Deadlift Shoulder Position: Set Up Right

Get your deadlift shoulder position right in your setup. Correct your form so you can deadlift more and get stronger.

Deadlift Shoulder Position Matters

Why does your shoulder position matter in the deadlift?

The deadlift primarily trains the legs and back. The shoulder blades (scapulae) don’t retract. Your arms are simply rope or chains that function to grasp the bar. So why are we discussing the shoulders?

Well, the position of the shoulders affects points of correct setup. Improperly positioning your shoulders will decrease the efficiency with which you deadlift the bar, which means you’ll be able to lift less weight (or your prescribed reps will be harder).

Let’s discuss correct shoulder position in your deadlift setup.

Correct Deadlift Shoulder Position

Before we address proper shoulder position in the deadlift, let’s quickly touch on setup.

Our 5-Step Deadlift setup, if done correctly, puts your shoulders into the proper position. If you’re a lifter, focus on proper setup, and follow the steps. If you’re a coach, recognize and correct improper positioning, and understand how shoulder position interacts with other correct setup aspects.

Let’s move to quick (and simplified) shoulder anatomy. The shoulder joint, in terms of bones, includes the meeting of the humerus and scapula as well as the scapula and clavicle. The scapula (shoulder blade) essentially floats behind the rib cage. The shoulder joint has greater mobility but reduced stability compared to the hip joint.

The humerus meets the scapula at the glenoid cavity. If viewed from the side, this point (what you think of as the shoulder) will be slightly forward of the barbell and midfoot (assuming the bar is positioned over midfoot).

This does mean that the shoulder blade itself will be over the bar

Causes & Effects of Incorrect Shoulder Position

The shoulder can either be too far forward or too far back.

If the shoulder is too far forward, the bar moves forward off the shins as the bar leaves the floor.

Beginning with the shoulders too far back leads to the lifter’s hips rising. The shoulder will move to the proper position before the bar comes off the floor.

If the shoulders are too far back with the bar in the correct position, then the lifter’s weight is on his heels. The bar also is not touching the shins.

Setting up with shoulder too far back and the bar in the incorrect position results in midfoot balance too far back and the hips too low.

If the shoulder are too far forward, one of two things has happened. The lifter may have shifted his weight forward and may simply need to move his weight back. The other potential cause is hips too high.

Correcting Deadlift Shoulder Position

Taking your lifter through a proper 5-Step Set Up can help prevent this, but bad errors can creep into form despite initially setting up correctly.

As the coach or lifter who is discovering shoulder too far forward or too far back, you’ll need to dig into the causes. Also consider whether this is happening on the first rep (after a proper setup) or on subsequent reps.

You may need to cue “midfoot” or correct midfoot balance.

The bar may be too far back and may need to be adjusted forward.

You may cue “arm pits over the bar” to try to get the correct position.

Correct your setup, identify the problem, and deliver the proper cue (tactile, visual, or audible).

If you’re a lifter, cleanup your setup and become a deadlifting machine.

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