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Simplify Your Deadlift

By February 26, 2015January 13th, 2016Guest Blogs, Powerlifting

Simplify Your Deadlift
By Adam Pine

Getting a big deadlift may not be easy, but it’s a lot simpler than most make it to be.

The most important advice I can give someone wanting a bigger deadlift is, “practice the deadlift.” Just like everything else in life, practice makes perfect.

If you want to deadlift a ton of weight, master the movement.

The most important part of the deadlift is the setup.

Setup Takeaways:

  • Setup close to the bar.
  • Feet at or inside hip width.
  • Hands outside your hips with an over/under grip.
  • Breathe and brace, get as tight as possible. This can be done at the top at the beginning of the setup, or at the bottom right before you lift. It is important that you stay extremely tight, try to become immoveable.
  • Push your hips back to the wall behind you creating tension in your hamstrings. Keep this tension.
  • Grab the bar. Pull the slack out, try to bend the bar over your kneecaps while keeping straight arms.
  • As you pull the slack, use the weight as a counterbalance to pull your chest up and lower your hips. As you lower your hips, find the tension in your hamstrings and create tension through your entire body.
  • Chest up, abs braced, maintain a neutral spine position.
  • Keep your weight on your heels and maintain a fairly vertical shin position.
  • Stand up through your heels as explosively as possible. Try to melt imprints of your heels into the ground. Lockout hard by squeezing your glutes together like you’re trying to crack a walnut between your butt cheeks and hump the bar.

Me pulling 710.

Common Mistakes and Corrections

Too Much Variation and Focus on Accessory Work

If you want to get good at deadlifting you have to practice deadlifting. Seems very obvious, but tons of people get caught up in training movements similar to the deadlift, without actually training the deadlift itself.

You should have at least one day a week dedicated to the deadlift, devote the most mental and physical energy into it.

Variations are certainly important. They are great for addressing specific weaknesses in your lift. The problem is, it’s often difficult to diagnose what your weakness is if your form isn’t on point. Typically people will confuse a deficiency in technique for a muscular weakness. First, master your technique. Then find your weakness and attack it with the right variations.

Info on deadlift variations: 3 Tips for a Bigger Deadlift, How to Increase your Deadlift: Deficit Deadlifts, Snatch Grip Deadlifts, Paused Deadlifts, Deadlift Mastery: Paused Deadlifts

A great way to practice your deadlift technique is to reset and setup again between each rep. If you’re doing a 5X5 and you reset each rep, that’s 25 chances you get to practice and perfect your deadlift setup. If you don’t reset, you practice setting up only 5 times.

Accessory work is as the name suggest, an “accessory to” or “supplemental to” your main movement.

There is no secret to a great deadlift. Accessory work is great for targeting weak links, but make sure you are focusing most of your energy on your primary movement. Too much focus on too many accessory movements can impede your recovery.

With that said, don’t use this an excuse to dog your workouts. It’s not an excuse to do your deadlifts and leave the gym, because you did the “essentials”.

Your Takeaway: First, master the movement. Then you can spend time addressing weaknesses with the correct variations and accessory movements.  

Time Spent Worrying About Equipment

This is simple.

Finding the right footwear is easy. If you want to be as close as possible to the floor, go barefoot. If you want something with a little grip, wrestling shoes are great. Still close to the floor, plus some added stick.

Buy a good belt (I like my Inzer, 10mm, single prong). Throw on some chalk and you’re good.

Your focus should be on getting stronger. It’s easy to get distracted by what the best equipment is. If you’re a raw lifter, just get a belt, a pair of shoes you like and focus on your technique.

Your Takeaway: Your time is much better spent focusing on your technique, programming, mobility, recovery, and diet rather than your belt, shoes and whatever else.

Changing Your Program/Technique Too Often

Pick a program and run it for the full duration. Most programs are at least 12-weeks. Run the program as prescribed and give it a fair shot. All too often people modify the program or hop from one to another, hoping for faster more dramatic results, (The grass is always greener).

The best program in the world won’t yield results if you are not sticking to it. Results follow consistency. Consistently training and applying effort to your training.

Stick to your program, do as it says and critique it after your cycle.

This goes for technique as well.

You should stick to one technique (ie. Conventional deadlift). Practice until it’s ingrained and it becomes a habit. It’s taken me years to master my deadlift technique.

If you find that the technique isn’t working well for you, find why and look for solutions. Don’t change technique without reason. Stick to one style and master it.

If there comes a time you feel you would be better suited with a different technique, experiment. There does come a time where everyone should experiment with other techniques.

