The deadlift is my absolute, all time favourite lift. It allows you to lift super-heavy weights, whilst allowing for several different variations that actually carry over to each other really well.
It’s also really easy to train concentric only (no lowering of the weight) to get quick strength gains with minimal muscle damage, which is great news for any weight-class athlete and any athlete during their competitive season.
Thing is, the deadlift can get really complex, and the amount of little skills you need to think about to have a great deadlift include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Correct spinal position/posture
- Foot position, style (sumo or conventional)
- Correct pelvic position
- Breathing patterns
- Choice of grip (double overhand, alternate, hook)
- Choice of shoe/trainer, or barefoot
This can add up to a really long list of things to think about, but fear not as here is my easy-to-learn-bullet-list of things I know about the deadlift that will definitely help you become a human crane….
Here we go:
- Keep a neutral spine.
Do not hyperextend the lumbar spine. AKA do not stick your bum out and arch your lower back like a pussycat doll. Instead, stand in front of the bar with great posture (think: CHEST OUT, NICE AND TALL) then bend forwards from the waist.
It really helps to tighten up your upper back by pinching the shoulder blades together. This forces the chest up, the thoracic spine will extend and assists the whole spine in keeping the correct ‘shape’.
- Keep your centre of mass (CM) hovering over the bar.
Stand up right now, put both hands on your belly and imagine an orb of energy. This is your CM! Now look down at the bar, bend from the waist and keep your belly/CM hovering over the bar.
- Drive through your heels from a high hip position
After bending over and before lifting the bar, position yourself so that your knees remain above your ankles and your leg is fairly straight. This will keep your leg in it’s strongest position – close to lockout – and will activate your glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors to lift the bar. This ain’t a squat!
You may need to bend your knees a bit more at first if you lack the mobility to bend over with minimal knee bend. Or you could lift with a high hip position but raise the bar to a higher position by placing the ends of the bar on blocks, tyres on piled up plates.
It also helps to lift barefoot, or in a flat soled shoe like converse, vibrams etc.(Of course, other brands are available!) as this keeps your heel close to the floor and allows you to drive/lift in the correct position. Shoes with a raised heel, like running shoes, tilt you onto your toes and decrease the power, stability and safety you will have compared to keeping your feet on a flat surface.
- Hold your breath and pressurise the abs
Before descending down to grasp the bar, take a couple of BIG breaths without letting any air out. Really pack the air in and tense your abs and glutes as hard as you can. It should be really difficult to bend over to the bar because your spine should be really ‘stiff’ from the tension created by your abdominals and breath holding. This can make the difference between a successful lift and a bar that just won’t leave the floor.
Also, big mistake that a lot of lifters make, breathing out right at the top of the lift OR as soon as the bar leaves the floor. Look, your breath is tension, breathe out and you lose tension and you may lose the lift! Stay tight.
- Re-Set your technique between reps
This has made a huge difference in my athletes lifting and it is REALLY simple! After every rep, let go of the bar and stand up, take a deep breath and set yourself up for the next rep. One set of 5 reps will therefore become 5 individual reps with a little pause between reps.
The point of this isn’t to give yourself a break; it’s to stop bad technique creeping up on you. Start each lift from a perfect position and you will have perfect technique. The deadlift is the hardest lift to maintain good technique with when performing multiple reps so take steps to combat this.
Let’s sum up all these points so you can actually use them in training:
1. Stand really tall in front of the bar, pinch your shoulder blades together
2. Take a few deep breaths without letting any air out
3. Tense your abs and glutes really hard, and hold that tension!
4. Bend from the waist, keeping your spine neutral (no excessive arching)
5. Keep the hips in a strong, high position
7. Let go of the bar and start again at #1. Re-set your technique between reps.
These are tips I use DAILY with myself and my athletes. They work. You might be doing all these tips already, you may need to go back and work on a couple. Either way, work hard at the deadlift and you will become UNSTOPPABLE!
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