By Bob Kupniewski Athletic Xtreme
When many step up to the bar to deadlift the one phrase that rings in their head is “Grip it and Rip it”. While this may be the case for the majority who deadlift you also have to factor that small cues can make a drastic difference in adding weight to the bar. Along with keeping your lower back/posterior chain in check for the future instead of bulging a disc in 10 years from bad form. Not only do cues take you a long way but small assistance work can add up and make a drastic difference which I will cover later in this article. For now lets see what small steps you can take to help set up and drive your deadlift to a new personal record.
Approach the bar please
First of all when stepping up to deadlift we must think foot placement first and foremost. Mark Rippletoe among the many who teach the deadlift (and the correct way I should put that) say to split your feet before getting ready to grip the bar, so simply step up and split the bar with your feet before you make any other movements. After this Mark and many others (such as Elite FTS and their entire deadlift series) the next step would be to spread the floor with your feet pushing outward and keeping the weight on your heels.
Keeping the weight on your heels will be the force you will use to drive through the motion just like the concentric portion of the squatting movement. As you go to tense your heels you must remember to keep your shoulders in line with the bar and your chest held high (or flexed not bent over) this will help keep a neutral spine and also take tension off the lower back. With that said this is where you will fill your stomach with air, flex out your lats, and get ready to initiate the pull. When doing so your tight hamstrings and force on your heels should be the initial movement while keeping your hips from shooting straight up, doing so shows you lack hamstring/glute strength which can be worked on.
Then as the bar starts to travel up in a straight path, when it hits your kneecap this is where you will pull back hard and shoot your hips through the motion. That is how to set up and execute the deadlift, but now that we went through important cues, what could we do to help improve these steps and build our deadlift?
Don’t just grip and rip
The first cue is to tense the lats, as they are a major deal to helping you add some weight on the bar. The lats can really aid in stabilizing the bar, and also help keep the bar closer to the individuals body as they initiate the pull (instead of keeping it further away from them causing the lifter to set them self up for injury) . This can also show that you lack upper back strength, and need to improve with various accessory movements to bring it up to aid your deadlift which is the next part of our article. And we need to realize that setting the lats is just like you were doing a pull-up and before you go to pull yourself up you flare your lats out to get a “Wide” illusion of yourself and to drive through your elbows to finish the movement.
When you go to sit down into the deadlift blow some air into your stomach and pretend like you’re hitting a lat spread to help release your lats and use them for stability for pulling through the motion. There could be benefit in doing various forms of deadlift to first of all bring up the complex lift and also the accessory bodyparts that show weakness when executing the lift. Those area’s would be the hamstrings, posterior chain and lower back, and lats (as we have touched on). I would first want to direct to snatch grip or deficit deadlifts as accessory movements to really work on our hamstrings/glutes.
Weak Glutes/Hamstrings Tips
As we have seen many people when they deadlift or going to 1RM or high RPE deadlifts they will initially shoot their hips right into the air. This is the cause of weak glutes/hamstrings and to solve this we can use these two movements to our benefit. When you setup at a deficit you are above the movement where the hamstrings will be the sole focus instead of the posterior chain straight off the ground. And when you alter the grip (Snatch grip) or even if you pull sumo (you will hit the hamstrings at a greater degree than the posterior chain or lower back). Good other things we could add into a leg day would be Stiff Leg Deadlifts, RDL’s, or forms of a glute bridge to really hammer away your hamstrings and build them up to help the initial pull..
Weak Upper/Mid Back
Now when we talk about upper body or mid back in the posterior chain the major thing to consider would be rack deadlifts. These are awesome for lockout and also lower back strength. Combine that with a weighted hyperextension or back extension you can get a 1-2 combo of hamstrings and lower back. This is called killing two birds with one stone which is awesome in weightlifting and referring to complex lifts which activate many muscle fibers. While a Lat Pulldown, Various forms of rows are all things to consider to build your lats since this is primarily a deadlift article lets look at the alternatives in a Paused and Speed Deadlift which could help build your back.
A Paused Deadlift would be excellent not only to help understand lat activation, but also proper setup and resetting like your performing your true 1RM every single time you pull. Paused Deadlifts are going to be brutal, and I suggest you start doing sets around 80% of your 1RM or 85% to really get an understanding of how much these can make you gasp air. I would cycle your loads over the weeks from 60-70-80-90% over a 4 week span and slowly add weight to the bar while you focus on form. For example you could do 60% at a 3×5 setup, then 3×5 at 70%, 3×4 at 80% and 3×3 on week 4 at 90%.
The Speed deadlift which is a lot more famous in the westside template on DE (Dynamic Effort Days) helps improve bar speed off the ground. Doing submaximal work. Even doing submax work this is the key to doing lots of reps and correcting technique as you rip the bar off the ground. You will set ups in training along the lines of 8×3 or 10×2-3 with short rest periods and quick reps. Another thing you could do that I see Layne Norton do quite often are doing single reps every minute for 10-15 minutes to also aid in bar strength and lat activation during the movement When you look to progress on the deadlift every minute you could try knocking off 10 seconds and pull every 50 seconds instead of every minute . This will help keep the heart rate up, focus on keeping form in check while reducing the time of overall rest.
With a weak deadlift comes with other lagging aspects of your back, hamstrings or posterior chain, give some of these alternatives a suggestion and utilize the cues before pulling and see how much weight you can add to the bar over the weeks, months or years of deadlifting.