For instance, if you have always only conventional deadlifted, you will never know if you would be a better sumo puller. There’s time to experiment with other techniques, just makes sure you have mastered one first.

I am still experimenting myself. Recently I have been trying a new technique I think will help me get to my goal of 800.

Finding what technique best suits you takes time. I recommend working with an experienced coach to analyze your form and find what best suits you.

Your Takeaway: Pick a program ideal for your goals and run it as prescribed. Choose a technique you feel best suits you and master it. After a lot of time under the bar you can reassess. If change is required, you can move onto a different program and try alternate deadlift techniques if you like.

Mismanaging your Volume and Intensity

Going too heavy too often is a problem I often see, especially amongst powerlifters.

You don’t need to be pushing near you max every week in order to make gains. Actually, the opposite is often true.

I only took two reps above 600 in my training cycle before pulling 700 for my first time.

Deadlifitng too heavy, too often can leave you more prone to injury. It is a lot easier for your form to break down when lifting with weights over 90+%.

Taking weights I am 100% sure I will make has been a huge proponent to my success. Not only is breaking down and missing weights not beneficial to building strength, it’s mentally damaging. Missing attempts shakes a lot of lifters’ confidence. The stress of a missed attempt can often have a greater impact psychologically than physically.

Remain confident by always hitting your attempts. Train with weights you know you will hit.

Also, it simply isn’t necessary for building a big deadlift. If you are constantly pulling heavy singles, how can you expect to peak? How much can you realistically expect to put on your deadlift when you’ve been maxing weekly?

It’s hard for some to get out of the mindset that if they aren’t always hitting new 1RM’s, they aren’t making progress.

There are plenty of other ways to hit PR’s. Volume PR’s. If you are doing 5 X 5 with more weight than you’ve ever done, that is a PR. RPE PR’s. If something you’ve done previously that felt like a 10, that’s now an 8 or 9, that’s a PR. You can hit rep PR’s. These are all ways in which you can track your progress. They may not be as glamorous as hitting a new 1RM, but they will absolutely translate to a new PR.

Another problem with always going high intensity/low volume is you get very little rep work in. You will have a lot more trouble mastering the deadlift with such little volume. Every rep is a chance for you to perfect your technique and when you have 30 reps of deadlift in your training vs. 3, you have a lot more opportunities to master you technique.

Your Takeaway: Maxing out frequently is not optimal for success. Look to hit volume, RPE, and rep PR’s to ultimately improve your 1RM deadlift. Train with weights you know you with hit.


The setup is extremely important. Focus on mastering your setup.

To build a big deadlift, make sure you get a lot of reps in with the actual movement, not including variations. Variations do serve a valuable purpose in bringing up sticking points. They should be supplemental movements to the deadlift. Master the setup for optimal performance.

Don’t focus too much attention on your equipment. Time spent focusing on technique, programming, mobility, recovery and diet will help you far more than the best deadlifting sneakers.

Stick with a program and see it through. Changing your programming, philosophies and technique weekly will leave you spinning your wheels. Commit to something, see it through and assess after you give it an honest try.

Make sure you get enough volume in your training. Don’t fall victim to pushing your 1RM every time you step into the gym. If you are constantly testing your 1RM deadlift, you are not leaving yourself time to build it. Go into each lift feeling confident by consistently hitting all your attempts.


Adam Pine is a Strength Coach in Boston, an Elite level powerlifter with a 700+ pound deadlift, and the owner of a rapidly growing online coaching business.






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  • Fred Barbe says:

    I can’t wait to try some of your tips! I currently on hold with my deadlift practices since some stupid muscle pulling a couple months back and I now I can feel it everytime I pull a bar from the ground even with modest weight. Bret’s hip thrusts helped me a lot to recover, but it’s not perfect…

  • Rook says:

    Great article. For shoes I like the reebok powerlifting shoes. Rogue makes a great belt for $50, the Econ weightlifting belt or something like that. I did a push pull on Saturday and 1st attempt at 505 I dropped with a mixed grip. I have been deadlifting with a hook grip recently but in the past always went heavy with a mixed grip. I noticed warming up however that the mixed grip felt funny. So on my 2nd I hit 505 easy with a HG and then 515 as well with a HG. Long story short if you have big enough hands play around with a HG you might like it. Bodyweight~190 age 19

  • James says:

    This is a very useful article. There’s no doubt that the deadlift is one of the most effective exercises you can do, but it’s also the one exercise that you have to get your technique exactly right because it’s so easy to slip a disc if you’re not careful.

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