How to Increase Your Deadlift

In the gym, the deadlift is quite possibly the ultimate test of manhood and is often referred to as The King of all Exercises. The task is simple – see that really heavy barbell over there?  Now go pick it up. Looking in from the outside, it would seem like a simple task that doesn’t require much thinking or technique. But nothing could be further from the truth. When broken down, the deadlift it a very technical lift, and is quite difficult to master. It might appear that the movement is simply a hip hinge which is present in many activities of daily living.  However, it’s not so simple under heavy, heavy loading.

The deadlift is a brutal movement and may be the trickiest of all in terms of programming due to its insanely high cost to the central nervous system (CNS). Heavy deadlifting is akin to bringing Everclear to a keg party; things can either end up going really well, or end up utterly disastrous. Some lifters will do best by pulling heavy every week, while others do better by pulling heavy every other week. Some prefer to mix in submaximal sessions throughout the week, while others prefer to avoid the movement altogether until it’s time to max. Finding the optimal frequency, intensity, and exercise selection that suits you best is the key to excelling in this lift. I created this guide to help point you in the right direction

deadlift snipped

In this case, things obviously ended up going really well.

Form

The first topic to address in attempting to increase your deadlift is form. It is not uncommon for novices to increase their deadlift strength by 50 or more pounds in a single session just by working with a coach who is well-versed in deadlift mechanics.

Your ideal deadlifting form will revolve around a combination of factors. For example, your anatomy will play a large role in terms of how your form looks. It should be understood that the form that allows you to lift the heaviest may not be the form that allows you to train injury-free week in and week out. Therefore, you want to find a sweet spot between the form that allows you to demonstrate your strength with the form that minimizes joint stress and CNS fatigue. Finally, your goals will influence form as well; a competitive powerlifter will likely accept more risk during the deadlift compared to an 8-figure salary athlete (especially on the platform). Here are some general recommendations.

Foot position (stance width and foot angle)

The conventional deadlift is performed with the feet around shoulder width apart (sometimes closer, and sometimes further out), with the hands placed just outside of the legs. Most lifters prefer to keep the toes pointing straight ahead while others prefer to slightly externally rotate the feet in more of a duck stance. Foot flare is influenced by hip anatomy, so it is important to experiment in order to find what works best for you. If you are having trouble finding a comfortable foot position, first try this: take the same stance you would as if you were performing a vertical jump. This may help get your body into a more advantageous deadlift position. Tinker from there.

Bar position relative to the shin

Bar position in relation to the shin is highly dependent on the lifter. Some lifters prefer to line up directly up against the bar, some approximately 2 inches away, and others 4 inches away. In general, you want the bar lined up very close to the shins at the start of the movement. When looking down, the bar should be positioned over the middle of the feet. Anthropometry will play a large factor in terms of how far away you should line up from the bar, so experiment to find what works best for you. Lining up with the bar too close to the body can limit quadricep activity, while lining up with the bar too far away from the body can impair balance and lead to excessive spinal loading. It should be mentioned that during the sumo deadlift, the bar should be touching your shins.

Grip Options

The most common grip used in powerlifting in the over/under grip or ‘mixed’ grip. This is where the lifter holds the bar with one hand in a pronated position while the other hand is supinated. There is a slight risk of experiencing a distal biceps tendon tear with the supinated arm, so be sure to alternate arms from one set to the next.

Another option would be the hook grip. The hook grip is most commonly seen in Olympic weightlifting, but can be quite painful while getting used to it. The thumb is wrapped around the bar then the index and middle fingers are wrapped around the thumb to secure it into place. After 6 weeks or so, the pain diminishes and the body becomes accustomed to hook gripping.

The double overhand grip is an additional option, whereby the palms are facing the body. I recommend using a double over have grip as long as possible during your working sets to build grip strength. However, very few lifters can rely on the double overhand grip when the weight approaches maximum or the set approaches failure.

The last option would be to use lifting straps. For powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, lifting straps are not allowed, but straps are commonly allowed in the deadlift in strongman. Training with straps diminishes the benefits of forearm and grip strengthening that can be achieved by training without them, so use them sparingly. Grip strength can indeed be a limiting factor with regards to maximal deadlifting. If this is the case, using chalk is highly recommended, as is performing specialized grip work.

