As we mentioned in Part I, the deadlift is arguably one the best exercises to improve total body strength and fortitude. As simple as the movement seems to be, it's very complex and athletes often plateau and get frustrated. Below i’ve listed 7 tips to help improve performance. Add each one every time you train, be consistent, and your numbers will no doubt improve!
Tip 1: Don’t Stretch Prior To Lifting
Static stretching major muscle groups (such as hamstrings or glutes) prior to lifting can be detrimental to your lift, as it decreases power output and can actually increase your chance of injury. Of course, it's always important to properly warm-up and mobilize tighter joints, just make sure to avoid prolonged stretching of the glutes or hamstrings. Stick to a dynamic warm-up with bodyweight exercises like squats and banded good mornings before deadlifting.
Tip 2: Stay On Your Heels
Plain and simple, keep your weight on your heels throughout the entirety of the lift. Try not to allow yourself to drift forward onto your forefoot or toes. This exercise is meant to develop posterior chain strength, not the quads.
Tip 3: Don’t Wear High Heels
I mean, lifters, or running shoes for that matter. Save your tennis shoes for the tennis court! Wearing lifters or athletic shoes while deadlifting causes a forward weight shift increasing stress on the lower back and decreasing posterior chain activity. Ideally, you want to avoid footwear consisting of any kind of heel lift or cushion. The main purpose of this exercise is to activate the posterior chain, so you need to stay on your heels. I recommend deadlifting in flat shoes with flat soles or simply go barefoot.
Tip 4: Take The Slack Out Of The Bar
Taking the slack out of the bar pre-lift allows the lifter to generate maximal muscle tension in the spinal erectors. This is extremely important to not only reduce rounding in the lower back, but prime neuromuscular stiffness in the involved muscles. After you set up properly, pull your chest up and simultaneously pull the weight of the bar till you feel the generated tension, then explosively perform the lift.
Tip 5: Push The Ground Away From You
The deadlift is not a pull exercise, but rather a push. By pulling the bar, you lose engagement in your lats, failing the lift and putting noticeably more stress on your lower back. By pushing the ground away and standing up, you maintain lat engagement and use the posterior chain. For many, fixing this issue is the single biggest factor towards improving their deadlift.
Tip 6: Struggling To Lock Out With A Max Out? Train With An Elevated Bar
The deadlift lock out is driven by glute and low back strength as well as the upper back. Often times a poor lock out can be related to problems in the starting position or loss of hip position throughout the lift. But for this tip, we will assume your technique is stabilized and you just need to improve strength on those specific areas. Elevating the bar on the blocks, typically 2-4 inches high can be a useful way to strengthen the lock out. Block pulls are typically weaker than lifting from the floor -- this is due to the lifters inability to generate leg drive with the bar in the elevated position, causing the hips and back to work harder to move the weight. Overloading these areas will help strengthen the lock out for conventional deadlifts. Other exercises to consider are the barbell hip thrust and barbell good morning - but make sure to focus on full strict lockout with sound technique.
Tip 7: Place Your Shoulder Blades In Your Back Pocket
Proper setup is everything. Placing your shoulder blades in your back pocket will help ensure a solid start position and set the stage for a successful lift. Keeping them down and together will keep the chest tall, puts the hips in an advantageous position, and keeps the upper back tight and ready to lift. Simple, but effective.
Heavy deadlifts will put muscles on places you didn’t even know existed. Keep these cues in mind everytime you deadlift, and not only will that annoying lower back tightness and pain subside over time, but you’ll likely hit a PR in no time! If you're in the Charlotte area and are dealing with lower back pain or need help safely executing the deadlift, i’d love to work with you to help you get reach your goals. We work with athletes and active individuals all the time who are trying to improve their fitness and overall health so they feel great long term. If this is you and you’re struggling with pain or recurring issues, I can help. E-mail me email@example.com to get started!
Thanks for reading,
Deadlifts are bad for your back… just kidding. They’re not. Deadlifting with bad form and technique is bad for your back. The deadlift is THE must-have exercise to build total body strength, pack on slabs of muscle, and sculpt awesome athleticism. It is arguably one of the very best exercises out there, and is almost indispensable for developing a well-rounded, muscular physique. And for many guys, it is also the exercise where they are lifting the most weight, in terms of sheer poundage, which can be very satisfying, almost reputation building. So I mean, how complicated could it be? In theory, you perform a deadlift by simply bending over and picking something heavy up off the floor. Just like Arnold famously once said…. “I pick things up and put them down!”
However, anyone who's spent any time above the bar knows how complex this “simple” movement can be. It's amazing how often I see athletes screwing this movement up. Compared to many other exercises, it is extremely easy to do it incorrectly if you have poor form. In fact, I would say that the vast majority of guys and gals that I see deadlifting are doing it wrong. This means that they are inefficient, not getting as much out of the exercise as they could be, not lifting as much weight as they could be, and are often really risking injury in the process.
But not to worry - for all you deadlifters out there (and aspiring deadlifters), I’ve outlined below 7 of the most common deadlifting errors to be careful of, along with a few bonus tips at the end. Apply these principles, and don’t be surprised if you can pull much more weight—with less pain—the next time you deadlift.
