Deadlift Form for Short Arms

England Training Session

The deadlift is an effective exercise for building your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, core muscles and forearms. In fact, it hits so many exercises, it's often referred to as a total body exercise. While they're a common exercise in many strength training and bodybuilding plans, those with short arms may struggle with maintaining good form on the deadlift.

Standard Technique

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, reach down and hold the bar with both hands. Bend your knees until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings muscles on the backs of your legs, then drop your hips down and lift your head up until your back is straight. Pull the bar from the ground by initiating the movement with your hips. Keep your back flat and head looking forward the whole time, and finish the lift when you're standing straight.

Issues with Short Arms

The main problem you may encounter when deadlifting with short arms is that you can't keep your back flat. You'll have to lower your hips further to get a good grip on the bar, which may result in your lower back rounding. If you can't get into a good starting position, it's also likely that you'll use your lower back muscles too much, round your back throughout the entire lift and struggle to properly engage the glutes and hamstrings.


Those with short arms are more suited to sumo deadlifts, according to trainer and exercise physiologist Boris Bojanovic. Use a wider foot stance and hold the bar with your arms inside your knees. The wider stance means you're lower to the ground and don't have to reach as far with your arms. Alternatively, you could also try deadlifts with the bar in a raised starting position, such as deadlifts with a trap-bar -- a six-sided bar that has elevated handles, or rack deadlifts. These are performed by placing the barbell on the safety pins in a power rack. You shouldn't need to lift the bar too high -- 3 to 4 inches should do it -- as deadlifting with the bar above your knees has little carryover the regular deadlifts, claims strength coach and powerlifter Andy Bolton.


Experiment with different variations of the deadlift and find what works for you. You might be able to perform regular deadlifts pain-free and with good form with short arms if you have good hamstring flexibility, so don't write them off straight away. It's also possible to develop your flexibility to safely perform conventional deadlifts, switch to a different deadlift style while you're working on your mobility and flexibility. Consult your health care provider before starting a weight training plan and ask a trainer if you need help with techniques.