Extreme Makeover: Deadlift Edition

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Anyone familiar with popular show Extreme Home Makeover knows the premise:  a family, fallen on hard times and down on their luck, is sent on vacation for two weeks while Ty Pennington and his team of contractors, designers, carpenters, not to mention an entire town of volunteers, build them a brand spankin new house – hopefully with an indoor bowling alley attached.

If you’re like me, ten minutes into the show, you’re already half way through a box of Kleenex, and when you’re girlfriend happens to show up expectantly – like a ninja – you quickly fumble for the remote and change it to Spike TV or something.

Oh, hey babe.  How was your day?  Huh, what was that?  Why are my eyes all red?

Yeah, well, uh……I just got a little something stuck in my eye, that’s all. I’m gonna go make a sandwich – want one?

Anyways, it’s a great show, and after receiving an email from a distance coaching client of mine (for the sake of anonymity, lets calls him Matt Damon) asking me to critique is deadlift technique, it got me thinking:  Why not take the same concept and apply it towards fixing or cleaning up someone’s deadlift?

But first, a little backstory

“Matt Damon” started working with me about a month ago.  Like many guys in his situation, he had done several programs on his own, and to no avail, never really saw the progress he was hoping to attain.   Frustrated, he decided to contact me inquiring about distance coaching.

Now, before I continue, I’ll be the first to admit:  distance coaching definitely has its disadvantages (see exhibit A below), but at the same time – and not to blow sunshine up my own ass – I feel my experience and abilities as a coach trumps any program some local boxed gym, pencil necked personal trainer could come up with.

Not to get into the particulars, but in order to become a client, I have people fill out a few lengthy questionnaires detailing, among others things, stuff like training history, injury history, goals, equipment availability, and other pertinent information like their ideal training split or whether or not they have any weird eating habits (penguin anyone?).

In addition, to help me better ascertain what it is they’re looking to accomplish, I also have them send me some full-body postural pictures (interestingly, some guys will send me a picture of their rear double bicep pose.  I have no clue why), and I also ask them to send me a video of their squat and deadlift technique.  You know, just to see what’s going on.

Well, fast forward to last week when I received the following email from “Matt Damon:”

Hi Tony–

I just started Week Three, and I realized I never sent you these squat and deadlift videos from my first week.  So here they are.

The squats are from my first day when I forgot my gym shoes, so I’m in my street shoes.  I also sometimes forgot to pause at the bottom.  And the video’s from kind of a funny angle.

I thought my gym had a trap bar, but it turns out they don’t.  So I’ve been doing regular deadlifts instead of trap bar deadlifts.

Let me know what you think!

As I noted above, distance coaching has its disadvantages – the most obvious being that I’m unable to be there in person to offer coaching cues and to otherwise keep people from hurting themselves.

That being said, here’s what I wrote back:


Okay, that’s not really what I wrote, but you can imagine the look on my face when I watched that video for the first time.  Truth be told, I don’t think it’s possible for someone’s jaw to drop any further than what mine did.

Nevertheless, “Matt” is a trooper and he’s agreed to allow me to exploit him for your own education.  I asked if he’d be cool with me sharing this on my blog, and he was more than willing to participate.  So without further ado, here’s the actual email I sent him once I retrieved my laptop after throwing it out the window.

  • You need to elevate the bar more.  If you load it to 135 lbs (45 lb plates on each side), the bar will be at regulation height.  That will help.  If that’s too much weight – I’d suggest placing the bar on top of steppers or plates so that you can get it to the right height.  From there, a few key points to note
  • You’re essentially squatting the bar down.  A big no no.  Deadlifting should be more of a hip hinge pattern, not squat.  So, to that end, try to SIT BACK.  Basically you want to focus on pushing your hips back until you feel a pretty significant stretch in the hammies.  When you can’t go any further, THEN you’ll bend the knees to get down to the floor.
  • The bar should slide down your thigh, but again, you need to SIT BACK!!!!  I attached a video to demonstrate what it should actually look like.  If you see how I descend, you’ll notice how I don’t have to lower the bar AROUND my knees like you do.  See what I’m talking about?

