The Deadlift is arguably the most primal movement pattern you can perform with a barbell. Despite being the easiest basic compound exercise, most of the time it’s performed very poorly to yield any significant strength gains or improvements in somebody’s physique. Besides the squat, the deadlift recruits an approximately equal amount of muscle tissue across the body and therefore can be considered a full-body workout on its own. Not only is it one out of three powerlifts but since its existence, it has always been part of a bodybuilder’s exercise staple – for a reason. A deadlift is a hardcore mass-and strength-builder! Deadlifting pays off and that’s what this article is all about…
Find down below the tips and tricks that helped me achieve a 300kg conventional deadlift (drug-free).
Setting up for the conventional deadlift is rather easy and shouldn’t bring up too many complications. The difficult part tends to arise once a proper setup is achieved. Sure, a professional’s setup will very likely differ from a novice’s one. However, the biggest difference between the two is positioning.
- Line up with the bar
- Your feet should be tucked in a straight line directly under your hips
- The bar should be hovering directly over mid-foot; your feet/shoes should be cut in 2 equally big halves when viewed from above or from the side
- Feet point straight ahead or flared to a max. of 30 degrees
- Don’t move the bar
- There is another way to find out the width of your deadlift stance – you can find out the width of your stance by imitating a vertical jump. Close your eyes and try jumping as high as possible, without jumping. This is the position your body would be using if it had to produce the greatest amount of power.
- Flaring your feet is dependent on a multitude of factors. More foot flare = more knee flare (artificially widens your stance) and allows for more speed off the floor but compromises balance and hip extension at lockout. It can be manipulated in advanced athletes as a variable. If you are a novice, deadlifting with any amount of foot flare up to 30° is fine. Comfort first. Advanced techniques are for advanced athletes.
Without moving the bar...
- Let your arms hang straight down by locking out your elbows into full extension (this position should be always maintained throughout the lift)
- Bend over the bar by rounding your back (with your arms hanging straight down) and grab onto the bar
- In case your stance is a little wider than the width of your shoulders, move your hands out slightly. You should be able to fir your knees/legs inside your arms/hands.
- Your knees should be pointing in the direction of your second and third toe. If that’s not possible due to grip width by your hands on the bar, your grip width should be widened as well
- Your arms should be rubbing your thighs and knees only slightly, if at all
- The aim is to achieve the narrowest possible grip width by your hands on the bar (least amount of range of motion) while still being able to position your lower body properly and efficiently
- As you can see the bar hasn’t been moved yet and your shins are still not touching it
- Without moving the bar, use it as counterbalance to straighten out your legs
- The position you’re imitating is the one of a stiff-legged deadlift
- Feel the stretch/tension build up in the back of your legs (hamstrings); this step is called pre-loading
- Without dropping your hips, move your knees forward until your shins are touching the bar
- Your hips will drop as a consequence; any more voluntary lowering of the hips is counterproductive
- Straighten out your back flat by producing lumbar extension
- Use the yellow arc as a cue because that’s what you should try to be doing actively during your setup and throughout the pull
- This is going to be your starting position
- Breathe deeply into your abdomen and push out the air against your abdominal wall
- Hold your breath throughout the entire rep unless you want to break your back
- Your arms should be held straight, and your elbows locked out during all phases of the lift
- Initiate the lift by pushing through your legs like in a leg press
- While keeping your lower back neutral (throughout the entire lift), try forcing your hips down (under the bar) and closer towards the bar; squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as hard as you can
- The bar should be drifting along your shins if the lift is executed correctly; keeping the bar close to your body makes the lift inherently easier
- Once the bar has cleared your knees, the predominant movement pattern will be hip extension. Squeeze your glutes as hard as possible and smash your hips/glutes closer to the bar
- Lockout is achieved when you’re standing upright with the bar in your hands, knees and hips locked
- Don’t hyperextend your back, this is a potentially harmful position and doesn’t improve the quality of a deadlift training
- At all times, keep the weight on your mid-foot; any other position will throw off your positioning and compromise bar path
What to do after lockout?!
