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The Deadlift

Dec 10, 2018

Today we’re going to breakdown the Deadlift. I’ll be focusing on how to perform this with a conventional stance, sorry in advance to all of you looking for pointers on your sumo deadlift technique.

I’m going to cover the basic technique as well as a couple easy cues that tend to help most people clean up their form significantly, and maximize the amount of weight they can lift.

As with all the exercises debuted in this ongoing segment, my goal is to help you perform them properly, keep you safe, and keep you from looking like this guy:
Disclaimer: As with any of these exercises, if you are experiencing pain while performing them and your technique is good, please see qualified professional who can help diagnose your pain. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, your personal trainer/strength coach is not that person (me included).

The Deadlift is probably one of the more straight forward exercises out there, and they don’t really get much more “functional” than this lift. Bar is on the ground, grab said bar, pick it up off the ground and stand up. Bing, bang, boom!

Not so fast though...

If that's all the thought you put into this lift, chances are you're spine will look like a wet noodle all the way through each rep, and that's best case scenario, worst case may require a good chiropractor and or surgeon.

How To Perform the Deadlift:

I’m gonna break this exercise down from beginning to end, but I know attention spans are short, so I’ll give you a few quick take away points I want you to remember if nothing else.
  • Tension, Tension, Tension. You’re whole body should feel tight from beginning to end of the lift. Take a big breathe into your belly and DO NOT exhale until you finish the rep.
  • Push don’t pull. Drive your feet into the ground like you were pushing the ground away from you.
  • Drive your hips into the bar HARD at the finish, while squeezing your glutes.

Lets start with arguably the most critical part of the exercise: The Set-Up.

Start by walking up to the bar and setting your feet anywhere from hip to shoulder width apart. You want to find a comfortable place for them where you can produce a good amount of force downward. For some that means there toes will be straight ahead and others turned slightly outwards, both of which are fine.

One of the best pieces of advice on finding your foot positioning I’ve ever heard, is to jump up in the air 3 times, and then look down at your feet. Where your feet landed after that last jump is generally a pretty good place for them.

The bar should be just above the middle of your foot.

Once your feet are set, you’re ready to reach down to grab the bar. Your grip should be just outside hip width, but not much wider than that. Remember the wider your hands are apart the further the bar must travel to get to the top, and the worse your leverage is.

Reach down for the bar by bending at the waist and pushing your hips up and back. you should feel a bunch of tension in your hamstrings at that point. This is a good thing! I want you to remember that feeling.

This is the only time you’ll hear me say this but, it’s ok for your back to be rounded here as you reach down for the bar, you are going to flatten it out later.

When you grab the bar, squeeze the ever loving hell out of it. You should be grabbing that bar and squeezing it so tightly that I would need a crowbar to get it free from your hands.

Now you will begin to pull on the bar (not lift the bar off the ground) to help lift the chest upwards, and as a result the hips should lower. DO NOT, lose that tension in your hamstring as you pull your chest up. Like this:

If you do this correctly, your back should flatten out, you’ll feel tension everywhere in your body and you’re almost ready to lift the bar.

The almost, is because you can still get a little tighter by getting a big breathe of air into your belly and bracing your abs, which is precisely what I want you to do next. When you breathe into your abdomen here, it should feel like you’re so tight you could burst. DO NOT EXHALE until you’ve completed the lift.

Basically, and forgive me for my crude language here, you’re either gonna deadlift the weight here or crap your pants. I’d opt for the former if I were you.

Next up is the actual lifting of the bar.

Throughout the entire lift, you should not lose that feeling of tension. That same tension everywhere is going to be a big part of what helps protect your spine.

As you begin to lift the bar from the ground, I want you to think about pushing with your legs rather than pulling with your back.

There are two big reasons for this. First, the obvious reason, your legs are much stronger than your back. Secondly, by pulling with your back you may end up increasing the distance the bar has to travel and it will also encourage you to move through your spine which is a big no no.

Instead, think about pushing the ground away from you with your feet, like you would push on a leg press machine. I’ll say it once again, DO NOT EXHALE! You should be staying tight the entire time.

As the bar passes the knees, your hips will be extending and at this point I want you to squeeze your glutes as hard as you can and drive your hips into the barbell as you continue to straighten your knees. To put it bluntly, I want you to hump the bar HARD!

When you’re in contact with the bar, your hips should be fully extended and you should be standing up tall.

BOOM! Now you’ve done it correctly, and hopefully it looks something like this.
Just to reiterate here are those same cues I mentioned earlier that I want you to remember if you take away nothing else from this post:
  • Tension! Get as tight as possible, take that big breathe into your belly and do not let it out.
  • Push don’t Pull
  • Hump the Bar HARD

The Benefits of the Deadlift:

People like to call the Deadlift the “King of all Exercises” and truthfully, it’s hard to argue with that. There aren’t too many exercises that work as many muscles in your body as the deadlift does not to mention the great strength and performance carry over you get from it.

If you’re following my technique breakdown above, with a weight that is challenging but doable with good form, here are just a couple of the benefits you’ll get:
  • Greater force production and activation of fast twitch muscle fibers
  • Increased core strength. Yes core strength. There is more to it than just 6 hour planks and bosu ball juggling exercises
  • Increase in total body strength
  • A good night’s sleep
Ok that last one I threw in there is a little tongue and cheek, but you should feel pretty exhausted after a couple sets of heavy deadlifts, and since they’re so taxing on your central nervous system, it generally translates to you needing a good night’s rest.

How Do I Program Deadlifts Into My Routine?

I usually recommend placing the deadlift towards the beginning of your workout as one of your first two lifts of the day.

Since it is primarily a strength exercise which requires a lot of energy and focus, trying to perform these with heavier weight towards the end of a workout when you’re already a little tired can lead to a bad situation.

If you’re goal is to simply keep practicing the movement pattern with a lighter weight, on say an upper body day or something like that, than placing them at the end of the workout isn’t as problematic.

There are also lots of different regressions and progressions for the deadlift, which can all be beneficial.

Rack pulls and block pulls for people who may lack the necessary mobility/stability to perform full range of motion deadlifts are great alternatives and are also beneficial for people looking to overload the weight.

Things like snatch-grip deadlifts for people looking to really build strength in their upper backs and get a little more range of motion can be an awesome progression/accessory exercise for the more advanced lifter as well.

Bottom line: If you want to be an awesome human being… Pick up heavy stuff from the ground.


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