How to Set-Up to Deadlift Properly

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I’m throwing you a curve ball today, and starting what I hope will be an on-going series of video blogs here on tonygentilcore.com.

My hope is that:

1.  I’m able to better convey the information I’m trying to relay to the masses. Writing is one thing, and I feel I do a decent job of not sucking at that. For many, though, they’re more visual learners, and this is the perfect medium for those types of people.

2. 2012 is looking to be the year where I put on my big boy pants and start doing more speaking engagements. The way I see it, video blogs will help me hone my skillz and hopefully teach myself to not swear like a sailor, stop saying “um” every other sentence, and to stop USING MY HANDS WHEN I TALK FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!!!

3. And, more importantly, save my fingers from all of this damn typing!

Anyways, the catalyst for today’s video blog stemmed from my incessant (maybe un-healthy?) obsession with deadlifts. But more to the point, it stemmed from various questions and comments I’ve received on articles and blog posts I’ve written in the past concerning how to set-up for the deadlift properly.

Sometimes, things are just lost in translation, and I figured a video would help elucidate my thoughts more clearly and showcase some simple coaching cues I feel will benefit a lot of people.

The tipping point, however, came when an online client sent me a video of his deadlift set-up and I had to do everything in my power not to face plant into my keyboard.

It was bad. Like, “how is his spine still in one piece?” bad. And with that, I knew I had to do something other than write back “Um yeah, you need to stop doing that.”

The result?

How to Set-Up to Deadlift Properly

A few things to note:

  • I feel the set-up is something that many trainees take far too casually.  Let me be blunt:  deadlifting success and performance starts and ends with the set-up.  Foot placement, bar placement, learning to activate the lats, as well as hip placement all come into play. With the latter point for instance, people tend to set their hips either too high, where their lower back takes a beating, or they set up too low, and it turns more into this weird, squat/deadlift, hybrid thingamajig.

Hopefully this video clears some of the murky water.

  • Thanks to Kyle for being my model (and for the sweet Presidential-like wave in the background when being introduced).  Also, thanks for Marco for being Spielberg’esq with the camera work.
  • My goal was to do this sucker in one take. I succeeded. In re-watching it, though, there were definitely some “did I just sat that?” moments (did I just say “finger Kyle?” Dammit Tony!). Trust me, I’ll get better. Promise.
  • I’d love to get your feedback, so please feel free to comment below.  In addition, I’d also be interested in ideas for future installments. Is there anything you’d like to see covered?

Okay, I’ll shut up now.  Here’s the video:

  • http://www.gaglionestrength.com John

    Tony, Great video. Very thorough and lots of great coaching cues. Looking forward to more video tutorials! It always helps to see someone actually coach someone else. Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Gags – thanks man!

  • Mike

    Nice video Tony.
    Quick question if you’ve got time – Are there any deadlift-specific warm up exercises you’d recommend? I currently foam roll, do some hockey ball SMR, static stretch a few tight areas, then do some hip mobility stuff and a few jumps, but not sure if there’s anything else worth including, as it seems to take me a good 5 or 6 sets to get in the groove when deadlifting.
    Cheers

    • Anonymous

      Mike – if you go to t-nation and click on the featured author’s link, and then find my name, you should be able to find a few of my deadlifting articles where I discuss some tips to warming-up.

  • Todd Bumgardner

    Great video, Tony. I love the rope cue and the chest tap cue. The Lat explanation was also great. The importance of the Lats and Upper-back during a heavy pull is all too often disregarded. I’m going to direct every client to this video. Thanks, man.

    • Anonymous

      Well, I know you’re a fan of that cue too………and it’s something I feel a lot of trainees don’t quite grasp. Thanks for the kind words Todd

  • Brendan

    Great stuff Tony! Although I don’t recall “elucidate” rolling off your tongue when I checked out your gym last month. :)

  • REES

    Keyboard faceplant? Been there…..

    Good video man. Thanks

  • Barath

    Fantastic video Tony! Thanks a ton! Though I had read all these in your deadlift article on T-Nation, it helps to see it in action. (BTW, pulled 385 today, can’t wait for those damn 8 plates :) ).

    I am finishing up the first month of Show and Go (what an excellent product by Eric!), and I am supposed to pull sumo starting next week. I’ve never done this before, so a video blog explaining the differences between that and conventional plus some sumo-specific cues would be extremely helpful to me.

