Deadlift Dominance: 5 Tips For Massive Pulling Power!
If I had to make a list of things I like in no particular order, it would look something like this:
- Turning right on red
- Anything involving Jason Bourne, ninjas, or zombies
- LOLCat videos
- Getting people strong
I'll admit that as a strength coach, I'm biased when it comes to the last two. To me, nothing trumps strength. And nothing gets people stronger than good ol' fashioned deadlifts.
Guys can brag about their squat numbers despite only hitting quarter reps, or even brag about a big bench press that's more like an upright row for their spotter, but you can't cheat a deadlift.
It's you versus the barbell. You either rip that son of a bitch off the floor, lock it out, or not. The deadlift lends itself very well to gauge progress. It's up to you, and brute strength, to break initial inertia off the ground. If you're able to lift more weight over time without blowing your sphincter, you're making progress!
Contrary to popular belief, there's more to deadlifting than just bending over and hoisting a barbell off the ground. The following tips will undoubtedly clean up your technique and improve your deadlifting dominance.
1 / You Don't "Dead Squat"
I once overheard a personal trainer explain to his client that a deadlift is a squat with the barbell in your hands. I'd trust this advice about as much as I'd trust a barber with a mullet, or a mallet. Unfortunately, this is a common thought process among fitness professionals and Internet users. I could write a Tolstoy-esque dissertation on why this is faulty logic, but let's agree on a couple things:
- Squats are generally, but not always, considered more "quadriceps dominant," while deadlifts can be considered more "hip dominant." I'm not married to this mantra because you can easily make either lift more quad or hip dominant. Yet for the sake of brevity, let's just make note of the distinction.
- Maybe most important of all, regarding trunk, hip, and knee angles, significant differences between the lifts are readily apparent. In the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Pure Power, in an article called "Differences in the Squat and Deadlift," scientists noted that squats produce a more linear relationship between the hip and knee angles, "illustrating a more synergistic and simultaneous movement."
The deadlift showed three distinct phases defined by dominant joint action at the knees during lift off, the hips with the barbell at knee height, and both knees and hips during lockout.
So a deadlift is not a squat, which serves as an appropriate segue into the next point.
2 / The Hip Hinge
I see a lot of people who use a squat pattern to deadlift because they don't know how to hip hinge correctly. The problem is that the hip hinge is crucial to a proper and powerful deadlift.
You can think about the hip hinge as another way of saying, "Push your hips back." This is a cue that will come into play throughout the movement, from the deadlift setup to the descent back to the floor.
Make no bones about it: The setup is key, essential for mastering the deadlift and lifting big weight. I tell people to set up right against the bar and push their hips and hamstrings back as if they were trying to hit the wall behind them. Think of it like performing a Romanian deadlift—feeling significant tension in the hamstrings—until your hands can grab the bar.
In this context, your hips will be back and a bit higher than what you're probably accustomed to. Of course, positioning will differ among people with different leverages and body shapes, but the recommendation serves as a great starting point for most people.
Consider—as it relates to the hip hinge—the initial movement after lockout as you start the descent back to the floor. Many trainees mistakenly break with their knees and essentially "squat" the weight down. Focus on the hip hinge and push your hips back! If you feel the brunt of your weight translate into your toes, it's a safe bet you're "squatting" the weight down.
3 / The Setup ... Continued!
It's crucial to attain more upper back stiffness by keeping your chest tall and engaging the lats. Pulling heavy loads with a rounded back is a big no-no because it places compressive and shear loading on the spine.
In non-geek speak, if you consistently deadlift with a rounded back, your spine will eventually flip you the middle finger. The ability to resist shear loading (i.e., upper-back rounding) is a big deal, and how you initially set up is going to pay huge dividends.
Here's a video that breaks down many of the coaching cues I use with my athletes and clients:
How to Set-Up to Deadlift Properly
Watch The Video - 05:42
4 / Take Your Shoes Off
As innocuous as it sounds, taking your shoes off to deadlift can make a huge difference to clean up technique and improve overall performance. The main points to consider are:
- Most shoes make us 1-2 inches taller. This bodes well for people who are vertically challenged, but wreaks havoc on deadlift performance because the bar has to travel farther.
- Pulling barefoot allows you to sit back on your heels more, which helps engage the hamstrings and glutes to a higher degree and improve performance. I've seen people increase their deadlift by 10-20 pounds after removing their shoes.
If you train at a lame gym that doesn't allow you to take your shoes off due to safety concerns, your best bet is to wear a "minimalist" or flat-style shoe like New Balance Minimus or Chuck Taylors.
