A too often forgotten lift, the deadlift displays strength in so many areas essential to balling out on the gridiron…
Nothing echoes bespoke, tailored weight lifting than the deadlift. It embodies our individuality through the realms of genetics, flexibility, mobility and the strengths & weaknesses in our muscles and skeletal system. Imagine the deadlift as a puzzle piece that features all of the factors above. With practice, performance and in time, you can fit them all together in a way that best suits you as a tailored athlete.
The deadlift improves strength within your posterior chain (Hamstrings, Glutes), Groin and Hips, Erectus Spinae, Lats, upper back muscles (Traps and Rhomboids), as well as your Quadriceps, Finger Flexors (hand grip) and core muscles. As you can see, it activates, works and requires a lot of muscles! This is the main reason why 80-90% of athletes can lift their heaviest weight within the deadlift.
From athlete to athlete, everyone’s deadlift, no matter how minute the change may be, is different to one another.
Here are my top tips towards realizing and developing your perfect deadlift.
Know your Deadlift style.
There are two styles of deadlift. The first is the “conventional” deadlift, which requires your hands to be outside of your feet width. This style of deadlift has an equal distribution of muscular activation between your upper body and legs. The second is the “sumo” deadlift, which sticks to the same hand width as the conventional, but now your feet are positioned outside of your hands. This style of deadlift positions your body towards distributing more muscular activation in your legs over your upper body. Based on genetics such as arm and leg length, torso length and strength factors between your back and legs, athletes could find the sumo deadlift very appealing and potentially a better suit for them to lift more weight.
Cut the bar in half with your feet.
To be precise, the barbell should hide where the knot in your shoelaces would appear. What this will do is allow you to bend your knees slightly forwards as you lower to pick up the bar, which will benefit your deadlift setup both mechanically and psychologically. The last thing you want is that dreaded (or for some, incredible) feel of the bar colliding and scraping up your shins. Which conveniently moves me onto…
Like using squat shoes in the squat, there are certain pieces of equipment beyond the standard use of a lifting belt that can benefit your deadlift performance. In terms of footwear, the slimmer the sole the better! Wearing running shoes for deadlifting is an absolutely no-go and will severely deflate most of the leg drive you attempt to put into the lift. The reason why is because running shoes have a soft, squishy sole that expands as you drive your feet into the ground. But for the deadlift, we want footwear that is cut close to the ground with a hard sole. This will also shorten your height compared to wearing regular running shoes and therefore aid your lifting mechanics, as well as relieving some pressure off your lower back. You can buy deadlift slippers or specific deadlift shoes (pricey option) for this, or the cheaper options would be Converse shoes or Chuck Taylors.
Between your footwear and your legs are socks! As I mentioned earlier, the bar can potentially come into contact with your shins, one of the areas of your body that has little muscle covering the bone and therefore prone to pain and bleeding. To avoid these factors throwing your mind off of lifting efficiently, invest in some deadlift socks (with the cheaper option being football socks though be it not as thick) to give your shins some care and protection.
Feet width for power!
For the conventional deadlift, the ideal feet width and placement should be just inside hip width. This is theoretically your most powerful feet position if you were required to perform a vertical jump and jump at your highest. This feet placement will enable you to get low enough with your hips without bending too far forward or squatting into the lift. This will also give your arms enough room to fully engage your lats.
For sumo, your feet should be at a width where when you begin to lower your hips and grab the bar, your shins should be directly perpendicular to the floor (i.e. straight with no angle inside or outside of your thigh). This enable maximum leg drive, not to mentioning performing the lifting cue ‘driving your feet through the floor’ to the best extent.
Regards to hand width, use this simple drill. Note: this should be your exact same grip for the conventional and sumo deadlifts. Stand straight, place your arms in the air overhead. Without thinking, relax your arms and let them drop to your sides until they are straight. Where your hands finish will be the best width for you. This is a comfortable, natural hand width, therefore one which will stimulate your arms and activate your upper back the most efficiently.
