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How to Deadlift, Deadlifting Techniques

heavy-deadlift

How to Deadlift

Deadlifting is one of the best exercises (compound, ground-based movements) that you can include in your strength program.  If done right, there are many benefits of the deadlift.

Types of Deadlifts:

  • Sumo Deadlift
  • Conventional Deadlift
  • BTR (Beyond the Range/Deficit) Deadlift
  • Snatch Grip Deadlifts
  • Suitcase Deadlift
  • RDL’s (Romanian) Deadlift
  • Trap bar Deadlift

Deadlift Benefits:

  • to build strength and enhance power potential
  • to add muscle mass to the entire body
  • develop core strength and rigidity
  • injury prevention, in everyday life you have to pick things off the floor
  • confidence
  • support grip strength

How to Build the Deadlift:

  1. Good Form – First off, you have to deadlift with good form.  If you form is off, it will lead to you missing the lift, typically right off the floor.
    1. Form Check
    2. Shins on the bar – You must make sure you are as close to the bar as possible.  This shortens the distance between the center of gravity (COG) of the bar and the COG of the lifter.  This is the most advantageous leverage position
    3. Big Air – You have to catch a big air to increase your intra-abdominal pressure
    4. Force Your Abs Out – This along with a big air will provide you with a natural belt to ensure your lower back and abdominals are braced and strong.  This technique is further enhanced when you actually wear a belt because you’ll be forcing your abdominals out against a rigid object.
    5. Do Not Jerk the Weight Off the Floor – Rather push the floor away after you develop a high level of full body tension.
    6. Keep the Bar Against Your Body the Entire Lift – Again, maximizing your leverages.
    7. Lockout With a Powerful Glute Contraction – Do not hyperextend your lower back, lock out your hips by forcibly contracting your glutes.
  2. Are You Weak? – Make sure you develop not only your posterior chain, but your core strength, upper back musculature and grip.
    1. Develop Posterior Chain – RDL’s, Stiff Legged Deadlifts, GHR, Reverse Hypers, Partial Range (rack lockouts), Beyond the Range (standing on plates or blocks)
    2. Develop Core – Engaging in compound movements, L-sit pull-ups, medicine ball exercises, ab roller, the posterior chain exercise in part 1 develop the antagonist (to the abdominals) side of the “core”.
    3. Develop Your Upper Back – pull ups, face pulls, seated rows, bent over rows
    4. Develop Grip Strength – thick bar holds, rack holds, plate pinch, utilize double overhand (pronated grip) as long as you can while you’re working up on your deadlifts sets.
  3. You’re Not Psyching Up! - To pull heavy you have to be mentally prepared.  When you approach the bar you have to be ready to go.

Deadlift Considerations:

  1. I’m Missing at Lockout – What should I do?
    • Technique – finish with glute contraction, head forward, pull shoulders back
    • Strength – incorporate more pull-ups, rack pulls, good mornings, reverse hypers
  2. Knees Kicking In with Sumo Deadlifts – What should I do?
    • Technique – force the knees out during the eccentric and concentric phases of the lift, “spread the floor”
    • Strength – incorporate x-band walks, lunges, step-ups
  3. I’m Missing Off the Floor – What should I do?
    • Technique - create tension in legs, lower back AND lats before pulling, head up, push the ground away, try various foot positions, use wrestlers shoes
    • Strength – incorporate beyond the range deadlifts, band resisted deadlifts, GHR

arnold-deadlifting

How to Deadlift the Proper Way

How to Deadlift the Proper Way Without Wrecking Your Back

If you’ve been on Diesel for any length of time you have been to our Training Center. If not, look to the right navigation bar and you’ll see a TON of cool information around many muscle building and strength training exercises and concepts.

One section in the Training Center is How to Deadlift.

It was awesome but it didn’t contain a very crucial piece. The analysis of how to setup on the deadlift. The deadlift is notorious as a back breaker in most peoples minds. When in fact, it is the poor execution of a deadlift, combined with poor mobility / flexibility, improper warm-up, poor core strength and many other factors that led to the acute or cumulative trauma.

I wanted to give everyone a quick, easy-to-understand, easy-to-apply setup for the conventional deadlift. It will give you the perfect setup everytime.

