19 Tips for the Deadlift

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1. Read THIS.  It will change your life.  Well, not really.  But at the very least it will (hopefully) clean up your technique.

2. Wolff’s Law and Davis’s Law. You can’t discount physics. The former states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads it is placed under. The latter states the same thing, except with regards to soft tissue.

Deadlifting = strong bones + soft tissue. You need a minimal essential strain (MES) in order for tissue to adapt. Likewise, in order to strengthen tissue, you need to load it. Sorry, but your cute little leg extensions and leg curls aren’t going to get the job done.

3. I’m biased. You’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise that the deadlift isn’t one of the best overall exercises for hypertrophy, not to mention the best functional exercise you can do with respects to posterior chain strength, core stability, glute activation, power development, and transference of force throughout the entire body.

And lets not forget: a heavy set of deadlifts will make any woman within a two-block radius spontaneously conceive. True story.

4.  Deadlifts done incorrectly are horrible for your spine. I can’t argue with that.  However, when done correctly – with a neutral spine and proper hip hinge – they’ll do more as far as “bullet proofing” the body than any other exercise.

5.  Speaking of the hip hinge.  This is an excellent drill to learn to groove it.  Just make sure to maintain three point of contact throughout – back of the head, between the scapulae, and the sacrum.  If at any point the stick comes off loses contact with the body, you’re doing it wrong.

6.  Make sure to finish with your hips (hump the bar) with every rep.  One of the biggest mistakes I see trainees make is that they don’t finish the rep with their glutes – their butt just kinda sticks out J-Lo style.

Squeeze those bad boys at the top.  Deadlifts teach the glutes to share the load which will also help spare the spine.

7.  Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum, you have those who compensate with lumbar hyperextension for hip extension:

Yeah, um, don’t do that.

I like to tell people to “finish” with the glutes or to “stand tall.”  Those cues seem to work well for most, but not everyone.

In any case, here’s what a proper “finish” should look like.

Very sexy.

8.  Not every deadlift variation is created equal.  Pick the one that’s right for you.  What’s so great about deadlifts are that they can easily be conformed or “tweaked” to fit the needs of the lifter, and not vice versa.

Trap Bar Deadlifts

– Fantastic for beginners due to less shear loading on spine (center of gravity is INSIDE the bar).

– Elevated handles make it easier for those with hip flexion/ankle restrictions

– MUCH easier to maintain neutral spine due to the bar placement.

SUMO Deadlifts

– Excellent choice for those with mobility restrictions.

– Guys who are built to squat and bench (alligator arms, long torsos) like this version – because they don’t have to work so hard to get as low.

– Wider stance, toes out = easier to maintain neutral spine.

CAVEAT:  these tend to eat up people’s hips, so I’d be reluctant to include them for more than a few weeks at a time.

Conventional Deadlift

– Although it’s the most recognized, it’s also the most advanced variation (more shear loading on the spine, center of gravity more anterior).

– Trainee MUST have ample ankle, hip, and thoracic mobility in order to get into proper position. If they don’t (which is a lot if you), then tweak the lift as needed either by elevating the bar on mats or maybe reverting to rack pulls.

– Lack of the above will inevitably lead to lumbar flexion, which is a major no-no when using significant loads.

9. I really feel the ideal rep scheme to teach deadlifts is in the 3-5 rep range.  Anything more and technique goes to the crapper and it takes every ounce of will power I have not to want to throw myself in front of a bus.

Stop…………..programming………….high…………..rep…………….deadlifts.

Seriously, stop.

10.  For those who have a little more experience, 5×5 ain’t gonna cut it forever.  If you want to get strong – I mean REALLY strong – you HAVE to include more singles and doubles into the mix.

More specifically, including more lifts at or above 90% (of 1RM) will almost certainly help.

In a nutshell, lifting maximal weight (90%+) has a number of effects:

– Maximum number of motor units are recruited.

– Fastest MU’s are activated.

– The discharge frequency (rate coding) is increased.

– Activity is synchronous.

– Improved coordination between synergistic muscles.

– Potential for future hypertrophy gains. Ie:  loads that used to be heavy are no longer heavy.

– Increased serum testosterone levels.

– Girls will want to hang out with you.  Not proven by science, but it just makes sense.

11.  As far as how to go about setting up a training session utilizing the 90% protocol, here’s the general idea:

Assuming original PR is 300 pounds, the goal for this training session is to get five lifts at 90% and above.

135×5
185×3
225×3
275×1
305×1 (PR! But it was a grinder. The girl on the elliptical is impressed though.)

At this point the trainee has already gotten two lifts above 90% (275, 305), which would mean he needs to get three more lifts in to get to the goal of five. The objective now is to stay at or slightly above 90% (usually in the 90-92% range) and focus on bar speed and NOT missing any lifts.

280×1,1

Follow this with a few fist pumps, pound a protein shake, and then hug someone.

12. Take your shoes off when deadlifting.  Doing so will get you closer to the ground (less distance the bar has to travel), as well as help engage the glutes and hamstrings more (which is what you want anyways).

13. I’ve stated in the past (HERE) that when it comes to weight belts, they should be reserved for more maximal effort lifts. I’m starting to change my mind on this one a bit.  With regards to teaching trainees to “feel” what it’s like to increase intra-abdominal pressure – as well as to teach them get more of a 360 degree expansion – I think utilizing a (loosely fit) weight belt would be ideal here.

Bill Hartman explains this in a little more detail here:

14.  Do you have a hard time deadlifting without rounding your back?  Maybe you need to stiffen it up! Read THIS.

15. For those too lazy to click the link, essentially all I said was to implement more upper back work – horizontal rows – into your weekly repertoire.

