Barbell Deadlift Starting Position

A guide to optimizing your Barbell Deadlift Starting Position.  We examine the starting position of two very different lifters. 

For the barbell deadlift starting position, you’ll find many videos on IG with big green checkmarks and red x’s.  Those videos can be misleading because don’t discuss the differences that anatomy can make in performing a certain lift. Here are some of the main factors on the barbell deadlift starting position you should know.

Two Lifters - Two Starting Positions for the Barbell Deadlift

Paul and Brian - Anatomical Differences
Paul, left side, is 5 foot 4 inches at 200lbs. Brian, right side, is 5 foot 11 inches at 200lbs.

 6 Non-Negotiables

  1. A straight spine.
  2. The whole foot is firmly on the ground.
  3. Shoulders slightly in-front of the bar to start.
  4. The bar moves over the middle of the foot.
  5. Hips and shoulder rise at the same time and speed.
  6. Full hip and knee extension at the top.

What you need for a SAFE and STRONG 

barbell deadlift.

3 Important Cues

  1. “Screw your Feet Into the Floor” 
  2. “Tuck the Lats”
  3. “Pinch the Glutes”

Doing and remembering these cues will help you start and stay in a good position. 

Starting Position Differences in the Barbell Deadlift

As you see below, Brian utilizes the standard starting position for a deadlift.  His hips are slightly below his shoulders, offering him maximum leverage for the deadlift.  Since Paul’s arms are shorter, he must drop his hips in order to maintain a neutral spine.

The correct starting position for all Olympic and Powerlifts depends on the athlete’s proportions.  Working with an experienced coach can help you find your own optimized starting position for the Barbell Deadlift.

Paul Barbell Deadlift Starting Position - Side View
Paul 5'4"
Brian Barbell Deadlift Starting Position Side View
Brian 5'11"

Here is where you can see the difference in Paul’s and Brian’s anatomical proportions. Paul has long legs relative to his arms, whereas Brian has long arms relative to his legs. Since a flat back needs to be maintained in the deadlift, each person will have a different starting position on the deadlift.  When Paul starts his deadlift, he needs to lower his hips in order to fully extend his back.  He also brings his legs wider to further raise his hip height and “set” his back for the deadlift.  

Paul Barbell Deadlift Starting Position Front View
Brian Barbell Deadlift Starting Position - Front View

Paul’s Starting Position:

  • Feet are spaced out wider 
  • Hands are further apart
  • Hips Start Lower

Since Paul’s hips are in a lower starting position, the mechanical advantage he has to lift the bar vs Brian is less.  This makes it easier for Brian to lift the same weight vs. Paul.  Because Paul’s arms are shorter relative to his legs, bringing his hips up higher will simply cause him to round his back — an unsafe position for the deadlift.

Brian’s Starting Position:

  • Feet are directly under Hips
  • Hands are directly under Shoulders
  • Hips Start in a Higher

Because Brian has longer arms relative to his legs, Brian can initiate the deadlift with his hips much higher than Paul.  He can generate more force from his hips by virtue of the mechanical advantage of this more optimized starting position.

Differences like these are not unique to the barbell deadlift. You will see them across others, squat, power clean, snatch, etc.  It’s true that all lifts have an optimized position.  If your mobility and your anatomical dimensions allow you to utilize that position, you should use it.  You can generate more force by way of improved mechanical advantage.  Mobility can generally be improved through deliberate training (using technics like Kinstretch and Yoga.)  A certified strength coach can evaluate your starting position for the barbell deadlift and determine why you might look different than the standard.  If it’s mobility-related, a mobility coach can help you improve your flexibility and active control of your range of motion. Since anatomical positions cannot be easily changed, you might need an adjustment to your starting position on the barbell deadlift.  

The video above briefly explains why Paul and Brain’s starting positions are not similar in the barbell deadlift. Notice that they both still follow the 6-Non-Negtionables and 3 Important Cues.

Kati Gunn

Kati Gunn

Principle Author, Page Design, Videography

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