Ten more awesome tips and cues for the most proven strength-building lift on the planet.
Editor’s Note: Miss the first ten tips? You bastard. Don’t worry, you can check them out here: 30 Days of Deadlifts: 1-10.
I’m a firm believer in many things: The Earth is round. The Bourne Ultimatum is the best Bourne movie. And most accessory work should address a weakness or technique flaw with one of your main lifts.
Enter paused deadlifts. There’s no sugar coating here: these can be absolutely brutal, but they accomplish a few important things:
- They help synchronize the shoulders and hips (namely the latter) from coming up too fast.
- They help improve upper back (lat) tension.
- They get people stronger in ranges of motion where they’re weakest.
For programming purposes, aim for sets of 3-5 reps using 50-65% of 1-rep max, pausing 2-3 inches off the floor (or at mid-shin level depending on the individual and where the bar tends to stall) for a 2-3 second count each rep.
If you want to up the ante even further, perform a full pause in the same spot on the way up AND the way down.
Another favorite accessory deadlift variation is this doozy I stole from the guys at The Strength House, Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechio.
This is a superb choice for those lifters who have trouble with their hips coming up too early and/or have a difficult time with maintaining upper back tension. I’ve been using this with a few of my clients and it’s been magical to see the progress they’ve made with their technique.
Performing 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps using 50-70% of 1-rep max should do the trick.
There are two main reasons to go barefoot when you deadlift:
- Less heel lift means you’re closer to the ground, which means less distance the bar must travel.
- Less heel lift means less anterior weight shift into your toes, which makes it easier to get your weight back and engage more of the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes).
If your gym sucks and they don’t allow you to take your shoes off, you can always opt to wear more of a minimal or flatter shoe like Chuck Taylor’s or New Balance Minimus.
What’s unique about the deadlift – as opposed to the squat or bench press – is that it begins with a concentric, or overcoming, movement.
For a variety of reasons like leverages, mobility restrictions, etc., starting from the floor can be problematic for some people. One simple way to build context, especially as it relates to the starting position from the floor, is to start at the end (or top) with an eccentric, or yielding/negative, movement.
You’ll essentially be performing an eccentric deadlift (RDL) until the barbell reaches the ground. When I have my athletes do this drill I’ll stop them once they hit the floor and say, “Feel that position you’re in right now? That’s what I want to see and for you to feel when you begin from the floor.” It’s a foolproof way to help build familiarity.
I’ve always been painfully slow off the floor when I deadlift. I made a concerted effort to prioritize my front squats recently (and upping my squatting volume in general) and was finally able to conquer 600 pounds. The additional squatting helped improve my quad strength and ability to push away from the floor when I initiated my pull.
Heed my warning, though. If your deadlift volume is up it’ll behoove you to opt for more front squats or high-bar back squats since both will allow you to maintain a more upright torso (less shearing on spine). If deadlift volume is lower, feel free to implement more low-bar back squatting.
Long story short: Don’t neglect your squats.
Whether it’s a buildup set or working set, your ritual – from your approach, setup, and breath – should be the same. Maybe most important of all, your INTENT should be cut and pasted with every set.
Example: In the top video I’m lifting 225 pounds; bottom video 510. Note the similarities.
Treat every set as an opportunity to train with purpose and to nail your technique.
This is an easy question to answer. Think about where you’d set your feet to test your vertical jump. It’s likely more of a narrow(er) stance.
This is your best stance to display power (and for spontaneous tickle fights), and, not coincidentally, is also the best stance to set up for your conventional or trap bar deadlift.
Unlike the conventional style, the sumo deadlift requires:
- A wider stance, which will be determined by your access to hip external rotation and abduction.
- Feet (and subsequently the knees) pointing more outward.
- Hands inside the knees.
- That’s pretty much it.
Most lifters won’t be able to go super wide with their stance due to bony anatomy limitations, which is why I’m a big fan of a modified sumo stance.
One thing to be aware of is that the knees should not “fall” inside the feet. I like to tell people to make sure their knees are pointing in the same direction as the middle of their feet.
Another cue that works well is to “melt to the bar.” Meaning, with your shins right up against the bar, you must then “melt” or push the knees out in order to grab it.
The lockout can be problematic for some people. One of two scenarios usually plays out:
- Substituting excessive lumbar extension for hip extension.
- Butt-sticking-out syndrome.
In either case the cue I use is to “finish tall” or “stand tall” or “stop doing that because my eyes hurt.” The goal is to finish with the hips (squeeze the glutes) at the top.
“Peeling back the shoulders” is a cue I stole from Chad Rodgers and one I feel resonates with most lifters.
I’m a big fan of the “reset” at the bottom of each rep of a deadlift. This allows an opportunity to get my air, re-brace, to set my lats (depress the scapulae) to help with maintaining upper back tension, and to provide a bit more of a biomechanical advantage to get the shoulder blades closer to the bar to lift more weight.