The Deadlift is awesome. It is both loved and hated. A common question i get asked regulary is how to improve one’s max lift. A ‘max’ is just your perception of your max. You can and will go higher. You might be saying, “but I’ve been stuck at this weight for ages”. Mental block. Bullshit. You need to adjust your training, tweak your technique or overhaul it. Embrace it and watch the magic happen.
Deadlifting really is just about having the guts to get psyched and pick up the bar. Making simple mistakes in technique can throw you out of position. They can make it mechanically impossible to finish your pull. By making simple adjustments and executing the deadlift correctly will ensure that all that pent up aggression doesn’t go to waste. With some corrections in your technique, training and above all, patience, you will be deadlifting well above your existing ‘max’.
Tips to fix common deadlift mistakes
1. Back Tension over Back Straightness
Many top, experienced coaches have said that the upper back does not need to be ‘perfectly’ straight during the lift. That may come to a shock to some trainers and lifters. Now, the upper back must be tense, it must be locked in and it must be engaged. By allowing the shoulders to fall slightly forward as opposed to keeping it rigorously shrugged back will allow you to take some inches off your deadlift range of motion. This in turn will allow for bigger numbers and pulls.
The upper back can be slightly rounded, but the lower back MUST be kept straight and completely stable. I apply the exact same principle to Atlas Stone lifting. As long as you never, ever allow your lower back to loose stability and tension then you and your spine will be safe.
A rounded upper back does not mean a loose upper back
Many beginners think that having a rounded upper back means a loose upper back. Wrong. Not locking in the upper back region is one of the main faults and causes in a missed deadlift. It is very important, even when your shoulders are lowered, to maintain extremely tense and tight Lats. As soon as you get in to the deadlift position, pull the slack out of the bar and mentally cue yourself to keep your back locked in to that same position throughout the lift.
By keeping your upper back locked and tight in that position, it will allow you to lock out lifts much easier and will help keep your lower back from rounding during the pull. Exercises like Weighted GHR Holds, Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings and Parallel Barbell and Suitcase Rows will help strengthen the appropriate muscles needed to help keep your back locked in during the lift.
2. Remove the Slack from the Bar
Getting the slack out of the bar refers to getting tight in your set up so that before you even begin your pull, the bar will bend. Now this will only occur if you actually have enough weight to keep the bar down. Applying this can be difficult initially but once you keep that tension throughout the entire setup and pre-pull, all will be well.
A common problem that lifters have is that is they will initially pull the bar tight and then loosen up again before they begin their pull. This occurs most often for lifters who grab the bar, pick their hips up and then drop them down quickly in order to get speed up off the floor. In their attempts to move their hips quickly, they would allow their upper backs to get loose and release the slack back into the bar before beginning the pull. This results in an audible “click” of the bar when they would actually begin the deadlift. A silent bar indicates that the slack has been pulled out properly.
The problem with allowing this to happen is that although you will get good speed off the floor, you end up in a position that makes it nearly impossible to lock out your deadlift. Having a loose back like this will cause the bar to get kicked out far in front of you and will round back even further. Despite the initial speed of the deadlift, this leaves you in a mechanically impossible position at lockout.
3. Are you Cleaning or Deadlifting?
The Clean and the Deadlift are two different lifts. So why set up the same?
Due to bad coaching in the past and even now, this is a problem many lifters face. The lifter has been taught to set up for the conventional deadlift. The same as if they were preparing for the first pull in the Clean. When the movement and process is different and the final position is different, why would you set up and prepare in the same manner?
The problem with setting up the deadlift in the same position as the clean is that in the clean setup the lifter begins with the hips much lower and the shoulders much farther behind the bar. This setup works well for getting into position to begin triple extension after the first pull. However, in the deadlift, it ends up wasting and leaks energy, which as a result, puts you in a bad lockout position.
In the deadlift set up, the hips will be higher and shoulder position will be right over the bar. This allows the hips to immediately begin to hinge when you begin the lift. Where as in the Clean, your hips rise first. Always think that the way you set up determines how you finish.
An easy way for a beginner or intermediate lifter to avoid confusion here would be to make sure your leave plenty of time during your “Clean” lifting days and your “Deadlifting” days.
4. Squeeze the Glutes
Allowing your back to finish the deadlift and poor glute and hip activation is a common problem that many lifters struggle with. So many lifters arch their back to lockout instead of squeezing the glutes.
This back arch causes you to bend your knees and hitch the deadlift at the very end. It compromises lower back stability can lead to a serious injury. You must learn how to pelvic tilt correctly and to squeeze the glutes to finish the lockouts.
The key here is to focus on one technique modification at a time. Then work on incorporating them into your lifting arsenal. You must make them a habit. Do not change everything at once. This will lead you to over thinking it and as a result, frustrated by it.
5. Technique is Important
You must dedicate yourself to hard work and getting stronger. When it is time for a max effort, you can focus all of your intensity and energy into just pulling the bar off the ground. This will result in new PR’s, made over and over again.
Next we will talk about the best accessory movements and volume to add more to that PB.