Deadlift Head Position: Form Cue Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
January 6, 2023

We hear plenty of advice about the curvature of the lower back and legs, but not very much about the neck and head, an unfortunate reality due to the fact that the position of the head during the deadlift is arguably just as important as other mechanics like retaining fully extended arms or bracing the core correctly.

This importance is because of the fact that the neck is an immediate part of the spinal column, meaning that incorrect curvature of the neck can subsequently cause rounding elsewhere along the back, leading to injuries and a disadvantageous position.

To simplify it - the head should remain relatively neutral, with the eyes set on a spot forward and the chin tucked slightly but not excessively, creating a straight path from the lumbar portion of the spine to the base of the skull.

Why is Head Positioning Important While Deadlifting?

Head positioning is important during the deadlift because it will directly dictate how the body moves throughout the exercise. 

barbell deadlift front view

Excessive extension or flexion of the neck can cause the upper back to round as it is pulled further forward, as well as create a more unstable movement overall due to the lifter unconsciously accounting for the position of their own head.

Furthermore, ensuring that the windpipe and nose are in an advantageous position with which they may intake as much oxygen as possible will help prevent the lifter from losing consciousness or failing to brace properly as they go through the repetitions of their deadlift set.

Signs that Your Head Position is Causing Problems

If you are having trouble intaking enough oxygen during your sets or are experiencing rounding of the upper back during the initial pull of the movement, it is entirely possible that your head and neck curvature are to blame.

Record yourself from the side or have an experienced individual check your entire spinal curvature so as to ascertain whether these failures in form adherence are indeed caused by your head position or not.

How Should the Head be Positioned During the Deadlift?

In order to achieve the most advantageous head position for the conventional deadlift, the lifter may wish to split their head position into three portions:

  1. The angle of the chin
  2. The curvature of the neck (the cervical spine)
  3. The position of the eyes relative to the former two.

Due to the difference in technique and body proportions between lifters, the correct positioning of these three aspects of the head will be different somewhat - with the “correct” cues being more of a general guideline that may be adjusted based on the lifter’s own personal preferences.

To begin with, it is best to ensure that the neck remains at a neutral and forward-facing angle, regardless of chin and eye positioning. Ensure that your head is indeed facing forward, and not somewhat curved to either side, as this can easily affect the balance of your lift.

deadlift chest

Furthermore, the chin is meant to be tucked somewhat inwards so as to allow for a more rigid and neutral upper spinal column, though not so tucked that it is making contact with the chest, as this will cause the upper back to curve excessively due to hyperextension of the neck and trapezius muscles.

Finally, many lifters will find that fixing their eyes on a spot several feet away from them on the ground is the most effective way of ensuring that the body is not pulled out of alignment by accident.

deadlift eyes

To Summarize:

Avoid pointing the head too far upward, allow the chin to tuck inwards without excessively doing so and ensure that the eyes are facing forward and fixed on a point several feet away.

Tips for Proper Cervical Spine Alignment

Perform In Front of a Mirror

Sometimes, it can be difficult for a lifter to ascertain whether they are indeed in the correct position, or otherwise to maintain their eye level on a fixed spot before them.

Performing the deadlift in front of a mirror can aid in both issues, as it provides a point with which the lifter may lock their eyes on, as well as allow them to ascertain whether their head and neck are in the correct position relative to the rest of the body.

Furthermore, doing so will allow for conscious changes in form to be made in small increments, especially if the lifter is practicing their deadlift execution with an empty bar.

Perform Neck Mobility Stretches

Though the neck is not contracted in a wide range of motion throughout the deadlift’s movement pattern, performing neck flexion and extension stretches can help in creating a more stable and comfortable base with which to maintain upper back curvature.

Furthermore, lifters performing particularly heavy sets of the deadlift will occasionally extend their neck as they strain during the end of the repetition, with greater mobility helping to prevent injury during such an occurrence. 

