One of the big three, the deadlift is as much about raw power and strength as any other exercise. Pick it up, put it down. But it is not that simple, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of videos online of people with poor technique at risk of injuring themselves.
I posted a video a fair while back deadlifting 200kg for 2 reps. I believed the form to not quite be right, so took to the internet for help. What I was met with was some harsh comments, sprinkled with some positive, constructive feedback. Then I was offered a place on a deadlifting seminar at Structure sport and Fitness in Sheffield with Lee Dubois and Ian Thistlewood.
This is what I learnt.
Quick disclaimer, this is a conventional deadlifting article, there are other types of deadlifts and power lifters will vary again, this is just a conventional lift.
Why oh why does everyone overlook the warm up, before any physical activity? Maybe I’m obsessed with them, but they seriously help all physical activity and can highlight weaknesses. You can’t just take a pre workout and then get on it.
The deadlift is a very complex movement with lots of muscles being used throughout the lift, therefore the warm up needs to be fairly extensive. From top to bottom we need to warm up those big pulling muscles; first your back. Start by doing some upright rows, face-pulls and dumbbell rows. All of these will help activate the lats and traps which are going to be key when you start your pull.
Moving down we need to consider our hips and legs. Foam-rolling your glutes, hamstrings and hips will help activate the muscles to start with. Now we need to look at the movement pattern.
Sumo squats and sumo deadlifts with kettlebells. are a great way to warm up. Feet past shoulder width, toes pointing out, squat down as low as you can, forcing the knees out with your elbows but keeping your back in a strong position. Don’t sacrifice form by rounding your back just to get depth. I always aim to have my back like a Silverback Gorilla, but use whatever mental image you need to prevent a “butt wink”. After these some Good Mornings are a suitable for stretching the hamstrings off prior to lifting and some hip thrusts off a bench will also help.
- Feet shoulder width apart, under the bar. The bar should be sat at your mid foot giving you a good centre of gravity and clear pulling path.
- Squat slightly till your shins touch the bar.
- Your hands want to grip the bar in-line with your shoulders, but make sure they are wide enough to stop your arms causing friction against your legs.
- Suck in all the air in the room, and as you do, rotate your arms inwards, contracting your lats and traps.
- Lift your head and chest up but don’t drop the hips too far.
- You want your shoulders over the bar still, if the hips drop too low you will sacrifice your pulling path.
- You should already have tension on the bar now, so much so that if the weight is light
All of these little things put your body into the optimum pulling position. You’ll have a tight core, the lats will be activated with your back in a strong position. Also, your hips will be locked and hamstrings braced.
Missing just one of these seven points can seriously mess up your lift.
This should be the easy bit now. The pull wants to be as smooth and consistent as possible. Everything needs to work together as one movement, not legs then back which often happens when the weight is too heavy.
The key thing is to have a straight bar path that stays as close to your body as possible. Any time the bar is away from your body is when the bad form will creep in. That’s it, straight path, close to your body.
Extra point: at the top of your lift, do not lean back into it. This throws you off balance and can cause more injury. Lock out in the upright position.
Programming and extras
Grip – Some people go for the over-under, I personally prefer the double over. The main reason over-under is used is due to grip strength, or lack thereof. Over under can carry the risk of imbalances within the body and can cause bicep injuries (we’ve all seen those videos).
Double over grip stops all of these disadvantages but is a weaker grip. Combat this by doing extra grip work, such as using a big bar grip, or using straps when the bar gets heavy.
Shoes – Olympic lifting shoes should only really be used for weightlifting if you are focusing on Olympic lifting itself. Otherwise it forces your bodyweight too far forward. Conventional running shoes/trainers have too much “give” in them. And bare foot/socks do not provide enough grip. Flat bottom shoes like Converse are ideal.
Belts – Weightlifting belts can be good to help build tension in the core and to protect your back, but only if used correctly. I see far too many people with belts hanging loosely around their hips, or far too high up around their rib cage. This negates any benefit.
If you want to use one make sure you are coached on how to do it properly, and don’t just do it for the image! I also can’t stand it when people wear them for every session, even for exercises they are not needed for! You do not need a belt to work your arms!
Programming – Deadlifting is such a technical exercise and puts so much stress on the body I would not recommend doing it more than twice a week. However some supplement exercises can help, such as rack pulls and bent over barbell rows.
Again I’d like to say a big thank you to Lee Dubois and Ian Thistlewood over at Structure Sport and Fitness Sheffield. Awesome gym, get yourselves over there.
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