Deadlift grip pics

Top Left: Straps, Top Right: Double Overhand, Bottom Left: Mixed Grip, Bottom Right: Hook Grip

Hip position/height

A common mistake made by trainees newer to the deadlift is starting with the hips too low. This turns the movement into a squat-type movement which is not an advantageous position. Finding the optimal starting position will be highly dependent on your body and lever and limb lengths. The height of your hips at the time when you initiate your pull should be the same height when the bar leaves the floor. Many times you will see this position change with inexperienced lifters. Beginners will typically start with the hips low, and upon lift initiation, the hips rise considerably before the bar even breaks off the floor. This is wasted movement and should be minimized for an optimal deadlift. Find the optimal position and stick to it as the bar leaves the ground. 

In general, when looking from the side view, the hips will be right in between the shoulders and knees in terms of vertical height. Lifters with certain anatomical proportions such as short femurs or long arms will be more upright, whereas lifters with long femurs, short torsos, and short arms will be much more horizontal.   

deadlift hip height

Left: Hips too low, Middle: Hips too high, Right: Hips just right!

Spinal Positioning

The spine should be kept in a neutral position throughout the lift, with the abdominals braced throughout. Some lifters feel most comfortable pulling with an arch, some in neutral, and some in a slightly rounded position.

For advanced lifters, some rounding of the upper back (thoracic spine) is usually beneficial in terms of performance for most lifters, but this is not something I would recommend for beginners. Over time, tolerance to roundback deadlifting may be something that can be trained and improved upon, as many of the top strongman competitors and powerlifters perform the movement in this manner. But there’s not good evidence to support this as of yet. According to biomechanical analysis and anecdotal feedback, the safest deadlift posture is neutral. There is certainly wiggle room, so make sure you’re keeping ROM in mid-ranges and avoiding end-ranges of motion as these ranges when combined with heavy loading can be damaging to ligaments, discs, and other spinal structures.

bad dead

A rounded lumbar and thoracic spine is unacceptable deadlift form and a recipe for disaster

deadlift spinal position

Left: Neutral Lumbar and Rounded Thoracic                      Right: Neutral Spine (Safest)

Some strength coaches feel that it is of great performance to keep the neck neutral, while others feel that neck packing (making a double chin) is the most optimal position. Personally, I feel that this debate is overrated; clips from the strongest deadlifters in the world shown HERE portray a variety of head and neck positions. However, my general recommendation would be to avoid any type of excessive overextension or flexion.

deadlift neck position

Left: Packed Neck = Good               Right: Overextending Neck = Not so good

The lockout of the deadlift should be executed by extending the hips using the glutes. You don’t want the spine to be hyperextending to lock out the load; you want to push the hips forward with a strong glute contraction.

Shoulders

At the start of the movement, the shoulders should either be in line with the bar, or slightly in front of it. Click HERE to see shoulder position with elite deadlifters. This allows the lifter to get his or her body in the most advantageous position for the lift. A common mistake involves retracting the shoulders when performing the deadlift. This actually increases the distance the bar has to travel to complete the lift. Keep tension in the lats and upper back, but do not retract the shoulders blades. When the bar leaves the ground, the scapula will usually be protracted when loads are heavy.

Many lifters feel that since increased lat involvement keeps the bar closer to the body, it will improve deadlift performance, but this might be specific to the lifter. Experiment with focused lat contraction to figure out if it works for you.

deadliftshoulderpositioning

Left: Shoulders are positioned out in front of the barbell, Right: Shoulders are positioned over the barbell. Both are acceptable, so tinker around to figure out the sweet-spot for you

Developing Maximum Strength 

Building maximum strength refers to increasing the total poundage a lifter can move. There are several ways to go about this, but going into the gym and maxing out week in and week out is not one of them. While this may work for a short period of time for those newer to lifting, you will soon plateau or even worse injure yourself. A more appropriate plan of action involves utilizing specialized set and rep schemes to help you achieve your goal. Here are some of the most effective methods:

Tempo – I do not believe that you should be counting rep speed during deadlifts. However, I do feel that you should control the negative component rather than just dropping the bar to the ground (this is more common in gyms with lifting platforms and bumper plates). This topic has been hotly debated among coaches as the eccentric portion can be dangerous for those who aren’t well-versed in the deadlift, but the fact of the matter is, eccentrics build strength. Moreover, they can refine good technique – the lowering phase should be initiated by a strong “sitting back” action at the hips while dragging the bar down the thighs and keeping vertical shins. When the bar passes the knees, then the shins can angle forward. You don’t have to lower the bar slowly on each rep, but I feel that you should control the descent for greater strength gains.