Given the fact that the deadlift starts at the bottom and therefore doesn’t have a lowering phase first (like the squat or the bench press for example), there are primarily 2 ways to implement it into your training:
1. Once lockout is achieved, you let the weight drop to the floor (free-fall), reset your setup, and start from a dead stop again (= also known as a true/competition/normal deadlift)
2. You perform the deadlift in a touch-and-go fashion, lower the bar to the starting point (touching the floor) in a controlled fashion and go up from there again without releasing the bar (this is known to many as a normal set)
While both are useful and should be implemented into your training regimen, keep in mind that both offer non-negligible advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a list to name a few...
|Option 1: Competition / Normal Deadlift||Option 2: Touch-and-Go Deadlift|
|Better technique development||Poor muscle gains because of lack of time under tension and eccentric contractions||More time under tension and thereby more hypertrophy (muscle gains)||Hard to master perfect technique|
|More specific to powerlifting competitions in case you compete||Harder at the bottom compared to a T’n’G Deadlift||Allows for more repetitions as starting point is easier and not from a dead stop||Not very reliable or specific for max attempt deadlifts|
|Better for strength development||Taxes the central nervous system (CNS) way harder||Easier to recover from; more training volume can be implemented||Not the same training effect in terms of strength|
More on grip strength and the different types of grips...
There are 3 distinct ways to grip the bar during deadlifts. Again, all 3 of them offer their advantages and disadvantages. Which one you are going to use is up to you and will depend most likely on your goals.
Both hands are in pronation; the load is distributed symmetrically across the body and the risk for a biceps tear is slim to non-existent. Weakest grip but challenges grip strength the most. Recommended for beginners or for those who want to develop their grip strength. Recommended for warm-up sets, light sets, pure grip strength training. Use chalk if possible.
Dominant hand in pronation, weak hand in supination. Load is distributed asymmetrically across the body, exposing it to slight amounts of spinal rotation. Risk for biceps tear on the supinated arm if elbow is flexed during lifting. Very strong grip that doesn’t rely on technique and pain tolerance nearly as much as the hook grip. However, it’s definitely limited by true grip strength but can be used by any athlete (even with smaller hands). Recommended for heavy working sets. Use chalk if possible.
Both hands are in pronation; the load is distributed symmetrically across the body and the risk for a biceps tear is slim to non-existent. Strongest grip without supportive equipment. Doesn’t challenge grip strength at all. Relies on technique and pain tolerance primarily. In theory, unlimited grip strength as long as you can handle the pain. Very hard to use if fingers are short. Recommended for advanced or professional athletes and people with injuries. Use chalk if possible.
Both hands are in pronation; the load is distributed symmetrically across the body and the risk for a biceps tear is slim to non-existent. Strongest grip but reliant on supportive equipment. Doesn’t challenge grip strength at all. Very reliable but also the most detrimental to grip strength development. Potentially dangerous if straps tear apart while pulling. To be used by advanced athletes but also recreational people who like the benefits of the hook grip but aren’t able to perform it. Use it on poor equipment or barbells with very bad knurling.
Cheating your grip strength in competition and/or competitive training
If you want to use a double overhand or mixed grip for your training at any cost but still find yourself losing grip from time to time, feel free to use wrist wraps (you read correctly, wrist wraps) while deadlifting. When put on tight and properly, they will prevent your hand from opening that easily. At that point, you should be also considering separate isolated forearm training.
What the f*ck is a hook grip?
The Hook Grip is a grip that has its origins from Olympic Weightlifting. It doesn’t rely on pure grip strength but rather on pain tolerance, technique and finger length. It primarily involves 3 of your fingers of each hand; your thumb, index and most of the time middle finger as well.
Performing the Hook Grip
- Tightly wrap your pinkies and ring fingers as high up on the bar as possible while leaving your “grip fingers” loose
- Then, wrap the bar with your thumb as “horizontally” as possible. Try to cover as much surface of the bar as possible (with your thumb).
- Now, squeeze your thumb and its nail with your index and middle finger as hard as possible.
It’s not supposed to be easy or comfortable! If done correctly under heavy loads, it will account for excruciating pain as you are not relying on grip strength anymore. The bar is held in your hands by the friction created on your fingers and skin and their elastic properties. Eventually, you will get used to the pain and use the hook grip to your advantage. Currently, most world record deadlifts are done using a hook grip. Most athletes will be able to exceed the absolute strength of their mixed grip at some point of their career.
Advanced tips and cues for maximum performance (will be addressed in another article)
In its nature, the deadlift is rather a simple movement compared to a bench press, an overhead press or a squat. However, there’re still many things that get people confused or create misconceptions. The most common of them would most likely be:
Putting the weight on your heels => The weight should always be balanced over the middle of your foot. Keeping the weight balanced more towards your toes or your heel is simply suboptimal and will interfere with bar path no matter what.
Forcing your body into a lower hip position than necessary => This is very commonly seen but completely unnecessary. For the bar to leave the floor, there are 3 conditions that must be satisfied:
1. The bar must be over mid-foot
2. Your shoulders must be slightly over the bar when seen from the side
3. Your hips must be at a position where your shoulders and hips will be rising simultaneously during the pull