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Deadlift Part 2 - Deadlift Set Up - PerformancePro

In Part 1 of the PerformancePro Deadlift series, we cut through some of the complexity of deadlift definition to look at the basics and the best starting point. In Part 2, we look at how different body types affect your deadlift set up.

The deadlift is an exercise that nearly everyone can (and should) perform – but the key thing to note is that the set up and type of deadlift will be dependent on body type.

Your deadlift set up – in a nutshell

If you have short arms, short legs and long torso, you will require either an elevated bar/higher handles or a sumo style deadlift as you will be unable to reach down low enough to hold onto the bar, whilst maintaining lumbar extension.

If you have long legs and a short torso, you will require a much more horizontal back angle, whereas short legs and a long torso will mean setting up with a more vertical back angle.

As long as the rules of the deadlift set up are in place (bar over mid-foot, bar against shins, shoulders in front of the bar and chin down) – there is no fixed rule about how the lifter should look. Again, it all depends on their body proportions.

How body type and anthropometry affect your deadlift set up

The set up for the deadlift has little room for error; the lift can be inefficient or dangerous with just the slightest incorrect body position.

At PerformancePro, anthropometry – the scientific study of the measurements and proportions of the human body – plays a key part in our approach to the deadlift. We never take any risks!

We don’t let you lift the weight up until we are satisfied with your set-up. In some cases, if there is any difficulty getting into the proper position, we’re more than happy to forgo the lift in search of a safer alternative.

Sometimes this may simply mean working on mobility exercises or an appropriate deadlift variation until you can safely adopt and hold the correct set position.

Whilst there are some rules that must be obeyed when setting up for the lift, there is also room for individual differences that will affect how you position your body.

deadlift set up 1
Compare the deadlift set ups for these two clients:

Both are set up properly – but there are individual differences.


Firstly, the ‘rules of the set-up’ must be checked, which are:

  1. The shoulders are slightly in front of the bar, placing the scapulae directly over the bar
  2. The bar is directly over the mid-foot
  3. Straight arms
  4. Lumbar and thoracic spine both in extension

Both lifters show adherence to these, so now we can examine individual differences and how anthropometry affects the starting position.

Both clients in these photos are the same height (5’ 6”), yet you can distinctly see that the girl on the left (client #1) as a more closed knee angle compared to the girl on the right (client #2) who is displaying a more open knee angle but a more closed hip angle.

The result is that client #1’s back is slightly more upright than client #2, whose back is much closer to horizontal.

deadlift set up 2

The reason for these differences in the set up is simple:

  1. Client #1 has a longer spine and shorter femurs
  2. Client #2 has a shorter spine and longer femurs

By having an understanding of the lifter’s anthropometry, the coach can more effectively alter their starting position to suit their body type.

Another example of a deadlift technique review with a client took into account a very long spine. He had been trying (unsuccessfully) to pull with a back closer to horizontal.

Once he’d established the proper set-up, he found that the position most comfortable for him was with a more upright back, which we then confirmed was the correct position for him.

So, instead of trying to conform to a deadlift technique that just ‘looks right’ – make sure that you have se up correctly and then adjust your body according to what it wants to do.

By doing this, you’ll be set up for a much more efficient lift.

Contact PerformancePro to discuss your strength and fitness >> 

About the Author: Will Davis MSc, BSc, CSCS

Will Davis has worked in the fitness industry for over 9 years and is a Strength and Conditioning Coach working with PerformancePro. Will is also a Poliquin International Certified Level 2 Coach, Biosignature Practitioner and a strong man competitor.

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