Lift-Offs: A Bottom-Position Deadlift-Assistance Exercise

I just thought of this exercise the other day to improve my bottom-position deadlift strength (my weak point). I’m sure it’s been thought of before by other coaches, but I didn’t know what to call them so I came up with “lift-offs.” Notice that I don’t come up much (just 2 inches or so), and it’s rhythmic in that the plates bounce symmetrically. Oly lifters do a similar assistance-lift but they come up much higher – to around knee height. You can do these off the floor or while standing on a plate for added ROM, which allows you to really feel it in the glutes. I did 3 sets of with 40-60% of 1RM for 15 reps, but I’m going to go heavier with these next session.

Give them a try!

Bolton deadlift

 

53 Comments

  • Andrew Serrano says:

    There’s another powerlifting team at my gym that does these, but I think they get closer to around 80% of 1RM and they reset a little more in between reps.. My sticking point has always been higher in the lift so never thought to use them.

    • Bret says:

      Good to know Andrew! I went heavier today (around 80%). I like the lower weights more (sort of like Dimel deadlifts for the bottom ROM) as they induce a huge burn in the glutes, but I bet the heavier loads would indeed be more suited for its purpose (to build bottom ROM dl strength). And it makes sense to reset more for these too, rather than relying more on elastic rebound.

  • paul turner says:

    surely if strength is youre goal,youd use inter rep pauses and not any bounce at all.Would be far easier to keep to proper posture also

  • Alexander says:

    Im going to have to try these! The bottom position is my weak point as well. Have you experimented with Isometrics at all? Im a tall lifter as well and Ive found that setting the safety pins in the power rack to my start point and then pulling in 5-10 second bursts has really helped my strength off the floor

    • Rob Panariello says:

      On occasion we have also utilized isometrics to enhance strength qualities in specific “weak link” exercise postures and bar positions. An additional suggestion is not only to place the pins above and below the bar in the rack at the appropriate/desired exercise position, but to also load the bar with a significant but appropriate amount of weight. There are times the athlete may think they are preforming a maximal isometric effort but how do we as coaches know that they are preforming at or close to 100% effort? Lifting an appropriately prescribed heavy weight bar from the bottom pin a couple of inches to the height of the bar blocking upper pin and “holding” for the desired isometric period of time will ensure a maximal isometric effort has been achieved.

      Just my opinion
      Rob Panariello

    • Bret says:

      Yes, I did isometrics last week and I didn’t like them that much. I felt like I needed to move the load a bit, even if it was just an inch. Hard to describe, but that’s why I thought up these.

    • AJ Oliva says:

      I am also a taller lifter and the bottom position is also my weak point. As long as you have the flexibility, I’ve found deficit deadlifts really helpful

    • steven says:

      I’m thinking…. Is the bottom position not just a weak point !!! Not to say.. It’s MY weak point…. Especially in a 1 rep max…. It’s starting the max death-weight… from the floor… Just like the finishing mvoement…. The other one weka point… And maybe, okay,… maybe the starting or ending part is MY weak point… It’s just that the position your in brings important musles in a weaker position.. In the stretched or shortest position where strengt is les than in middle part of the action of the muscle… Especially the bottom position coming from death position plus a stretched hamstring and gluteus maximus… You get better on what you are training… more focussed..

  • I am one of the writers for the new blog (and website/game) Vitality Wins! I just started getting into squats and power lifting and sharing my experiences with the readers/game players. This is such a great idea to help me improve my strength and posture. I might just have to share this with our followers!

    Thanks for the great tip!

    Sammy J

  • Rodney says:

    Thanks, I will try this tomorrow on my deadlift day. My problem is the lift-off so this will be a great exercise for me.

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    Well played, BC!

    Possible tweak? Performing them with handle plates, Reeves DL style, (i.e. going wide to grip the plates.)

    Same deal with enhanced T-spine challenge and a mechanical drop set effect when you return to the narrow grip. Just spitballing, I’m going to go give these a try immediately!

    (Like right now…I’m doing them as I type…:)

  • Maurizio Paolini says:

    If I am not mistaken the kind of iso that Rob described are called “functional isometrics” in a program written by Thibaudeau { beat building part 2 }….I used them but starting from the knees level for the lower pin….have you already tried them for the lift-offs?…just curious of which %RM you think fits better for this variation…….

    Interesting stuff!

