Deadlifts are a feat of strength and can make or break anyone. Having a big deadlift will give you a strong body, back, and a mind of steel. If you want to build your deadlift, check out these tips break some personal records.
Record Your Sessions!
The tips I’m giving you are things you need to review after recording your deadlifts. Simply because it ‘feels’ like you are flexing your lats and starting the lift with your hips at the right height, doesn’t mean you are. Record every rep you do so you can review them later and work on correcting your form. No one has perfect form, but there are people finding what works for them and fine tunes from there.
Recording your sessions will show you exactly what’s going on and gives you an idea of what needs worked on. You can get a lot of great help online if you post form videos on forums to well seasoned lifters. Be warned there are a lot of couch commandos who don’t have a clue what popping a callous, having bleeding shins, or on the verge of blacking out on a deadlift feels like. Take all information in and think about what sounds logical and seems to be the general consensus.
Warm Up Properly
Warming up is extremely important for a huge compound lift like the deadlift. Warming up helps raise your body temperature and helps your joints and muscles warm up so they move easier. Most importantly, warming up gets your central nervous system ready for heavy loads. Many times the CNS is overlooked and people won’t warm up properly because they do not understand the importance.
Warming up shouldn’t tax your nervous system. You should not feel fatigued before you are into your working sets, but doing a warm up like 135×2, 225×2 and jumping into a 315 working set is simply not enough and you are hurting your progress if you do not warm up properly.
Deadlift with Attitude
There is a specific attitude you need to have when you deadlift; Treat every rep like your 1 rep max. When you treat every rep as your 1 rep max, you are ensuring that you are going to stay tight, pull safely, and get your form more engrained into your head.
Explode up on every pull and think about accelerating faster and faster as you are locking out. Once your form is gets closer to what works for you, you will be able to pull more than you ever thought you could. You will be able to explode off of the ground and create more strength as the bar rises. Think “stand up” instead of “picking the bar up.”
Where you place your feet under the bar is not in the scope of this article, but when you set up and place your feet under the bar, be aware of your feet and shin placement. People with stronger hamstrings tend to set up closer to the bar where others may set up further away from the bar. Regardless of where you set up, be aware of it and try different distances and write down your results. You are going to find a spot that just feels right and use it.
Start Hips at Right Height
I get a lot of questions about where to start your hips. I also hear a lot of people giving the information to start low like a squat. When I first started deadlifting, people would tell me to start with my hips lower and it was annoying because in the back of my head I knew it didn’t feel right so I didn’t.
When you start your hips too low like a squat, you start to pull the bar and exert energy while raising your hips and keeping everything tight. Once your hips are at the ‘right spot’ for you, the bar will then start to come off of the ground. This is wasted energy and is simply a flaw in your form. Recording your lifts from an angle or directly from the side will give you a clear view on whether you are raising hips before you lift the bar. This can cause your back to drop and make the bar start in front of you more than it should as well.
Starting your hips too high will be more like doing a straight leg deadlift which will put your body in a non-optimal position for a deadlift. You will see a lot of hip and hamstring flexing and a lot of lower back used.
Both starting too high and too low puts your body in non-optimal positions; use your levers best for deadlifting. Everyone is built different, play around with height and watch your form videos so you can fine tune where to place your hips. Once you find the right height to pull from, it will feel natural and you will be able to pull more efficiently.
Take in the biggest breath you can. Did your chest and shoulders rise or did your belly rise and stick out? If you are able to breathe down into your belly, you are well on your way to breathing big. If your belly doesn’t rise at all, watch some videos and practice breathing big into your belly. This is going to create the intra-abdominal pressure needed to pull these big weights and is a must to use your belt correctly and to be able to pull maximal weights.
Breathing all of the air you can possibly get in and holding it while you lift is going to make your core as strong as possible, so practice this type of breathing. There are a lot of YouTube videos on it, I may write an entire article about it soon as well.
‘Grip and rip’ is a term some powerlifters use for deadlifting. This means as soon as you grip the bar, your body is tight and you pull with every muscle in your body tight. Staying tight is very important to help prevent injury and to create the power needed to get the bar off of the ground.
When you deadlift, don’t treat it gingerly or it will break you. As soon as you touch that bar, every muscle needs to be tight in your body in order to pull the most weight efficiently and safely. Squeeze the bar as hard as you can.
Pull the Slack Out of the Bar
Pulling the slack out of a bar is important for two reasons:
- So you do not have any shudders when you start your lift which can wreck your back and getting your body in the best possible position for the deadlift.
- When you pull the slack out of a bar, you are getting your body ready to pull and getting the equipment tight so you can pull hard.
Regular Olympic bars in the gym don’t bend as much as a Texas deadlift bar, but you still need to pull the slack out of the bar so that all weights are not going to cause hitching off of the floor. On a Texas deadlift bar, the bar will bend and if you watch some of the heavier deadlifts in slow motion, you will see they pull so much slack that some of the weight is actually off of the ground already.