Oftentimes the back rounds because it’s weak.  Fix it!

16.  Along the same lines, we can’t discount poor t-spine mobility.  You need to HAMMER it on a daily basis – especially those who are sitting in front of their computers upwards of 10+ hours a day.

17. Include more single leg work into the mix as well.  Oftentimes, especially when working with beginners, a huge monkey wrench that becomes readily apparent is that they have poor kinesthetic awareness.  You can tell them to arch their back all you want, but if they don’t have proper body awareness, you might as well pound you head into a brick wall.

To that end, when coaching cues don’t work, maybe it’s wiser to take a step back from deadlifts and just throw in more single leg work.  Doing so will undoubtedly help get them stronger, but also improve hip stability and core stability to boot.

After a few weeks, try deadliftng again, and I can almost guarantee they’ll nail it.

In reality, though, including more single leg work in general is never a bad idea.

18.  Slow people down!!!! When performing deadlifts, I like to tell people that each rep is its own set.  Meaning, when they pull the bar off the ground, lock it out, and then descend back to the floor, tell them to rest for a second or two (after all, it is a DEADlift, not a bouncelift) and re-adjust their spinal position, get their air, and properly set up for the next rep.

Instead of thinking of it as a set of five repetitions.  Think of it as a set of five separate singles.

19. And finally, watch this video.  I wore my glasses, so I obviously know what I’m talking about.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/todd.bumgardner.3 Todd Bumgardner

    Bless you, sir. Bless you. Tip number 9 is my favorite of all. High rep deadlift sets are poop and ruin technique! Great stuff as always, Tony! You’re the man!

    • TonyGentilcore

      I KNEW you’d appreciate this post! Glad to see I didn’t disappoint.

    • Carl

      Haha, aren’t you being a bit overly positive there chap? If anyone cares, I’ve got an article on the deadlift myself actually! http://theliftingbay.com/deadlift-the-guide/

      • PowerHouse

        At First…. Make the link work.
        it’s broken or something…..

        • TonyGentilcore

          I just went back to the article and clicked on all the links and they seem to work on my end. Care to elaborate which one isn’t working?

  • Nia Shanks

    Just when I didn’t think it’d be possible to love you more, you go and write this.  ;)

    Question for ya: I’ve seen a few articles lately, and I’m sure you have too, saying it’s okay to round your upper back when deadlifting, especially maximal weights for an advanced trainee.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hmmm, I’d have to put some thought into this one. I know Bret wrote an article about this topic, but I think a lot of what he said has been misconstrued.

  • http://HaroldGibbons.wordpress.com/ Harold Gibbons

    Things that I like:  Steak, Spinach, Tony’s articles about deadlifts.  Great list, with tips for the newbie AND more advanced trainees.  Thanks for the great content.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Harold – appreciate the kind words.

  • http://www.gaglionestrength.com/ John

    Great post Tony

    • TonyGentilcore

      You know how I do! Always like feedback from the other strength coaches out there!

  • Barath

    In my case, deadlifting from deficit greatly helped. I have done these many times in the past, but only once a week or so. I discovered that this is not the way to go (at least for me). I was forced into a situation where I HAD to do deficit deadlifts for a month (a new gym where the plates were smaller), and when I got back, my very first session with “normal” plates was pretty smooth for weights I thought were challenging.

    Great article, as usual!

    • TonyGentilcore

      I agree. I’m wicked slow off the ground, and pulling from a deficit is definitely a way to help in that regard.

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  • Symonds 1

    Why do women conceive more?!?!?

  • Andrea

    Mind.Officially.Blown. Lol. Seriously though, great article. I’m still learning to DL properly and articles like this definitely help. If I could only figure out where the hell to properly position my hips when setting up :p

    • TonyGentilcore

      Wow. Well……glad you liked it Andrea.

      Hip position will depend on a few things – body structure being one of them. If you want to send me a video to look at, I’d be happy to make some suggestions.

      • Andrea

         Oh, awesome…will do! ;)

  • Greg

    I’m upset we didn’t get to see your jedi light saber moves at the end of the Hip Hinge video!

    • TonyGentilcore

      HA! Yeah, unfortunately it was cut off at the end. The camera man was fired…..;o)

  • Sean

    Really enjoyed the breathing technique from Bill Hartman! Thanks that’s some amazing and simple cues! Knowledge bomb…dropped. 

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  • Clement

    Hey Tony, I see you haven’t included the rack pull in the list of alternatives. Well, my gym only has those annoying hexagonal weights, so I’ve been doing rack pulls with the pins at the lowest setting (2-3 inches higher than a normal deadlift). At least the weight won’t land at an awkward angle and make me have to reset after every rep or pull from a weird position. Rack pulls need some love, man!

    • TonyGentilcore

      I love rack pulls too. Sorry if I didn’t include them into the mix! I used to work at a gym that had those annoying hexagonal weights, too, and it sucked. I had to resort to the EXACT same thing you’re doing now.

  • jes

    #10 validates the way I’ve been training for a while…and the rest of the list is awesome.  

  • Monika Volkmar

    I wish everyday was deadlift day… *sigh* 
    I totally made the mistake myself, doing high volume deads and wondered why I wasn’t getting any better. Started doing heavy sets of 3 and BAM, hit a new best last week :)PS I totally used the dowel rod hip hinge trick with one of my clients and she looked at me like I was a fucking GENIOUS! THANKS TONY!! 

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  • JamesP

    This is excellent tips for the deadlift! I agree witht the point about performing the deadlift wrong can wreak havoc on your spine.

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