Workout Wednesday #2 The Deadlift
Welcome to part two of our series of Workout Wednesday's.
Throughout January we are looking at the movements that EVERYBODY should include in their workout, whether you somebody who is at the peak of their sport (like some of our Athleat's) or someone who is aiming to look good on the annual summer holiday.
We first concentrated on an exercise that can be done anywhere, Body weight chins, (if you want to read our article click here) and we found that the ease of access to actually performing that exercise was a massive positive. Andy MacKenzie of Ironmac Fitness even suggested tree's as an option, really getting back to our roots and swinging about like Tarzan.
Next on the list is the Deadlift, there is some specialist equipment needed, most gyms I would hope would have an Olympic bar and good quality weight plates, or any sort of barbell and weight (plenty of it) to be honest, if they don't, move gyms immediately. In actuality you can find an alternative if you are exercising in the great outdoors if you look hard enough, just source a suitably heavy and shaped boulder!
So whether you are in a state of the art gym facility, or picking up big bits of rock in a field somewhere, you have to look at your form and technique for ALL exercises, we cannot stress this point enough, if you lose form you lose all the benefits of the exercise and may cause an injury, not good!
Some of the following article is in depth for the people who are looking to gain that 1% but the techniques apply to everyone, whether you are picking up 3 times your bodyweight, or using the bar to groove the move, get the form right from the very beginning.
With that in mind we have found experts in their field who are willing to give up some of their precious time for the cause, and get our techniques up to scratch. Next up is Alex Ferentinos, Alex is an Internationally Capped Rugby Union Player with Greece , Fitness Model, Certified Nutritional Advisor, Sports Nutritionist, and Advanced Trainer that operates his own online Nutrition and Fitness consultancy whilst he studies to become an Elite Strength Coach at Middlesex University.
Most of us start working out wanting to improve our physique and strength and don’t know much beyond we want a six-pack, sculpted pecs and big biceps so persisted to crunch, press and curl away. Unfortunately this leads to strength imbalances, poor posture and internal rotation of the shoulders. Compound lifts, which involve moving more than one of the body’s joints to perform the exercise, such as the front squat, chin-up and deadlift, actually engage more core fibres than sit-ups and also improve the strength of our posterior chain, which is the musculature that runs up the back of our body from our heels to the base of our skull. This neatly brings me on to the virtues of deadlifting, one of the best exercises for strengthening the posterior chain. It is a compound lift that stimulates growth and strength like no other. It develops total body co-ordination, strength and power, what can be more functional than picking a heavy bar from the floor? It’s said that our training should be focused around primal movements, which are variants of overhead presses, squatting, hip hinges, pushes, pulling, twisting and loaded carries. The deadlift is part pull, part squat and part hinge.
A deadlift is performed by pulling a bar up from a dead stop on the floor, unlike a squat where the ascent is aided by the energy stored from the descent to spring you back up, this is why many powerlifters squat more than they can deadlift. Imagine if you squatted by having the bar rest on pins set to the bottom of your range of motion when you squatted in the powercage, so rather than descend into the hole and explode out, you had to fire up from nothing…seems a lot harder breaking inertia like that doesn’t it? This is the aim when deadlifting. It primarily taxes the erector spinae (which run either side of the lumbar spine which forms your lower back - they raise your torso up in spinal extension) the glutes (which serve hip extension) and the hamstrings (which serve to flex the leg or extend the spinal column when they contract dependent on if the contract from the end that attaches behind the knee or the end that attaches over the hip joint), though it will stimulate growth throughout your whole body.
Ryan Wheal is an RAF Intelligence Officer and 7s player who says that the key to good deadlifting is a solid grip, strength in the lumbar spine, and explosive power. But why do we care what Ryan says?
Not that he’d tell you why as he’s a humble man; but I can let you in on a few secrets as he is a close personal friend of mine: he has a plethora of world titles and records from competing in drug free federation events because he can pull three times his bodyweight off the floor. Yes, three. It’s respectable to pull double your bodyweight; Ryan does just over triple - I got bored and mildly envious of counting how many resulting titles and records this has bagged him.
Ryan has got so au fait with the deadlift that his personal mental checklist is simply “Grip, Dip and Rip” – these three points summarise a laundry list of coaching cues that Ryan now performs practically instinctively though those of us out there needing to learn, improve or brush up on our technique will need a lot of training with a focus on concentrating hard in order to utilize great technique through quality coaching cues – this is absolutely imperative.