    Once again, thanks for putting this together!

    • Anonymous

      Barath – dude – AWESOME pull. 400 is right around the corner. Eric actually filmed an excellent deadlifting video earlier this year where he covers the differences between conventional and SUMO style deadlifts. I believe there’s a link to it on his website, but you may also want to search his youtube page.

  • Harry

    awesome video! i’d love to see you go through the squat next….forgive my ignorance, but it looks like although kyle has a flat back, he doesn’t keep lumbar extension, is this okay? do you do any coaching to encourage slight lumbar extension?

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, Kyle needs to work on a few things (don’t we all?), but I assure you he’s able to keep out of those last few degrees of lumbar flexion…..;o)

      A lot of times, I’ll literally step behind the trainees and place my hands on their lumbar spine to get them into proper position. Also, many of the points I covered in my Teaching Neutral Spine posts from a few weeks ago would come into play here.

      • Harry

        great, thanks!

  • Gaurav Kapil

    This is very very helpful. Best part is when you are showing right vs wrong stances/set up.

    I’d personally like to see a video on Squats, specifically targeting on how to remove those god damn buttwinks.

  • Charles

    Tony,

    As usual, good stuff! I’m having one issue that keeps coming back to haunt me and I can’t seem to figure out what the heck I’m doing wrong. About 2.5 months ago I went for a PR on deadlift and I feel like I damn near pulled my left arm out of socket. Turns out I strained my lat, with most of my pain near where it inserts into the humerus. Well, I got that healthy(ish?) and even set a new PR since, in terms of a 3RM. On Tuesday, I was warming up and I’ll be damned if I didn’t do it again but on the other side, but with a much lighter weight, about 60% of my 3RM. Any clue what I may be doing wrong?

    • Anonymous

      Charles – sounds like you need to go get some aggressive soft work done…..;o)

      • Charles

        That is….stop being such a wuss lol…thx tony

        • Anonymous

          No, not at all. Something “funky” is going on in there, and it’s hard for me to make any definitive guess without having seen you in person. The lats are an area that a lot of people ignore and they can get pretty dense with fibrotic tissie – especially near the humeral insertion. Try to go get some ART or Graston done. Should definitely help!

  • Jimgoff

    Tony this was AWESOME! Would love to see more videos. PLUS Alicia Keys can now really get to see who you are. My biggest question is why is there no techno blaring in the background. Keep it up!

  • Deborah

    This is a great idea. Video was excellent!

  • John

    Nice video, I especially like watching when you “feather the lats” ;)

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, like I said, it was definitely an off the cuff video. The crew at CP got a good laugh out of it this afternoon!

  • Neil

    Hi Tony,
    I really enjoyed the video blog! Keep up the good work and looking forward to many more down the road!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Neil.

  • Sue

    Best explanatory video I’ve seen so far. This really helps me since I can’t afford a trainer and don’t have anyone to watch my form.

    • Anonymous

      Sue –

      Glad it was something that you learned a thing or two from.

  • Anthonytomeo22

    great video tony!

  • Gwen

    Great video. The cues make perfect sense and I know I will be using them for myself and my clients. I do notice that my deadlift has gone up significantly since working on the hip hinge pattern and focusing on the hamstrings. Thanks for putting this out there Tony!

  • R Smith

    Tony,

    That is the WORST video in the history of man! Wow! To ensure that you improve, I think you should give us one of these a week in the name of practice :)

    Seriously, though, it is AMAZING how needed videos such as this are. I love being able to tell folks “Don’t take my word for it; go to [Tony's blog.]”

    Vids I’d love to see:

    1. Squat set up (Front, Back, SSB and GCB) with a front and side view.

    2. TRX exercises that CP uses, especially rows.

    Have a great weekend, sir.

    RS

    • Anonymous

      Hmmmm, good idea Ronell……….both of them actually. Although, I think the TRX one might be money.

  • Mike A.

    a nike logo…an under armour logo….A NEW BALANCE LOGO!!!

    nice catch, sir. awesome video.

    • Anonymous

      LOL – I know, right!?!?!?!? That would have been a major fail.

