10 Tips To A Better Deadlift
What I have learned after 18 years Under the Bar
Before I get started I just want to say “Thank You” to my friend Nick McKinless for the opportunity to write for his web site. I have known Nick now for a number of years and I consider him a friend and soldier who has my back. Nick is a straight shooter, a stand-up guy, and one strong s.o.b., and we are all lucky to benefit from his knowledge as a strength athlete and stuntman. Nick, whenever you make it to the states again bro, we need to deadlift heavy things and then tell war stories around an ice cold keg!
I have spent 18 years under a loaded weight bar. In that time, I have seen many things, done many things, and accomplished more then I ever thought I could. As I look 30 straight in the eyes this year, I realize that I am still learning, and I always will be learning, until the day the Iron Gods call me home.
I have been blessed with good deadlift genetics. I have long legs, a short and strong back, and very long arms. Some say that gives me an unfair advantage, to those people I ask: ARE YOU TRAINING AS HARD AS I AM? I ask this because I dedicate a lot of my training time to adding pounds to my deadlift. I am obsessed with the most basic of movements, taking a loaded bar from the ground and standing up with it. I train my bench once every couple weeks. I train my squat once a week. I train my deadlift strength 3 or 4 times a week. That doesn’t mean I deadlift that many times, but I do exercises that I feel help carry over to a big pull.
Tell me, what is more exciting then being down 100 pounds to your competition, then coming back and beating them by 150 once the weight hits the floor?
So what makes me an authority on the deadlift? First, I am not an authority so to speak, but I am pretty damn knowledgeable. I have pulled a triple bodyweight + with a 700 at 220. As I write this article, I am 40+ days out from IPA Worlds where I plan on taking the 220 IPA deadlift record and pulling 725+. I have put my time in, I have clocked the hours, and so I feel that I have something to share with the masses.
This I will say: I GUARANTEE IF YOU FOLLOW THESE 10 TIPS, YOU WILL ADD POUNDS TO YOUR DEADLIFT! Regardless of genetics, years of training, or age, you are going to put weight on your pull. That is what is important.
Tip #1: Get on the deadlift express to silverback town
There has been a movement for the past 10 years to stop deadlifting and start doing more assistance exercises. The theory behind this is heavy pulling strains the body and thus limits what you can do during your training week. I follow this theory, to a point. Some guys can get away with this and still fair well in the deadlift. If you are like me-you can’t. I have to pull every week in order to increase my pull. Plain and simple. Now, there are ways to get around destroying your body by constantly pulling heavy, and I will get to them as this article rolls on. What you need to take from Tip #1 is to train you deadlift! Don’t think that just doing good mornings, reverse hypers, and glute-hams is going to translate over to a bigger pull because you might be very, VERY disappointed!
Tip #2: Technique my brothers and sisters, is the key to righteousness
This seems rudimentary, but it has to be said. I recently did a meet at Pittsburgh and what I saw was some of the sloppiest deadlift form I have EVER witnessed! Most of these lifters could put 100+ more pounds on their pull just by maximizing their pulling position, foot position, and hand position. Listen, we are all different. My form won’t look like your form, however there are some things that EVERYONE who pulls needs to do. Yes, you can keep using shitty form and eventually mess yourself up, or you can make some changes, lose your ego, lower the weight, and start building a stronger deadlift. The choice is yours. I have written several times on proper form, so I won’t do it again here. The proof is in the pudding, so fix your form and lift more weight.
Tip #3: Speed kills
YOU GO, THE
BIGGER THE MESS
My mom used to tell me that when I was 16 and would head out to hang with my homies. She is right, in more ways then one. Sticking points in ANY lift are a direct result of the bar slowing down. You lose speed, the bar stalls. Easy, right? If it is so easy why doesn’t everyone train speed? Well, most people feel speed work doesn’t work because you aren’t straining. 60% is not straining. However, you are teaching your body to fire quickly. When you train your hips to extend with speed, you do it no matter how much weight is on the bar. I pride myself on being a fast deadlifter. If you saw me deadlift 135-pounds it would look the same as 600-pounds. The bar doesn’t slow down and therefore the bar doesn’t stop. Still a skeptic? Try it. I like the alternating approach, one week I lift heavy weight for triples, the next I take 60% and hit singles focusing on pop.
Tip #4: Know thy muscles that deadlift grasshopper
I still don’t understand why so many lifters just deadlift and do nothing else. Listen up: your deadlift is only as strong as your muscles that deadlift. This means, your lower back might be capable of 800, but your hamstrings might only be capable of 650. Guess what? You get 650. The old adage holds water here: you are only as strong as your weakest link. So, instead of deadlifting each and every week, then forgetting about till seven days later, why don’t you train the muscles that deadlift? Some good ones to focus on are ABS, reverse hypers, superman’s, glute-ham raises, seated and standing good mornings, handle squats, pull-throughs, and kettlebell swings.
Tip #5: Use the rack properly
I cannot count how many times I have heard people proclaim that the rack pull does not work. The rack pull took me from 644 to 700 in a couple months time. Of course, it can’t be used alone. If you did nothing but rack pulls you would have a whole slew of problems when you got back to the floor! However, when done CORRECTLY the rack pull increases your deadlift exponentially. Remember, this isn’t an ego boost or a chance to show the gym how strong you are; you do rack pulls to strengthen your sticking point. You do rack pulls to build speed and strength at your point where the bar looses speed.
Most people step away from the bar with a rack pull and then bend their knees into the bar. This is wrong because what you are doing is making the lift easier by allowing your hips to get closer to the bar. If you rack pull this way, all you have to do is lean back and slide the bar up your thighs. Hence the reason 600 pound deadlifters are rack pulling in the 800s and 900s! This is how you should do it:
First off, rack the bar at the point where it loses speed. DO NOT rack it where it stops, but rather where is slows down. Where you actually get stuck is not your sticking point, it is just where your speed carries the bar after its initial stalling point. Am I confusing you son?!? Stay with me. Now, step in so the bar is tight against your legs. This is how the bar is when you are pulling from the floor-right? If the bar is against your legs, dragging up them, in the regular deadlift, why the hell would you stand 8” away from it and lean into it in a rack pull? Not the same movement and hence no carry over! Now, lean over and grab the bar, arch your back, drive your feet in, and go! As you will discover, not only is this incredibly harder, it is also a low back smasher! I rack pull less then I pull from the ground. This is because off the ground I can get my legs under it and use them efficiently. From my sticking point, which is right below my knee caps, I cant. A fellow lifter I know pulls 575 from the ground but gets stuck with a 375-pound rack pull at his sticking point.
Part 2 coming soon!!
Rick Walker has a bachelor’s of science degree in exercise
science and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through
the NSCA. He is employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
as an activities specialist and is currently working at the State
Correctional Institute in Houtzdale, PA. His duties include planning and
overseeing all inmate activities and sports and teaching life skills
classes in nutrition, wellness, and strength and conditioning.
Rick began training at the age of 12 for football and has been active in strength sports since 1996. He did his first powerlifting meet in 1996 and his first Strongman contest in 2003. Rick has competed in the USAPL (ADFPA), ADAU, IPA, and NASS. He currently holds squat and deadlift records in the ADAU.