    • Rob Panariello says:

      Maurizio

      I do respect the work of Thibaudeau, however, I personally was taught the use of isometrics by a former Soviet National Level Weightlifting Coach whom I spent 4+ years studying with here in the U.S.. He taught me to set and load a bar between the rack pins in the fashion I had described on my previous post. Some of his guidelines for the implementation of isometrics in a training program were as follows:

      1. Isometric type exercises are very effective to enhance “pulling” type work
      2. Only perform isometrics when your “results” (strength gains) stop. As long as you continue to make gains during your exercise/training performance you do not need to perform isometric type exercises.
      3. When necessary only perform isometrics 1 – 2 times per week.
      4.If the weight on the bar for isometric exercise performance is at 55% to 65% of your exercise 1 RM hold the position for 5 –6 seconds. When the weight on the bar is greater than 65% of your exercise 1 RM hold the position for 4 seconds.

      I personally like to use heavier loads as this will assist to ensure the athlete’s exercise performance effort approaches or is at 100%.

      Rob Panariello

      • Maurizio Paolini says:

        Thanks very much for the detailed answer, next time i will get stalled at some pull I will use these guidelines for sure !

      • salazar says:

        How many reps and sets? What progression protocol for those holds? Is there any video of what you’re suggesting ?(visuals are awesome) 🙂

  • Jason says:

    We’ve been using a variation of these with our athletes for a while now with great success, we call them “breakers” or “break the floor deadlifts” and we use them on a form focused day to improve the patterning and sequencing of the deadlift.

    In our experience, focusing on mastering this range of motion with a neutral spine actually improves the lockout portion of the deadlift. I would argue many miss the lockout not because of their ability to push the hips through or their backs aren’t strong enough, but because they lose leverage at the bottom of the lift when their spine begins to round. While rounding the spine can improve your leverage off the bottom, it destroys your leverage at the top.

    If you need any information regarding progressions, weights, volume, etc let me know, we have a pretty large amount of athletes we use them with. Would be glad to help and share our experience.

    • Rob Panariello says:

      Jason,

      I would be very interested on the way you address this topic. Any information that you may provide with regard to volumes, loads, the time of each isometric exercise performance, etc… would be greatly appreciated.

      Rob Panariello

      • Jason Kelske says:

        Hey Rob,

        Might be best for me to put a video together for people over the next day or two to address your questions.

        To Charles Staley’s point below, we actually include a full range of motion rep after we perform our “breakers” from the floor. As mentioned, we use this on a form focused day and it has been extremely beneficial on teaching neutral spine deadlifting pattern for our new lifters, and drastically improving patterns on some of our veteran lifters that have built up years of patterning the deadlift using their quads and lower back. I can elaborate on this a bit more in a video as well.

        Brett,

        Do you think this would be beneficial to your other readers? If so I can put a video together for you and either add it to the comments or send it directly to you to review first. Just let me know, I don’t want to overstep any boundaries on your site.

        Thanks,

        Jason

        • Rob Panariello says:

          Jason,

          IMO a video or any information that you may provide to us would be beneficial. I also agree with Charles’s and your point of the benefit of the performance of a concluding full ROM rep to “transfer” so to speak, the benefit of the assistance exercise performance. An analogy would be for those who utilize downhill running to enhance running velocity. Many coaches will conclude the downhill running portion of the exercise with a continued run on level surfaces for a specific programed distance. In this way the benefits of the increased downhill running velocity will “transfer” (continue) to the level surface portion during the performance of the same exercise/drill.

          I look forward to your video/information.

          Rob Panariello

        • Bret says:

          Jason – definitely feel free to film a video and place here in the comments. I’m all ears. I have a lot of thoughts on this topic…if you pull with rounded upper back then it’s easier off the floor and harder at lockout. But if you pull arched back, then it’s harder off the floor and easier at lockout. Therefore, for arched back lifters, strengthening the bottom ROM will indeed make the lockout easier too.

          • Jason says:

            Thanks Brett,

            Perhaps my wording wasn’t clear, but I believe we said the same thing right?…

            “While rounding the spine can improve your leverage off the bottom, it destroys your leverage at the top.”

            That’s why we do them. By strengthening/practicing our neutral spine pull off the floor (effectively making it harder), we retain better leverage at the top of the lift. This is especially important for our geared lifters to maximize their potential with the suit.

            Working on some video to add to the comments this week. In the mean time here’s a few things we have found…

            Weight Selection:
            Instead of working backwards by using a weight that’s a percentage of your max pull, we work upward and let the spine and the pattern we are promoting dictate the weight. It’s a new exercise for most that are used to pulling with a rounded spine, so for many of our 400+ lb deadlifters we had to start them off at 95-135 lbs and slowly work upwards. We’ll work up in weight, but the spine and pattern should dictate the weight. Don’t let the weight dictate the pattern. Hopefully the video will demonstrate the pattern we teach.