How to Deadlift Video

Here is what you’ll see in the video:

  • conventional deadlift stance
  • distance from bar
  • hip placement / posture
  • breathing
  • tension, irradiation
  • grip considerations
  • concentric phase
  • eccentric phase
  • bracing, intra-abdominal pressure
  • upper back engagement
  • head posture

Here is a step-by-step setup guide for conventional deadlifts:

1. Setup with your feet shoulder width or slightly wider than shoulder width apart
2. Toes can be straight ahead or turned outward
3. Shins should be approximately 4-6″ AWAY from the bar
4. Grab the bar with a double overhand grip (until the weight gets too heavy)
5. Legs will be straight
6. Take a big breath and force your abdominals outward and hold
7. Drop your hips as your knees shift forward toward the bar
8. Create tension in your upper back and lats by squeezing your armpits and pulling your arms downward
9. Drive the floor away, keeping the bar against your body all the way to lockout
10. Once bar gets to your knees finish the lockout with a powerful glute contraction, finish in a straight line
11. Move hips backward, keeping the glutes and hamstrings on tension
12. The bar will move downward and once the bar reaches the knees, drop straight downward back to the floor
13. REPEAT

Another consideration I wanted to add to the Training Center was how a deadlift can be modified.

More Step-by-Step Details

Here are some simple, real world cues for setting up on the deadlift that can help you improve your technique.

  1. The feet: Your feet should be placed approximately shoulder width apart, but it will be completely individualized. Even recently, just a small change in my own foot placement allowed me to keep more tension off the floor and get better leverage. Make sure your feet are flat and driving downward. If you drop your hips to pull and your ankles roll to the outside or the inside, something isn’t optimal. Change your shoes, change your foot placement, or maybe even improve your ankle mobility.
  2. The shins: Your shins should start approximately 4–6 inches off the bar so that when you load into the bar, you can translate your shins and knees forward. This will allow your hips to drop into place and keep your lower back arched with appropriate tension. If you are too close to the bar, you’ll never be able to get the right line of pull or optimal leverage.
  3. The grip: Your hands should be right outside your legs to minimize the hip angle and decrease the distance you have to pull. We always recommend pulling double overhand until your grip gives out. Then switch to a hook grip or even use straps. I usually don’t let my athletes pull with an alternated grip. Other deadlift grip considerations can be found at http://www.elitefts.com/documents/grip_training.htm.
  4. The air: You must catch your air before the lift. This, along with a powerful isometric contraction of not only the abdominals but all of the muscles that surround the torso (anterior and posterior), will give you the tension to lift the weight with good form and protect the spine. With conventional deadlifts, I like to catch the air with the hips high before the drop so I can get the maximal amount of air in. Once the hips are dropped, you’re compressed (especially if you have a belt on), and you might be limited in your breathing.
  5. The tension: Like previously stated, massive amounts of tension must be created not only across the quads, hamstrings, and glutes but also the grip and back. Remember, the more tension you can create, the stronger you’ll be and the more protected your spine and back will be. This tension allows your body to act as a single unit or one kinetic chain. One important tip for this cue is never forget the tension in the upper back. This is key to pulling it all together. You will immediately feel stronger if you can create tension across your back by squeezing the bar down and “flexing” the armpits, pulling the lats into the lift.
  6. The pull: By driving your feet downward into the floor, the weight will begin its upward movement. Don’t allow your hips to rise too fast into a straight legged (stiff legged) position. As the bar hits the knees, a powerful glute contraction will lock you into a straight (line) torso position. This is a common error for most lifters who try and overpull after the bar crosses their knees and they move into hyperextension.
  7. The return: Don’t lower the weight straight down. Instead, load the hamstrings and glutes with a Romanian deadlift movement back to the knees. Once it reaches the knees, move the bar straight downward back to the floor where you can stroke another rep immediately or come to a complete stop and reset completely before the next rep. The multiple rep technique where you touch the ground and go again should only be done if you’ve caught your air at lockout on the previous rep.

How to Modify a Deadlift

Beyond the Range – pulling through a greater range of motion (ROM) which helps accelerate through sticking points and is done by standing on an elevated surface. It can be either 100lb plates or a 4″ box.

