Deadlifting for Climbing

Deadlifts will strengthen your posterior chain to keep your hips closer to the wall. Photo credit: Merrick Ales

Deadlifts strengthen your posterior chain which helps keep your hips closer to the wall. Photo by Merrick Ales

With winter training season in full swing, today’s post presents a reason to hit the weight room in order to make climbing gains. Deadlifts strengthen the lower back muscles which will have a secondary benefit of improving overall lifting form in daily life! While I am a proponent of using all the compound lifts (bench press, press, deadlift, and even squat) as conditioning for climbing, I have found that deadlifts translate the most to climbing. Today, I’ll take you through the how and why of deadlifting for climbing.

Why Deadlift for Climbing?

  • Deadlifts will not make your legs huge and ruin all your climbing gains. Especially if you stick in low (4-6) rep range that targets strength rather than hypertrophy.

Six months later, chicken legs still there!

  • Deadlifts not only work the entire posterior chain (lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and quads), but also the traps, lats, and abdominal muscles. Actually, they are the only core exercise for which you can increase the weight enough to work in the strength rep range.


  • Unlike the other compounds, deadlifts start with the concentric motion, with no eccentric (negative) component to provide momentum. In other words, the lift starts from a dead stop and is entirely power-based.
  • Deadlifts even work grip strength, regardless of which grip you use (although hanging on to the bar is much easier with a mixed or hook grip).


  • Deadlifting is not a gateway to lower-back injury. If your form is sound, you will not get hurt. Simple as that.
  • Lifting heavy is FUN. There’s definitely a certain thrill to yanking a loaded barbell off the ground.

How to Deadlift

While a complete form overview is beyond the scope of this article, here are a couple important cues to pay close attention to:

  • Maintain a fairly narrow stance, about shoulder-width apart, with your toes rotated slightly outward.
  • The shoulder blades, bar, and mid-foot should all be in line in the starting position.
  • Keep the bar in your fingertips rather than the palms of your hands, so as to avoid tearing your calluses.
  • Keep your chest and butt up.
  • Try to maintain the natural arch in your lower back.
  • Don’t let the bar leave your legs at any point during the lift.
  • Shift your weight to the heels of your feet before lifting the bar. This activates the glutes and the hamstrings. Alternatively, you may want to think about pushing through the floor with your feet.
  • Rotate your shoulders externally, so they are pressing against your armpits.

I would also highly recommend watching Mark Rippetoe’s overview video (but please, disregard the silly title!):

Workout Structure

  • Once per week is enough to produce neural and physiological adaptations.
  • Start with 5 sets of 5 (5×5) and increase the weight by 5-20 lbs each workout. No need to go heavy right away. Once you are unable to continue to increase the weight you may drop down to sets of 3 or 4 and continue to add weight.
  • Perform a moderate-intensity, 5-10 minute cardio warm-up prior to lifting.
  • Progressively warm-up into working weight (for example, if you are doing sets of 5 at 225 lbs (225×5), you might warm-up with 135×7, 185×5, 205×3, 225×1.
  • Take ample rest (5-15 minutes) in between sets. You’ll need it!
  • Wear flat-soled shoes (Vans and Converse are both great options) or go barefoot. Also deadlifting in pants or leggings will feel a lot better on your shins than deadlifting in shorts.
  • Don’t overcomplicate it—no Smith Machines or straps necessary. Just a barbell,plates, chalk, and maybe a belt when things start getting heavy.
Enlist a friend to snap a quick shot of your form so you can adjust accordingly!

Enlist a friend to snap a quick shot of your form so you can adjust accordingly!

It is always a good idea to lift with a trainer or knowledgable partner to check your form and safety. For more on all things training visit my site, GP Training, and get lifting!

Climb on!

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2 thoughts on “Deadlifting for Climbing

  1. Laramie Hartmann says:

    Great article, but the woman in the last picture has to bar too far in front of mid-foot.

  2. Char says:

    Maybe find a better video instead of the first one: if a beginner who hasn’t DL’d before sees it, they might think rounding through the back & shoulders is OK. Best to stick with a weight that allows scapulae to stay retracted and a neutral spine.

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