5 Tips to Improve Your Deadlift

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It’s no secret that I like to deadlift. Outside of sleep, going to a Sunday matinee, omeletes, Chipotle, and nunchucks, it’s probably my most favoritest thing in the world.

There’s certainly no shortage of quality articles out there breaking down the deadlift and offering suggestions on how to increase your overall sense of badassery.

Likewise, there’s rarely (if ever) anything new to say – as it’s already been said in some fashion elsewhere in magazines, in books, in DVDs, and various blog posts.

Nevertheless, here are five quick and easy-to-implement tips that will definitely help improve your pulling prowess.

1.  Save Your Hardest Workout for Early in the Week, But Not Too Early

It stands to reason that if you have a weak link or are trying to “bring up” one particular lift, you should reserve the hardest training session of the week for Monday when you’re the most fresh and and presumably, the most recovered.

Seemingly most people spend their weekends chillaxing watching sports, eating good food, having a few beers, taking power naps, throwing the frisbee around, playing with the dogs, or maybe, if your’re lucky, spending a few hours at the beach soaking up some vitamin D.

Come Monday you’re recharged and ready to tackle the upcoming week. It makes sense, then, to head to the gym on Monday and absolutely throw yourself to the wolves and make yourself hate life to the point where you can barely walk by the end and you can’t feel the left side of your face.

Mmmmmm, maybe not the best idea.

Raise your hand if Mondays are typically your best day at work? Hahahahaha, yeah that’s what I thought.

Nada.

We’ve all heard the lame statement “looks like (s0 and so) has the case of the Mondays,” and for good reason. Mondays suck! For a reference point, watch the movie Office Space (and thank me later).

 

After two days (or three, for the lucky few who get the extended weekend) of laying low and living the lazy life, effectively placing your body in an extended “hover” mode, you can’t expect it to rebound efficiently and go right into breaking PRs on Monday.

For some it will work, and they can bounce back and feel like a superhero. For many,  however, it won’t be nearly as “superheroish,” and it won’t be a pretty site.

I’m a rare example and use Mondays as my main deadlift day, but that’s because I work at a gym and I’m able to use Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) as an actual training day, mostly as a GPP or movement based day, but training nonetheless. Most people don’t have this luxury and opt to forego the weights for pina coladas instead.  And more power to them!

What I propose is to hold off, and save your main deadlift session for Tuesday or better yet, Wednesday.

Instead go to the gym on Monday and train, but don’t necessarily go balls to the wall. Most of you are going to go and blast your pecs anyways – Monday IS National Bench Press Day – so go right a head and do it.  Or, just think of it as a “medium” intensity day

By the time Tuesday or Wednesday rolls around, your nervous system will be a little more “primed” and less lethargic and I’m willing to bet you’ll find your DL numbers improve.

2. Get More Lifts Above 90%

I’m a bit reticent to openly state that more people should add more lifts at or above 90% (as a percentage of their one rep max) into their repertoire because, well, you need to know what the heck you’re doing!

To that end, I have two prerequisites:

1.  You MUST have technical proficiency in the lift. If my eyes will perpetually start bleeding from watching you lift a weight that’s only 50% of your 1RM, then I certainly don’t want to know what will happen if you go any heavier.

<—– Like this

2. You should already be able to lift at least 2x (I may even lower this to 1.5x) your bodyweight before utilizing 90% lifts. As an example, this would mean that a 175 lb person should be clearing a 350 lb pull. Not too shabby, but certainly not earth shattering.

I understand this is a a blanket statement, and there are plenty of people who incorporate heavier loads into the mix that aren’t that strong (and do so safely), but this is just for my own edification and peace of mind.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’m going to cut/paste a portion of an article I wrote for T-Nation a few years ago titled Limiting Factors:

When a more “advanced” trainee approaches me and mentions that he’s stuck on a certain weight with a particular lift, I can almost guarantee his limiting factor is that he hasn’t been incorporating more lifts above 90%.

(Side Note: For beginner trainees, I’d be more inclined to check their food intake and/or overall programming. Most just need to eat more and shy away from the bodybuilding/body-part split routines.)

To recap, lifts above 90%…

1. Increase total muscle fiber recruitment.

2. Increase recruitment of higher threshold motor units (which have a greater propensity for growth).

3. Increase rate coding (rate at which motor units fire).

4. Increase synchronization between muscles (improved inter and intra-muscular coordination).

5. Make girls want to hang out with you.

Maybe even girls who actually deadlift will want to hang out with you, too:

All of the above help to improve one’s neural efficiency. Getting stronger is all about making the central nervous system (CNS) more efficient at allowing the brain and spinal cord to better communicate with motor units/muscle fibers to get the job done. In short, improved neural efficiency allows you to lift more weight, which last time I checked, is a pretty cool thing.

