Tag Archives: deadlift
Give this post a read, it should take 5min and you will improve your deadlift.
Considering you’re all intelligent people I’m sure you’ve heard to the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC) and the role it plays in movement.
*A nice link for those who want some more science on it: http://www.scienceforsport.com/stretch-shortening-cycle/
*Here is the lay version: think pulling back and elastic band to store potential energy and then releasing it (kinetic energy is the result). “to shorten muscle you must first lengthen it”. Where you are right now do vertical jumps… Good, now do it without first bending your legs in to the starting position (preventing and pre-stretching of the muscles used for the jump)… Doesn’t really work, does it.
I want to talk about its relevance in lifting weights and how you can use it to improve your deadlift (all will become clear, trust me).
If we look at the squat and the bench press, they both have one thing in common that is missing in the deadlift.
Do you know what it is?
A loaded eccentric start to the lift (bar on your back/in your hands), this helps you create tension and the potential energy to overcome the required force on the concentric portion of the lift from being in the hole, where are the deadlift starts on the floor and you’ve got no real help. It’s you VS the bar and unless you’re a well trained lifter who understands how to use the SSC or at least prime your body by creating tension (pre-loading) in the required muscles yo’ll find you can’t even shift the bar from the floor.
I’m sure you’ve seen many great dedadlifters such as Eddie Hall, Ed Coan, Richard ‘The Ant’ Hawthorne, Andy Bolton to name a few, have a certain something about their set up. You know, when they pull against the bar taking the slack out (getting tight), followed by a brief pull down (or 3 in Andy’s case) and then effortlessly hoist it off the floor to victory. This pre-lift routine is their way of firing up the muscles required, creating tension and utilising the SSC to help them generate the force required to overcome the inertia and lift the weight. (This is harder to write down than I anticipated).
Here are some videos, watch for the points mentioned above:
The reason for this post is a simple one. I see a lot of people fail to do the following in the deadlift:
– Take the slack out of the bar
– Get tight (create massive amounts of tension/pre-load muscles)
– Not utilise the SSC
*Obviously a correct individual set up is required, if you don;t have those hire a coach and get the foundations, then refer back to this.
In Dynamite Deadlift (written by Pavel Tsatsouline & Andy Bolton) they cover a lot of great info and give lot’s of tips. One that Pavel has given throughout the years is to set up to the brain the deadlift and from standing PULL yourself in to your starting position from standing to create more tension (remember tension = force).
The other day I gave wrote three tips for improving one’s bench press, today it will be the deadlift, after all, there is nothing more impressive than loading up 5 plates a side for reps.
Tip 1 – Pull Out The Slack
If you’ve watched any top deadlift champion you will noticed they all seem to pull against the bar first, some do it with straight legs, other do it in a rock bottom position. It doesn’t matter which they do because they are all doing it to achieve the same thing, taking the slack out of the bar.
When you pull the bar off the floor it typically bends, every bar has some give in it, you must pull this out and stay tense to get it off the floor, if you don’t it will feel like the bar isn’t moving because you’ve not initiated the first pull correctly. Practice by getting tense and pulling agains the bar to feel the slack come out, once it is it’s time to drive the floor away and get your hips through as fast as possible and lock out a new PB.
Tip 2 – Keep Your Head Neutral
It’s fairly common for people to crank their neck back and ‘look up’ and while in theory this will help keep your back straight, in practice it doesn’t work so well. When you set up you want to keep your head neutral and slightly tuck your chin. That doesn’t mean looking down, your eyes can look up while your head remains neutral you know.
By keeping a neutral head position you will in effect lengthen your spine, this will help prevent rounding of the lower back and also allow a stronger neural connection, meaning you can lift more once you get this technique down.
Tip 3 – Lots of Single Arm Rows
A great many people will complain about their grip being the limiting factor, now while they are not necessarily wrong, they are not really sure of why their grip gives in. They think it’s because the grip is weak when more often than not it’s actually their upper back that is weak and as a result the brain says “Wait… we have a weak upper back… we can’t really lift this I don’t think. Better loosen the grip to prevent the stronger muscles lifting it and safe myself from injury.”.
