The Art and Science of How to Deadlift – Part 2
Today’s blog post is part 2 of a guest post by champion powerlifter Matt Kroczaleski. It is excerpted from his excellent ebook Insane Training, where you can find instructions and training templates to gain strength and muscle mass. The full title “Insane Training: Garage Training, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, and All-Out Bad-Ass Workout” is indeed well-deserved. You
can read part 1 here
since the starting position and technique is so different between the conventional and sumo styles we will talk about the proper technique for each style separately.
The lifter’s head should be up and in a neutral position looking straight ahead. It is neither necessary nor desirable to look upward excessively as this can lead to a loss of balance. The lower back should not be excessively rounded or arched and kept in a neutral spine position. The hips should be down and back which will leave the shins in an almost vertical position. You may hear some coaches that advocate a high hip position at the start of a deadlift. There are some lifters that this works very well for but generally speaking those lifters are genetically gifted with a very short torso and long arms and legs giving them perfect leverages for the deadlift. When lifters that are not built this way attempt to use this form they often find themselves stiff legging the deadlift and locking out their knees too early which results in the lifter being in a poor position leverage wise and having a lot of difficulty finishing the lift. Lifters with extremely short torsos can also often get away with excessive rounding of the upper back during the lift. There have actually been a few world record holders that used this technique to their advantage. But again for any lifter that is not built this way it will simply cause them to have difficulty getting their shoulders back at the top of the lift and should be avoided.
When initiating the lift the lifter should engage their quads and attempt to push their feet straight down through the floor and some lifters find it helpful to envision themselves actually pushing the floor away from the bar or describing the movement as a sort of leg press while holding the bar. At the beginning of the lift it is important to move the bar away from the floor as fast and as explosively as possible as the momentum gained from this will aid greatly in completing the lift. This is why you often hear coaches at meets yelling “Grip and rip!” as their lifter sets up at the bar. This does not mean that the bar should be jerked from the floor; on the contrary it is important to move the bar smoothly away from the floor so as to stay in the proper groove while initiating the lift. To avoid initiating the lift with a jerking motion a lifter should take the slack out of the bar just before exploding upward. This is accomplished by pulling up on the bar just hard enough to make it bend just a little right before ripping the bar off the floor. This tension is only placed on the bar for a split second before initiating the lift as this will effectively ensure a smooth start to the lift without wasting any of the lifter’s energy. When performed properly by an experienced lifter it is almost indiscernible by the naked eye as it happens so quickly.
When getting ready to begin the lift the lifter should be down at the bar for as short a time as humanly possible before initiating the pull. Of the three main power lifts the deadlift is the only one that begins without an eccentric phase of the lift happening first. This almost entirely negates a stretch reflex which helps a lifter in the majority of exercises to begin the concentric phase. World record holder Fred Hatfield also known as Dr. Squat was known to leap high into the air several times right before starting the deadlift in an attempt to establish the stretch reflex. The longer a lifter takes to set up at the beginning of the deadlift the more difficult it becomes to initiate the lift explosively.
Once the bar reaches the knees the lifter should be attempting bring their hips forward and throw their shoulders back. During the entire lift the lifter should attempt to keep their shoulders behind the bar. While this is technically not possible envisioning this will help the lifter to maintain the optimal upper body position. As the bar nears lockout the lifter should be attempting to push their hips through and pull their shoulders back and the hips and knees should straighten simultaneously. If the knees lock out before the lift is complete this will leave the lifter in poor position leverage wise with the bar out away from the body and result in difficulty finishing the lift.
When setting up for a sumo deadlift in most cases you will want to be as close to the bar as possible and this usually means the bar will be resting against your shins at the start of the lift as you want the bar to be as close to your center of gravity as possible. Your feet will be out wide with your toes pointing out as well. It is important that when you descend down to the bar you do so in the same groove and with the same technique that you want to the ascent to go up in. This is because your body will instinctively want to follow that same path. When you watch the very best sumo deadlifters in the world set up you will notice that they descend to the bar to get in position with perfect form. If you just bend over and grab the bar with your butt up in the air you will notice that when you initiate the lift you will have to fight against your hips wanting to shoot up and out on you which is something you definitely don’t want.
Once you’re in the proper starting position and are ready to initiate the pull again you want to take the slack out of the bar just before ripping the bar up just as you would in the conventional style. When you start your pull you want to force your knees out hard and push out sideways with your feet. This will help to move your hips in toward the bar giving you the best leverage possible. To help visualize this picture the floor as if there is a large crack running straight between your legs from front to back. Your goal is to push the floor apart and make that crack wider. Again pushing out in this manner will bring your hips in quickly toward the bar putting you in the best position leverage wise to lift the most weight. You will want to keep your head up, back flat and throw your shoulders back. The bar should stay in tight against your body throughout the pull and gently slide up against your legs the entire time. Again as with the conventional style deadlift your knees and hips should lock out simultaneously.
Programming for the deadlift
Effective programming for the deadlift involves a well-planned progression in the amount of weight used, sufficiently addresses and prevents over training, stimulates hypertrophy and reinforces proper technique. With this program, it is not uncommon to see a 20-50lb increase in a lifter’s deadlift over a sixteen week training period and I have witnessed as much as a 90lb increase. With this program you only deadlift once per week preferably 3-4 days after squatting. You will also notice there is no deadlifting every fourth week. This is to allow sufficient recovery and prevent overtraining. Deadlifting is very taxing and the lower back muscles are often stressed heavily when squatting and during other heavy back movements so the break will be needed. During this week you can still train the lower back muscles but with different exercises like good mornings, weighted back raises, reverse hypers, and pull thrus and the rep ranges should be kept in the 10-20 range.
The key to using this program effectively is starting with an accurate max. All too often lifters overestimate their max or use a number they were previously capable of. It is essential to use your current true max that is obtained using proper form. Failure to do so will only result in over training and difficulty in progressing from week to week negating the effectiveness of the program. In plain English check your ego to make the most of this program. It is also important to note that the lifter’s max is not to be recalculated any point during the program. Strength increases have been factored into the design of this program and adjusting the weights used during the program will decrease its effectiveness.
16 week weight progression
Week One (after warming up) 5 x 5 x 70% (5 sets of 5 reps @ 70% of 1 rep max)
Week Two 5 x 3 x 75%
Week Three 5 x 1 x 80%
Week Four no deadlifting but may work lower back with alternate exercises in the 10+ rep range.
Week Five 5 x 5 x 75%
Week Six 5 x 3 x 80%
Week Seven 5 x 1 x 85%
Week Eight no deadlifting
Week Nine 4 x 5 x 80%
Week Ten 4 x 3 x 85%
Week Eleven 4 x 1 x 90%
Week Twelve no deadlifting
Week Thirteen 3 x 5 x 85%
Week Fourteen 3 x 3 x 90%
Week Fifteen 3 x 1 x 95%
Week Sixteen no deadlifting
Week Seventeen-this would be the time to retest your max.
Want to read about it more from Matt? You can get it NOW by buy Matt Kroczaleski’s ebook Insane Training on Amazon or Barnes & Nobles