Avoid Neck Hyperextension

A particularly bad habit that many lifters make on accident is hyperextension of the neck - an error in form that can pull the upper portion of the spinal column out of alignment.

neck hyperextension

Furthermore, this may shift some of the tension in the body towards the delicate muscles of the neck, creating a more disadvantageous position and potentially leading to injury in more extreme cases of hyperextension.

Benefits of Keeping Head in Proper Position While Deadlifting

Reduced Injury Risk

While injuries of the neck are extremely uncommon while performing the deadlift, the body is nonetheless a single interconnected chain, and having poor head or neck positioning will lead to other parts of the body being pulled out of place.

In particular, poor neck form can lead to injury of the cervical or thoracic portion of the spine, as well as result in excessive upright posture which can place further stress on the pelvis and lower back. Lifters performing the deadlift with an underhanded grip will also be at risk of accidentally contracting the biceps, further increasing the risk of injury.

Greater Proportionality

Correctly bracing and positioning the head can decrease the risk of an unbalanced stance, allowing the resistance of the deadlift to be evenly distributed along the entirety of the body. 

This, in turn, can improve the proportionality of the lifter’s physique in both a size and strength context, making proper head positioning during the deadlift particularly important for athletes and competitive bodybuilders.

Greater Control Over Lift

Considering the fact that the head and eyes dictate much of the conscious movement of the body, lifters who master correct head positioning or neck movement can maintain a far greater level of control over the deadlift than if they were not to.

Even relatively small deviations from the safe range of head positioning can affect the curvature of the torso, with how excessive forward extension can pull the chest further forward over the bar and potentially lead to greater stress being placed on the lower back.

Helps With Maintaining Proper Form

Just as how proper deadlift head position is vital for maintaining proportionality and control over the exercise, so too is the head an important part of ensuring other areas of deadlift form are in-line as well.

The head being in an improper or disadvantageous position during the deadlift can result in the hips being pulled out of place, the shoulders moving beyond the barbell at the initial pull, or the knees extending too far forward due to compensation for a hyperextended neck.

Conversely, a neck that is in a state of hyperflexion can also cause the shoulders to round inwards, further reducing the safety and power of the movement.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Should You Tuck Your Chin When Deadlifting?

Tucking your chin when deadlifting is entirely fine so long as the chin is not touching the chest or breathing has otherwise become obstructed. A good rule of thumb is to form a “double chin”, but not to compress it in such a manner that the flesh of the chin is pushed upwards towards the lips.

deadlift lower back rounding

Furthermore, the upper back and neck should form a relatively linear path until the base of the skull, something that is only made possible by keeping the chin relatively tucked against the anterior side of the neck.

Do Deadlifts Train the Neck?

The deadlift is capable of training the neck through isometric contraction, but should not otherwise involve any sort of dynamic movement therein as doing so may result in injury or a break from correct form adherence.

How Do You Know If Your Deadlift is Wrong?

There are quite a number of different indicators that clue a lifter into whether they are performing the deadlift incorrectly, and also what sort of mistakes they are making.

Pain, instability or a loss of balance are usually the more serious signs that your deadlift is incorrect - but certain less obvious clues may also be an indicator, like the development of muscular imbalances or a variable level of strength output between multiple workout sessions.

The surest way to check whether your deadlift execution is correct is to seek out the advice of a professional athletic coach, or to otherwise record yourself performing the exercise and attempt to check your own form.

In Conclusion

Still having trouble with proper head positioning? Try recording yourself from the side and see whether your neck is in-line with the rest of the spine.

Otherwise, you may wish to try seeking out professional advice. Despite the seemingly small impact of proper head positioning, it can nonetheless ruin an otherwise perfect deadlift execution - and is an often overlooked factor, even among higher level weightlifters.

References

1. Attwood M.J, Hudd L J.W, Roberts S.P, Irwin G, Stokes K.A. Eight Weeks of Self Resisted Neck Strength Training Improves Neck Strength in Age Grade Rugby Union Players: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Sports Health. 2022;14(4):500-507. doi:10.1177/19417381211044736

2. McGuigan, Michael R. M. ; Wilson, Barry D.. Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 10(4):p 250-255, November 1996.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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