            Volume:
            I consider this skill practice. We are trying to burn a pattern into our athletes’ brains so the volume needs to be relatively high. We found two sequences that seem to work well and alternate them from week to week…

            1. 4,1 x 10 sets (our notation: 4 “breakers/lift offs” followed by 1 full range lift) = 40 breaker reps, 10 full reps.

            2. 9,1 x 5 sets = 45 breaker reps, 5 full reps.

            We will alternate a week of sets across (same weight e.g. 225 lbs for 9,1 x 5 sets ) or building up in weight (increasing load e.g. 135,185,225,245,265 for 9,1 each.

            Since we compete in deadlifting competitions, we focus on taking each rep as a single with little rest (2-3 sec) in between. Most know that the first rep of any deadlift is typically the hardest because you have to create the tension/stretch reflex yourself from a relaxed position. So this allows us to practice creating tension.

            Frequency:
            We have added a few rounds of “breakers” to our warm ups on heavier deadlifting days (typically earlier in the week), but most of the time we do “breakers” one day a week, usually toward a friday/sat after our heavier deadlifting. Depending on the weight used the volume can beat you up pretty good so having the weekend to eat/rest seems to work out well for us…

            We have been using them with 80+ athletes for a few training cycles now and have seen big dividends in ramp up time, personal/competition records and reduced injury rates. More than half of our athletes compete in deadlift competitions.

            Let me know if you have any specific questions or things you’d like me to go over in the video. I’ll try to rehash some of the stuff, I know sometimes a lot can get lost in translation when writing this stuff out.

            Thanks,

            Jason

          • Bret says:

            Good stuff Jason!!! Yes, we’re on the same page. Maybe you could clarify the set/rep schemes a bit:

            1) Four sets of ten breaker reps with 2-3 seconds in between reps, and the 11th rep is a full ROM rep
            2) Nine sets of five breaker reps with 2-3 seconds in between reps, and the 11th rep is a full ROM rep

            Am I correct?

          • Jason Kelske says:

            Sorry I had a feeling it would read wrong. We just notate the rep denomination as 4,1 or 9,1… first number representing the number of breakers preformed in the set, second number representing the number of full reps in the set.

            4,1 = 4 breaker reps followed by 1 full rep. Ideally you would pause for 2-3 seconds between each rep.

            9,1 = 9 breaker reps followed by 1 full rep.

            So…
            4,1 x 10 sets : (4 breaks followed by 1 full rep) x 10 total sets.

            9,1 x 5 sets : (9 breakers followed by 1 full rep) x 5 total sets.

            Hope that clarifies things!

  • You know when I watch this, what pops into my mind is that you should stand up on the very last rep. So for example, maybe 10 pulses followed by a deadlift. BTW was watching Chad Wesley Smith today, who was emphasizing the importance of “Special Work Capacity” (I.e., for powerlfiters, various versions of squats, benches and pulls), and this falls nicely into that category

  • Will says:

    Just want to throw a shout-out to everyone involved here: a great post by Bret with his characteristic expertise-meeting-curiosity, followed up by great commentary and none of the useless posturing/argument that so often soils forums like this.

    Thanks everyone!

  • Luke S says:

    Hey Bret, nice post.
    If you have the book Starting Strength somewhere over there, Mark Rippetoe describes these (done from the floor lifted to knee height) as Halting Deadlifts on the Userful Assistance Exercises section, if you are interested.

  • Jenna Watson says:

    Thanks Rob for all of the great information. You are really helping me stay in shape and motivated for this year. Take care.

    • Rob Panariello says:

      Jenna,

      Thanks for the kind words but I’m simply contributing like everyone else for the same cause, so that we may all learn from each other.

      Rob

      • Rob Panariello says:

        Jason,

        Thank you for providing all of your information. It is both interesting and helpful. I question I have for you. Have you ever had your athletes perform your “breakers” exercise from various positions in the exercise “pulling” range of motion (i.e. utilizing a rack or boxes) or just from the floor?
        Thanks again for your posts.

        Rob Panariello

        • Jason says:

          Hey Rob,

          Yeah we have done a bunch of training cycles using boxes and rack pull variations. I’m torn on them. I like the idea of working through the top range of motion but in practice found many changed the pattern while performing them. They would switch the movement into a slightly more upright position and basically squat the weight up instead of maintaining a more bent over deadlifting pattern. They ended up strengthening a different pattern altogether, one that they would almost never be in had they pulled from the floor.