The single arm row, or the Kroc Row is a great way of building an impressive upper back and as a result increasing your overall deadlift because your brain will now allow your to grip harder than before.
Use those three tips to improve your deadlift and start breaking your old PB’s.
Bonus Tip – Front Squat Crossover
Deadlifts can be very taxing to the body. Even reduced weight speed reps can take their toll. The front squat is a great exercise not only for building legs but also upper back strength and postural strength (through the upper thoracic). This is a must do accessory movement to your deadlift. The front squat also has a lot of crossover to your back squat and even your pressing movements as it teaches you to stay tight and breath in to your diaphragm properly.
Last week I felt like sharing some of the lessons I had learnt regarding the squat and some teaching points to help it improve. Today I will be doing the same but for the Deadlift, also known as the King of exercises.
Over the years I have picked up 5 tips that helped improve my deadlift and help me break through those milestone targets.
– Bar Position (Foot Position)
– Shin Position (The Hinge Set Up)
– Getting Tight (Hand & Body Position)
– Pushing the Floor Away (Begin the Grind)
– Moving as One (United We Stand, Divided We Fall)
If you’re ready let us begin.
Bar Position (Foot Position) –
Unfortunately for a lot of people they are at a disadvantage before they’ve even attempted to break the weight from the floor.
What do I mean by this?
When I see people set up the most common mistake is the bar position. Many will have it too far forwards in relation to their foot, often over the ball of the foot or the toes, this leads to them often shifting their weight (knees) forwards in an attempt to get down to the bar already making the lift inefficient.
*If you’re wondering how far apart your feet should be my advice for that would be to prepare to take a standing long jump, you will notice they are often close (around hip width apart at max, possibly closer) and facing forwards, this is how far apart your feet should be.
The bar need to be placed over the MIDDLE of your foot. If you look at your foot you will see the middle is actually very close the the bottom of your shin/ankle, people forget that their foot runs from their heel to their big toe and often measure the middle from their instep to their big toe, this is a grave mistake. If the bar starts out a little too far away then you have little to no hope of pulling the bar in with your lats and keeping it close when you’re performing the deadlift, this can lead to missed lifts and even potential injury, not to mention a dysfunctional and horrid looking technique.
More on technique later…
The next time you set up to the bar be sure to look down and make sure the bar is int he middle of your foot, it might seem like a silly tip but it’s one that most people would benefit from knowing. I myself used to set up incorrectly and literally added 10kg to my lift when I adjusted my bar position.
Shin Position (The Hinge Set Up) –
Once you’ve got the correct bar position in relation to your foot you will need to aim to keep your shins as vertical as possible. This is an interesting topic because everyone has slightly different proportions but the overall lesson applies to everyone.
Imagine your calves are touching a box, you can even place a box behind you if you wish so that you don’t have to imagine it, you can feel it!
Keep the whole calves to box imagine in your mind (or calves touching a box of you’re lucky enough to have one) reach down for the bar.
Did you find your knees drifting forwards and as a results your shins ended up making the bar roll forwards slightly?
It’s only move the bar slightly, that won’t be too much of a problem, right?
WRONG! Stand up, reset and start again.
The problem of the knees drifting forwards is common and often a result of years of incorrect bar placement in relation to the foot. What’s that you say? Some elite level lifters knees go slightly over the bar. They’re the elite, they can do what they like. We are not he elite so we need to get the basics solid before we can start to bend the rules slightly, though you will actually find that the elites still end up breaking the weight from the floor with their shins in a vertical (or as close as their structure will allow).
*Have your hands about shoulder width apart, so they can hand straight down naturally. use a double overhand grip for as long as possible.
Now you’ve reset and are planning to take hold of the bar again I want you to think about hinging from your hips. Stick you ass back as far as possible so that you begin to build tension in those hamstrings and start getting tight (more on this soon), keep sitting back while descending to grab the bar and you will notice your shins stay in a good position and the bar does not move.