Straight sets - For straight sets, you will perform the same number of reps with the same load for the prescribed number of sets.  I’ve found 3 to 5 sets of 1 to 5 reps to be most effective when using this method. You want to lift heavy enough so that you approach failure, but there should always be a rep or two left in the tank. It is a common debate whether or not each rep should be started from a dead stop or whether touch-and-go reps should be used.

I recommend that you start each rep from a complete dead stop. In between each rep, reset to your starting hip positioning before starting any additional reps. This is especially important when training for powerlifting where the goal is to lift as much weight as possible in a single attempt. Touch-and-go reps should be used when training for a strongman event where endurance is and specificity is most crucial (assuming of course that this type of technique is allowed in competition).

Ascending sets With this method you will be going up in weight each set. This is highly effective and useful when trying a new weight that you have never used before. Since you are going up in weight each set you will be less fatigued as opposed to using the same weight every set and burning yourself out. The approach in this method is the same as straight sets; the sets and reps say the same, with the only difference being an increase in load each set.

Pyramid sets (ascending with back off) - Pyramid sets involve performing several sets of increasing weight while decreasing reps, with a final back off set performed at the end. The back off set is a crucial component here. After building up in weight and fatiguing the muscles you will drop the weight and do a burn out set close to failure.

Pause reps - Pause reps are performed by initiating the pull and then pausing 2-4 inches off the floor for 3-5 seconds. Once the weight is held for the specified time, you will finish the movement as explosively as possible. This pause takes away the momentum gained from pulling off the floor and is great for learning how to stay tight and under control during the lift. This makes the lift much harder, and even though you will be handling less weight than a regular deadlift, it will ultimately build more strength and develops your technique.

Partial ROM Partial range movements allow for an increase in the amount of weight that can be used when deadlifting. This is especially useful for those lifters who have trouble at the lockout rather than off the floor. The most commonly used example of this would be block pulls or rack pulls. To the untrained eye, these two partial variations may look the same, but they do not feel the same. Block pulls have a similar feel to an actual deadlift since the plates are resting on the blocks similar to the position from the floor. With rack pulls, the bar is resting on the safety pins, and in this position the “slack’ is taken out of the bar.

Rack pulls can be performed from a variety of positions, but the most common is just below the knee caps. Blcok pulls are usually performed off of 3-5 inch blocks. Going above this will allow the lifter to use heavier weight, but anecdotally it doesn’t transfer as well to performance. Make sure to sit back and have fairly vertical shins with partials to ensure for maximal dynamic transfer to the regular deadlift; many lifters allow the knees to migrate forward and “quad” the weight up, which isn’t representative of deadlift from from that ROM.

Extending ROM Extended range of motion movements increase the difficulty of the movement by putting your body in a disadvantageous position prior to pulling (however, some lifters actually find that their position improves with extended ROM) and requiring more work to be performed. The most commonly used example of this would be deficit deadlifts. Deficit deadlifts can be performed on a platform ranging anywhere from 1-4 inches. The movement is performed in a similar fashion to a conventional deadlift off the floor, except the hips will either start in a lower position or a higher position depending on the lifter.

Speed Work One of the most common methods of training for increasing maximal strength and power is speed work, also knows as the dynamic effort method.  Lighter loads are used to move the bar with as much acceleration as possible while maintaining perfect technique. An example for deadlifts would be using ~70% of 1RM and performing 6 sets of 2 repetitions as explosively as possible with around 60 seconds rest between sets.

Variable Resistance – bands/chainsWhen pulling for a maximum attempt, lifters tend to round a bit, in which case the lift-off is easier but the lockout is harder. In this case, end-range glute strength is needed. This is where variable resistance training can be a huge help (as well as speed work, partial ROM and pause deadlifts). These tools offer an increase in load as the weight is lifted off the floor, where the movement gets easier the weight is the highest. When coupled with speed work, it increases the time spent accelerating the bar and the muscle activation throughout the lift.

variable resistance

Left: Deadlift against Bands, Right: Deadlift against chains

Clusters Cluster sets are characterized by performing heavy singles or doubles performed several times in succession but resting around ten seconds or so in between. Although this short break doesn’t allow for full recovery between the mini sets, it does allow the lifter to use a weight that he or she would normally not be able to complete the desired reps without stopping. An example of a cluster set with a 500lb deadlifter follows: 425lbs for 1 rep, rest 10 seconds and then repeat three more times. That is equal to one total cluster set. This will be repeated for 3-4 sets.