          To remedy that we have done many cycles of reverse band deadlifting. That allowed us to work in the full range of motion, but still overload the top of the movement. Gave people a lot of confidence, and allowed us to move some big weight which was fun. Sometimes cumbersome with large groups though, especially when their working weights were so different. I’ve got a lot of experience/tips for this though if you have questions.

          In the end (or currently I should say), we found that the first 4 to 5 inches of the deadlift dictated the lockout. If they were capable of getting the first 4 to 5 inches off of the floor in a somewhat neutral-ish spine and preserve decent leverages, they could almost always lock the weight out safely without straining. If they started rounding the spine too early, they were forced to muscle up the weight with their mid/lower back, which I’m sure most can attest is a crap shoot… if you’re fresh you might be able to grind through one heavy rep in that position, but once your back is fried you’re pretty much done for the day (perhaps multiple days).

          Hope that helps! let me know if you have any other questions!

          Jason

          • Derrick Blanton says:

            Jason and Rob, thank you both for really dropping some knowledge in here!

            Question for both of you: What are your thoughts on overloading the bar to 105-110% 1RM, and just trying to break the bar off the floor? i.e. “maximal breakers”.

            Do you feel that this is grooving a missed lift, or too stressful on the CNS, or is it another useful quasi-isometric technique?

          • Rob Panariello says:

            Jason,

            Thanks again for your efforts as I am (and I’m sure others are as well) very appreciative for the information that you have provided on this post. Based on this information/training philosophy, are there any differences (i.e. necessary modifications/additions, etc…) in the application of these methods to someone who deadlifts with a sumo vs. traditional technique?

            Rob Panariello

          • Jason says:

            Brett,
            Thanks! I really appreciate you letting me share our experiences on your site!

            Derrick,

            When we first started doing these I was expecting to use a much higher load than we are actually working with. Reason being, the heavier we went the spine just started to round early (as we previously mentioned, spine starts to round, you improve the leverage off the floor). Since we didn’t want the weight to dictate the pattern, and focused on strengthening the weak point in the pattern, we just lowered the weight, thought of it as an entirely new exercise, and saw big gains from it.

            Let’s be honest, your spine is inevitably going to round a bit on a max attempt, we just try to minimize it as much as possible (we let it slide once every 2-3 weeks on a max or the last rep of a lighter set when you’re fatigued).

            There might be some benefit with doing it at 105-110% but i guess it really comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish. Our first goal is to keep people injury free and moving well, and our second is to make them strong as possible. And to Rob’s point in his later post, 105% of a sumo lifters pull is most likely not budging off the floor.

            Rob,

            Glad to help in any way possible.

            I can’t speak to the conventional deadlift as well because I teach all of our athletes to pull in what I call a modified sumo position (a hybrid between conventional and sumo) for reasons out of the scope of this post. I’ve fiddled with it on occasion though and I’m sure it would benefit the conventional deadlift.

            Jason

          • Jason Kelske says:

            Brett/Rob,

            Finally got around to shooting some video on how we perform our breakers and how I cute it. I posted it to our channel

            http://youtu.be/GwiSbid8M_Y

            Here’s another two videos of some of our athletes performing them last night…
            http://youtu.be/Z2TH7nRKmjc
            http://youtu.be/6fgOgXHbb_Y

            Hope that’s helpful!

            Jason

          • Bret says:

            Thanks Jason!!!

          • Jason says:

            haha *cue it … not cute it… slip of the mind.

  • Daniel says:

    A great way to improve your pull of the floor is to use 25 pound plates, instead of the customary 45s. It adds that extra ROM at the bottom. Also, it makes your butt look great

    • Rob Panariello says:

      Derrick,

      With the OL’s when we program our “pulls”, we base that number off of a percentage of the athlete’s clean. We may go as high as 120% or just program a specific additional weight i.e. 20Kg above the athlete’s clean. It is important to remember even though both exercises require a “pulling” from the floor; these are 2 distinctly different exercises.

      I have a partner who was a National Level Caliber Powerlifter. He used to perform what he called a “halting” deadlift where he would stop (or “halt”) the bar at the below the knee position and hold the weight for 3 seconds. However, unlike Jason’s technique, he would not conclude his exercise with the performance of a full repetition. He also performed isometrics in the rack as I had previously posted on this blog. The “halting” deadlift worked well for him as he used up to 85% to 90% of whatever his strength levels were at the time of his training. I think this is important for a couple of reasons.

      1. As Charlie Francis once told me you have to be careful basing an exercise off an athlete’s PR because a PR is likely something the athlete has only performed once in their lifetime. I agree with this so I would program loads based on the athlete’s strength level at the time of training as strength levels may fluctuate throughout the year.

