Five Tips for Mastering the Deadlift and Getting Stronger Than All of Your Friends
The five tips below are excerpts from my book, Deadlift Mastery. If you find this article helpful and would like to download a copy of the book, click here to get a $10 off coupon. My math ain’t great, but I reckon’ that’s 100% off. Here is a brief overview of what you’ll find in the book:
- Finding Your Optimal Set Up, Stance, Grip, and Head/Neck/Spine Positioning
- Improving Weak Points in Your Deadlift
- Accessory Exercises for Improving Your Deadlift
- Technique Cues and Bulletproofing Your Form
- Quick Tricks for Quick Improvements
Okay, let’s get into today’s tips.
1. Find and Crush Your Weakness
If you’ve been lifting a while, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. Maybe you’re unable to lock out a certain weight once you pass the knees. Or maybe you can lock out 495 pounds but can’t break the floor with 500 for some reason. These issues are indicative of what most call weak points in your lift. The most common weak points in the deadlift, along with examples of possible antidotes, are as follows:
- Trouble off the Floor
- Trouble with Lockout
- Farmers walks
- Pull up bar hangs
- Static holds from rack (a timed period where you hold 90+ percent of your 1RM at lockout – set up a rack pull near lockout for grip specific training)
- Fat gripz or fat bar training
- Upper Back Rounding
- Hypertrophy/strength (6-12 reps) work for upper back musculature (bent over rows, Pendlay rows, t-bar rows, pull ups, lat pulldowns, you get the picture – you have to be strong enough to maintain scapular retraction under heavy loads)
- See: Locking down the lats.
- Attention to posture and thoracic (mid to upper back) mobility – if you’re hunched over all day long, don’t expect to deadlift with a perfectly rigid spine
2. Scrape Your Shins
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, keeping the bar close to you during the deadlift is extremely important. Not every rep has to take the skin off your shins (I wear knee sleeves around my shins to avoid this) but deliberately practicing a shin scrape will ensure that you maximize your levers and musculature in each rep. I like to use it as a coaching cue with beginners. If you ever feel the bar lose contact, chances are, your hips shot up too early or you lost tightness when you broke the floor.
3. Never Pull Slow or Sloppy
Practice slow, perform slow.
One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing someone warm up for the deadlift, making the progressions – 135 – 225 – 275 – 315 – etc. only to pull 5+ super sloppy, slow reps with each weight until getting to their first working set. In my eyes, it’s the same as warming up for a pickup basketball game by shooting half court shots or playing underhand toss in the bullpen. Sure, there are the freaks of nature who never need to warm up, but they’re few and far between. Most of us take quite a bit of marinating and tinkering before we’re ready to even step up to the bar.
If you’re serious about the deadlift, I’d encourage you to start warming up with dynamic drills or other forms of hip hinges and explosive extensions. You should be warm, mobile, and excited (nervous system) before you ever touch your barbell. If you deadlift 500+ and want to start with 135, that’s fine, but your set with 135 needs to be picture perfect and approached exactly like a 1RM pull. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
4. Do Extra Grip Work
A stronger grip = a stronger lift. I know this one is pretty obvious, but I see lifters every day who think deadlifting by itself will fix their grip issues. Deadlifting will undoubtedly improve grip but think about how heavy the loads have to be before you’re really taxing your grip. 85-90% and above, right? How much volume do you truly expect to do at those intensities? I would hope you’re keeping it fairly low. Otherwise, your central nervous system will be fried in no time, and your grip will be the least of your worries.
This is where grip accessory work comes into play. You can tax the grip just as hard as a 1RM deadlift attempt with other, far less strenuous exercises.
- Farmers walks and loaded carries
- Bar hangs
- Fat bar deadlifts
- Thumbless work (performing rows, pull ups, accessory deadlifts, etc. with a thumbless grip)
The deadlift is one of the most taxing exercises in existence in terms of central nervous system (CNS) requirements. It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re chasing big goals. It’s perfectly fine to push your body but try to avoid pushing too hard, too fast. The biggest, strongest, and fastest athletes in the world may train every day, but they’ve spent years, even decades, ramping up to their current training/competition volumes.
Don’t force it, you’ll get there in time. It’s hard to give you a definitive answer because everyone is at such a different place in their training career and some recover faster than others. What I can say is that you should pay attention to things like your sleep quality, mood, sex drive, and overall feelings of well-being. If you’re feeling terrible day in and day out, it’s likely time to deload and take some time away (~ one week works for most) from training.
Bonus Tip (not in the book)
“If the barbell ain’t bending, you’re just pretending.”
Just kidding, sort of.
I hope you learned something. Again, if you’d like to download the full book for free simply click here.