Pulling Against Bands or Chains – forces the lifter to accelerate to lockout which develops greater end range strength and rate of force development (RFD)

Band Assisted Pulling – assists the lifter off the floor and should be setup to deload before lockout, allows supramaximal weights (great than the lifter’s 1RM) to be used

Change the Implement – varying a barbell, a trap bar, dumbbells, odd objects or an axle will modify the tension and leverage of the lift

How to Deadlift Video

Footwear

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When deadlifting, you don’t want to wear shoes that have a shock, a spring or an absorbing sole on them.  This will cause an unstable surface for you to pull from.  Most good or elite deadlifters wear wrestling shoes or go in deadlifting socks.

This does two things:

  1. decreases the distance you have to pull the weight
  2. provides a flat, stable surface to push against

Grip Considerations

gym-chalk-400

Most lifters want to know how to improve their grip for deadlifting.

1.  First thing you should do is to try chalk or dryhands (if your gym doesn’t allow chalk).  Chalk your palms, fingers and the back of your pointer finger.  If you are not hook gripping (a modification to protect the biceps), the pointer finger becomes an anchor point for the thumb.  so you have to chalk it.

2.  The second thing to try is to modify your training routine.  Make sure you deadlift with a double overhand (pronated) grip as long as you gain when working up to a heavy deadlift.  When you can’t hold the weight any longer, switch to a conventional alternating grip.

3.  Also, here is an article I wrote on how to improve your deadlift grip to give you more ideas – Click HERE.

Supplemental Exercises

Supplemental exercises are defined as exercises that target the same musculature or similar movement patterns as the primary exercise.  They are done after the primary movement and typically for a higher volume (sets x reps).

Kettlebell Swings

lance armstrong using kettlebells

Good Mornings

Safety Squat Good Mornings

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Deadlift 101

Rick Walker, CSCS

The deadlift is as much an art form as it is a lift.  It is a combining of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, working as one unit to move a massive weight from a dead stop to lockout.  It requires tremendous total body strength, from the traps to the calves.  You have to have a back of steel, hands like talons, and a mind of solid granite.  It isn’t a lift for everyone.  Throw open the doors on any commercial gym and take a look around.  See anyone deadlifting?   But, one must face the very simple facts about the taboo exercise known as the deadlift: Nothing is better at adding muscle and strength to the entire body!

Take a look at a good deadlifter.  They will be as thick as an old oak.  They will have huge traps, big lats, and a massive set of spinal erectors.  Their hips will be wide and boxy, and they will have legs the size of tree trunks.  They didn’t get this way doing pull-downs and leg presses.  They got this way slinging around heavy iron!

gene-bell-deadlifting

Take a look at those physiques, and the massive amount of weight they are capable of deadlifting.  Next time you think to yourself, “The deadlift can’t be that hard!”  Better think again.

Keep in mind; you won’t develop those kinds of physiques slinging around 200 pounds!  You have to pull until your eyes bleed.  You have to make a conscious effort to add weight to the bar each and every time you deadlift.  Yes, there will be times you will want to vomit.  If you tell yourself that right now, and accept it, it will be much easier when you are banging out sets of 10 with 500 pounds and your Fruity Pebbles© spew out onto your t-shirt.

columbo-deadlifting

A look Inside the Deadlift

Though the deadlift appears to be an easy lift to execute, nothing could be further from the truth.  When watching people deadlift, the same mistakes always stand out.  Not using the legs enough, bowing the back, bending the arms, etc.  All of these mistakes are easy to correct.  Nine times out of ten, you have to swallow your pride, take a couple plates off the bar, and start at the beginning.

Start the lift by setting up in front of the loaded bar.  It is my belief that in order to maximize pulling, you should not have the shins tight against the bar from the start, but rather line up the first knuckles of the toes with the bar.  When you squat down to grasp the bar, you will now have contact with the bar and be in the right position.

The width of your set-up is dependent on a lot of scientific jargon: length of the torso versus the length of the legs, length of the arms in comparison to the body, bla, bla, bla.  I say experiment, and see what works the best for you.  You will either be one of three types of deadlifters: conventional, semi-sumo, or sumo.  See which one maximizes your strengths and body type, and go with it!  More on this later.

Once in front of the bar, suck in a deep breath of air, squat down, keeping the hips and butt low, and grasp the bar.

rick-deadlifting

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You should feel compressed like a giant spring waiting to pop.  Get the hips as low as humanly possible for your build and flexibility.  You should still be holding that breath in order to maintain tightness.  At this point, I like to keep my head up to help keep my back straight and tight.  Looking forward, or down, tends to make me hunch forward at the start of the pull.