For the advanced lifter, each session is an opportunity to maybe hit a new PR (personal record), but really it’s just about lifting heavy things off the ground.

Using the DL as an example, lets assume one’s original PR is 400 pounds, the goal for this training session is to get FIVE lifts at 90% and above:

135×5
225×3
275×1
315×1
365×1
405×1 (PR!!!  But it was a grinder and you’re pretty sure you blacked out for like three seconds and saw pink unicorns as you locked it out)

At this point the trainee has already gotten two lifts above 90% (365, 405), 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 actually not miss any lifts.

360×1,1,1

From there, the trainee will continue on with his accessory work depending on his needs and goals.

3.  Oh Yeah, Hammer Your Accessory Work

For me I like to use what I call “marker” exercises, which are those exercises I know have a a huge carry over to the deadlift, and also allow me to gauge progress.  In short, I know that if I improve on a particular marker exercise, chances are my DL is going to improve as well.

One such example are goodmornings.

 

Everyone is different, and I’m not saying you should go start playing around with goodmornings today. But it stands to reason that if you want to improve your deadlift, you need to hammer your posterior chain and place a premium on those exercises which strengthen the glutes and hamstrings.

Another exercise to consider would be something like Deadstart/Andeson Squats.

 

What I love about these is that they emulate the exact hip/torso positioning I use when I setup to deadlift.  I’m woefully slow off the floor when I pull (and I have weak quads), so this is an exercise I try to incorporate a lot when I’m trying to ramp up my deadlift numbers.

Again, that’s just me.  What works for me may not work for you, but if I had to make a short list of exercises that people should focus on in terms of accessory work:

– RDLs
– Goodmornings
– Partial ROM squats
– Pull-Throughs
– GHR
– KB Swings
– Barbell Hip Thrusters
– Leg Press**

4. Focus on the 70-80% (But More Around 70%).

Admittedly this is something that I’ve pretty much ignored up until recently, and it wasn’t until diving into the phenomenal book Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel (as well as taking the advice of other coaches like Bret Contreras and Todd Bumgardner) that I began to see the error of my ways.

This sorta flies in the face of what I was saying above with regards to utilizing lifts above 90%, but I really feel that this is a woefully under-utilized method of improving one’s deadlift.

I understand that many strength coaches are adamantly opposed to anything that isn’t either “speed” work (40-60%) or max effort work (90%+), and that anything in the middle is a complete waste of time.

But I feel there’s something to be said about honing technique, solidifying one’s exercise proficiency (and being able to repeat it), and seeing how that parlays into bigger pulling numbers.

In looking at my training past, whenever I’d make a run for 600 lbs, I’d inevitably approach the 550ish mark, attempt to get my 90% lifts in week in and week out, for weeks on end, and eventually my spine would be like “that’s it Gentilcore.  I’m done!”

My back would end up feeling like shredded up salami, my CNS would be fried, and I’d have to take a hiatus from pulling heavy.

I think once you start approaching 2.75-3x bodyweight pulls, the body can only take so much on a repeated basis.  Lately, I’ve been focusing more on getting fast, QUALITY reps at a lower percentage and I feel amazing.

I’m still doing my speed work on separate days, but instead of hitting multiple lifts at 90% or above, I’ve been taking it down a notch and performing repeated lifts at 70% (with limited rest) and then hitting a “sorta” max every other week.

So, for example:

6×2 @ 315 lbs (with 20-30s rest between sets)

Then I’ll work up to a 500+ pull.  Last week I ended up working up to 520 lbs, and felt great.

You’re always going to have ebbs and flows with training, but I really feel that this approach is going keep me fresh longer and not beat me to a pulp.

5.  Use Straps

No, seriously, I’m not kidding….use them!

Listen, most commercial gyms have really crappy bars with no knurling and you’re relegated to wearing a Scarlet letter if you have the audacity to bring chalk onto the gym floor.

It’s almost impossible to lift any appreciable weight when the bar keeps slipping out of your hands.

Back in the day I totally used wrist straps to help bring up my deadlift.  Granted, I tried to sneak in chalk whenever I could (even going so far as to make sure I wiped down the bars when I was done), but I didn’t think any less of myself.

Grip strength is going to be a limiting factor for a lot of peeps, and I posit that so long as you go out of your way to NOT be the dork who uses straps for everything from seated lat pulldowns to bicep curls, your grip strength will automatically improve given you’re using various dumbbells and barbells in your training.

I won’t judge you for using straps.  If it allows you to use more weight and overload the exercise, great!  That’s the point.  If you use gloves on the other hand………

Got any tips of your own to share?  I’d love to hear them below

 

** Come on.  You didn’t think I was serious did you?

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