How to Properly Perform the Conventional Deadlift AND Difference Between the Deadlift and Clean

Joseph Rosi
March 16, 2023

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Let’s take a look at how to perform the deadlift or sometimes called the conventional deadlift.  This version of the deadlift is often used in general resistance programs, powerlifting, and strength and conditioning programs.

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Muscles Used During the Conventional Deadlift

Before we look at the conventional deadlift, let’s go over the muscles that we will be targeting throughout the lift. 

With the conventional deadlift we will be targeting hip extension, back extension, and knee extension in that order.

The back extends to lift the bar off the ground until reaching the level of the knees where the hips will extend to bring your hips to the bar. Although there are some other muscles at play here, these are the main ones:

  • The erector spinae and deep spinal muscles will be the primary component of back extension 
  • The hips will extend primarily using the glute max
  • The knees will extend secondary to hip extension

What is the Difference Between the Conventional Deadlift and Clean?

One thing I need to note here is the difference between a conventional deadlift and a clean.  Both movements may look similar, but they are biomechanically very different. In my opinion, they should not be taught at the same time. 

When taking a look at the main difference between the deadlift and clean, you should note the difference in the axis of rotation. The axis of rotation is where movement occurs AROUND a particular joint.  

The axis of rotation during the conventional deadlift is through the pelvis, where the back extends then hips drive forward. During the clean there is a transition from the hips quickly to the ankles, because the knee extends then quickly flexes to get under the bar.  With this difference, we need to look at which muscles activate to create the movement around the axis of rotation.  For example, during the conventional deadlift the back extends, then the hips come to the bar, whereas during the clean the back raises the bar to initiate the movement, then the knees translate posteriorly through the axis of rotation at the ankle in order to keep from hitting them as the bar comes upwards.  As soon as the bar passes the knees, the ankles quickly bend again, to get the knees underneath the bar.  As the weight shifts forward, it will also put more emphasis on the mid foot and subsequently the forefoot giving you the ability to push into the ground and use your quads to lift yourself up.  

The difference in these two movements will change which muscles will assist with the movement.  For example, the conventional deadlift is a more posterior chain movement, where the clean involves the quads to a significant degree. Although these movements look very similar they are fundamentally different in every way.  

Now back to the deadlift..let’s take a look at what perfect technique should look like.

How to Properly Perform the Conventional Deadlift

For a visual walkthrough go to the youtube video at the top of this post. 

When walking up to the bar for the first time, we want to position the bar so it’s just over the midfoot.  This is typically about 2 inches from the shins. (note: when looking down to see this distance, make sure you don’t shift your hips back as it will change the distance from the bar)  

The next thing you want to do is bend down via hinging at your hips while keeping your back straight.  Once in the bottom position, your shoulders should be slightly in front of the bar as your armpits will be directly over the bar. The elbows will be fully locked and wrists should be in a neutral position just outside shoulder width apart.

As you lift the bar, you want to extend at your pelvis via the erector spinae while keeping the hips from shooting up. The spine should remain neutral throughout the entire lift and the arms shoulder be bringing the bar towards the body via the lats.  

As the bar approaches the level of the knees, the athlete should retract their shoulders to bring the bar up the path of the thigh in order to drive the hips forward into the bar.  

The final component of the deadlift is via the glute max via hip extension and not back extension.

Most Common Compensations with the Conventional Deadlift

  1. When looking from the side, the most common compensations are letting the bar get too far away and not staying close to the body. 
  2. Hyper-extending the low back to bring the shoulders behind the bar to finish the lift.


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Dr Joseph Rosi II, DPT, Cert DN, CSCS

Dr. Rosi was born and raised in Dayton, OH. He graduated from The University of Findlay with a dual degree – a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology as well as a Bachelors of Arts in Spanish where he was immersed in the culture and lived in Costa Rica while studying at La Universidad de Costa Rica- San Pedro.  He then returned to University of Findlay and continued to graduate school to pursue his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. During this time he completed mission work in Nicaragua, in which he served many young families who were unable to access the most basic forms of healthcare. 

After graduation, he set out to continue to learn and enhance his hands-on clinical skills, where he spent the next two years completing a Manual Therapy Certification from The University of Saint Augustine in St. Augustine, FL.  During this time he also completed his certification in Dry Needling from the American Academy of Manipulative Therapy. He also took coursework and furthered his specialty into male pelvic health. During this time he traveled, learned and worked in many different clinics in multiple states including Ohio, Texas, Indiana, South Carolina, New Mexico, California, and now Florida where Alinea Performance was born.

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