5 / Perform More Singles!
Deadlifting for high(er) reps doesn't make sense. When we get in the 5-10 rep range, I find that form becomes suspect at best. My deadlift programs tend to stay in the 1-5 rep range, even for beginners.
Working in a 1-5 rep range allows people to hone in on technique. When they become more proficient, I allow them to use heavier loads under that same rep scheme. It's a win-win.
As a paradigm shift, I tell my athletes and clients to think of it as five separate singles rather than thinking of "x" set as five reps. There is no golden rule that says you can't pause or reset between each rep. This is the mentality I lean toward to coach the deadlift. It slows people down and ensures that each rep is as close to perfect as possible.
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I have been going to my gym for over a year and I have yet to see anyone do deadlifts. One of the guys that work there even warned me about hitting the weights on the ground when I deadlift. (the ones that have rubber on the outside of the plates)
has to be planet fitness. I dropped my weights maybe and inch of the floor in a controlled manner and they told me the same thing
I started folding one of the rubber workout mats under each side. This softens the sound of the deadlift when hitting the floor. Now all the guys are using them. Now the stretchers are complaing about the mats, but the manager (who also uses it the same way) says he will just order more mats. The ones people use for stretching and abs.
I still think I have **** poor deadlift technique. They are very tough but I keep doing them in the hopes of getting better. One cannot dispute how vital they are to your fitness repertoire
I always see people do very high reps on deadlift.
as a powerlifter iv always trained no more than 5 rep sets on deadlift. When i start getting passed 60% of my max ill hit triples.
The only time i do more than 5 (maybe 6 if i can bust out one more rep) reps on deadlift is on a recovery day. I tried the whole treadmill and elliptical crap, but the biggest cardio i've ever done to get my heartrate up is light weight high rep deadlifts and squats. You throw 200 on the bar and squat it 20 times, most anyone would get gassed.
Ohkay, i have a question about the amount of weight i should be pulling for a max of 5 reps. I have been lifting seriously for the last year or 18 months and i can get 405 up at 5 reps with clean form according to the guidelines in this article. I just turned 18, and would like to know if im behind the curve on the amount of weight i should be moving. Anything helps. Thanks
405 for reps at only 18 is fantastic! Keep up the good work!
It depends on your goals. I life as a powerlifter and so do most of my friends. I can hit 405x5 but then ill be done for the day, but there are kids two years younger than me (I'm 17) and 50 pounds lighter (im 210) that can pull over 500. Then again I know kids that cant even pull 225 off the ground without their back bending over and their shoulders rolling forward. its all relative.
That type of question can't be answered. It depends on diet, your weight, height, amount of muscle tissue, type of fibers in the muscle tissue, genetics, etc. The fact that you're 5' 8" and 191 lbs. judging by your stats, I'd say moving 405 for 5 reps is pretty beastly and I'd be mucho happy with that. Just keep shooting for better bro.
At 18 that's pretty darn good. No one can answer the question "how much weight should I be using," but you.
If you want to lift more, keep doing what you're doing.
it really depends on your goals and body size more than age. A guy your size pulling 405x5 is pretty **** solid, but im a big dude (no, not all muscle) so 405 for me is nothing spectacular, its about half way up my set list in weight. Age really means nothing, i've seen physique model types struggling to do 5 or 6 reps of 150 on a bench press in their 20's, but a 15 year old kid right next to him put up a couple reps at 300.
Great article. I have a love/hate relationship with the deadlift. They're part of my workouts, and I can attest to the once you go above that 5 rep range form starts to fade. I think I'll be dropping back to the 1-5 limit. Thanks for the good advice...
thank you, this is very helpful as i was doing them all wrong lol. i had my butt up in the air and my lower back is sore now (did them today actually lol) again thank you this is awesome
Your back naturally has curves, but theyre subtle. The last thing you want to do is rip up a ton of weight from a standstill and start adding all of these additional twists and turns that aren't naturally present.
I agree that sometimes things aren't going to look pretty - especially the closer one gets to their 1RM. That said, if Im going to coach someone on how to perform the DL correctly, you better bet I'm going to coach them to maintain as much of a "neutral" spine as possible.
I'd rather people learn spot on technique from the get go, that way when they DO get into trouble with heavier loads they're less likely to hurt themselves.
This is indeed correct .. The upper back can remain relaxed .. It's a deadlift not a bench ... Keeping the upper back relaxed shortens the rom and allows heavier lifting ... The only proviso is your abs need to be real strong and you've got to have a strong upper back via direct row assistance ...
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