Deadlift Dissection

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Q:  I dunno if this is something you’ve done before.  I figured since you piss excellence that you would be a good person to go to for a deadlift dissection.  I am currently in week 3 of phase 2 of Show and Go, and just pulled some sumo deadlift singles. It felt good; looks okay; I know there is always room for improvement.  Any suggestions, other than “eat more kale”?

A:  First off, well played on the kale reference!  For those not in the loop – THIS may help explain things.

Secondly, when puling with close to max effort weight, the rules almost always go out the window.  I don’t care who you are, if you’re able to keep impeccable form during a max effort lift, you’re not pulling nearly heavy enough.  That being said, your technique, while not remotely horrible, does warrant some comments.

  • You’re spending far too long setting up.  By my count, roughly twelve seconds passed from the time you grabbed the bar until you actually exerted effort and pulled.  You’re not doing long division here.  Get your air, grip the bar, and rip it!  There’s something to be said about utilizing the stretch shortening cycle (elastic energy of the muscles), and the longer you spend contemplating, the less likely you’ll be able to take advantage of it.
  • Although, in truth, I’m kinda in a similar boat as yourself.  I too tend to do that whole “hip bobbing” routine before I pull.  But, in your case, I think you’re taking a lot away from your lift by taking foooooooorever getting ready.  Speed it up a bit.  I’m willing to bet you’ll notice a vast improvement.
  • Moving forward, iF you pause the video at the 35- second mark, you notice almost immediately that your hips come up first.  It’s subtle, but it’s there.  When this happens, I Iike to tell people to try to get their ass into it more.  Meaning, stiffen up your upper back, really (and I mean REALLY) push your hips back and sit down into the stretch until you feel significant tension in your glutes/hammies.  From there, “press or push” yourself away from the floor through your heels.  Doing so will undoubtedly get the posterior chain (namely, your ass) involved more – which is what you want.
  • Lastly, I could be overly nitpicky here and say that you could get your hips through sooner, but I’d just be clutching at straws at this point.  All in all it was a fantastic pull, and I think 405 is right around the corner.

UPDATE:  Whoa whoa, whoa, and whoa – I just watched the video with the sound turned on and noticed a serious lack of Wu-Tang Clan or Godsmack playing in the background.  Listen, just like everyone else out there, I think JT is one talanted bastard.  But lets be clear:  He in no way should be playing over the stereo during a max effort lift.  Jesus, I think my sperm count just went down by 47%.  Come on man, lets get with the program here!

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  • Ha! While watching the video I was thinking “Go to a gym that doesn't play Justin Timberlake and you should be able to add 50+ pounds to your lift.”

    But then again . . . Tony does deadlift in an Alicia Keys T-Shirt. ; )

  • Tony Gentilcore

    GODDAMMIT Nia!!!!!!! You're banned for ten minutes!

    And, for the record, while I may lift in an Alicia Keys t-shirt, when I'm doing ME pulls, I'm not listening to her. So there…..;o)

  • Very true. You listen to techno. ; )

    Someday, Tony. Someday I will make it to Boston and we will have our deadlift-off.

    You can wear your Alicia Keys shirt too . . .

  • Jeff

    TG, do you have a preference on sumo vs. standard DL (pros/cons either way)? I recently switched over to sumo and it feels better but need to work on my pattern a bit before I up the weight to see how heavier weights feel. Thanks, Jeff

  • Senk

    Tony,

    I'm having similar problems with my hips coming up first on both sumo and conventional deadlifts. I'd appreciate any other tips you might have on how to address this issue.

  • “Shoulder blades in the back pocket.” The better you get at keeping your scapula protracted the less likely you are to move the hips first. As Tony said, Pause the video at :34 – :35 and look at where the hips are relative to the pin holes. Now pause at :36 and you will notice a pretty big difference, meanwhile the weights are still on the ground or barely off. More importantly look at your shoulders the weight is pulling them toward the floor.

    I also have noticed, and Tony, correct me if I am wrong, but my clients tend to get forward on a SUMO if they don't consciously think about not only pressing into the ground but also keeping the knees out and tracking the toes. It's hard to tell from this angle but you may be letting, or even starting with your knees caving in a bit.

  • Mike

    FML. In my defense, I have no control over the music my gym plays over the stereo. That is why I had DMX cranking on my Ipod during my sets. It's the best I could do.

