Deadlifts have always been my favorite out of the powerlifts. There is something exhilarating about lifting a crap ton of weight off the floor, whether doing it yourself or watching another. The hype, the determination, the raw strength… it is all so impressive and exciting. It also takes a lot of focus, practice, and technique to execute just right from the time of stepping up to the platform, gripping the bar, and pulling it to lockout.
In my last two posts I have shared my favorite tips and cues I’ve learned in performing and building a strong and well executed squat and bench press and in this final installment I am going to cover a handful of my favorites for the almighty deadlift.
I’ve also made sure each of these points are useful and beneficial whether you deadlift in a conventional or sumo stance, so regardless of your preference in training or on meet days, you will hopefully learn something new and valuable!
Tip #1: Build your Back
Deadlifts are a full posterior chain lift and with that comes your upper back, lats, and erectors, not just your lower extremity. Having the strength and ability to engage these muscles (and maintain the tension and activation in them) when pulling maximal load from the floor and locking it out at your hips is a key component in building your overall deadlifting strength and technique. The back musculature responds very well to high frequency, moderate to high rep exercises and implementing this aspect of exercise science into your programming can play a huge role in building the upper half of your posterior chain for a bigger deadlift. The purpose of this tip is to remember to not neglect the finer details in building the muscles needed for your deadlift. Build size, strength, and endurance in all the regions involved, big or small, so you can ultimately build more resiliency.
As they say “the bigger the back, the bigger the deadlift.”
(Disclaimer: I don’t know who actually said that but I have heard it before somewhere. LOL)
Tip #2: Push Through The Floor
I probably sound like a broken record with this cue so I won’t exaggerate it, but there is a reason why I keep bringing it up – it works and it works well.
Force comes from the ground up and dialing into using it will help you to produce more drive, even with massive amounts of weight from a dead stop off the floor.
Just like in a squat (and bench press during the leg drive cue), to implement this cue you’ll want to ground your feet, push them in and out the surface of the floor to create more tension, and continue to push through it throughout the lift as if you’re pushing the floor down rather than just lifting the bar up.
It’s mainly a sensation, but sensation is a contributor to tension and tension is a huge piece of the puzzle in proper technique and maintaining your form.
Tip #3: INITIATE With Your Hips
Another cue that plays into both squats and deadlifts. Deadlifts really aren’t that vastly different from the squat when you look at the mechanics of them both. In the squat and deadlift the bar is moved vertically over the middle foot (line of gravity), they both involve flexion at the hips and knees (to different degrees but the point remains), and they both extend at the hips and knees to lock out and complete the lift/movement. The lock out position of the deadlift is also virtually the same as a squat with the biggest difference being in just the placement of the bar. The completed lift is when the lifter is in vertical alignment with the shoulders back and hips locked in tight.
To get into this position with as much efficiency as possible, break the weight from the floor by pushing your hips into the bar, rather than initiating the lift with an upward lift of the hips. The sooner and faster the lock out is able to occur, the less struggle you’ll have in getting there. Your hips will have to come forward toward the bar eventually to lock out, so you might as well start there.
The point is to move the weight from start to finish with as much efficiency as one can manage given the heavy load, so keep that in mind in all of your lifts. When performing and practicing think to yourself, “How can I get to the finish point efficiently, effectively, as fast as I can, and with the rules of my federation intact?”
Tip #4: Train Sumo & Conventional
Whether you compete in one stance or the other, both sumo and conventional deadlifts are important in overall strength and muscle symmetry. Conventional stance builds your hamstrings to a higher degree while sumo places more emphasis on the quads and adductors. Regardless, all of the muscles involved are intertwined and work to execute the deadlift of either stance. If you’re strong in both, you’ll be stronger in your competition lift. To give an idea in how to program both, for most of my clients and myself, the non-competition stance is used in technique and hypertrophy exercise selections up until it is time to peak for a meet, in which meet specific stances and preferences then take highest priority.
Tip # 5: Practice Your Set Up… Consistently
For you to be more likely to nail your set up on meet day, you have to practice just like you want to execute it throughout your training (even with other variations) leading up to that day. How you get into your set up, where you look, how you hold the bar, and, hell, even how you walk up to the bar. Meet day is not the day you want to try anything new and if you’re relatively new to a certain set up you are more likely to forget it when under pressure. Practice your set up consistently for as long as you can, and don’t add anything new once your prep begins. This way you are consistent and intentional in how you execute your lifts and less stressed when on the platform to do it any particular way. After your meet, during off season or between preps, is where you and your coach can dial in on tweaks and changes to benefit your lifts for the next meet. You don’t have to build Rome in a day. Give yourself time and focus on what matters the most in certain phases of your training cycles.
Tip #6: Don’t Over-Do It
Deadlifting is the most taxing on your CNS and doesn’t have to be traditionally trained quite as frequently to make strides in strength – if you’re implementing other tools to build it up. Building your squat contributes to building your deadlift and using other deadlifting variations will increase overall strength and technique as well. That being said, off season from meet preps are great for working more towards your deadlifting technique (including the set up), overall strength, and weaknesses. Deadlift variations that strengthen getting it off the floor, locking out, maintaining a neutral spine position, or (like me, currently) not tucking your pelvis excessively, can be ways to build your deadlift without wearing yourself out by doing the same competition lift over and over. Typically working on these things is a bit less taxing on your CNS and easier to recover from due to either using less load than your competition lift or decreasing the ROM of the movement to target a specific zone. Progressive overload is obviously a very important factor in training, but over time doing the same exact movement can cause adaptive resistance AKA a plateau in strength or even back tracking.
No matter what program you’re on or cue you use, powerlifting takes time and practice. You can’t necessarily perfect or work on every weakness at one time. Sometimes other details take president over others and that’s okay. As long as you are always working towards making yourself a better, stronger, safer lifter, you’ll continue making strides. When football players are preparing for a game, they watch plays of themselves and the other teams. I’ve learned so much from just watching myself, dissecting and spotting areas I have fallen short, and working on those areas. I also am constantly learning from watching and listening to other lifters and my coach. Learn what you need to do to get better where you currently stand and learn from others and their experiences as well. You do that and you’re golden. Never think you’re good enough, because that’s not good enough. There is always room for improvement.
Thank you for reading and I would love to hear from you and what tips and tricks you keep in the back of your mind when performing the powerlifts as well! My email is [email protected]
, lets chat.