  • http://heyjoob.com Juliet

    GREAT video! I’ve been using almost all of those cues since September and they’ve definitely, markedly improved my deadlift. I’m excited to see what other videos you come out with!

  • Regina

    Thank you so much for this video! I’m a beginner at weightlifting and the deadlift always felt awkward to me, but I’ve never had a good demonstration plus explanation like this of it. I agree you should do one on squats next.

    And potentially stupid question, but is Kyle’s grip different on his left side and, if so, why?

    • Barath

      Hey Regina, As you move up in weights, you will find that it is much easier to pull using an alternating grip – basically, you would grip the bar overhand with your strong hand (right hand, if you’re a right-handed person), and underhand with the weaker one. This is no hard and fast rule, but this grip usually helps you lift easier.

      • Anonymous

        Oops, I missed this one and answered before I saw Barath’s response. Well played, sir!

    • Anonymous

      Regina –

      Thanks for the kind words, and I’m glad you enjoyed the video!

      Kyle was using a mixed grip, which is completely normal (maybe not at 135 lbs, but whatever). Basically, at some point, one’s grip is going to be the limiting factor, and once you’re there, switching to an alternate grip can definitely help. The key is to make sure that you switch grips with each set, though, as it’s easy to develop a slight imbalance if you ALWAYS use the same mixed grip.

  • Shannan

    Tony,
    Nice first Vid. Loading the hams and glutes are something that I have been trying to hammer on lately. One thing that I have had trouble with, is at times hips rising first. I have worked on improving this with many videos of my technique and it has helped. You programmed for me a little ago. loved it! It could be a good vid, to go over technique flaws and such as this,and some ideas on fixes. Do yuo see this often? Any quick ideas. Its kind of frustrating not being able to find quality vids. I could just fly over to spend deadlifting at CP.

    • Anonymous

      Shannan –

      The hips coming up to fast is sometimes indicative of an upper back weakness. I’d try to hammer lots and lots and lots of horizontal rowing variations. Too, learning to engage the lats more (which I covered in the video) will also help!

    • James G

      Shannan,

      Try purposely ‘pulling’ the bar back towards your body when you deadlift…not just up. I find that cue helps what you’re talking about most of the time.

      James.

  • James G

    Big Tony,

    Loved it – definitely liking you on camera, and the idea of you getting out and speaking more!

    Don’t slacken off with it – this stuff was gold!

    • Anonymous

      James –

      I know you’ve always been on me to “spread my wings,” so-to-speak, so thank you!

      • James G

        And, judging from the video display above, I’m a fucking genius for doing so!

  • chris

    I’m interested in CP’s approach to addressing rib flares and re- learning proper breathing patterns and how these breathing patterns are progressed and taught when performing the big movements such as deadlifts, squats, and bench presses

    • Anonymous

      Whoa boy – that would be a doozy. Don’t know if that would be justified by a simple video blog, as you could have an entire weekend seminar on that kind of thing. For a little idea, though, go over to t-nation.com and search for Eric Cressey’s article “Stuff I Learned in 2010.” He discusses some of it there.

  • Jmyers67

    Great vid, definitely some tips I will take away from this and put into affect next time I dead lift. I would also like to ask for some advice and feedback… I am 6’4″ and starting to pull some “heavier” weight(most recently 325×5) and want to do it properly and safely. One of the things i feel that I am doing wrong is my hips are starting to move before the weight does, and secondly I keep nicking one specific area on my shins and start bleeding… Any tips you have would be great!

    • Anonymous

      As I mentioned below with Shannan – try to emphasize a little more upper back work into the mix.

      Also, given you’re taller than most, switching to more of a SUMO stance may help since it will alter the biomechanics of the lift and make it more “user friendly” for you.

      • Jmyers67

        Thanks for your response! And switching to SUMO is something that i have contemplated… If i was to switch to SUMO, do i pretty much carry over the same techniques, or is there certain things that i need to focus on?

        I really put a lot of emphasis on keep my upper back tight and my lats fully engaged, it seemed to help and take away from the shin scrapping and make the weight feel easier to lift! Thanks for the advice.

        • Jmyers67

          Oh and one more question along the line of SUMO’s. Should I just continue with the same amount of weight(335lbs) or lower it to begin with? Thanks again for the advice, hope to hear back from you soon.