Other Factors to Consider

While the deadlift is primarily considered a lower body exercise, it strengthens a large majority of the musculature of the upper body as well. Training these secondary muscles involved is critical to improving your deadlift performance and physique and is commonly referred to as “support work.” Support work differs from lifter to lifter dependent on strengths and weaknesses and can be used to strengthen the particular region where you begin to slow down and fail (known as ‘sticking point’).

hip thrust

Just doin’ some hip thrustin’

Volume of support work will differ depending on strength levels and general physical preparedness. A common mistake for beginners is to go overboard with support work, which impairs ability to recover, thus taking away from their ability to deadlift. Do not make this mistake!

Grip strength - When the weights start to get heavy, grip strength becomes a large limited factor for a majority of lifters. Many lifters will need to incorporate some type of grip training into their programming to counteract this. While many exericses will strengthen the grip, such as simply performing deadlift warm-up sets with double overhand grip, bent over rows, shrugs, chins, rows, and lugging dumbbells around, my favorite targeted exercises for grip strengthening include: farmers walks, bench squeezes,1-arm static hangs, and the gripper

gripper

Left: Gripper, Right: Bench Squeezes

farmers

Left: 1-arm hangs, Right: Farmers Walks

Assistance exercises for the lower body - Assistance exercises for the lower body are used to help develop weaknesses whether it is muscle size or muscle strength. My favorite lower body accessory movements for increasing the deadlift include: squats, front squats, block pulls, deficit pulls, hip thrusts, leg presses, and heavy kb swings.

Capture

Left: Front Squat, Right: Back Squat

block and deficit

Left: Deficit Deadlifts, Right: Block Pulls

Methods

All the methods listed above will work for any experience level, and I recommend rotating them through and seeing what works best for you. However, there are certain methods you should focus on depending on your experience in training the deadlift, along with other factors such as your training age, anatomy and current level of fitness.

Beginners/novice For less experienced deadlifters it is a good idea to use methods that focus on perfecting technique and building strength. Exhausting sets taken to failure is a recipe for disaster for beginner lifters.               

Straight sets – i.e. 225 for 4 sets of 3

Ascending sets – i.e 185×3, 205×3, 255×3, 275×3

Pyramid sets – i.e. 205×6, 255×4, 275×2, 185×8

Intermediate - The techniques suggested for intermediate and advanced lifters can be mixed and matched. These techniques can all be of benefit depending on a lifter’s strengths and weaknesses.

Partials – i.e block pulls or rack pulls

Extended ROM – i.e. Deficit deadlifts

Advanced

Pause reps – i.e. 365 for 4 sets of 3 reps, counting “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand” 3-4 inches off of the ground

Clusters – i.e. 1 cluster = 405 for 1 rep, then 10 seconds rest, repeated 4 times

Speed Work – i.e. 70% of 1RM for 6 sets of 2 with 60 seconds rest

Variable resistance – i.e. bar plus band deadlift, bar plus chain, combinations of both, combinations with extended or partial range of motion

Conclusion

Some of these methods many be new to you and some may not. In the world of strength training, it is important to remember that the journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time to find out which of these techniques works best for you, and always be honing your technique.

Not only is a strong deadlift beneficial for sports performance and building an impressive physique, it also transfers to everyday activities and can prevent you from injuring yourself when moving furniture or doing heavy labor. If you’ve shrugged off the deadlift, it’s time you gave it a try. Form comes first, then load.

30 thoughts on “How to Increase Your Deadlift

  1. Derrick Blanton

    BC, you are on fire lately, another great article!

    Had a different take on one point:

    “Beginners will typically start with the hips low, and upon lift initiation, the hips rise considerably before the bar even breaks off the floor. This is wasted movement and should be minimized for an optimal deadlift. Find the optimal position and stick to it as the bar leaves the ground.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB3tP4Rw6Ro

    Mikhail may beg to differ with this premise.

    I’ve seen that low to high “energy is wasted” idea before, and it is puzzling to me. Seems to me that there is no real energy being exerted until the slack comes out of the bar. Everything leading up to that point falls under the heading of “getting tight”.