Set up by putting standard size round plates on an Olympic barbell set up on a lifting platform. Using different size plates changes the mechanics of the lift, which means you’re not deadlifting
o(n another note, who ever invented those octagonal plates should be neutered). If your gym has professional grade ELEIKO plates, use those; they’re the best out there.
"Stand directly behind the bar with the middle knurling directly in front of your navel. Look down - the bar should be over your feet. An optimal push through the floor will require the midfoot to be directly under the hips so the bar must be above the midfoot.
Common mistakes made in the set-up are not touching your shins to the bar; this distance from your body increases the pressure on the intervertebral discs of the spine leading to lower back strain at the very least. Equally as bad is touching the bar to the shins with an incorrect angle in the shins. Too much and you’re too deep too pull cleanly, not enough and your shins are near vertical robbing you of leg drive. This can be counteracted by making the bar sit above the balls of your feet, then taking your shins to the bar. This creates the “positive shin angle” of approximately fifteen degrees that lends itself to so many athletic abilities like sprinting and jumping and enables more leg drive from the lift off. However this may instantly put you out of the game; if you can’t get in this position and maintain a strongly set neutral spinal position, you will have to go away and work on the flexibility of your hamstrings and calves, however you may be able to rack pull to get a feel for the movement as you work on flexibility. So, your feet should be just inside shoulder width - directly under the hips – with the bar above the midfoot. Closer and you lose balance, wider and you lose the biomechanically advantageous position. Grip the bar tightly with your forearms packed as near as possible to the side of your lower legs without actually touching so as to not inhibit the speed of the pull, precede pulling the bar into your shins so that your hands are directly below your shoulders. Your shoulders then need to sit ahead of the bar with your weight stable, evenly distributing your weight through the whole surface of both feet. I’d recommend a double overhand grip (back of the hand faces where you’re looking, thumbs are closest to your body, palms face directly behind you wrapped around the bar) in order to promote an even posture. A mixed grip is used by competitive powerlifters to lift more, with which you keep your weakest hand as before but putting your strongest arm underhand (thumb points away from the body, little finger is close to the body, back of the hand faces behind you with the palm facing in front of you wrapped around the bar) to prevent the bar slipping out of your hands, though this puts one shoulder blade in a different place to the other and your bicep of that arm will be at increased risk of a tendon tear. I like to keep my biceps attached personally, so unless you’re a powerlifter you never really have any need for a mixed grip. A trap bar can be a happy medium. You should be gripping the bar tightly as this initiates a process called “Radial Tension” which cause the central nervous system to recruit more motor units, in other words, hold tight, be instantly stronger by utilizing more muscle fibres, which in turn leads to greater growth.
It’s key that you do not think of the deadlift as a squat – the mechanics are totally different, the hips don’t descend below the knees at any point, the hips sit above the knees, though maintaining a neutrally positioned spinal column is integral to the deadlift too, you can do this by learning to tilt the hips back as you stick your chest out proudly and tuck your chin as if you were trying to give yourself an extra set of chins to make your pals laugh at the same time as you pull your shoulder blades back simultaneously holding them together. You can tuck as you lift to hold the upper back in place strongly also pressing your tongue into the roof of your mouth to activate the deep cervical flexors of the neck to aid stability. Activate your lats as you remove all slack from your arms. Taking the slack out of your arms is necessary in order to pull hard and fast without injuries. This also makes it one lift, not a two stage separate pull when the slack comes out of the arms as a result of the initial leg drive. Leg drive happens after the slack is taken out of the arms not before. This is part of the the Dip and Grip Ryan speaks of. Before the bar comes off the floor, take a deep breath and hold it, ignore conventional wisdom about breathing out as you lift, you need the intra-abdominal pressure in order to maintain spinal integrity. Pull the bar up by gripping tightly as you drive through your heels your heels, purse your lips and push your breath out as if doing so through a straw once you reach the sticking point.
Guy Djejde, another record holding powerlifter, also advises me that you must stay patient when trying out for rep max attempts, as the weight won’t fly up like it does when you’re well inside your capabilities as the weight will be when you learn the move or as it does on higher rep sets or speed work. Guy recommends sticking with the lift, holding on and keeping your back straight whilst simultaneously forcing your hips forward, your knees will lock out as a natural conclusion, the only reason to drop the bar is if your back rounds. The bar should leave the floor in one smooth movement being a combination of hip thrust and leg drive, not a two stage leg press then hyperextension with a rounded back. This is why Guy also recommends not rising too fast when you’re learning how to deadlift effectively as the easiest path is to lock out the legs first, but that means you’re stuck with a rounded back and a strong likelihood of a back injury if you choose to persue pulling from this compromising position.
Once you get the bar off the floor and up your shins with a locked lumbar spine you need to start driving the hips forward by squeezing your glutes hard. Imagine you’re a very good-looking convict doing hard time about to enter the prison’s showers. Andy Bolton, a Yorkshireman who was the first man in history to pick up over 1000lbs states “Because the bar is close to your legs it can be hard to lift it over your knees. Ensure that your legs lock and back straightens at the same time. This will make lifting it easier and minimise the risk of injury” The bar needs to be in contact with your lower legs at all times, if you shed some skin, so be it. Some choose to wear socks to stop losing their shins on the bar. Once the bar is at the top of the shins, force your hips forward in complete sync with locking out your knees so that you achieve both at in perfect synchronicity. Return the bar to the floor by performing a textbook Romanian Deadlift, which is the move in reverse, you can teach yourself this with a submaximal weight for higher reps. Let the bar come to a dead stop on the floor for a few seconds, reset, then pull again. There are some additional aids you may want to consider like using chalk to aid your grip and applying baby powder to your legs to aid the glide. Minimise your use of straps if you want strength that translates onto the sports field. For example if you play rugby you can’t ask the opposition number eight to hold on a sec whilst you lash straps around him as you need to make the tackle.
Some supplementary assistance exercises that will help your deadlifting; these need to be performed after as your main deadlift variant with a couple of relevant assistance exercises afterwards.
Maximise effectiveness by objectively identifying your weakness and picking exercises that address it, though the first two are essential!
This list is by no means exhaustive but will provide great options.
1.Barbell Deadlifts – the standard variety outlined above
2.Trap Bar Deadlifts – same mechanics as a barbell deadlift, except in a hexagonal trap bar with a neutral grip
3.Rack Pulls – either the bar is set on some pins in the cage or the plates on blocks to elevate the weight off the floor in the starting position
4.Deficit Pulls – perform the lift standing on a block to increase the range of motion
1.Glute-Ham Raises will strengthen the whole posterior chain and make it work as one solid co-ordinated unit.
2.Front Squats will aid leg drive, core strength, fixing the lumbar spine and also improve thoracic extension.
3.Hip Thrusts will help to drive through to get the bar up past the knees, the glutes should be the prime mover, not the erector spinae.
4. Barbell Romanian Deadlifts in order to work the hamstrings and the lower back with the spine locked in neutral.
Grip Assistance Exercises:
1.Front Barbell Shrugs are great for grip and increasing the load you can handle.
2.Timed Barbell Holds at the bottom of a Front Barbell Shrug’s Range of Motion will zero in on the forearms as they are mostly slow twitch fibres whilst you hold your body in the finish position of a barbell deadlift.
1.Reverse Hyperextensions help the erector spinae, glutes and hamstrings fire together.
2.Hyperextensions isolate the erector spinae though the glutes and hamstrings will get some work too: chains can be put over the neck for increased resistance, and dumbbells can be utilized to counter internal rotation if you perform a lateral raise that starts with your arms hanging with your thumbs pointed together then begin to perform a raise as you lift your torso through contracting your erector spinae, as you lift the dumbbells, turn the thumbs skyward and squeeze your shoulderblades together
10 Key Points:
1: Midfoot under hips with positive shin angle
2: Hips above the knees
3: Spine held in neutral- tilt the hips back and fix the lumbar spine
4: Shoulder width grip with shoulders hanging infront of the hands
5: Balanced with a tight body - no slack in the arms with activated lats
6: Deep breath in, held, then pushed out through pursed lips during the pull
7: Driving though the heels and pushing the hips forward without compromising neutral spinal position
8: Glute contraction and hip thrust once the bar passes the knees.