  • Chris D.

    Tony, what would you say the main differences are when preforming rack pulls vs pulling from the floor?Do you think there should be less knee flexion with rack pulls, making it more like a romanian dead? Thanks, really like the video.

    • Anonymous

      Rack pulls are still a deadlift variation, albeit there’s a bit more of an upper back emphasis. The hammies aren’t engaged as much, and as such, you’re unable to utilize the stretch shortening cycle as much. For me, I don’t feel there’s a whole lot of carry over from rack pulls to pulling from the floor; but I still feel they’re a valuable exercise to throw into the mix from time to time.

  • Max G

    Great video tony, I’d like to see a video on maximising mobility/base line flexibility for training

    • Anonymous

      You should check out my “Squat Like You Mean It” article over on t-nation. There, I go over a bunch of mobility drills that target the hips.

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  • Cameron

    Awesome video Tony! I definitely set up with my hips too high and this has some great pointers on how to counteract that.

    Do you have any more advice on how to sit back? I don’t pull away from my body but I’m never scraping my shins. Granted my biggest pull is 135kg but still even at that stage I wasn’t getting any shin scraping action.

    Cheers.

    • Anonymous

      It’s going to take some practice Cameron. I’d be inclined to recommend some hip hinging drills as part of your general warm-up. The more you groove the pattern, the easier it will be to make it a habit; and the less likely you’ll mess up when you start using heavier loads.

      Check out John Gaglione’s article over on t-nation this week where he discusses an AWESOME hip hinge drill – Goat Belly Hip Hinge.

      • Cameron

        Cheers. Thanks for the reply Tony. Will check out the article on t-nation and add some hip hinging drills to the warm-up.

        Thanks again.

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  • Ryan Andrews

    Good stuff. Thanks for posting.

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  • Steven Rice

    Tony, what do you think of lifting with a snatch grip, or wide but not snatch width?

  • Jax4444

    Great video. Just to make sure: you tuck your chin and look down? Why should you look up? Does looking up, put you in bad position? thanks

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, looking up will place people in cervical extension which will throw things out of whack. Look up Charlie Weingroff’s blog post from about a year ago on packing the neck. EXCELLENT read.

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  • Shannan

    Tony,

    I just wanted to ask a question with regards to glute involvement and muscular soreness after training. My glutes are sore as hell after hitting deads, a lunge variation. But if I perform a dead and then say a step up I do not get anywhere near as sore glutes. My question is should my glutes b on fire say just with deadlifting or is it common to get more soreness from lunge positions?

    • Anonymous

      Hmmm, I rarely (if ever) get sore glutes when I deadlift. If anything – depending on the deadlift variation, of course (RDLs = hamstrings fried) – the bodypart that gets the most sore is my upper back.

      With lunges, particularly reverse lunges or long stride walking lunges, etc – the glutes are going to come into play a little more compared to deadlifts alone. So, to answer your question, I think it’s the lunge variations that are the culprit.

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  • Gunnthra

    I thought this was well done.  I’d only recommend in the future you try to mic up, or at the least test the acoustics a bit more, and try to give us a few different angles for the lift being demonstrated (assuming you have more than one camera, and cameraman). 

    • Anonymous

      It’s a blog Gunnthra, not a high budget Hollywood movie……;o)

      I will say that I filmed it right near our facility fan that’s ALWAYS running, so I’m sure that played into the sound being a little off. But you’re right, I need to either speak up, or just pick a different spot on the floor to film. Thanks for the suggestions.

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  • http://twitter.com/SheisWolff SheisWolff

    This is really helpful. I’m new to weights and this explanation was extremely thorough. I don’t like when there are tutorials and the instructor doesn’t cover every base, but you did thankfully!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks – glad it helped!

  • http://twitter.com/bandaipods pedro travers

    good stuff but i suck at setting up it never feels right it never just happens. its a struggle to get into position. drives me friggin nuts

  • http://twitter.com/bandaipods pedro travers

    is sumo dl easier?????

  • http://twitter.com/bandaipods pedro travers

    my stance will change for each set i do, its amazin

    • TonyGentilcore

      It just takes practice Pedro. As far as whether or not Sumo is easier, it depends. If you’re someone with a long torso and short arms, it could very well be more advantageous to try the sumo stance.

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