      2. If a program design of 105% – 110% of an athlete’s PR/strength level is applied to the bar to someone who utilizes a sumo lifting technique, there is a good possibility that they will not be able to lift the bar off of the floor.

      3. With a program design of 105% – 110% percent of a PR for an athlete performing a deadlift with a traditional style, the term “breaker” may be appropriate as they may achieve a below knee position, however this a posture is of a great biomechanical disadvantage as you have a very long lever arm at the spine.

      I think a load of up to 85% – 90% based on the athlete’s present strength levels will more than suffice (and as Jason has previously posted, is not always necessary) as they are performing additional work with the 3 to 4 second isometric hold.

      Just my opinion. I’d be interested in Jason’s thoughts on this topic.

      Rob

      • Rob Panariello says:

        Jason,

        Thanks for all of your thoughts and information. I very much appreciate all of you time and effort. Good luck to both you and your lifters in 2013.

        Rob

  • Hozz says:

    Hey Bret,

    Have you ever read Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength? He would have a few pointers for you: For starters, the pull off the floor for a Deadlift should always feature vertical shins so as to put the hamstrings on tension (your knees are a bit too forward so your shins are too far forward.) Secondly, the exercise that you developed on your own is actually called a halting deadlift, as you mentioned Oly lifters and power lifters would continue pulling until the bottom of their thigh. (The compliment to the halting deadlift is the rack pull, where you set the bar high on pins and then pull the last 1/3 of the deadlift, the halting deadlift is the first 1/3). And lastly, Rippetoe absolutely hates plate bouncing. By smashing the weights onto the floor you rob your body of the experience of actually lifting the weight. He would tell you to slow it down – a lot. So that each up YOU pull the weight, without help from a bounce.

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Hozz!

      I have Starting Strength but read it so darn long ago I didn’t remember that part.

      Agree about tension in hammies and mostly vertical tib, but it makes sense that the tibia would move forward a bit more when pulling from a deficit (on a plate).

      I would also agree about the bouncing, however I’ve tried both styles and they have two different feels.

      Going heavier and pausing in between reps feels more specific to a deadlift and like it would be optimal.

      However, going a bit lighter and bouncing feels a bit like high reps Dimel deadlifts and gives the glutes a different feeling after the set…hard to describe.

      So both might be beneficial through slightly different mechanisms, with the former method being better than the latter method.

      Cheers!

  • Brad Cutler says:

    I have used these previously, although only in peaking blocks. Hatfield used to advocate a ballistic-isometric version of these called these ‘jerking’ deadlifts where you simply repeatedly attempt to lift a bar you cannot move off the floor.

    Many times up to comp I would use these (much to the disapprovement of others). I found if I could break a weight off the floor that was 30kg more than my max, my competition max would always feel light and I’d fly to lockout.

    There is much to be said for the skill acquisition of pulling maximum weights off the floor vs speed pulls in an attempt to build the explosive power to seperate the bar from the floor. Close to competition I always work upto a comfortable single 90% then one or two of these. Have always served me well.

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Yes, Brad, this is exactly what I was asking Jason and Rob about previously with the 105% 1RM “breakers”, although I never gave it a name. I will just see if I can clear the floor at all with a supra-maximal weight. And I don’t like a ballistic “jerking” approach on these, rather a Mark Henry “low gear” slow buildup of force.

      And like you, I am conscious that many feel that this approach is counterproductive and grooves failure.

      On the plus side, since you know going into it that you will not be pulling through the below the knee spinal danger zone, there is a:

      1. neural disinhibition to leg press the floor with reckless abandon. If you can clear the floor at all, then a bit of “fear” leaves the equation, as you at least know what the higher weight feels like.

      2. enhanced your setup, your grip strength, and your IAP bracing techniques. If the bar doesn’t move, then at least you performed a real deal isometric max, as you did make a good faith attempt to clear the floor, even just an inch or two.

      3. a delayed post tetanic potentiation effect, as Brad describes. Your 1RM feels lighter now. This is a bit like supramaximal walkouts to train the nervous system for a big SQ, (albeit at different ends of the strength curve.)

      It is pretty draining technique, and some do suggest that it grooves failure. But I’m not sure that this is anymore true than pulling against pins, in both cases you are exerting maximal force against a bar that is not moving.

  • Joe says:

    If you don’t know what Deficit Deadlifts are (which is what these are) and YOU claim that you just thought up this exercise, which has been around since the dawn of weightlifting, AND you have any lifting experience what-so-ever, then you, Sir, are a complete and Total Dumb-ass and should NOT be writing weight training articles :-/

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