    You can either sit there with hips high and brace and gnash your teeth, or you can full squat, set the spine, and roll into the lift. The bar will clear the ground when your individual leverages align to produce enough force. Coming from the bottom up will find this place exactly. This is useful for a beginner, who is otherwise “guessing” where the best leverage will be.

    Hips low to high also gives you a way to set the spine safely with the hamstrings not under tension, and build core tension as you “roll forwards” and then load the hamstring. And provide a measure of “momentum” to roll into the starting line, so to speak.

    Btw, I have no preference as long as lifter is organized, confident, and braced through the core when the bar comes off the ground. Whether top down or bottoms up, both can work well.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      I knew someone was going to play the Koklaev card on me – should have known it was going to be you haha!

      I’ve gone through three phases with my thinking on this particular topic. 1) it’s wasted energy (traditional thought process), 2) it’s not wasted energy (for reasons you mentioned), and 3) it is wasted energy with beginners especially.

      Here’s why – the beginner actually expects the bar to come of the ground from that position. They get tight and start their pull, it doesn’t budge, the hips raise, and the bar finally comes off the ground when the internal moments can match the external moments.

      Since they thought the bar should come off the ground from the initial position, they wasted mental energy (not so much physical energy). But Koklaev doesn’t do this. He knows exactly when the bar will leave the ground and he’s smooth as. (that’s New Zealand speak there – “sweet as,” “cool as,” etc.). So for advanced lifters, it’s fine (sort of like upper back rounding).

      Agree?

      Reply
      1. Derrick Blanton

        Ha ha! It’s what I do, Bret. It’s what I do…:)

        I saw these two perspectives hashed out between Kelly Starrett and Diane Fu a few years back. Obviously both methods are valid. Different roads to Rome, me thinks.

        OK, I’m far more worried about getting the beginner to the starting gate organized, and top down often becomes a mobility issue first and foremost. Straightaway. B/c you are trying to organize the spine while the hammies are on stretch. This can be confusing and overwhelming.

        Trying to negotiate the tug on the lower back, one may become inhibited and intimidated. So I like taking the legs out of it altogether. Organize the spine under zero duress. Now easy, peasy, bring the hips up and start pushing though the floor.

        Of course you start very light, and importantly you coach beginner not to anticipate when the bar is coming up, but to “overshoot” torso stiffness. A few light reps and they quickly start to sort out where the bar breaks the floor. From here, it is “up and back”.

        Now after several light singles, you have a pretty good idea where the hips need to be and now if you want to find that position from the top, experiment.

        Bret, some of this gets back to how you view the role of the quads. As you know, I view the quads as primarily a stabilizer for the hips in conventional DL pattern. So you 1. Set the spine, and 2. Set the knee (engage the quad), and 3. Fire (slowly) with the hip.

        Another way to think of this is start back, roll forwards, pull back.

        But the main thing is I want lifter to get to actual bar liftoff with stability and confidence.

        Reply
        1. John

          To add to this discussion: I found when I squat down lower and do the “wasted energy” setup and liftoff, my back remains neutral throughout the movement. When I setup up and just pull from a high hip position without dipping down, I tend to pull rounded. Not saying this is for everyone–and lord knows I can work on my mobility, but dipping down creates enough slack in the posterior chain to get into neutral which is easier to maintain through the lift than to get to from a non-neutral (even if only barely so) position that happens when I pull high hips.

          Reply
          1. Derrick Blanton

            Bingo, John!

            It’s like the body “gets it” when the spine is organized under less stress, and then better locks down and dissociates to allow the focus to go to the hip extensors.

            Like building a stability wall, if the foundation is sketchy, it will buckle under load sooner.

            You know where you can really see this phenomenon manifest? On snatch grip DL’s or deficit DL’s, where the mobility challenge is ramped considerably.

            Even mobility challenged types can often get into position if they full squat, and then gradually raise the hips into position.

            Then there’s this guy:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9njC7DwDHHA

            (No big thing, just your garden variety 3XBW=plus deficit pull with Olympic shoes, no less…ha ha!)

