How To Deadlift
The deadlift is the simplest exercise of all the three powerlifts: Just grab the bar from the floor and stand up with it. Is it really that simple? The answer is yes and no. Indeed, the lift requires you to pick the bar up from the floor and put it down again and there is only one command to listen out for compared to the 2 in the squat and 3 in the bench press. However, this lift can also be considered very complex in the sense that it is the most taxing on the body’s CNS and techniques can vary so much from athlete to athlete based upon individual anthropometry. Today’s WOD will highlight some simple steps you can take to maximise benefits of your deadlift training.
You’ll recognise a trend growing here. As with my last two posts on the bench press and back squat, perfecting technique is the most important step you can take to improve any lift. Yes, it may require a temporary reduction in weight, but strength training is a long slow game that cannot be rushed. Lifting with great technique will always bring you the longest-term improvements. No matter how great your program is, or how much experience you have, you will go even further if you add great technique to the mix. Bad technique will lead to injury and weakness somewhere down the line. So, without further ado, here are some key tips regardless of whether you sumo or conventional deadlift:
- Keep the hips down and the spine in a neutral position at the bottom of the lift.
- Keep the arms fully locked out from start to finish, the shins touching the bar before lifting and the shoulders directly in-line with or even slightly behind the bar. This will go a long way to determining your starting hip height.
- Creating tension throughout the whole body at the before lifting is critical. Learn how to perform the Valsalva Manoeuvre (filling your stomach, not your chest with air), screw your feet into the floor, squeeze your abs, glutes and hamstrings and focus on trying to snap the bar in half (externally rotating the forearms) to squeeze the lats tight.
- Don’t be a jerk. Take the slack from the bar and dial the speed and power up once it gets moving. At heavy weights trying to pull the bar at 100mph right from the get go will often wrench you out of position. I’ve actually seen a girl go head first over the bar whilst almost ripping her arms out during competition by trying to jerk the bar up like this. Don’t let that be you!
- Upon initiation of the lift lead with the chest. Drive your shoulders up and back, just like you should do at the bottom of a squat into the bar, whilst aggressively driving your feet into the floor. A good cue for me is what my coach and GB head coach Lawrence Farncombe uses, “lift the rib cage”. I too have adopted this cue with my lifters and to great success. As the weights get heavier, this cue helps to ensure the hips do not shoot up too fast, causing a forward rock of the shoulders to a position way too far in front of the bar.
- Keep the bar as close to you as possible all the way to the top, dragging it up the shins and then up the thighs as you push the hips through as explosively as possible once the bar has passed the knee cap. If you let the bar get away from you, you’ll make your lower back work much harder than necessary and greatly limit the amount of weight you could have otherwise lifted.
Squatting and bench pressing with higher frequency can often be advantageous. However, since the deadlift creates considerably more fatigue to the CNS and therefore, increases recovery times, more care needs to be taken with the deadlift. Often much more weight is handled with this lift compared to the other two lifts and deadlifting too heavy, too often can easily induce a level of fatigue that cannot be recovered from sufficiently before the next heavy session. Training heavy once per week with the deadlift and using other posterior chain exercises or deadlift variations such as rack pulls is an approach which will limit fatigue and not interfere with the rest of the training week.
Now this doesn’t mean yank the bar from the floor in attempt to move it quickly at all costs, but being explosive and trying to generate good bar speed can help you to power through sticking points. You still need to maintain your tight, strong, position and form, but as soon as the bar begins to move, intentionally aim to be as explosive as possible. Of course, when the loads approach maximal, the bar will never actually move quickly, but committing to moving the bar as fast as possible whilst maintain perfect form will help to drive you through. This will also require you to train with submaximal weights. Forget trying to be a hero in the gym and lifting maximally with as many plates on the bar as possible every session. Working most often with weights within the 55 to 85% range will allow you to train explosively and with good form. You could even play round with bands to help develop speed and top end strength.
A ‘sticking point’ is a position in a lift where a disproportionately large increase in difficulty to continue or complete the lift is experienced. These points become more and more apparent once loads get closer and closer to maximal. It’s important to identify these and then include exercises in your program that will attack these areas if you are to continue to increase your numbers. For example, if you’re weak from the floor you may want to include deficit deadlifts or low block deadlifts. Or if you’re weak at the top of the lift and struggle to lock out, banded or chain deadlifts or high rack pulls may be just what you need. If you can’t identify these yourself (videoing your lifts and watching back is extremely helpful), try and get a coach to watch your lifts and suggest some assistance work for you.