5 Deadlift Cues For Every Powerlifter

As a coach, there are 5 main cues that I like to give any lifter that comes through the door here at Taylor’s Strength Training. I believe the deadlift is a bottom-up process rather than a top down. The deadlift starts with the feet and then work your way up towards your head. Without a solid foundation in the feet, how can we create stability through the whole body? Like a house, without stable foundations it is going to collapse which comes in the form of pronation in the ankles, knee valgus, a tight lower back from glutes not working properly and a rounded upper back. If the body does not work in unison then we are impacting how much we can lift. Deadlifts are a very high risk high reward exercise. If done wrong, you can seriously hurt yourself. Here are my top cues for deadlifts


Conventional vs. Sumo – What’s the Difference?

The basic difference between the conventional and sumo deadlift is how wide you put your feet. The narrower you have your feet, this is called a conventional deadlift whilst the wider stance is called a sumo. Furthermore, we could even categorise “Frog Stance” which is a mix of both.

A conventional deadlift typically uses a hip-width or narrower stance, while sumo utilizes a wider stance with the feet well outside the hips. There are other subtle differences, and lifters will have small deviations in setup and technique.

Here’s a rundown of each stance.


  • Create Tripod Foot
  • Laces are hidden under the bar
  • Feet either shoulder width apart or narrower
  • Toes pointed forward


  • Create Tripod Foot
  • Feet well outside hip
  • Toes angled out
  • Shins vertical to bar

The Frog Stance Sumo Deadlift creates a narrower sumo stance but this is only optimal with a long torso and short femurs.

Powerlifters such as Russel Orhii & Angelo Fortino do this preferred stance

2. “Knee’s out”

Knee placement cues for sumo and conventional are different but serve the same purpose. The main cue is “knee’s” out” but there are 2 other cues I use for the set up.

Set-Up Conventional

  • “Drive knees forward”- once you have your feet set up, drive your knees forward as this will set your hips in a good position. Without driving your knees forward, you are not getting as tight as possible. Also, when you drive your knees forward, you are reducing the risk of starting the movement with the hips or even the knees which puts your joints in compromised positions.
  • “Push Knees Into Elbows”- By pushing knees into elbows, you engage your glutes more and reduce the risk of knee cave.

Set-Up Sumo

  • “Spread the floor” – By pushing the knees out it will help open up the hips. The goal is to try to push the knees out and have the shins as vertical as possible. This will aid your vertical torso and by keeping more vertical with help you lift more weight. Once you inmate the sumo lift, having the knees out cue may prevent your knees collapsing (we can argue and say not having strong enough glutes can attribute to this too). Without a good knee placement though, you are placing more risk for your knees to collapse.
  • A great cue Danny told me when I first starting doing sumo was “imagine somebody is pulling on your knee with a band.” This gives me the cue that I can force my knees out even more than I think I can.

3. “Pack The Lats”

This cue may be very cliche in the world of powerlifting, but without full lat engagement you are bound to round over and make the lift 10x harder. To help lifters visualise what I mean when I say “pack the lats” is try to visualise you are squeezing the juice out of oranges with your arm pits. This will get you tight in your lats as you are reaching down for the bar. Once you have grabbed the bar, take the slack out by ‘bending the bar’ and this will get your lats even tighter.

Without keeping your lats tights, your scapula with protract. If your upper back rounds, then the natural way your lower back will go will be to round too. This will create a rounded back and puts you in a compromised position. If you struggle with engaging your lats, watch this video below.

4. Leg Press The Floor Away From You

This is the cue I have used ever since I self taught myself the deadlift. When I first started learning about powerlifting, I used Layne Norton’s videos on bodybuilding.com on how to squat, deadlift and bench. One of the main cues I took was ‘leg press the floor away from you.’ I know absolutely nothing about physics, but I know the formula for force production. A force can cause an object (the bar) with mass (the body)  to change its velocity. By applying force into the ground, the weight should pop up if you have the right force applying downwards (Newton’s third law). However, if you are not strong enough at the rate of the force applying into the ground, the weight will not come off the floor. So forces only work if you are strong enough to create enough force through the floor.

I hope I explained that well enough.

5. Breathe & Brace

This is basically the same as the squat cue from my other blog. The same rules apply, this is not just “engaging your abs” so get that out of your head straight away. Bracing is a technique used to create stability throughout your whole core (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, spinal erectors, even your diaphragm). Without a strong core, the weight will pull you forward, you will have excessive back rounding which could lead to degeneration of the spine over time causing hernias and bulging discs (not what we want).

So how do I coach bracing? There are two main cues I give which are 1) tighten your stomach like you are about to be punched from the front and from the sides. Think about when you get punched, if you relax you get punched, you are going to keel over in agonising pain but if you prepare for the punch, you absorb the force of the punch much more. Keep that core tight! 2) Breathe into your stomach. This one is a little harder as you have to change your breathing mechanics as most of us are “chest breathers” so a great cue Elliot Hulse used to say was “breathe into your balls” which in essence he means breathe into your pelvic floor. This expands your diaphragm and creates that extra bit of stability and keeping it braced the whole way through the lift is key for force production (look at: Valsalva Maneuver). Breathing into your stomach is a hard concept but is easier to cue with a belt to brace against.

Without a good brace, you will get a deadlift like this…

So there you have it, my 5 cues to aid your deadlift technique and to aid yourself lifting some heavy weight. If you would like regular updates on my blog and other cool things then please click here to sign up to my newsletter (lhttps://psych-elite.com/contact/) or even drop me an email at info@psych-elite.com to start your powerlifting journey today.

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