  • R Smith

    First, why in the hayell is this blog just now loading on my computer, at 10:44 pm, after I checked the site all day? Ugh!

    Second, nice job, Mike. You should be proud.

    Third, if you have not watched Nia deadlift, you are missing out. Not like I'm a stalker or anything, but I have watched her videos, like, 767,00 times.

  • Gwen

    “I Iike to tell people to try to get their ass into it more. Meaning, stiffen up your upper back, really (and I mean REALLY) push your hips back and sit down into the stretch until you feel significant tension in your glutes/hammies. From there, “press or push” yourself away from the floor through your heels. Doing so will undoubtedly get the posterior chain (namely, your ass) involved more – which is what you want.”

    Hmmm, I bet I'm not doing that…

  • @Senk: Keeping you shoulder blades tucked will not only keeps your back tight but it will also keep your chest from falling towards the floor, which happens when your butt gets too high. Also, I've found that thinking less about just standing up and more about pushing the floor away from you helps clean up the hips quite a bit. It seems like a small difference but it really changes things.

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Jeff: Personally, I much prefer conventional since SUMO style tends to beat up my hips. There's no real inherent cons to either (both are equally badass), but depending on one's leverages, one may be more advantageous than the other. As an example, long(er) torso'd lifters will find SUMO stance easier.

  • Ray

    HAHAH I was going to comment about the music. I wouldnt be able to pull 12 pounds off the floor if that garbage was playing. Heres a tip, Listen to heavy music when you do singles, Not Godsmack, Im talking Cannibal Corpse heavy. Not only will you want to throw that weight around, you might punch yourself in the face for fun. It works!

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Senk: most likely (but not always), lack of upper back strength comes into play. If the upper back is weak, the lower half of the body will want to compensate and kick into over-drive. Maybe throwing in some more accessory work on the upper back will help out.

    From the technique side of things, you may just have to take a step back, lower the load, and practice FLAWLESS technique.

    @ Greg: thanks for the input! Totally agree on the upper back stiffness. To be honest, I don't necessarily tell myself (or my clients) to consciously pull their shoulder blades together. Rather, just to “lock” them in place (depress) which will them activate the lats and thoraco-lumbar fascia and provide infinitely more stability. It takes practice, but it works!

  • Thanks Tony, I guess I like to think about trying to pull them together but in actuality they never get there, locking is a nice que. Keeping them depressed, which my que has always been “in the back pocket” has been huge for my pull. Learning to engage the lats is big for A LOT of lifts, a skill I wish i learned before the bad habits.

    LATS AND GLUTES!

  • Great post Tony, and it was much-needed for myself as well. I come from more of and OL background, and therefore I tend to deadlift in more of a clean pull type fashion (shoulders in front of the bar). Then I was reading something from Dave Tate and he was talking about getting the shoulders behind the bar, as well as a few other things, but I never really entirely understood what he meant. I think your cues will help a lot.

    On a semi-related note, how do you prepare your kale? Just eat it, all caveman style? I bought some a few weeks back and found a pretty good recipe for it, but didn't know if the #1 kale salesperson (yourself) had any ideas.

    Keep up the great work!

  • amazing feedback. great lift! very good to read about hips coming up a little bit too early- helpful for me as well!

  • Ted Winter

    Great pull! The one thing I could pick out was head positioning. You need to maintain a alignment along the spine. Check out Charlie Weingroffs blog on a chin tucking he makes an excellent case.

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Brock: re-stated, the question should really say “Tony, how does your girlfriend prepare kale?”

    She'll rinse it, and then place just a smudge of vegetable broth at the bottom of a pan (just enough to cover the bottom, not a lot)…..and then steam it for a few minutes. You'll see the kale turn a darker green. Once it does that, you know it's done.

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Ted: Excellent point, and one I wanted to bring up as well. I think if I had a quarter for every time I said “chin tucked” throughout the day, I'd be out of student debt!

  • Mikke

    It's funny, because “chin tuck” is something I make conscience thoughts of before I deadlift, and in my head I am always doing it. The video tells me differently, though. It's also amusing because I try to be so strict with my clients about it!

  • @Mike Great lift, by the way!

    I didn't notice you had an IPod on. That's why I commented on the music. Good to know you weren't “jamming out” to the gym's music of choice. ; )

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