Deadlift for Beginners: Four Basic Movement Drills

As a Singapore chiropractor, we maintain that deadlift is the ultimate exercise for patients with low back aches and soreness. Being able to perform a deadlift means you have good function, adequate range of motion, strength, and an exercise that can allow you to keep making those gains.

It’s perfect!

You are not wrong in thinking that the deadlift isn’t suitable for everyone. This is why we are sharing with you four movement drills to get you to performing your first deadlift.

If these drills are too advanced for you to perform, check out these low back pain exercises.

What is the deadlift?

Deadlift, as the name suggests, is about lifting a dead weight off the ground. Unlike squat, which is involves lowering your hips from a standing position, deadlift is about coming up from a lowered position.

Is deadlift safe for me?

It’s wonderful that you are concerned about your safety. Before starting any exercise, it’s good practice to first assess your risk of injury.

For most people, deadlift is a safe exercise. However, being a compound (fancy word for multi-joint) movement, it can be difficult to learn. These movement drills will help you achieve your own perfect deadlift in no time.

If you are not convinced that you can safely deadlift on your own, do seek our professional help. We will be able to assist you with your training.

“But I am too old / weak / fragile to deadlift!”

We promise you that you can deadlift with the right guidance.

In 2018, Professor Belinda Beck published the results to her osteoporosis study. In this study, she recruited women in their 60s with osteoporosis to participate in her weightlifting programme. After six months of lifting, deadlift inclusive, these women reported an increase in height (yes, you heard that right), bone mineral density in both their lumbar spine and hips, as well as improved function.

The rate of injury? Zero.

Not a single lady got injured despite their condition.

They were lifting up to their own body weight too! All of these wonderful health benefits in just 8 months of twice-weekly lifting.

We promise you that your body is not as frail and fragile as you imagined.

Health Promotion Board (Singapore) says weight training is good for you

who physical activity guideline
150 minutes of aerobic exercise alone may not be good enough for you! The World Health Organisation (WHO) clearly recommends at least 2 days of “muscle strengthening activity”.

We have talked heaps about how the World Health Organisation recommend at least two days of strength training a week.

Believe it or not, the Ministry of Health, Singapore recommends the same in their physical activity guidelines. This means you also have to lift weight. It’s good for you!

singapore minister deadlift 105kg
Minister Shanmugam’s deadlift video went viral earlier this year. At 62 years old, he deadlifted 105kg. That’s 150% of his own body weight.

We promise you age is just a number. It’s not only the ang mohs (caucasian) who can are lifting heavier weights. Here at home, we have Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam lifting an impressive 105kg!

You may think that is it. He has done it. Well, not really. Minister Shanmugam is aiming for 120kg next.

There is no upper to health!

Now that we have convinced you that lifting, specifically heavy lifting, is good for you, let’s get started with our movement drills!

The Dowel Deadlift

hip hinge drill, how to deadliftDowel is just the angmoh word for wooden stick. 

When it comes to deadlift, most people are worried about injuring their spine. Because of this, a lot of people will try very hard to avoid rounding their backs.

Before we start working on the dowel deadlift, you must know that rounded back lifting (within what you can support) is not bad for you.

We shared previously that “incorrect” lifting posture alone doesn’t contribute to your pain experience. A more recent study directly examined the effects of flexed spine or round backs during lifting also confirms this.

In short, don’t demonise movements that look uncomfortable. While this movement drill does indeed focus on helping you achieve a neutral spine during lifting, it doesn’t mean round backs is bad for you.

If you are still unclear on what you are doing is acceptable, drop us a message and help us help!

Reminder: round back is not bad for you.

For the dowel deadlift, the wooden stick would act as a tactile feedback to help you gain awareness of where your spine is in space during a lift. The key is to perform the deadlift with your head, mid back, and pelvis in contact with the wooden stick. It is normal for there to be a gap at the neck and low back regions.

  • Stand comfortably with your feet in a shoulder width stance.
  • Place a dowel along the midline of your spine and firmly hold it against your spine with your hands. Be careful to not over-push the dowel into your spine as that would make it difficult for you to move.
  • Very slowly push your pelvis back slightly and hinge forwards at your hips until your torso is at about 45 degrees forward. If it helps, use cues such as ‘bowing’ of the torso or ‘hinging’ motion at the hips to help.
  • Once you are at 45 degrees, slowly raise your torso back to the upright position while keeping the same three points of contact.

You should maintaining firm contact between your body and the dowel through the whole movement. If you find that your neck, mid back, or pelvis comes off contact with the stick when you bend forward, try to go slower or reduce the amount of forward bending. You can always increase your range once you are comfortable with the exercise.

If you struggle to keep your spine straight even after practising for weeks, that doesn’t mean you cannot deadlift!

Your spine could just be different from others or perhaps you need a little more help to achieve neutral-spine lifting. Drop us a message to find out more about how we can help you achieve your own perfect deadlift.

The Bar Cat-Camel Deadlift

cat camel, spinal mobilisation, round backYou know how we repeatedly emphasise how round backs is not harmful? And showed you a video of senior women lifting in round backs without an injury?

Yep, we were 100% serious about it. Your spine (and the rest of your body) is strong of robust.

This means, if you can support a round back deadlift, you would be okay! There are people who train how much load their spine can support with flexion by doing Jefferson Curls.

