The Deadlift! How could I NOT write an article about my favorite lift of all time? Its such a simple yet primitively brute exercise. Not like the Olympic lifts or even the squat, the deadlift is a basic test of strength, picking something heavy off the floor. Most of us are not at our absolute genetic potential of strength and muscle mass, so in order to improve we have to identify our weaknesses and get them addressed! Its all about imbalances, lack of muscle and technique.
Positioning at the beginning of the lift is everything, I can look at a persons setup and it says everything about their ability to effectively move the weight. From the picture above you can visualize a triangle, these three points should create a 90 degree angle at the hips. The bar should be positioned close enough to touch the shins, upper back tight just like a squat.
There are a couple cues that everyone needs to remember when deadlifting. The lift is always initiated from the HEELS of your feet. Think about pushing your body through the ground, not lifting the weight off the ground. A common issue is some like to initiate the lift with their upper back and typically the reason a lot of people fail when the load is too heavy.
Throughout the entire lift the bar should be TOUCHING your body, never should it drift away from you. Keep the bar close, upper back tight (not rounded!) and heels solid.
We are all very different from each other and with any of the basic powerlifts there are distinct muscle weaknesses that we have and need to address. For the majority of us weak hamstrings and glutes are the most glaring. A strong posterior chain is what gives you a big deadlift, I would classify the deadlift just as much a leg exercise as it is a back exercise. A person's ability to activate their hamstrings and glutes from the very beginning of the lift will equate to a much higher weight to be lifted. My advice is to work on assistance lifts that focuses on the hamstrings and whenever you are doing front or back squats please do not cut yourself short, squat deep and below parallel to maximize hamstring development (lower the weight in order to accomplish proper depth!).
So what can i do?
What if I have a hard time initiating the lift from the floor?
- First ensure your setup is correct and solid.
- Do assistance work from a deficit, finish your deadlift days with 5 sets of 5 at a moderate weight.
- For those serious about your deadlift and wanting to hit your max then speed deadlifts against a band are great for building explosive power off the floor.
What if I can't get the bar past my knees?
- Make sure your back is not rounded and the bar stays close to your legs.
- Perform band pull-throughs for 5 sets of 10 twice a week. Also GHD for your hamstrings for 3-4 sets of 10 twice a week.
- "Pausing" the bar at your weak point will help, hold it there for a few seconds and then explode with power to finish the lift. Make sure to go light on this one!
- Block pulls are also an option for the more advanced lifter, position the bar on a box just below the knee. This movement forces the activation of the glutes/hams in lieu of the upper back
What if my grip is the problem?
- Sometimes it could just be where you position your hands, get the grip in tight and close against the legs.
- Simplest way is to wrap a towel around the bar, and for 3 months do all your deadlifts with a towel. this increases the diameter of the bar forcing you to strengthen grip.
- Static hanging holds from a pull-up bar work or static holds of the bar at the top of your deadlift for 10+ seconds.
Best Advice I can Give...
Save yourself! Don't push to see how heavy you can go every time you deadlift! In the powerlifting world we use the phrase "save it for the platform" - which is why we don't see heavy maxes scheduled too often for the deadlift. Save your 1RM for a day that your ready and feeling good, the deadlift takes a huge toll on the central nervous system so mentally you have to be hungry for it that day. Being proficient at the deadlift is no different then being proficient with any other lift or skill. Make it a priority, focus on your deadlift for 3 months straight. Do assistance work, watch videos, get with our coaches to help you and come in for extra class time. When your ready test your 1RM, assess how well you performed and then move on to the next mountain to conquer!