Do you have bruises or scars on your shins from deadlifting? Perhaps you’ve seen some gym bro with bruised/scraped/bloody/scarred shins walking around in the gym.

While we do want the barbell to be in contact with your legs when deadlifting, we don’t want you to leave your DNA on the bar. Just like how muscle soreness isn’t a sign of progress, bleeding shins aren’t evidence of a good deadlift. Actually, it’s a tell-tale sign that you’re doing something wrong when deadlifting.

So why does this happen, and how can we fix it? 

Why you scrape your shins when deadlifting

Here are the two most common reasons. 

Setting up for the deadlift with your hips too low

When your hips are too low, your shins will be angled forward more than it needs to be and causes two issues. One, it’ll push the bar forward of the midfoot, introducing an unnecessary moment arm between the midfoot and bar and an unnecessarily lengthened moment arm on the back segment between the hips and the bar. Two, more forward shins and knees are in the way of the bar being pulled vertically to the lockout.

If it’s not a heavy deadlift, you can overcome the inefficient moment arms caused by your too forward angled shins and knees. In doing so, the bar will be pushing against your shins and need to “loop” around your knees, scraping them on its way up to the lockout.

Hips are too low during the set-up, causing shins and knees to get in the way

When it’s a heavy deadlift, it’s going to be a bit different. When you start pushing to get the bar off the floor, your hips will rise and the bar will roll back till it’s over the midfoot before it comes off the floor. While that will prevent you from scraping your shins, it’s inefficient – you want the bar to come off the floor the moment you start to push.

If the hips are too low when setting up on a heavy deadlift, the hips will rise and barbell will move back over the midfoot before coming off the floor

To fix this, review your 5-step deadlift setup, and make sure you’re familiar with it.

Your hips are extending first

You set up for the deadlift correctly, but extend your hips first, or extend them too much when you start to pull the bar off the floor. When that happens, your shins and knees don’t shift back and out of the way of the barbell’s vertical bar path.

The deadlift should initiate with knee and hip extension at the same time, with an emphasis on knee extension. By extending the hips first, your shins and knees get in the way. So either you make the bar travel around them (only possible when it’s light) and scrapes the shins or you miss the rep when it’s a heavy deadlift.

Hips extending first

To fix this, you can cue yourself with “leg press the floor away” and “knee back first” or “hips up first” out of the bottom (to get your shins out of the way). 

The shins aren’t the only body parts that get bruised. Ever noticed redness on some lifters’ thighs, just above the knees when they deadlift? If that’s you, why does this happen, and what can you do to fix it? 

Why you scrape your thighs on the descent 

When bringing the bar back down from the lockout, if the first thing you do is to unlock your knees, the bar will press into your thighs just above the knees on its way to the floor. Repeat that several times and you’ll notice a red patch start to form just above your knees. 

Unlocking your knees first angles your thighs forward and gets in the way of the barbell going back down to the floor vertically.

The problem with this is not actually the bar causing bruises on your thighs, but rather the bar going away from you on the way down. Because your thighs are angled forward, the bar slides away at a slight angle. So it lands back on the ground forward of your midfoot. And because the ideal deadlift setup position requires the barbell to be positioned just over your midfoot, you’ll need to pull the bar back in before you can set up for the next rep – this wastes both time and energy.

Flexing knees first on the descend

To fix this, unlock your hips first, instead of the knees. Then shove them back, and keep shoving them back while you bend over at the hips and slide the bar down your thighs all the way to the floor. Along the way, your knees will naturally unlock slightly to follow the movement. If you have to, look down and keep your eyes between your feet, to cue the bar to land right there. 

Flexing hips first and shoving them back on the descend

It’s basically reversing how you deadlift the bar from the floor to the lockout. If done right, the bar will land on the floor somewhere over your midfoot. This improves your efficiency in setting up for your next rep.

The barbell should travel in a vertical line 

For the situations above, we don’t actually care about the scrapes and bruises. What we’re concerned about is that your deadlift bar path isn’t vertical – the bar should travel vertically while remaining close to your legs.

We want a vertical bar path because when we lift weights, we’re doing work against gravity and a bar that goes straight up and down is the most efficient to do so.

If you’re scraping your shins and/or thighs when deadlifting, it indicates that there are inefficiencies in the movement because of the introduction of an unnecessary moment arm or unnecessary lengthening of existing moment arm(s).

To overcome these inefficiencies, you will have to produce more force in order to continue the bar’s upward trajectory. If the bar is heavy, this extra force required may cause you to miss the rep. The same thing occurs if your bar drifts away when you deadlift; perhaps no scraped shins, but a similar situation of extra force required to overcome the inefficient moment arms.

A – Optimal pulling position. No unnecessarily lengthened moment arm on your back segment between the hip and bar, zero moment arm between the barbell and midfoot.

B – When the barbell drifts away from you, it introduces an unnecessary moment arm between your midfoot and the bar and a longer moment arm on your back segment between the hip and bar.

C – When you set up with your hips too low, your more angled forward shins will push the bar forward of the midfoot. This not only introduces an unnecessary moment arm between your midfoot and the bar and a longer moment arm on your back segment between the hip and bar but you’ll also scrape the shins on the way up. 

D – When you extend your hips first when pulling the bar off the floor or set up like figure C, the bar will scrape your more forward shins and have to “loop” around your knees.

So if there’s one takeaway from this article, remember: inefficient moment arms increase the amount of force required to lift weights. Remove these inefficient moment arms, and that same weight will feel lighter.

For more on deadlift technique, check out our other articles on getting a secure grip on the bar, not yanking the bar off the ground, and how to breath properly

Efficiency is the priority 

Bruised and bleeding shins and thighs are a sign of an inefficient bar path. If you’re already able to deadlift heavy weights while scraping shins, fix your technique and I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to lift even more once you get used to the new way of pulling a heavy barbell off the floor.


My interest in fitness started when I was around 19 years old. Being overweight for most of my growing up years, I decided to do something about it. After months of not being able to achieve the desired results, I began poring through books and articles about training and nutrition. The more I read, the more interested I became in this field, and got better results when the the newly discovered knowledge was applied. After 1 year of persistence and hard work, I lost 24kg and felt fantastic. The sense of achievement motivated me to pursue a career in working with people to help them achieve their own fitness goals.

After achieving my weight loss goal, I tried a variety of training programs for a few years, looking for a new goal to train towards. After aimlessly moving around from program to program, I chanced upon a book called Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, written by renowned strength and conditioning expert, Mark Rippetoe. Little did I know that this book was about to change my life and coaching career.

At that point, I had experience training with barbells and was relatively familiar with it but never have I come across any material that gave such explicitly detailed explanations of how to perform the barbell lifts. I devoured the book and modified my lifting technique and program. In just a few months, I was pleasantly surprised by how much stronger he had become. I now had a new goal to work towards – getting strong.

With full confidence in the efficacy of the Starting Strength methodology, I began coaching my clients using this program and got them stronger than they ever thought was possible. The consistent success my clients achieved through the program cemented my confidence in Mark Rippetoe’s teachings. I then decided to pursue the credential of being a Starting Strength Coach and I’m currently the first and only certified coach in Singapore and South-East Asia

In my 9 years of experience, I have given talks and ran programs at numerous companies and worked with a diverse group clientele of all ages with a variety of goals. Today, I specialise in coaching people in their 40s, 50s and beyond because it brings me a great sense of satisfaction to be part of the process of improving this demographics’ health and quality of life by getting them stronger.