Here at Deadlift Potential, we are committed to helping you deadlift more effectively while reducing the risk of injury. One of the most effective, yet often overlooked ways of increasing deadlift performance is warming up properly. A properly implemented deadlift warm up routine can allow you to lift more weight while at the same time prevent injuries. Long gone are the days of just walking into the gym and picking up some weight. Failure to warm up properly can lead to pulled or torn muscles, reduced joint stability, and improper movement patterns which can lead to a whole list of injuries.
General Vs. Specific Warm up
There are two basic types of warm up: the general warm up and specific warm up. The general warm up involves basic activities that require movement of major muscle groups such as jogging, cycling, or jumping rope. This kind of warm up increases core body temperature, muscle temperature, heart rate, and perspiration.
The specific warm up consists of movements that are part of the actual activity. In this case, it would involve movements that mimic or use the same muscles as the deadlift. This kind of warm up is best because it increases the temperature and blood flow of the particular muscles that are going to be used during the workout. This is also a time to practice breathing and bracing, and getting the body into positions necessary for the exercise. The goal is to get the muscles that are going to be used in the lift to be firing and contracting forcefully and voluntarily. You also want the joints, specifically the shoulders and hips, moving through the necessary range of motion.
We are going to focus on the specific warm up for deadlifting as it has a greater impact on performance and safety. I do not recommend doing a general warm up if performance is your goal, but if you want to, only do 5-10 minutes at a low intensity, then move on to the specific warm up. It is important when warming up to be deliberate and do all movements with intent.
Stretching and Foam Rolling
The goal is not to stretch the muscles, but to prepare them to contract as needed. We do not want to do static stretching, which is classified as lengthening the muscle to a point of discomfort and holding for 30+ seconds. This type of stretching causes laxity in the muscles, which reduces force production. This should be avoided before exercise. A much more appropriate way to warm up is dynamic movements which stretch the muscle but are not held for long, and also bring joints through a full range of motion.
Foam rolling is a somewhat controversial subject when it comes to warming up. Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, which effectively eliminates “knots” from the muscle. From what I can gather, the research shows that foam rolling doesn’t really have much of a direct impact on performance. Some studies show foam rolling increases performance and some show it has no effect. I think the main point is that it most likely will not decrease performance. That being said, foam rolling can be
beneficial as a way to relieve soreness before a workout. I recommend foam rolling as needed. If you are feeling particularly sore before a given workout, foam roll for a few minutes until the soreness is gone, but don’t rely on foam rolling alone as your entire warm up routine. Otherwise, save foam rolling for after your workout and off days.
Warm Up Guidelines
Everyone warms up at different rates but a good place to start would be to pick 2-4 exercises for each muscle group that is going to be used in the lift in addition to a full body exercise. For the deadlift, the main muscles used are the lats, glutes, hips, hamstrings, and quads. Most warm up exercises are going to utilize all of these muscles, so you may only need 3-4 exercises total. Also, it is important to realize when you are warmed up enough because some days you may need more and some days you may need less. A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to the hip joint and when you can move through the correct range of motion without any stiffness, and you feel like you can contract the muscles forcefully, you are most likely warmed up.
After you are done with the warm up exercises, you can begin the deadlift warm up sets. The number of reps and sets required is highly individualized depending on experience level and how much weight you are lifting. Start with an extremely light weight and practice the movement with correct form. Start with a high number of reps and progressively add weight and reduce the number of reps per set until you get to your working weight. A good place to start would be to do 3 warm up sets before your working sets. You should not fatigue the muscles before you start your working sets. Only do enough until you feel ready then stop. Later on in the article I outline an example warm up.
Warm Up Exercises
There are many exercises out there that can be used to warm up the muscles for deadlifting. There are a lot of articles out there that focus on exercises that stretch the muscles or mobilize the hips, but very few address the issue of getting the correct muscles to fire. These are the exercises that I use to warm up for squats and sumo deadlifts.
Use the banded exercises to warm up the lats and shoulders and refer to the video for the exercises for the lower body exercises. When done deliberately and with intent, these exercises will get the muscles warm and contracting forcefully, the joints mobilized, and allows you to practice breathing and bracing.
Band Pull Aparts. This is a great exercise for engaging the lats and practicing drawing the rib cage down and keeping a neutral spine . Take a light band and hold it out in front of you with a grip width about as wide as your bench grip width. Pull the lats back and down to engage the lats without over extending the upper back. Pull the hands apart until the band touches the chest. Be sure to keep the rib cage down and keep a neutral spine.
Banded Internal Rotation at 90. This is a good exercise for rotator cuff health and to warm up the lats. Attach one end of a light resistance band to a rack and hold the other end with your right hand. Face away from the rack, standing at a distance where there is light resistance. Hold your arm so the elbow is at a 90 degree angle and the elbow is straight out to the side raised up so it is in line with the shoulder. Keeping the shoulder and elbow in same place, bring the hand forward and down, pulling on the band, until the wrist comes in line with the elbow. In a controlled manner, bring the hand back up to the starting position. Be sure to not let the elbow drop at all. This can also be done as an external rotation where you stand facing the rack and complete the movement in reverse order.
Lower Body Warm Up
Sample Warm Up
Here is an example warm up for someone that is working up to a working weight of 300 lbs. If you are working with a different weight, the only thing that would change is the warm up sets.
Foam roll for 10 minutes if needed.
Warm up exercises:
- Band Pull Aparts x 10
- Goblet Squats (25 lb) x 10
- Banded Internal Rotation at 90 x 10 each arm
- Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat x 10 each leg
- Single Leg Deadlift (if needed) x 10 each leg
- Hip Side to Side x 20 each hip
Repeat (two rounds total)
Warm up sets:
- 135 x 6
- 225 x 4
- 275 x 2
- 300 (working weight)
- Be deliberate when completing all movements
- Do warm up exercises that mimic the movement of the deadlift and use the same muscles
- Focus on contracting the muscles forcefully and bringing the hips through the necessary range of motion
- Do enough to get blood flowing, the muscles firing, and the joints warmed up but no more. You do not want to be fatigued before starting your working sets
- Start with foam rolling if needed, then warm up exercises, then start your warm up sets
Warming up properly is one of the most important aspects of deadlifting. Warming up can increase performance and decrease the risk of injury. There are many ways to achieve the same result when it comes to warming up. I hope this serves as a framework for you to take the principles outlined here to create your own warm up routine. Give the sample routine a try and add or subtract exercises as needed. The most important thing is to listen to your body and find what works for you.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment!