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How to Deadlift

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Photo courtesy of elitefts.com
Photo courtesy of elitefts.com

How to Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the best full body, compound exercises that builds muscle across the entire body and real strength. The deadlift (and its variations) is considered one of the basic foundational movements that is typically included into most comprehensive strength programs.

If you can learn and drill proper deadlift form, you will be able to progress and build serious levels of strength, without injury. But like all training, you must progress slowly. The deadlift is notorious for bad form, using too much weight and wrecking your back, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. That is the reason for this “How to Deadlift” page. I want to make sure that all lifters are informed and have the best chance at performing the movement correctly and safely.

Types of Deadlifts:

Conventional Deadlifts

Sumo Deadlifts

Snatch Grip Deadlifts

Benefits:

Moving the hands out into a snatch grip will increase the degree of hip flexion and range of motion of the lift. There is also a greater engagement of the posterior chain and grip. When the grip fails, add straps to keep the focus on the purpose of the lift, developing the core and the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors.

Suitcase Deadlifts

Trap Bar Deadlifts

Scientific Studies on the Deadlift

Study 1: Barbell Deadlifts vs. Trap Bar Deadlifts

J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):2000-9.
A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads.
Swinton PA, Stewart A, Agouris I, Keogh JW, Lloyd R.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21659894

School of Health Sciences, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, United Kingdom. p.swinton@rgu.ac.uk

Abstract

The purpose of the investigation was to compare the kinematics and kinetics of the deadlift performed with 2 distinct barbells across a range of submaximal loads. Nineteen male powerlifters performed the deadlift with a conventional straight barbell and a hexagonal barbell that allowed the lifter to stand within its frame. Subjects performed trials at maximum speed with loads of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80% of their predetermined 1-repetition maximum (1RM). Inverse dynamics and spatial tracking of the external resistance were used to quantify kinematic and kinetic variables. Subjects were able to lift a heavier 1RM load in the hexagonal barbell deadlift (HBD) than the straight barbell deadlift (SBD) (265 ± 41 kg vs. 245 ± 39 kg, p < 0.05). The design of the hexagonal barbell significantly altered the resistance moment at the joints analyzed (p < 0.05), resulting in lower peak moments at the lumbar spine, hip, and ankle (p < 0.05) and an increased peak moment at the knee (p < 0.05). Maximum peak power values of 4,388 ± 713 and 4,872 ± 636 W were obtained for the SBD and HBD, respectively (p < 0.05). Across the submaximal loads, significantly greater peak force, peak velocity and peak power values were produced during the HBD compared to during the SBD (p < 0.05). The results demonstrate that the choice of barbell used to perform the deadlift has a significant effect on a range of kinematic and kinetic variables. The enhanced mechanical stimulus obtained with the hexagonal barbell suggests that in general the HBD is a more effective exercise than the SBD.

Study 2:
Comparing the biomechanics of conventional and sumo deadlifts

Original Source – CLICK HERE

Deadlift Benefits:

- builds full body strength
- develops power
- adds muscle mass to the entire body
- develop core strength and stability of the torso
- builds confidence and mental toughness
- builds support grip strength
- helps you pick up chicks

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. Good lifting partners and your favorite music can make a huge difference in your mental preparation for a big pull.

Deadlift Considerations:

  1. I’m Missing at Lockout – What should I do?
    • Technique – You must finish the glute contraction, ensure your head is forward and pull shoulders back. You must also work on the speed of movement. Once the bar gets past the knees, drive the hips forward with a powerful hip contraction. See the Deadlift Tips section below for a video on exactly how to do this finish.
    • Strength – incorporate more pull-ups, rack pulls, banded rack pulls, good mornings, reverse hypers and heavy sled drags and/or prowler pushes. Don’t forget about band assisted deadlifts. This will help to overload the lockout and allow you to use heavier weights so when you go back to straight weight, your previous 1RM will feel easier.
  2. Knees Kicking In with Sumo Deadlifts – What should I do?
    • Technique – You have to force the knees out during the eccentric and concentric phases of the lift, “spread the floor” means your posterior chain will be on tension as you ascend and descend through the movement. Also, work on your hip mobility and core strength. This will help you hit depth to get a good setup on the bar and you’ll have the core strength to remain upright as you start the pull phase. Don’t think about pulling the weight, think about “pushing the floor away”.
    • Strength – incorporate x-band walks, lunges, barbell hip thrusts, ultra-wide backward sled drags, step-ups
  3. I’m Missing Off the Floor – What should I do?
    • Technique - Before you begin the movement create tension through the legs, into your lower back AND across the lats before pulling. This will ensure the utmost strength potential. This is typically referred to as “taking the slack out of the bar” and this is something to strive for even with lighter weights. If you drill this pre-tensioning with every lift, then when the weights get heavy, it will be automatic. Keep your head up and push the ground away. Also, make sure you try various foot positions to see which one fits your natural leverages and your current level of mobility. Don’t forget to get the most advantage off the floor by wearing minimal shoes or even barefoot when deadlifting.
    • Strength – incorporate beyond the range deadlifts, beyond the range band resisted deadifts, band resisted deadlifts, GHR’s, dynamic effort (speed deadlifts).
  4. My Back is Rounding When I Start the Movement – What should I do?
    • Technique - Immediately start by lowering the weight. This is a sign that you don’t have the strength to remain in a neutral (torso remaining in a straight line from the head to the butt) position during the lift. You’ll have to earn the right to lift the weight and remember that sometimes you have to take a step back before moving forward.
    • Strength – Work on your core strength and start incorporating more rack pulls. The core exercises should focus on torso stability and “preventing” movement or anti-movements. Exercises like ab roller, hanging leg lifts, anti-rotation sled drags are amazing for building this high level of core strength. When performing the rack pulls, setup the pin height in the power cage to a level where you are able to remain in a good posture lifting AND lowering the bar. As you get stronger and can demonstrate good form, slowly and progressively lower the pins and continue with more volume at these new, lower levels