        2. Bret Post author

          As usual, good stuff Derrick! Agree with this approach, but I don’t think it’s in disagreement. Sure, drop down, bend the legs, get the spine set, bring the hips back up, and then pull. But don’t “think” that the bar is going to move off the ground from a parallel thigh position. If that happens, the person will be tensing the quads and trying to squat the weight up, it won’t happen, so the hips rise, then the bar finally leaves the floor and it’s messed with the lifters head a bit. I’m not saying the lifter should know the exact position to the nearest centimeter, but the less difference in set-up and lift-off, the better, IMO. I think that Koklaev knows this too and times his tension to the upswing, if that makes sense. Hard to describe. Good discussion!

          Reply
  2. Todd

    Another great article, as usual. Thanks as always for your thorough, but plain-language reviews.
    Currently working through Strong Curves with my wife, very impressive book, we have learned alot!

    Reply
  3. Andy

    When I get to working around my 1RM I can lift the bars few inches off the floor (which I’ve been informed is the hardest part) but then the bottom left side of my lower back seems to get too tight or give up causing me to have to ditch the bar. This is an obvious weakness in that part of the lower back? Any ideas of specific accessory exercises to fix this?

    Reply
    1. Derrick Blanton

      Andy, it also might be due to a tight, strong psoas on the left side. As you do hip flexor stretches are you possibly more mobile right to left?

      Your left lumbar may be forced to not only fight the load but also take on the anterior side of the spine. (Excessive antagonistic co-contraction)

      I pretty much blame the psoas for everything including global warming, ha ha!

      Reply
      1. Andy

        Thanks for your feedback Derrick. So you would suggest improving psoas mobility and this could potentially stop this locking of one side of my lower back?

        Reply
        1. Derrick Blanton

          Hey Andy, I’ll try to help for real and in depth here!

          Asymmetry on a DL is no bueno. It may be a mobility issue, it may be a stability patterning issue, it may be just a left to right strength/activation issue which you theorized in the first post.

          There will always be a degree of antagonistic co-contraction on any lift, it’s the way the body works. However, problems arise when we use the direct antagonist as the primary source of stability. (Think lats on an OHPR, for example.)

          These techniques can get you to the starting gate, sure, but you better get pretty good at releasing the antagonist as you lift the load, unless you just enjoy driving with the parking brake on.

          (For this reason, I am not a fan of using the bar to “pull” yourself down into DL starting position, this is actively coached as a mobility workaround by many smart coaches, except this fires up your hip flexors into clampdown mode right out of the gate.)

          Here’s a way to sort this out:

          First thing I would suggest is try and isolate the variable. Neutralize the grip by either using straps, double overhand, or hook grip to eliminate that potential source of possible asymmetry.

          Next using very light weight, video your DL setup and perform your best perfect form single. Directly from the back is good camera angle.

          Immediately following each “set” while the MMC (mind-muscle connection) is fresh on your mind, watch the video, and clock how the bar is coming off the floor and if one side is beating the other, if the torso is angling, etc.

          Now immediately go back and try to correct what you see. This is going to feel awkward at first! If it’s the psoas, it is going to feel ‘naked’ and unsupported when that psoas releases tension to allow that hip to rise/extend evenly with the other.

          If it’s the lumbar or hip side to side strength discrepancy, you are going to feel like you are not even using the strong side.

          Keep practicing, experimenting, until the video evidence confirms that you are pulling the bar up evenly. Now add incremental load to the bar, always checking the video to make sure you are not lapsing into bad habits. As the load increases, you will start to figure out the asymmetry based on where the “awkwardness” is coming from.

          If it’s the psoas, the PPT single leg glute bridge iso hold is a nice activator on the affected side. Play with it and figure out what works for you to calm down the flexor, and activate/train glute/hamstring on affected side.

          The best psoas stretch I have found is laying prone with straight legs, pull the off knee as high and to the side as you can. That knee will flex slightly, fine, but try to keep it semi-straight to engage the hamstring.

          Now PPT hard on the down leg side. You will feel your abs and glutes engage big time. That knee will drive into the ground as you “roll the back of the pelvis downwards”. You will feel a tremendous tug on your spine where psoas attaches. Contract/ relax. B/c the spine is unloaded, the psoas will chill out, this is the advantage to the popular “lunge” style stretch which creates an inherent postural conflict.

          Anyway, I hope this helps! This is worth correcting, as too much asymmetry on a DL, whatever the cause is a first class ticket to Injury-ville. (It is NOT beautiful this time of year!)