9: Pull the shoulder blades together without hyperextension of the lower back to finish the lift
10:Return the bar to the floor using a textbook form Romanian Deadlift
These tips will have you deadlifting properly, safely and effectively.
By Alex Ferentinos.
Check him out at alexanderferentinos.co.uk and get in touch via email and twitter:
firstname.lastname@example.org & @AlexFerentinos7
So there you have it, plenty of great comprehensive tips there to get you deadlifting with the right form! I personally think that sticking your tongue to the roof of your mouth and holding your breath deep in the pit of your stomach when performing any type of strenuous heavy lift is a great tip, and is one used by all the best Rugby Union players in the World, just don't do it when the reps are high or on that 5k run, you will definitely pass out....There is more detail on this subject below, and as Dave Tate says, it is NOT cool to pass out doing this exercise, so do it right!
That was the what to do...next up is the what not to do by Dave Tate...and his 10 tips, you have probably seen a great example of all of these in your local gym by a guy who looks like he will hurt himself whatever exercise he is doing.
Dave Tate is a World renowned "deadlifter" and teaches the best to get better,and although some of these tips are advanced, they apply to you if you are lifting 300kg or 30kg.
Mistake #1: Training the deadlift heavy all the time
Very few people can train the deadlift week after week and still make progress. I feel the only ones who can get away with this are the ones who're built to deadlift. If you're built to pull, then the stress on your system is going to be less than those who aren't built to deadlift.
The deadlift is a very demanding movement and it takes a lot to recover from. This is compounded if you're also squatting every week. The squat and deadlift train many of the same muscles and this is another reason why you don't need to train the deadlift heavy all the time. Years ago the only deadlifts I did off the floor were in meets. The rest of the time was spent training the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. While my deadlift increased 40 pounds over the first few years, I did run into some problems with this approach.
Since I'm not built to deadlift, these things aren't natural to me. A session of speed deadlifts with a moderate weight pulled for five or six singles. This way the weight was heavy enough to teach good form and not too heavy to tax the system. This worked out to 45 to 50% of max to be trained after the dynamic or speed squat workout.
Mistake #2: Pulling the shoulder blades together
This is a mistake I made for years. Stand in a deadlift stance and pull your shoulder blades together. Take a look at where your fingertips are. Now if you let your shoulders relax and even round forward a little you'll see your fingertips are much lower. This is why we teach a rounding of the upper back. First, the bar has to travel a shorter distance. Second, there's less stress on the shoulder region. It'll also help to keep your shoulder blades behind the bar. You'll read more on this later.
Mistake #3: Rounding the lower back
This is another mistake I see all the time and most lifters know better. It happens most of the time because of a weak lower back or a bad start position. While keeping your shoulders rounded you must keep your lower back arched. This will keep the shin straight and the shoulders behind the bar and keep your body in the proper position to pull big while keeping the back under minimal stress.
If you pull with a rounded back, the bar is going to drift forward away from the legs, thus putting you back into a very difficult position from which to recover. When the bar drifts forward, the weight of it will begin to work against your leverages and cause you to have a sticking point just below the knees or mid-shin level. When you pull you can either arch your back in the beginning standing position before you crouch down to pull or once you grab the bar. Either way it's important to keep the lower back arched and tight.
There are many ways to strengthen the lower back for this. Good mornings, reverse hypers, and arched back good mornings are a few. You can also use a band around your traps and feet for simulated good mornings. With this technique you only use the bands and train for higher reps (in the 20 to 30 rep range) for local muscular endurance.
Mistake #4: Not having enough air in your belly
As with most exercise you must learn how to breathe. Stand in front of a mirror and take a deep breath. Do your shoulders rise? If so, then you need to learn how to breathe. Learn to pull your air into your diaphragm. In other words, use your belly! Pull as much air into your belly as possible, then when you think you have all you can get, pull more. The deadlift isn't started by driving your feet into the floor; it's started by driving your belly into your belt and hips flexors.
One note on holding air while you pull. You do need to try and hold your air as long as possible, but this can only last for a few seconds while under strain because you'll pass out. So for a long pull, you're going to have to breathe or you'll hit the floor and people will stare. While there are several people out there who may think this is a cool thing, I disagree. It's much cooler to make the lift!
So when you reach the point where you begin to really have to fight with the weight, let out small bursts of air. Don't let it all out at one time or you'll lose torso tightness and cause the bar to drop down. By letting out small bursts you can keep your tightness, continue to pull, and lock out the weight.
