of inches off the floor, using weight plates or a small step. This will allow you to adopt the correct stance and pull from a mechanically advantageous position.
Over time, re-test your position from the floor and it will gradually improve.
Deadlift stance case study
I recently did exactly this work with a client. He is someone I only see once a month. When he came to me, he was not able to deadlift safely from the floor; both his lower back and upper back were rounded over.
Even after we worked on the cues I laid out above, he was still not able to get into a safe position to lift off the floor.
If this sounds like you, all is not lost!
To start with, I instructed my client to do all his deadlifting from a raised height of 4 inches, so that he could train safely and get the benefits of deadlifting without screwing his back up!
I also gave him the following mobility work to do, 3 times a week before every training session.
A1. Wall romanian deadlift with stick x 15 reps (see video)
A2. Single leg glute bridge x 20 reps each side
A3. Wall angels x 10 reps
B1. Goblet squat stretch x 10 reps, 3 second stretch at the bottom
B2. Monster walks with resistance band, 20 steps in each direction
B3. Prone lower trap raise x 10 reps
These programs tackle the key areas: stretching the hamstrings, activating the glutes, mobilising the thoracic spine and strengthening the shoulder retractors.
The client was diligent with his training and as a result, 6 weeks later he was deadlifting triple figures from the floor.
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