Rounded back training is a thing!

Yet at the same time, we know that most people don’t appreciate the round back look. We take pride in being able to lift in neutral spine. I prefer our spines to be mobile. We hear you.

To increase how much your spine can move into flexion and out of flexion, try doing the barbell cat camel. Unlike the standard cat-camel that is done in the quadruped position, the bar version involves doing it in a hip hinge position.

It’s the perfect movement drill for a neutral spine deadlift!

  • Stand with your feet in a shoulder-width stance with your hands holding onto the bar or forearms resting on the bar.
  • With your hands holding on the bar or forearms resting on the bar (without unracking the bar), slowly hinge your hips into a deadlift stance. It doesn’t matter if your spine starts to round.
  • Once you have reached the deadlift stance, begin the cat-camel mobilisation by flexing your back and arching your back into extension.
  • To finish, slow thrust your hips forward back into an upright position.

It is super important to note that this is not a stretch! You are not aiming to push as far into each end range as possible. What you want is to mobilise your spine and get your joints comfortable moving into a neutral spine or even an extended position.

To take the mobility drill to the next level, perform the manoeuvre with an isometric contraction of your arms/shoulders (i.e., push your forearms into the barbell).

The Wall Deadlift

hip taps, low back isolationIt’s not uncommon for beginners to “break” at the knees too early during a deadlift. In other words, their hips are not travelling far back enough before their knees start to bend.

When this happens, what you are doing is more of a squat.

The wall deadlift is a great movement drill to help you increase how far back you can push your hips (i.e., also referred to as a hip hinge) before you have bend your knees.

  • Face away from a wall in a standing position with the heels of your feet roughly one full step away from the wall.
  • Begin executing a controlled ‘hinge’ movement at the hips or ‘bowing’ motion of the torso, pushing the hips back until you can feel your buttock touching the wall. You may bend the knees just a little to help facilitate the movement. 
  • Return to the starting standing position, reversing the controlled motion.

If this is performed successfully, move the feet a half step from the wall and repeat the motion. Repeat the movement until the entirety of the motion can be performed correctly without the need of the wall for feedback.

It’s normal for you to feel absolutely confused when you first start this practice. The reason is because most of us don’t really know where our body is in space during a hinge movement. As you do more of this drill, your body will develop the awareness (i.e., proprioception) to know where your hips are in space.

The Pole Deadlift

deadlift drills, crossfit singaporeLike the pole squat, the pole deadlift is about giving you support so you can concentrate on moving without the fear of falling over. The aim of this drill is to help you descend into a deadlift with the least possible knee flexion.

Be sure to use a stable pole that you are able to fully exert on.

  • Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart and approximately an arm’s length away from the pole. Loosely grasp it with both hands. 
  • Begin executing a ‘hinge’ motion by pushing the hips back and simultaneously bending the knees. Focus on “stacking” your knees over your feet. Your shin should be perpendicular to the ground through the motion.  
  • As you are descending into the bottom position, allow your hands to travel down the length of the pole. Continue with the motion until your knees are in bent to about 90 degrees.
  • To ascend back to the start position, focus on pushing your hips forwards. This cue will help you achieve the thrust movement required in a deadlift.
  • Squeeze the glutes at the standing position to finish the movement.

Again, a deadlift is not a squat. It’s very common for people to descend into a deadlift with a knee-dominant movement.

When this happens, your knees will be very bent and it would have tracked over your toes. This becomes a problem when you are trying to do a barbell deadlift as it is very likely that the barbell would hit your knee as you ascend.

In a true hip-dominant deadlift, you should find your shin fairly vertical (perpendicular to the ground) at the bottom position.

BONUS: The Chair Hip Hinge Test

hip mobility assessment, chair squat

The chair hip hinge test is a quick assessment to determine if you are moving with your hips or your knees.

To start, stand in front of a chair placed approximately one inch from your shin or your knee. Begin the test by slowly descending into a hip hinge position.

If the chair starts to move, it is likely that you will need more work with the hinging training drills.

BONUS: Resistance Band Assisted Deadlift

resistance band deadlift, back pain, chiropractor singapore

The basic movement drills, as they name suggest, focus on movement.

This is quite different from a deadlift, which will involve resistance.

For a movement drill that involves thrusting your hips into resistance, try the resistance band assisted deadlift.

  • Tie one end of  a resistance band around a pole and loop the other around your waist (see illustration above).
  • Begin walking away from the pole until you feel tension on the band. Stand up straight.
  • Begin executing a ‘hinge’ motion at the hips or a ‘bowing’ motion of the torso, pushing the butt back and simultaneously bending the knees. Feel the band provide some assistance as the hips are pushed back
  • Stop the motion once the torso is at 45 degree angle, midway between a vertical and horizontal torso position (as per picture 2).
  • Once you are ready, thrust your hips forwards to return to your standing position. 
  • Squeeze the glutes at the standing position to end the movement. 

Remember, the deadlift is about a horizontal thrust of the hips or pelvis.

Some of you may struggle to get a hang of which direction to trust your hips. This is a common experience! The resistance band will act as a great feedback to help you improve your technique.

Still having trouble with deadlifts? Make an appointment with us to let us help you help yourself find your perfect lift. We promise it is possible!


Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.