In part 1 of this series, I explored the essential mobility requirements for a proper deadlift. In part 2, I went through my teaching progression for learning the proper movement patterns involved in a deadlift. In this article, I will go through my key tips and coaching techniques that will allow you to pull several hundred pounds on your lift!
9 Steps to a Perfect Deadlift
1. Feet Placement
You feet are very important during the deadlift. They are what connects your body and the bar into the ground, and this lift is mainly about imparting as much force as possible through your feet into the floor. It is for this reason that your feet should be fairly narrow, directly underneath your hips and your knees. This position is sometimes referred to as the “jumping position” because it resembles the exact position that you should naturally be in when jumping or landing. This position allows you to jump or land in a stable, joints stacked over joints position. Your feet can be turned out up to 15 degrees to facilitate mobility in your hips. Depending on your hip structure, turning out your feet a few degrees can allow you to get additional depth.
2. Shins close to the bar
The next step to a perfect deadlift is to position yourself close to the bar. This is a crucial step, because an incorrect set up can unnecessarily tax the lower back and severely limit the weight you can safely use on this exercise. I recommend setting the bar in a manner that bisects your foot. In other words, the bar should be set up directly above the middle of the arch of the foot. It should not be all the way by your balls of your feet. When in doubt, set the bar up closer to your shins. Always look down at your feet to ensure the bar is in the proper position between every single rep.
3. Narrow hands, progress from pronated to mixed grip.
Your arms should hang to your sides. Do not bend your arms. Bending your arms while deadlifting is a sure fire way to tear a bicep. Keep them straight at all times. Your arms should graze your knees when in the bottom position of the deadlift.
I always have my athletes start out with a pronated (double overhand grip) to start. Once grip becomes a limiting factor, we transition to the mixed grip. The mixed grip ensures a much more secure hold on the barbell. In order to avoid the development of grip imbalances, I always flip my mixed grip every set.
Coaching cue: If you have a problem with bending your arms during a pull, focus on squeezing your triceps. This will force your arms into extension.
4. Hinge, then drop to the bar
Always begin your descent to the bar with a hip hinge. This will load your hamstrings and put you in an optimal position of leverage for the pull. Once you reach the end range of your hip hinge, drop your hips and grab the bar. Make sure to keep your chest up. Your knees will naturally come a bit forward. Make sure to maintain the distance between your shins and the bar. Your head should be neutral. Think about tucking your chin a bit, and looking 5-6 feet in from of the bar.
5. Lock the lats
Your lats are crucial in preventing the bar from drifting away from you. The closer the bar stays in relation to your body, the less torque is placed on your lower back. This also means a more mechanical efficient lift, which means you can lift more weight with less work. That is definitely worth chasing after! Squeeze your back muscles as hard as you can. Your lats play a vital role in stability and force transfer because they connect to your upper and lower body. Tightening your lats will prevent energy leaks.
However, many athletes lack the ability to control their lats. In order to be able to squeeze the lats during the deadlift, it is important to learn how to control them.
Straight arm pull downs are a solid exercise to gain control over your lats. See the below video for a demonstration:
Another drill I like to use to turn on dormant lats is the partner resisted shoulder extension drill. Completely extend your arms and have them hanging to your side while you have a partner stand behind you. The partner must place his hand on your forearm. You will then fight to push your partner’s hand as far back as possible.
6. Big Breath!
You must learn to promote rigidity and foster optimal force production in the front of the body. Much like locking the lats promotes stability in the back of your body, your anterior core muscles will accomplish that job in the front of your body.
I teach my athletes to take in a big breath. Try to make your stomach fat. We want to activate the body’s natural weight belt and we want to increase intrabdominal pressure. Brace your stomach as if you were about to get a hard uppercut.
7. Pull the slack out of the bar
We do not want to jerk the bar off the floor. Nothing screams torn muscle louder than trying to violently rip 500 lbs from a dead stop. Not only can you get injured, but it may screw up the trajectory of the pull. Since deadlifting is largely about positioning and leverage, even a small tweak to the start of the movement can cause a failed lift.
In order to promote consistency and safety from the floor, I advocate gradually building up tension on the bar. The bar naturally has some bend in it, all we are doing is taking that bend out of the bar before it leaves the floor. A good indication that the lift was performed properly is the lack of the “clang” that the collars make when the bar is moved suddenly. We want smooth, powerful lifts. Make sure to take the slack out of the bar.
8. Hips and shoulders rise at the same rate
Your shoulders and hips should rise at the same rate. If your hips rise faster than your shoulders, it will lead to more stress on your lower back. If your shoulders rise faster than your hips, the bar will brash into the kneecaps. Neither is a desirable outcome. Focus on rising at the same rate.
Coaching cue: Most athletes struggle far more with quick rising hips. A great cue to reinforce proper habits is to ask the athlete to “show the logo on their shirt”. The athlete will automatically pick up their chest, allowing their shoulders to rise along with the hips.
9. Strong glute extension to finish
Once the bar rises past your knees, contract your glutes as hard as you can. This will allow your hips to finish the lift properly. Athletes often compensate with lumbar extension to cover for poor glute function, which will lead to low back pain injury.
Hopefully this article has helped you discover some tips that will immediately add weight to your lift. The deadlift is a very technical lift, and it does have a steep learning curve. Despite its inherent difficulty, I am confident that the tips I have shared will go a long way in fixing and improving your deadlift. Atfer all, there are few greater feelings in the weight room than pulling 500+ pounds from the floor. It’s something I can attest to in the videos below:
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