Mistake #5: Not pulling the bar back
The deadlift is all about leverage and positioning. Visualize a teeter totter. What happens when the weight on one end is coming down? The other end goes up. So if your body is falling backward, what happens to the bar? It goes up! If your weight is falling forward the bar will want to stay down. So if you weigh 250 pounds and you can get your bodyweight to work for you, it would be much like taking 250 pounds off the bar. For many natural deadlifters this is a very instinctive action. For others it has to be trained.
Proper positioning is important here. If you're standing too close to the bar it'll have to come over the knee before you can pull back, thus going forward before it goes backward. If your shoulders are in front of the bar at the start of the pull, then the bar will want to go forward, not backward. If your back isn't arched the bar will also want to drift forward.
For some lifters, not being able to pull back can be a muscular thing. If you're like myself, I tend to end up with the weight on the front of my feet instead of my heels. This is a function of my quads trying to overpower the glutes and hamstrings, or the glutes and hamstrings not being able to finish the weight and shifting to the quads to complete the lift. What will happen many times is you'll begin shaking or miss the weight. To fix this problem you need to add in more glute ham raises, pull-throughs and reverse hypers.
Mistake #6: Keeping the shins too close to the bar
I'm not too sure where this started but I have a pretty good idea. Many times the taller, thinner lifters are the best pullers and they do start with the bar very close to their shins. But if you look at them from the sides they still have their shoulders behind the bar when they pull. This is just not possible to achieve with a thicker lifter.
If a thicker lifter with a large amount of body mass — be it muscle or fat — were to line the bar up with his shins, you'd see he would have an impossible time getting the shoulders behind the bar. Remember you need to pull the bar back toward you, not out and away from you. So what I believe happens is many lifters look to those who have great deadlifts to see how they pull, then try to do the same themselves. What they need to do is look to those who are built the same way they are and have great deadlifts and follow their lead.
Mistake #7: Training with multiple reps
Next time you see someone doing multiple reps on the deadlift, take note of the form of each rep. You'll see the later reps look nothing like the first.
These two reasons are enough to keep the deadlift training to singles. If you're using multiple reps with the deadlift, then stand up in between each rep and restart the lift. This way you'll be teaching the proper form and be developing the right kind of strength.
Mistake #8: Not keeping your shoulders behind the bar
You've already read this a few times in this article and it's perhaps the most important thing next to hip position in the execution of the deadlift. Your shoulders must start and stay behind the barbell when you pull deadlifts! This will keep the barbell traveling in the right direction and keep your weight going backward. The deadlift isn't an Olympic lift and shouldn't be started like one.
For the Olympic lifts you want the shoulders in front of the bar; for the deadlift you want them behind the bar. The amount of misinformation out there about this is incredible.
Mistake #9: Looking down
Your body will always follow your head. If you're looking down then the bar is going to want to travel forward. At the same time you don't want to look at the ceiling. Focus on an area that keeps your head in a straight up and back position with the eyes focusing on an upper area of the wall.
Mistake #10: Starting with the hips too low
This is the king of all mistakes I see. Too many times lifters try to squat the weight up rather than pull the weight.
All I want you to do is look at your hip position at the start of the lift when you pull and watch how much your hips move up before the weight begins to break the floor. This is wasted movement and does nothing except wear you out before the pull. The closer you can keep your hips to the bar when you pull, the better the leverages are going to be.
You need to find the perfect spot where your hips are close to the bar, your shoulders are behind the bar, your lower back is arched, your upper back rounded, your belly full of air, and you can pull toward your body. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy, but then again, what is?
The first thing you need to do if you are serious about gaining strength in the deadlift is to spend more time under the bar and get some graft in! Find a real gym and start training with those who were much stronger than you. The best training secrets come from the small garage gyms with very strong lifters, not the spandex driven, neon-machine warehouses.
*This was taken from an article written by Dave Tate for T-Nation on 1st Feb 2002.
I only have one thing to say about the deadlift....it's awesome, keep your technique/form though, nobody wants to see bad form in the gym, if you are losing form, drop the weight...simple as that.. Do the deadlift right, do it more often and you will start to see all the physical benefits you dreamed of, just stay away from the crunch machine.
Stay strong and look out for the next article....
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