How to Deadlift the Proper Way

How to Deadlift the Proper Way Without Wrecking Your Back

how-to-deadlift-arnold-deadlifting

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 every time.

How to Deadlift Video

Here is what you’ll see in the video:

- conventional stance deadlift
- how to setup proper distance from bar
- hip placement / posture
- proper breathing patterns
- bracing, intra-abdominal pressure
- how to create tension (irradiation) for more strength and a safer lift
- grip considerations
- concentric phase – proper drive off the floor and to lockout
- eccentric phase – lowering the weight under control and by loading the glutes and hamstrings
- the importance of upper back engagement
- neutral 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 Deadlift Video

How to Modify a Deadlift

Beyond the Range

Pulling through a greater range of motion (ROM) will help accelerate through sticking points — typically used for lifters who miss off the floor. This deadlift variation is done by standing on an elevated surface, either by standing on 100lb plates or on a 4-6″ box. The setup must be precise and good bracing and hip mobility will also be required for beyond the range pulling.

Deadlifts from a Deficit

Sumo Deadlifts from a Deficit

Snatch Grip Deadlifts from a Deficit

Pulling Against Bands or Chains

This technique forces the lifter to accelerate to lockout and “out run” the bands or chains. This develops greater end range strength and improves the lifter’s rate of force development (RFD). It also utilizes accommodating resistance, which means that as the lifter’s leverage advantage improves, the weight increases, i.e., more of the chains are off the floor or the bands are stretched further. You must remember that the total weight of the system (straight weight + chains / band tension) must be considered when determining the load.

Deadlifts with Chains

Sumo Deadlifts with Chains

Chain Deadlifts from a Deficit

Band Resisted Deadlifts

Band Resisted Deadlifts

Band Resisted Sumo Deadlifts

Band Forward Deadlifts

Band Assisted Pulling

This technique assists the lifter off the floor and overloads the lockout. This means the lifter gets help when they are at their weakest and they are handling more weight when they are at their strongest, i.e., the lockout. Ideally, the band tension should be completely deloaded at the lockout where they are slacked and not providing any assistance. Band assisted lifting allows for supramaximal weights to be used, in the range of 100-120% of 1RM approximately.

Band Assisted Deadlifts

Band Assisted Sumo Deadlifts

Beyond the Range and Band Resisted

This technique utilizes two techniques at the same time; band resistance and beyond the range.

Beyond the Range Band Resisted Deadifts

Dynamic Effort (Speed) Deadlifts

Changing the intensity of a movement means modifying one of the many workout variables, i.e., changing the volume (sets x reps), changing the speed of movement, varying the rest periods or changing the load (amount of weight lifted). If we focus on the speed of movement, or tempo, we can make some serious adaptations. Two of which would be activating higher threshold motor units and learning to accelerate through previous sticking points. Dr. Hatfield termed the phrase compensatory acceleration training (CAT) to describe movements utilizing lighter loads that are moved fast and made to “feel” like heavier loads, just from the fast speed of movement. Zatsiorsky termed this method of creating strength as dynamic efforts. Either way, loads of approximately 50-75% of 1RM that are moved with great intent will not only create power, but push you through a strength plateau from training focused on more deliberate tempo protocols.

Changing the Implement

You can vary the deadlift by changing the implement you use for the lift. For example a strongman axle, a trap bar, fat gripz added to the barbell, towel training, dumbbells and some other odd objects can be used.

Footwear

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When deadlifting, you don’t want to wear shoes that have shocks, springs or a sole that has a soft cushion. This will cause an unstable surface for you to pull from. Good deadlifters typically wear a deadlift sock, wrestling shoes or even bare feet. You can also wear Vibrams or even Sambo shoes as an alternative.

Wearing minimal shoes will do 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.