          Reply
  4. Jessica Williams

    Great article! Thank you for explaining things so well and all the different options. I learned how to deadlift on my own by reading articles just like this but not written as well. I have reached my bodyweight + some in one style and wanted to jump up and around the gym when I got to that point…and then realized I wasn’t sure how to keep going safely since the bar was getting quite heavy. I’ve got some great ideas now! I enjoyed this and I will be passing this along to other women I know. Also love doing barbell glute hip thrusts! One of my favorites. I first started doing these because of Girls Gone Strong and I am the only person I have seen in my gym that does these. I’ve shared that exercise with many women that I know because it is just awesome. Thanks so much for all the info! So…what is the ultimate test of womanhood? ;)

    Reply
  5. Rachel Morris

    Brett,

    These “How to” articles have been fabulous!! These will be super helpful when needing to teach or tweak my athletes’ form. And will help me in my own training sessions. Looking forward to more of them!

    Reply
  6. Chuck

    Bret, once again a very well thought out and informative article. Couple of questions. On the deficit lift. Do you use them as a “finisher” (low weight, high rep) or as a mid range ( 6 to 10 rep ) lift?
    Leg press. I have not used them in a very long time. When I started lifting about three years ago I ” did the machines ” and felt like a badass because I could lift a lot of weight on the leg press. Once I ” discovered ” Deadlifts and squats, I ditched the leg press. This something I should throw back in the mix? If so, why?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  7. Jacques

    I am loving these last series of “how-to” articles. Very detailed explanations without falling into black-or-white thinking. Thank you, Bret & co.!

    Reply
  8. moss

    nice article!

    I visualize the DL has a standing leg press followed by a standing hip thrust.

    the spine should be in neutral,
    the bar should always be in contact with the body,
    and; at the beginning of the lift, the shoulders should be slightly in front of the bar.

    Reply
  9. JC

    Hi Bret. All great info

    I have a question .. I work a lot with endurance athletes… Not a lot of info on gaining max strength with out mass.. could you direct me in the right direction .

    Chrees

    JC

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      JC – I’d just say stick to lower volume. An awesome presentation at last year’s NSCA National Conference on resistance training for endurance athletes showed overwhelming evidence from the literature that it’s a good idea. But I don’t think there’s a lot of research comparing program design variables. I’d be doing things like 2 sets of 5 reps so they acquire the strength but don’t overdo it on the volume. Moreover, they won’t gain weight if they don’t up their calories, so that’s an important factor to consider too.

      Reply
  10. Eric

    Great article Bret, Extremely through and well done! I’m glad you addressed the eccentric portion of the deadlift, far too little emphasis on eccentric control during lifts in the industry.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: How to Bent Over Row | Bret Contreras

  12. Brandon Richey

    Another great post Bret. The biggest theme of pursuing any type of strength is “filling gaps.” This post basically outlines any gap that may need to be filled in one’s deadlift training. It goes all the way from proper set up, to technique, to specific programming needs.

    These are all potential gap areas and people tend to overlook one or more of these gaps resulting in limiting pulling power for the legendary deadlift. The same can be said for most any other major lift. Let’s keep filling the gaps. Nice post my friend.

    Reply
  13. Morten R

    Hey Bret! Are you sure about “Lifters with certain anatomical proportions such as short femurs will be more upright”? I myself have a long torso, shorter femur and relative long arms, but I’m not very upright due to the long torso sticking forward and you can’t really get more upright because the arms can’t get any longer. Lowering the hip obviously makes me more upright, but all lifters no matter their proportions will be more upright while lowering the hip.

    Now in squat, it’s completely different. There, I’m very upright.

    Reply
    1. chris

      Interesting point. It is actually the length of the tibia that determines more of the hip height than the femur, as the femur is angled very horizontally in the deadlift starting position and thus doesn´t contribute as much to the hip starting position.

      but as tibia and femur length (and leg length) are highly correlated, overall leg length is – on average – a good marker for torso angle. in addition to that, torso length is correlated with arms length. ofc, there are always ppl further away from the statistical average and if you have a long torso but short arms and tibias – well then youre even at a disadvantage and your torso position very horizontally.

      in the squat, arm length doesnt play a role in torso angle.

      Reply
  14. Pingback: What’s the Difference Between a Romanian Deadlift, American Deadlift, Stiff Legged Deadlift, and Straight Leg Deadlift? | Bret Contreras

  15. Pingback: Rant about giving advice to beginner lifters >:/

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