If you struggle to achieve this them put the bar or perhaps a 4 inch block and practice taking hold of it with good shin position and lower the block by 1/2-1inch each time until you can get in to the correct position from the floor.
Once you’re able to firmly grasp the bar from this hinging movement, with vertical shins it’s time to get tight and get in to the final position read for the main lift.
Getting Tight (Hip, Back & Body Position) –
I’ve spoken about Bracing* before. I suggest you take in a good deep breath before descending/hinging to the bar, this will help you start to create inter-abdominal pressure and tension throughout the body (it also helps keep your back safe).
As you take hold of the bar with your first hand pull against the bar hard while trying to pull your shoulder blade back and down (towards your pockets), then push/screw your foot in to the floor on the same side creating all over tension on that side. Now take hold with the other hand and do the same.
Always keep pulling against the bar hard so that you’re creating an irradiation effect (this means the harder you grip the more muscle/motor units you will recruit), from here start pulling yourself slightly backwards, this will start to lower your hips in to the correct pulling position, your shins might even touch the bar as it is pull backwards towards to slightly. You know when you’re int he right position because you will feel tight and I mean REALLY TIGHT, your shins will be vertical (or as close as possible) with your entire back tight, your hamstrings loaded with tension and your shoulders inline or fractionally behind the bar (more directly over is optimal). This puts in in the correct position ready to grind out the lift. Yes GRIND out the lift, this will make sense soon.
If you’re thinking about head position I suggest keeping it in a neutral alignment, not ‘looking up’ because when people look up the crank their head back with actually dampened their neural output capabilities. Think long spine and slightly tucked chin (not head down!). Pick a spot to look at around 3-5 feet in front of you, that’s usually the place to be.
Doing all of this takes the slack out of the bar meaning that when you begin your grind you don’t get that initial weightless pull and then hit a block, it’s just the weight moving it’s way to a new PB.
Time to start the lift….
*Adopt a plank position and completely contract every muscle possible (especially your core musculature) now try to pack out any loose areas with air by controlling your breathing – try 10 second inhalations followed by 5 seconds holding all the air in. There is a term known as ‘Power Breathing’ which is worth researching that will help you learn more ways to practice bracing correctly.
Pushing the Floor Away (Begin the Grind) –
Wait… Push the floor away. The deadlift is a pulling movement isn’t it?
Yes and No.
From the floor your upper body (back, lats, etc) are static and holding you in position, considering your legs are primarily a pushing muscle you will be pushing the floor away you get the weight moving.
You want to think that you’re pulling the bar in/towards you and perhaps even slightly back as the weight gets past the knees but in the initial part of the lift where you break the weight from the floor you want to be keeping a nice tight position (described above) and push the floor away with your feet. Now what I am about to say will sound very controversial but hear me out…
DO NOT try to explode the weight off the floor.
When it comes to explosive power that has very little use for lift a ‘dead’ weight, you’re literally trying to create something from nothing when you try to explode in the deadlift and this will lead you you shooting your hips and ass in to the air and craning the lift up with your back and snapping yourself up good. Instead push the floor away while staying tight and grind against the weight, it will move and then you can keep grinding and maybe even pick up speed as the lift ascends.
When you use this style of technique the weight might feel like it’s not ever going to move but it will, trust me. You need to stick with it and it will come up, be patient and stay tight!
If you struggle from the floor then using a 1/2-1 inch deficit will help you overcome this problem, just apply/follow the tips above.
Moving as One (United We Stand, Divided We Fall) –
This links in with people who try to explode the weight off the floor. They lose all connection through their body and this results in an ugly lift that may or may not get 3 white lights.
Ideally you want to keep your body constantly tight throughout the entire lift, this will help keep everything moving together, as one.
The deadlift is a whole body movement. It works literally every muscle you have which is why it is the King of exercises (the squat being the Queen and the Overhead Press being the Prince), but you need to keep everything moving together to get the most out of the lift. If your hips outrun your upper body you will struggle to lockout or even get the lift past your knees, you want to lock everything out at the same time so you are stood up completely straight. None of this excessively leaning back rubbish, that says to me you’re not lifting as one unit and you’re leaking power, precious power you could be using to get more lbs on the bar.