Now that you are in the start position, it is time to initiate the lift.  Most people think you pull on the bar to start the lift.  WRONG ANSWER!   Pulling up tends to make you lose your tightness and hunch you over.  Instead, concentrate hard on driving your feet into the platform and squatting the weight up.  This will bring the hips, glutes, and legs into the movement.  As you do this, the arms stay straight.  They are merely hooks and play no part in lifting the weight.  Bending them is not only a good way to miss the lift, but a great way to tear a bicep!

rick-deadlifting3

As the bar leaves the platform, it should be on the shins.  Continue to drive the platform as you glide the bar up over the shins and knees and onto the thighs.  At this point, you will drive the hips forward into the movement to put the bar into the locked out position.

rick-deadlifting41rick-deadlifting51rick-deadlifting6

That’s it!  Now that you know HOW to do it right, lets look at a couple of common mistakes that lifters make when deadlifting.  The biggest problem I encounter with beginning and seasoned lifters alike is the hips shooting up without the weight.  Instead of driving into the floor with the feet, the lifter will initiate the lift by pulling.  More often then not, this will make the hips pop up first, taking the hips, glutes, and legs almost entirely out of the movement.  This will also bow the back and increase the chances of a back injury from deadlifting!  When someone tells me they hurt their back deadlifting, all I have to do is watch their form.  Do their hips shoot up first?

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Zatsiorsky tells us in Science and Practice of Strength Training that the loads on the lumbar intervertebral disks from a mere 50kg load will amount to a whopping 630kg with a bowed back!  When the back is held in the arched, tight position, the same 50kg exerts a load of 380kg, respectively.  Is there any wonder people injure their backs?

A second common mistake is the arm bend.  I guess from all the years and years of curling and rowing, people automatically think the arms should be bent on the deadlift.  To stop this, think of the arms as hooks only, and concentrate on relaxing them through out the lift.  Squeeze the bar tight, but relax the arms.

Training

So how does one build a strong deadlift?  What training techniques work?  What doesn’t work?  Most importantly, how often does one deadlift?

Although I am fairly young in years, I am still “old school” when it comes to training the deadlift.  I am a firm believer that you need to pull at least once a week if you are going to consistently add weight to the deadlift.  However, I also believe in using many variations of the deadlift, as well as many assistance exercises, in order to make the deadlift skyrocket!

Let’s start with some basic assistance exercises.  The first I want to mention is the barbell good morning.  In my opinion, nothing is better for strengthening the structures of the lower back for big pulls.  This exercise can also be extremely risky if you are not careful.  Beginners should start out light, with an empty bar, and strive to add only 5-pounds a week.  It is a risky exercise, and you do it at your own risk.  To me, the benefits I see in my deadlift, and squat, far outweigh the risks.

Start with the bar on your back like you would if you were performing the barbell back squat.  Use the same stance width you use when squatting or deadlifting.  Keep the back tight and push the butt back as you lower the weight.  Take the weight down to about waist height, keeping the back tight the entire time.  No rounding!  Your weight should be on your heals and your butt should be back.  The stress should be felt on the low back as well as the hamstrings.  No flex the back and hamstrings to return the weight to the standing position.  Throw your ego out the door!  Go light, strengthen the back, and reap the benefits of this great exercise!

rick-goodmorning

The next assistance exercises are for the hips.  I am a firm believer of strengthening the hips as much as possible.  As the hips get stronger, your sumo and conventional pull will increase.  As a matter of fact, I believe in this theory so much that I train all my pulls sumo style until I am two to three weeks out of a contest.  Only then do I switch to conventional.  With that, one of the best ways to strengthen the hips is to pull sumo!  Concentrate hard on pushing the feet into the platform and spreading the floor.

A second way that is tremendous in strengthening the hips is the barbell box squat.  Use a wide stance and squat onto a box that is a little below parallel.  Lower slow to the box, do not bounce or slam onto it!  Once on the box, relax the hip flexors then flex them hard to pop off the box and lockout the weight.  Drive out on legs the entire time, lowering and lifting.  Spread the floor with the feet hard!

seated-good-morning

To learn how to box squat properly, visit www.elitefts.com and read the articles on box squatting.  Reps, sets, weight, etc. are all explained in great detail.