Powerlifters like myself will begin deadlifting using a double overhand grip until hand grip begins to fade and decline. Thus, activation of the lats and stimulation of the upper back will drop. Always test how heavy you can go with a double overhand grip, and then convert to an alternated grip. Your weakest arm should be turned around, so the palm faces away from you. As long as you perform a solid amount of accessory lifts after your deadlifts, as well as isolated lifts to hit your lats, you will no experience any dominations or infrequencies in your left/right muscles potentially caused by using an alternated grip in your heavy deadlifts.
Straps. Why? Once you rely on straps, you lose the tension from your fingers up to your shoulders. Despite your lats- much larger muscles- being fully activated at a heavy lift beyond the ability of your limbs, the fact that you are neglecting your limbs will seriously restrict your ability to maintain a heavier weight in hand for a longer period of time. One of the worst deadlifting experiences is nearly completing a new PR, only for the bar to slip out of your hands.
The be-all accessory for your hands: chalk. Either regular chalk or liquid form, it keeps your hands as close to the bar as possible, therefore enabling you to fully activate your hands and limbs in the lift.
Another no-no is the double underhand grip, which is very rarely seen yet can always cross ones mind with intrigue. Your bicep will become very exposed if you were to perform a heavy deadlift using a double underhand grip, as if you were picking the bar up to perform a bicep curl. The bicep will be fully extended, and any attempts of your hands to grip the bar harder as you lift will cause the bicep to begin its contraction motion, as if you were going to curl the weight. Heavy weight + small muscles = tear. Note: this is only a risk once the weight becomes heavy to the extent where your double overhand grip will begin declining. You can still do bicep curls!
Pull the slack out of the bar.
This has become a cliche lifting cue in modern day. Pull up on the bar to make it as tight as possible, This will take any loose ends out of your arms and upper back. As you pull the slack out of the bar, begin to shift your hips low and away until your scapula is in line with the bar. This will mean your front deltoid is slightly over the barbell. These motions and actions will tighten your body and coil you like a spring into the tightest position possible. When you practice regularly, you will realize where this tight spot is. Once it’s reached…
Feet through the floor.
It speaks for itself. You’re essentially breaking the platform beneath you with your legs. This will be achieved to its fullest potential if you have low enough hips, as if you were throwing a temper tantrum. That kind of leg drive.
Chest high and squeeze your shoulders.
Note, it’s crucial to do this after you grip the bar. Doing so before hand will shorten your arms and therefore require more leg drive and potential additional pressure on your lower back. Keeping your chest high and avoiding it facing directly to the floor will maintain a neutral spine as you pull the slack out of the bar. Squeezing your shoulders whilst doing do will activate your traps and upper back to finish off your tight body setup before lifting.
And finally, pull yourself away from the floor.
Driving your feet through the floor sets up your legs for ultimate power. But what about your upper body? You are essentially trying to stand up straight. To do this as fast as possible, you need to drive your body away from the floor. Your traps, lats and back muscles will be triggered to its fullest potential. Equipped with a strong core throughout, and your deadlift fundamentals are complete.
To close this article, it’s important to note that you should take every piece of advice with the deadlift with a hint of salt. Why so? Everyone is genetically different, so everyone individually will find progress and success with certain advice, cues and techniques compared to others. If you see your favorite powerlifter or athlete online doing deadlifts, always have this in mind. At the end of the day, the deadlift is the most tailored and bespoke exercise ever devised in order to accomplish one thing over all others: comfort. Once you find comfort, you find confidence. The rest speaks for itself.
Back Regime example:
Main Lift: 5×5 Deadlift (75% of 1 Rep Max (plus 2-3 warm up sets)
- 5 x 8reps Seated Cable Row (start at 39kg and build up to challenging weight)
- 4 x Farmers Walks (Walk from start of weights area to just before the main stairs and back for each set; start with 24kg dumbbells and slowly build up)
- 4 x 10 reps Seated Row Machine (inside grip) (keep elbows tight and tucked in
- 4 x 10 reps Seated Row Machine (higher grip) (keep elbows high)
- 5 x 10 reps Cable Pushdowns (Triceps)