What’s so tough about lifting a bar off the floor?
When you look at a deadlift, it seems incredibly straightforward – walk up to a barbell, bend down and grab it with both hands, then pull it up until you’re standing upright.
Described like that, it really doesn’t seem like there’s too much to the deadlift. If that’s the case, then why are so many people terrible deadlifters?
If there’s one exercise more seasoned gym goers injure themselves on more than any other, it’s the deadlift. And the one area they always seem to aggravate – the lower back. Thing is, even if you can pull a heavy bar off the floor, if your technique isn’t one hundred percent, you’re placing yourself at a huge risk ok injury on every single rep.
Then there’s the issue of strength itself. Some guys and girls can just muscle the bar off the floor, even with shoddy technique, yet others struggle as soon as there’s even the lightest weight on the bar.
Key Technique Tips for the Deadlift
1. Walk up to the bar with purpose. The deadlift is not a lift to be taken lightly, and you need some aggression; not too much though – you must be calm enough to remember all your cues, but angry enough that there’s no way that bar’s going back down before you’ve locked it out.
2. Stand so the bar is dissecting the middle of your feet. If you’re wearing lace up shoes, the bar should be right over your bow, or the tongue of your shoes.
3. Bend down and grab the bar. Don’t worry too much about your position just yet, focus solely on holding the bar as tightly as you can. Your hands should be roughly shoulder width apart.
4. Bend your knees a little until your shins are lightly touching the bar From this point on, the bar should be in contact with your body (first the shins, and later the thighs) at all times. If it drifts out in front, not only will you probably miss the lift, but you’ll round your lower back, and ping – that’s a disc herniation.
5. Drop your butt down. This is key in nailing the initial pull. You want your hips low enough that your back is flat, but not so low that your position resembles the bottom of a squat. The best way to ensure this is to keep pushing your butt down until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and stop there – not a millimeter further.
6. Lift your head up so you’re looking straight ahead and very slightly up, then think “big chest.” This will bring your shoulder blades back and give you an even stronger starting position.
7. Take a big breath of air then pull the bar from the floor. Keep your chest up and head forward so you don’t round your lower back.
8. As the bar rises above your knees, start to push your hips forward forcefully. Squeeze your glutes hard and push them forward.
9. At the top of the lift, keep tight and stand tall. This is your finishing position. If you’re competing in a powerlifting competition, the judge will give you the call of “down” to signal that you’ve completed the lift and must now return the bar to the floor under control.
A Routine For Deadly Deadlifts
The more often you can practice your deadlift technique, the better. The key to developing awesome technique is frequent practice with loads that provide a challenge, but aren’t so difficult or heavy that all your good work on form goes out the window.
The following four week program is guaranteed to take your deadlift to the next level. Ideally you should have an idea of your one rep maximum before starting this. If you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter, test your one rep max two weeks prior to starting this program. If you’re new to deadlifting, make a conservative guess at what you think your maximum is.
For this routine, you’ll use 90 percent of your one rep max as your training one rep max. (T1RM)
Speed Deadlifts - 5 sets of 2 reps with 70 percent of your T1RM
Good Mornings – 5 sets of 5 reps
Chin-ups – 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Barbell Rows – 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Hanging Leg Raises – 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Day 2: Rest
Deficit Deadlifts (Performed Standing on a 2-3 inch platform) – 4 sets of 6 reps using 75 percent of your T1RM
Front Squats – 5 sets of 5 reps
Back Extensions – 5 sets of 8-10 reps
Bench Presses – 5 sets of 6-8 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Dips – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Rest
Deadlifts – Week 1 – 5 sets of 8 using 70% T1RM.
- Week 2 – 5 sets of 6 using 80% T1RM
- Week 3 – 4 sets of 4 using 85% T1RM
- Week 4 – 3 sets of 3 using 90% T1RM
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lat Pulldowns – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Side Bends – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Day 7: Rest
Notes and General Guidelines:
- After week four, take a week off, then begin the routine again, but add 5-10 pounds to all your sets on the deficit and regular deadlifts on days 3 and 6.
- With all the non-deadlifting exercises, your aim should be to complete challenging sets within the rep ranges. These needn’t be overly taxing though – this is a deadlift specialization routine, and as such, you want to conserve your strength for the deadlift exercises as much as possible.
- After your second four week cycle, take a week off, then go in on the Monday or Tuesday and re-test your deadlift one rep max, then use this number to determine your training one rep max for the next cycle.
- Always wear flat-soled shoes or deadlift slippers for deadlifts – never wear cushioned, spongy running shoes or sneakers as these will throw you off balance.
- Use chalk to draw the moisture out of your hands if needed.
- Shins guards or long socks are advisable to prevent scraping the skin off your shins.