A third exercise I like to use on my hips is the bottom-up chain suspended squat.  This movement requires a cage and some heavy-duty chains.  I set the cage pins up so when the chains are attached, the bar is below parallel.

suspended-good-mornings

I then wiggle under the bar, get set-up as straight as possible, then concentrate on driving my feet into the ground and lifting the weight with my hips only.

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Keep your back straight the whole time and use the hips.  Drive out hard with those feet.  A quick word on why I use the chains instead of the cage pins: the chains allow me to use my proper form as opposed to being locked onto the pins.  Also, with the chains, I can really wiggle under the bar, as it is free to move with me.

Along with these assistance exercises, I also pull at least once a week.  This is a constantly changing process; sometimes I may do regular pulls from the ground, sometimes I will do a rack pull, sometimes I will go off a box, and sometimes I will do a specialty lift such as adding bands or chains.

One movement I really like to do is the rack pull.  Put the bar in the cage at your sticking point.  For me, this is about 14” off the ground.  I tend to slow down at this point and it causes my deadlift to grind to a halt.  Experiment to find your sticking point, but you can do these from as low as 1” from the ground and as high as above the knees.  Everything about your form stays identical as it would to pulling off the ground.  I do singles and triples with these, and I always use a semi-sumo style.

rack-pull

Another great movement in building deadlift speed is the band deadlift.  Loop a couple of Jumpstretch© bands over the bar like so:

band-resisted-deadlift

Now pull like you normally would.  Use perfect form and make sure to pull with speed.  If you don’t-you won’t make it to lockout!  Use 60-80% of your max, and then add bands of your choice.  Do triples, as many as ten sets.

band-deadlift-lockout

If you have access to chains, you can use them as well.  Just drape them over the bar, then go to it.  More chains = more weight at lockout!

deadlift-with-chains

Another great way to overload the top for a strong lockout is to use dumbbells.  Beware, dumbbells are much more intense then chains or bands because the weight gain is not gradual, but rather instant.  Chain some dumbbells to each side of the bar like so:

deadlift-with-chains-db

Make sure to measure the chain and have the dumbbells kicking in right at your sticking point.  This works okay off the ground, but even better in the cage, as you wont have to worry about hitting the dumbbells on the way down.  Use this for singles work.

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If you have access to the Jumpstretch© bands, you can also do the reverse-band deadlift.  I love this lift as it really strengthens the lockout portion of the deadlift.  Simply attach the bands of your choice to the cage pins at a desired height, or the top of the cage.  The higher the bands are attached, the more they will help off the ground.  Then attach the bands to the bar.  You will notice, depending on what bands you use, you will need a certain weight just to keep the bar on the ground.  This weight can be used as the amount the bands are actually de-loading from the bottom.

sumo-dead-in-cage

With all this talk about lockout strength, how does one strengthen the bottom of the lift?  Nothing is better then the deadlift off a box.  Stand on a box that allows the bar to almost touch the tops of the feet.  Keep your form the same as you would if pulling a regular deadlift, only now you must get the hips much deeper to initiate the pull.  Everything stays the same!  You will find you will have to use much less weight to perform this lift.

deadlift-from-deficit

Onward and Upward

How you use each of these exercises is entirely up to you.  I do the box squats once a week and wave my weights up and down from 47% to 53% over a three-week period.  I also vary the band tension.  I pull once a week, using a four-week cycle.  Week one I may do regular semi-sumo pull from the ground for ten singles, or five sets of triples.  Week two, I may do a lockout from my sticking point for singles or triples.  Week three may see a deadlift off a box.  Week four I may use the dumbbells.  When week five rolls around, I am back to semi-sumos off the floor.  The goal is to see a strength increase during the four week cycle on the pulls off the floor.  This may or may not work for you.  Experiment and see!

Hip work is done twice a week, incorporating the bottom-up squats, or a sumo belt squat.  Glute-hams are also done twice a week with one day being ten to twelve rep range and the other being six to eight, or heavy.  Low back work in the from of a weighted back extension, or good morning is also done twice a week for four sets of eight reps.

The biggest thing with the deadlift is to train it intelligently, and diligently.  You need to listen to your body, experiment with form, and train your weaknesses.  Who knows, you might be the next big thing when it comes to deadlifting!