Here are 3 quick, simple exercises that will help increase your deadlift grip.

1. Double – Over-Hand Deadlifts (double pronated)

This simple adjustment to your normal alternated grip, will provide huge gains in your supporting
strength during competition and training. Take your normal deadlift stance, conventional or sumo, load down into the bar, and grasp the bar with a double over-hand grip. You will be quickly humbled by the amount of weight you can pull. Typically, a person who has never done this
will only be able to pull around only 60-70% of your 1RM, especially if you are loading with bands. The weight will roll right out of your hands! During your normal training day, use this grip until you cannot hold the bar anymore, then switch to your normal alternated grip, and finish your workout.

2. Thick Bar Lifting

Go to the junkyard and get an 8’ pipe, anything close to 2” OD (outside diameter). Take a 2 ½ lb plate with you to make sure it will fit on the pipe with the least amount of free space. Use this
bar everyday; for cleans, deads (double over-hand, or alternating), military press, bent-over rows, bench or any exercise you can use a regular bar for… The finger / wrist strength you will gain from incorporating thick bar work will transfer your grip strength over to new PR’s.

3. Wide Pinch

Working your grip in this outstretched position, will tax the endpoints on your fingers and teach
you to flex the palm of your hand. This is one of the key components to overall hand strength. How do you work wide pinch in a typical gym? Grab 3 x 25’s and place them all together, with
outer 2 – 25’s smooth side out. Grasp the 3 x 25’s with a double over-hand grip (fingers on the outside of the stack of weights) and pick them up. Hold them for time. Not too hard? Try this: 3 x 35’s! Pick them up and hold for time. Hope you don’t plan on using utensils when you eat next, because you won’t be able to hold a fork…! For a variation, grab the 3 x 25’s or 3 x 35’s with a double under-hand grip (supinated, thumbs on the outside of the stack of weights).

Cycle these 3 tips into your training and your deadlift grip will be solid as a vise. Always throw them in at the end of your workout because you don’t want your grip to be a limiting factor for your core exercises. Believe me – your hands will be destroyed!

How to Deadlifts Tips:

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).

Romanian Deadlifts

How to Perform Romanian Deadlifts

The lifter can take the loaded bar off the rack or deadlift it into postion. From this position, the lifter will:
- pull the shoulders back and chest up
- tuck the chin
- set the torso with a diaphragmatic breath and brace outward
- perform a hip hinge, while maintaining a neutral posture
- lower the bar within the limitations of the individual’s mobility / flexibility
- reverse hip hinge with significant glute and hamstring contraction
- lock into straight alignment before repeating pattern / sequencing

Rack Pulls / Band Resisted Rack Pulls

Kettlebell Swings

Good Mornings

Safety Squat Good Mornings

Back Extensions and Back Raises

Pull-ups – Heavy Upper Back Work

Deadlifting 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

rick-deadlifting2

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?

rick-deadlifting7

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.

bottoms-up-squats-off-chains

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.

deadlift-lockout1

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!


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  • Björn

    What a great article! I’ve just incorporated deadlifts in my training and I’m always a bit nervous over wrecking my back, but now I know (in theory) how to perform it!

    Thanx for all the inspiration!

    P.S. Did deadlift yesterday and today I have a little ache in my lower back, I hope it’s just me being “sour” from the training yesterday… D.S.

    P.S.S. Is it possible to send in a video of how I perform a deadlift and then have Your feedback D.S.S

  • Mike

    Sweet! Why wait for elite’s ‘So you think you can deadlift’ if you provide us with a post like that!

    Quick note though: At the beginning (‘How to build the deadlift’) you suggest to have the shins right at the bar while stating further down (‘More Step-by-Step Details’) that the shins should start approximately 4-6 inches off the bar. What do you prefer then?

    I usually position my feet so the bar is right under my toes for the reasons you mentioned (hip-drop and back-arch).

    Impressive article nevertheless!

    All the best from Germany!

  • Adam L

    Great series here Smitty. I love doing deadlifts and at 6’1″ I continue to avoid back pain by following the basic principles you outline here. I tell guys that ask how to perform them better or more weight and i tell them I left 135lbs like i lift 500lbs its all in the principles and then i point them to your website! haha. Thanks man

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  • http://evolvetrainingsystems.com/ Dan NYC

    All i gotta say is, GOOD STUFF!!

    You literally just gave away an entire seminar!

    I’ve been following you for awhile and went to a workshop you did with zach last year that was on the next level training!!

    Not, Hype, just love.

    Keep doin it brother

    Ya boy Dan from NYC.

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  • Juliano

    God! that’s.. that’s something else, man. it is so well explained that i don’t even know how to formulate a thought about it. i don’t even think is possible to someone come up with a question, ideas or enter in a debate about. it is just.. ‘perfection’ is the word. Bravo, man. Bravo.

  • mikiekie

    This is an awesome article.