Five tips to improve your Deadlift!

By James Smith

The Deadlift has always been an exercise I’ve enjoyed. Having long arms and a relatively short torso has meant that I’ve always had favorable leverage which has resulted in the following PB’s so far:

260kg Deadlift from floor

275kg Deadlift from 16″

220kg x 19 Axle Deadlift from 18″

All at 86kg bodyweight. Certainly not up to scratch with some of the best u90kg Strongmen competitors in country; Arram Eghoyan, James Ward, Shane Jerman and of course England’s Strongest Man and personal mentor Tom Hibbert but not terrible.

My target is to have hit a 3.25 x bodyweight Deadlift in my first phase of 2014 as my current training goals are to increase my Squatting patterns in my quest to qualify for England’s Strongest Man.

The following tips are five important things that have helped to increase our clients and my own levels of strength. The internet is saturated with advice on training technique but I hope I can try to provide something slightly different. The advice provided is for someone who is not a complete beginner and already has an understanding of the exercise and has the flexibility required perform it safely.

1. Set a goal and timeframe and make yourself accountable.

Without a time frame, a structured plan and a finish date, most programmes result in mediocrity. Having a training partner that not only motivates you but also has a similar goal will also help tremendously, you’re not always going to be to motivate yourself and be able to complete the plan for the day. Alternatively, hire a coach, even if it’s just to write the programme for you and to keep you on track. This is the simplest but perhaps the most important point. Without intent and without desire, even the best written programme will be ineffective.

My current target (albeit not for Deadlifting):

Back Squat – 172kg (2 x bodyweight) by 24th December. Secretly I want 180kg!

2. Improve your unilateral strength and weak links.

We’ve all heard the phrase, you’re only as strong as your weakest link and this applies to max effort lifts more than anything. When we look at the Deadlift, imbalances could come from a multitude of muscle groups; lumbar erectors, hamstrings, VMO’s (quadriceps) and scapulae retractors spring to mind immediately. Periodising your first phase of training to include strengthening your weaknesses is important. Again if you’re not sure what these are, get yourself assessed by a qualified coach. One of my phase 1 training protocols looked like this:

A1 Front Foot Elevated, 1 1/4 Split Squat (4 x 7-9, 4110, 60s)

A2 Lying Leg Curl, Toes In, Plantar Flexed (4 x 6-8, 50X1, 60s)

B Seated Good Mornings (4 x 10-12, 3210, 75s)

C1 Rope Pull-Through (3 x 12-15, 3010, 10s)

C2 45′ Back Extension (3 x 12-15, 3010, 90s)

This was mainly to overload my posterior chain but also to improve hamstring and adductor flexibility and to improve my deficit between left and right quads and hamstrings.

3. Deadlift!

This may seem obvious but unless you Deadlift frequently, with good form and with different volumes, tempos and recruitment patterns it’s going to be hard to improve for long. My training has included all forms (chains, bands, isometric holds, different heights, RDLs etc) and even 2 x per day, 2 x per week. Initially you should be able to make consistent improvements by slowly increasing the weight and slowly changing the rep target e.g.

Week 1-3 – 6 x 6-8 reps

Week 4 – Deload (Cut sets by 50%)

Week 5-7 – 6 x 4-6 reps

Week 8 – Deload (Cut sets by 50%)

Week 9-11 – 6 x 6-8 reps (You should now be able to have increased your week 1-3 weights to 5-20% more depending on proficiency.

This is a very basic template and specificity is key but it gives you a basic idea of a very easy way to make progress.

A more advanced version may look like this:

Phase 1 – Giant Sets (Posterior Chain)

Phase 2 – Descending Height Rack Pulls

Phase 3 – Chains and Speed work (2 x per week)

Phase 4 – Deload and Peak for 1RM

Breaking down the lift itself is also important. If you’re slow off the floor, use a snatch grip, deficit or chains. Slow through the middle of the lift, use isometric pauses or RDL’s. Each part of lift can be broken down into a smaller component which can be overloaded through different techniques.

Bottom line – get your technique assessed and follow a programme designed specifically for you.

4. Learn to develop as much muscular tension as possible.

Trying to lift to your maximum without activating and effectively using every muscle at your disposal will result in limited amounts of weight being lifted. Too often I see people trying to Deadlift with no thought for glute, hamstring and lat tension which is a huge mistake. Learning how to contract these muscles and firing them at the set position will transfer to more poundage being used.

Glute/hamstring tip – Use a glute activation sequence through your warm up so you start to build a good mind/muscle connection. (Info on this on our YouTube page). When you’re in the set position, extend your hips backwards until you start to feel your hamstrings tightening.

Lat tip – Grip the bar as tight as possible with arms completely straight and slightly internally rotate your elbows until you start to feel your lats developing tension.

Also without a correct breathing pattern max effort lifts will be near on impossible. Creating as much intra-abdominal pressure by having your breath held at the set position and exhaling as you rise is essential.

5. Drag the bar!

The last (and possibly most important tip) is to make sure you keep the bar as close to your body as possible. Unfortunately this may result in sore shins/knees but keeping the bar close to you means that the risk of injury is reduced on your lower back (as leverage is lessened) and the bars able to travel in a more vertical pattern putting you in a much stronger position throughout the lift.

One of the main reasons people are unable to do this is through being unbalanced through the 3 points of contact in their feet before they start. We recommend Deadlifting either with no shoes on or using trainers with very little cushioned sole so you’re able to get feedback through the balls and heels of your feet that you’re balanced.

That’s it! Hopefully these short tips have been helpful and you’re able to implement some of the points into your own training. Unfortunately, for such a simple looking lift, there is a huge amount of technique involved and brute strength will only get you so far for so long.

For any more information on the above or for advice with programming etc, please email james@elite-bodyworks.com or leave it below or on Facebook.

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