I love the deadlift. You can’t cheat it, unlike a bench press or squat, it either comes off the floor or it doesn’t.
Getting better at the deadlift can be a challenge, but here are 5 tips that can help improve your lifts to build strength, keep you injury free and add some muscle.
Find the right height for you.
I’m not 100% sure about this, but I remember reading that the Olympic-style plates you deadlift with are the size they are (8.875 inches radius) because that height would allow you to fall with the bar above your face and it wouldn’t crush your skull. Regardless, the height you lift from the floor is pretty standard height, you and I are pretty unique. Our ability to get down into a tight little wedge with a more or less neutral spine and deadlift heavy loads from the floor could be very different.
If you struggle to get a good start position, raise the plates up onto blocks or pop a 20kg plate under each side to lift the bar up a little. This makes your start position stronger and safer than trying to pull from the floor and getting an ouchie in your low back.
Pull the slack out of the bar.
I often find myself gently reminding clients not to “snatch” at the bar on a heavy lift. You know what I mean, that little dip, bending the arms, then driving up and snapping all the load through the shoulders. Invariably this will lead to the shoulders being yanked forward and the upper and lower back following suit.
Pulling the slack out of the bar eliminates this tendency because as soon as you try to dip and pop at the bar you put the slack right back on it and you know you’re out of position.
When you set up, get your feet set, pull yourself into position and grip the bar like you mean it. Get good and tight and pull up on the bar, applying tension to it. You’ll hear a nice little click as the bar pulls into the top of the plate hole. Now, pull and make it smooth!
Push the floor away.
I saw Eddie Hall at the Scottish Fitness Expo a couple of years ago doing a deadlift talk. One of the tips he gave was to think of the initial drive off the floor as being a leg press, driving your feet into the floor to lift the weight. If your upper back is strong enough to keep position, the weight lifts and you drive your hips forward and stand up.
Instead of trying to pull straight up on the bar, hold on and try to initiate the movement by driving your feet into the floor.
Keep the bar close.
The only time I ever injured myself deadlifting is when I failed to keep the bar as close to me as I could. It slid forward a couple of inches as I was lowering the weight and pop went my QL. 4 years later and it still reminds me after a heavy session to keep the bar close!
2 reasons to keep the bar close:
- It’s safer. As I said above, the only deadlifting injury I’ve had, and most of the issues I’ve seen others have, is when the bar moves forward. The further away from you, the bigger the lever acting on your low back. The bigger the lever, the more stress.
- By keeping the bar close you make the bar path as straight as possible, and the shortest distance between 2 points, is a straight line. Why increase the distance you need to lift the weight?
An easy way to practice keeping the bar in close is to use banded deadlifts. Anchor the band in front of you with just enough tension to pull the bar forward. This forces you to fight that pull by engaging your lats and holding the bar back. Don’t use too much tension or you’ll just get pulled off your feet…
Control the weight back down.
The is a time and place for letting the weight down quickly, assuming you can control it. By lowering the weight under control, taking advantage of the eccentric loading, helps improve back, hamstring and grip strength. It doesn’t need to be super slow and it should be controlled.
And no, it doesn’t need to be lowered quietly, you’re in a gym, not a library!