Think of your body versus the bar as a teeter-totter, the more you lean back and have weight going against the bar, the easier your deadlift will be. Breath in big air, grab the bar, pull slack, keep body tight, arms straight, pull the bar.
Just like in squats, when you look down, your body follows your head. Looking down when deadlifting will cause the bar to drift forward and your deadlift will be harder and put more strain on your lower back.
When you look straight up in the air, your spine is not in alignment and you have a possibility of getting dizzy or falling. There is no need to look straight up in the air; if you’ve tried it and it works best for you, by all means keep it up.
Placing your head in a neutral spot with your spine in alignment and keeping your eyes focused a little higher than parallel will keep your head from dropping and making the bar drift forward. Try different positions and practice focusing on different points on the wall to see what works best.
Pull Bar to Body
Your bar path should be straight and as close to your body as you can. There are many people who will quote something like “for every inch the bar is away from your body, it is 0.45283 times harder to pull the weight.” It is true the closer the bar is to your body, the better levers you have against the lift, but doesn’t always mean it is the best way for YOU to pull.
I have a lot of scars and usually bleed every time I deadlift because I keep the bar pretty close to my shins, and the tops of my knees and shins get banged up quite a bit. If pulling this close to your body is building your deadlift and doing it safely, don’t be a wuss and just pull.
Don’t Round Lower Back
A new lifter’s mistake; rounding your lower back. Not having proper control over your lower back is common for new lifters and is something best tackled before you start lifting heavy. Rounding your lower back is why a lot of people get hurt squatting and deadlifting. “Lift with your legs and not your back” is a well known safety line posted everywhere so people are aware and don’t round their lower back to pick something up.
All lifters will eventually round their lower back under heavy loads and this is more a weakness than a non-control issue. Be aware of your lower back and try to record your sessions at an angle where you can see if your lower back starts rounding. Believe me, you’ll feel it if it rounds and it’s not fun.
Round Upper Back
Rounding your upper back is an advanced technique that helps lower your range of motion and is actually easier on your shoulders and spine if done correctly. If you are a newer lifter, read this section but pull the way you feel safest.
When pulling with a rounded upper back with relaxed shoulder blades is an advanced technique and when done properly can really make or break a lift. When pulling with a straight upper back, your lats, erectors, traps, and shoulders have to work to keep form while pulling.
The problem comes when lifts start getting extremely heavy and your upper back muscles fatigue out and cause your bar to drift forward and then causing an unwanted upper back rounding. If you are not expecting to have a rounded upper back, the bar will drift forward and will cause problems on finishing the pull.
Getting into detail on this technique is above the scope of this article, but I wanted to present the idea to you for further studying.
Find What Works for You
The single most important thing to everything I’ve mentioned here is to find what works for you. All of the ideas presented here are to help you find what works the best for you. There are a few points that are universally needed, but feet placement, hip placement, hand placement and other variables that change with each body type is going to be something you have to figure out yourself for your body.
Create Habits and Rituals
Once you’ve found what works for you, create a habit and ritual of setting up like that. If you watch some of the most successful powerlifters and bodybuilders, you will see they have rituals and habits that they do before each set or before each training session. Creating good habits and rituals for this lifestyle is important if you want to succeed. Training is very repetitive and you need to be able to repeat each rep the exact same way (as close as you can).
You probably already have different rituals and habits such as exactly how much water you use to mix with your protein or pre-workout, the music you listen to, the thoughts that run through your head before a lift, hell even the route you drive to get to your gym.
For the love of humanity, quit doing curls and tricep extensions before you do deadlifts. Your deadlifts are the first exercise you should do that day and then whatever you have programmed should go after that. This section isn’t here just to tell you that, but I wanted to get that out of the way before proceeding.
There are a lot of assistance lifts that you can use and the when and why you should do these lifts is beyond the scope of this article, but I want to give you an idea of what you can do for assistance lifts.
Building a big back – rows, lat pull downs, lat pull overs, reverse hypers, glute hamstring raises, shrugs, etc are extremely important for keeping a tight back. There are many exercises for your back that will help add do your deadlift
Stronger legs – Hamstring curls, leg extensions, glute bridges, and any posterior chain exercise will help build a strong posterior chain for deadlifts.
Alternative Deadlifts – Sumo deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, close stance deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, rack pulls, speed pulls, and snatch grip deadlifts all will hit different parts of your body and it is good to program in alternative lifts.
In a powerlifting competition, you are not allowed to use straps for your deadlifts so grip strength is important there. Do not let your grip strength limit your gym deadlifts, but be aware you need to increase your grip strength so you can pull heavier. If you can pull 405 without straps and 455 with straps, work your deadlift up to 500 and work on your grip strength and you should be able to pull 455 easily.
This article is meant to give you the tools to practice and get your deadlift up. You must find what works best for you and realize that this is a slow progression. You won’t always gain 10 pounds a month on your lifts, so don’t keep expecting it and getting upset when you don’t obtain that.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll respond as soon as possible. Be sure to like us on Facebook and share us to your friends if you’ve found this helpful!