While I’m not a fan of bands or accommodated resistance for anyone who doesn’t lift in gear I find using bands from he floor can actually hep you move the body as one unit, just don’t use them all the time otherwise you will be strong at lockout but unable to move the bar from the floor.
The above tips have been learnt through years of trial and error along with hours spent attending seminars with some of the best pullers in the world and all of them run o er these basics. One problem is many will see someone like Andy Bolton, Dan Green, Eddie Hall, Ed Coan and other such greats and try to copy their technique, but there is one problem… You’re not them and no where near their level. They practiced the basics for countless hours and you can see that their positions at certain points are almost identical, even if they start in different ways.
What are the main points to take away from this?
- Have a Solid Set Up& Get Tight
- Don’t Rush
- Move as One
Now go, practice and start hitting the numbers I know you can.
The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can have in your arsenal, but it’s also one of the most dangerous.
Picking up a weight from the floor and putting it back down is by nature very simple, but that’s not necessarily true for its execution. Poor for it common in the deadlift, this often leads to injury and people failing to get the most out of this exercises.
There is one very common flaw in the deadlift that I often see and it’s something that people think is actually correct when it isn’t.
What is this flaw?
You will often hear people say “Don’t look down, you must look up.” but this has been taken in the wrong context, leading to people cranking their head up and dampening neural connection throughout the spine which often leads to a rounded back.
Don’t believe me? I have a little test for you. Get in to the bottom of your deadlift and look up so that you crank your head back, try and round your lower back, you will find it’s quite easy to do. Now that you have done that i want you to think about ‘tucking’ your chin. That doesn’t mean look down, it means tuck your chin and try to create a ‘fat face’ and now try to round your back again… Pretty difficult to do isn’t it.
When you tuck your chin you lengthen your spine and allow for better neurological signalling/connection meaning you will in fact be stronger than if you were ‘looking up’ not what you expected eh?
I feel I must make the distinction and explain the difference between looking up and cracking your head back, one is done with your eyes, thus meaning you can maintain a good head position, the other is done by gym bro’s who want to watch themselves in the mirror.
Head position isn’t given the attention it deserves. It can make the difference between a good, safe lift and a total disaster.
Oh, another thing to be aware of is looking in the mirror. If a mirror is near people will be tempted to look which is STUPID because you can end up throwing yourself out of alignment and hurting yourself, so avoid lifting in front of mirrors.
Standard gym exercises such as the legendary Squat, Bench, Deadlift and Press are staples for the routines of many great lifters and athletic champions, but sometimes repeatedly doing these can leave you with various aches and pains (not to mention bored).
There are lots of different exercises available that still work the same muscles groups, however they add some much needed variety to your training. I will delve in to some of my personal favourites and why they are excellent alternatives to try.
Bored of Back Squat?…. Forget Frustration with Front Squat.
Front Squats are great for building solid legs, a cast iron core and a solid upper thoracic. Aim for 80-85% of your back squat in this movement.
Flat Bench Faltering?…. Intensify with an Incline (Y).
Swapping flat bench for incline will help fill out those pecs, pull out that posture and create some impressive strength gains too. Aim for 70-80% of Flat Bench.
Deadlifting become Dire?…. Develop with Deficits :).
Deficit deadlifts performed with a snatch width grip will help you develop a solid pull from the floor while filling out your upper back and lats with some solid muscle. It’s also great for grip too. If you hit 70% of your regular overhand deadlift you’ve done well.
Over Head getting Overly Hard?…. Banish Niggles with Behind the Neck.
The Behind the neck press requires a decent amount of mobility but it will not only help improve your regular press once you master the movement, it will also hit your shoulders in ways you can’t imagine and build beastly triceps. Once you get good at the movement and develop strong technique try and aim for 80% of your normal press.
Adding any one of all of these exercises in to your routine will help you break through plateaus and progress. My only advice is start light (50% of 1RM) and cement solid form, if you don’t you run the risk of injury.