  • Moreoever, a great cue I like to use with people is to pretend there’s someone standing behind you with a rope tied around your waist.  As you descend, they’re pulling your hips back.  See if that helps at all.
  • Frankly, there’s a lot more we need to work on, but lets focus on those few things for now and see what kind of progress we can make.

A few days later, “Matt” sent me this (practice) video:

While not perfect by any means (he’s not getting his hips through at the top, his upper back is still just a teeny tiny bit kyphotic, and he NEEDS TO USE MORE WEIGHT.  If you can curl it, you certainly shouldn’t be deadliftng it.), it shows a marked improvement from the original video he sent.

if anything, what I hope this demonstrates, is that 1).  I’m awesome and 2).  More importantly, by just using a few simple cues, you can make huge strides in terms of cleaning up someone’s technique.  I think a major mistake that many personal trainers and coaches out there make is trying to OVER coach things and using waaaaaay too many cues that do nothing more than complicate things and frustrate the client.

All I told “Matt” to do was sit back, and feel a stretch in the hammies before bending the knees, and look how many other things just sorta “fell into place” as far as his technique is concerned.

And to think, I did all of this without ever having met him in person.   O’Doyle rules!!!!!

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.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Nia Shanks

    Awesome post, Tony. I know what you mean about some trainers overloading a newbie with all kinds of cues. I think a lot of them do it just to make themselves look "wicked smaht" instead of truly helping the client. For most of my clients I do what you do - I hammer one or two main cues into their brain before adding any more. You're boy made some good improvements - now if he'll only slap some damn weight on the bar!

    June 30, 2011 at 7:34 am | Reply to this comment

  • Marshall Roy

    What Nia said. When it comes to squatting and deadlifting, with most clients, I leave it at "butt back, chest up."

    June 30, 2011 at 9:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • Andrew

    The title of this blog post was so full of win I didn't think the post could live up to expectations. But, in traditional Tony Gentilcore style, the post exceeded my expectations, both in content, and in humour. Keep up the good work.

    June 30, 2011 at 9:27 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lisa V

    Matt Damon sure was a good sport for letting you use him as an example. While not perfect, he made a ton of improvement just from a little feedback. Nice job, T (and "Matt").

    June 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Niel

    At least there was no lumbar flexion.

    June 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Juliet

    'Matt' was definitely a trooper for letting you use him as a guinea pig. Well, that and his form improved a great deal. It really is rather impressive how he was able to make such improvement in a few days with the right cues. Does he have access to an olympic bar? It looks like he's working out in an aerobics class room? (Or so I'm assuming from the pretty dbells on the side, wood floors, and mirrors)

    June 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Dean Somerset

    " I feel my experience and abilities as a coach trumps any program some local boxed gym, pencil necked personal trainer could come up with." - Ahem.

    June 30, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Nia: Exactly! @ Andrew: thanks - very much appreciated. @ Niel: HA! True. But still..... @ Juliet: in "Matt's" defense, he was only just practicing - but yeah, he definitely needs to start using a OLY bar. Got that Matt???? @ Dean: Dude, you're not a pencil necked PT? You actually lift weights!

    June 30, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Bret Contreras

    Gentilcore rules! Good post Tony. Matt's a class-act for letting you use his vids. So many people make this same mistake when learning to deadlift; they try to make it just like a squat. I once made a best friend in the gym by correcting form just like you did. His name was Troy, and he was the strongest natural lifter I've ever met. He could squat 525 and bench 425. His deadlift was only 405 because he was squatting it up, and in 5 minutes I was able to tweak his technique and get him to pull 515. Two months later he pulled 585. Needless to say, he was very appreciative.

    June 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Lance Goyke

    At Globo Gym we're better than you, and we know it! I definitely agree about coaching mistakes. The newbie coaches at IFAST (read: interns) tend to over coach pretty consistently. I've been guilty in the recent past, but I like to think I've upgraded from "n00b" to "tr0110101". All it does is frustrate you AND the client.

    June 30, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mike Reinold

    Tony, love the videos and before and after shots, really enhanced this post, awesome!

    July 2, 2011 at 8:18 am | Reply to this comment

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