Error #1: You Squat Your Deadlift
The deadlift and squat are two very different movements, performed differently, for different reasons. And I get this: the 2 exercises have their similarities – but make no mistake about it, the deadlift is not simply a squat in reverse. The squat is geared more towards quad development, whereas the deadlift is geared more towards posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) development. Therefore the chest up, butt down position cue is not ideal for the deadlift. The deadlift is a hip hinge based movement, with a much lesser degree of knee bend, and a much greater focus on the hips themselves.
When you see someone attempt to perform a heavy deadlift from a squat set-up, outside of constantly scabbing their shins, you'll notice that the body will actually attempt to reorganize its starting position before the weight actually leaves the floor. This happens because squatting a deadlift is inefficient. The brief moment it takes to re-adjust body position from an incorrect setup, however, may not allow enough time for the lats to generate maximum tension, which means they may lose the ability to properly support the lumbar spine. This greatly increases the chance of experiencing excessive lower back tightness and pain. Not to mention the glutes are much stronger than the quads, so you will not only fatigue faster, but won’t be able to move as much weight.
Error #2: Your Hips Shoot Up Too Fast
As I mentioned, the glutes are the primary movers during the deadlift exercise. If your hips are shooting up to fast, that means you are extending your knees and engaging your quads prematurely. The movement then becomes more of a stiff leg deadlift rather than a conventional deadlift. As weight increases, this pattern becomes more common - lifters drive through and extend their legs, with the bar hardly moving at all - which leaves the back to perform more work, greatly increasing the chance of undo stress and irritation. This will also increase the chance that your back rounds before completing the lift. Keep your core tight and make sure the bar rises as your legs and hips extend simultaneously. The back angle should remain the same when the bar leaves the floor and throughout the first segment of the lift.
Error #3: Your Grip Is Too Wide
When you grip the barbell too wide, you lose the ability to properly engage your lat muscles, which is an integral part of the deadlift. Not to mention it feels awkward too. Really, your grip position should be just outside of hips, right next to your legs. With a closer grip, you can keep the barbell closer to your body which creates a more efficient, more controlled lift.
Error #4: The Bar Path Is Too Far From Your Body.
This is a big one, and largely related to your setup. In order to perform an efficient deadlift, the bar path needs to be as short as possible from start to finish, which means the bar needs to travel in a perfect vertical line. Far too many athletes start too far away from the bar. Then, when they execute the lift, the bar travels too distant from the body, greatly increasing lower back strain. Start with the bar directly over the midfoot. As you execute the lift, make sure the bar travels directly vertical and stays close to your body all the way to the top. The final position of the bar should be directly over where it was on the floor.
Error #5: You Excessively Round Your Back
Experienced deadlifters don’t make this mistake, however it's quite common among new and novice lifters or those who have never been coached properly. Similar to the early hip rise error, this often occurs when the lifter allows their knees to extend too quickly at the initiation of the lift. This causes you to lose the natural (slightly curved) position of the lower back much easier and increases the likelihood of rounding your back. Keep your barbell weight evenly distributed throughout your spine, and be sure include a slight bend in your knees to help keep the lower back in its neutral alignment throughout the lift.
Error #6: You Set Up Your Deadlift Stance Too Wide
When you set up your deadlift stance too wide, and the feet are outside of hip width, there’s no place for the knees to go except in. You will see valgus (collapse) at the knee and pronation (collapse) at the foot, which is the last thing you want when trying to generate force to lift a heavy weight off the ground. Keep your feet hip width apart, no wider, and toes pointed forward.
Error #7: You Lean Back At The Top Of Your Lift
This error occurs when you complete the lift but continue to arch and extend your lower back after lockout, jutting your pelvis forward. This is totally unnecessary and a useless addition to the deadlift. In some cases, you may simply be unaware of how to properly use your hips during the deadlift, so you resort to a compensation pattern by hyper-extending the low back. In other cases, the glutes may just be too weak to finish the movement, so you rely on using your lower back excessively to help complete the lift. In either scenario, using less weight and/or going over technique will help to reinforce the correct movement pattern and stop this monstrosity from ever happening again. If not, the added lumbar stress will one day catch up with you. In the name of safety, efficiency, and performance, finish the lift strong, stand tall, and resist the urge to lean back!
Correct those errors and you’ll greatly reduce the likelihood of an injury. Add these tips below and you’ll bust through performance plateaus!
Heavy deadlifts will put muscles on places you didn’t even know existed. Keep these cues in mind every time you deadlift, and not only will that annoying lower back tightness and pain subside over time, but you’ll likely hit a PR in no time! If you're in the Charlotte area and are dealing with lower back pain or need help safely executing the deadlift, I’d love to work with you to help you get reach your goals. We work with athletes and active individuals all the time who are trying to improve their fitness and overall health so they feel great long term. If this is you and you’re struggling with pain or recurring issues, I can help. E-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org to get started!
PS - Make sure to check out next week's blog for 7 ADDITIONAL tips to improve your deadlift!
Thanks for reading,
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