In part 1 and part 2 of our “How to Increase your Strength” my French friend and powerlifter, Damien, introduced the sport of powerlifting followed by an analysis of the first steps one should consider upon taking it up. Parts 3 and 4 unwrapped the squat and the bench press, honing on proper technique and training regimes to improve these two big lifts.
Today we flip the page to find the last (surely not the least) of the three powerlifting pillars – the deadlift.
In this article we will specifically analyse the deadlift from a technical point of view. I hence invite the bar bending lovers and casual lifters alike to read on.
Damien, the floor is yours…
“I would like to first say that deadlifting, as much as squatting, is not reserved for the elite. A novice watching someone deadlift might think “wow that must be painful, it will hurt his back”, but I can assure you it is not the case. It is actually all the contrary. Any competent health and fitness professional will tap on the deadlift to help clients with back problems. In fact, when used the right way, the deadlift is one of the best solutions to either prevent back problems or to learn how to live with them. Deadlifting will allow you to tremendously strengthen your lower back, something which as we all know is one of the most pervasive physical problems in today’s society, characterised by a sweep of sedentary lifestyles.
The deadlift is truly an interesting and excessively powerful exercise, stimulating the majority of muscles in your body, as seen on the picture below. The squat and deadlift have a lot of similarities in that both exert a lot of stress on your body, which body reacts by discharging hormonal impulses releasing fresh growth hormones such as the good old testosterone. Additionally, your basal metabolism will spike for up to 48 hours post workout, depending on the intensity of your session. This means that the both the squat and deadlift are very effective tools in accelerating fat loss while working on your strength.
I particularly love the deadlift because it requires pulling a bar rather than pushing it. In other words, you can give all you have in your guts without actually ‘fighting’ the bar. I really love this feeling and I hope that if you never tried it, you will be able to share the same thought after your first attempts.
Having gone through this brief introduction, let us now run through the various aspects of the proper deadlift technique:
1) Position of your feet
There are 2 deadlift techniques:
a) The conventional deadlift (left photo above) – this is the technique which we will be focusing on in this article. For this kind of deadlift, feet should be set shoulder width apart or slightly closer, otherwise your arms will rub against your legs during the lift.
b) The sumo deadlift (right photo above) – in this technique your legs should be spread wide apart with feet pointing outwards as shown in the photo below. In this type of deadlift you will involve more legs and adductors and less back. The range of motion which your back goes through is also less significant than in the conventional deadlift.
2) Position of barbell
You have to start the lift with the bar against your tibia i.e. shin area. Upon lifting, the barbell will travel up along the length of your legs until you reach the final position.
Note: Sometimes when taking the deadlift position prior to the lift, I place the bar in front of me, make it roll towards me with my hands until it reaches my legs. I prefer to lift a bar in movement than a static one when attempting my max weight. I am not sure whether this actually helps, but the ones who have been deadlifting for a while can try it out.
3) Position of your head
Even if the mighty Eddie Hall (deadlift world record holder) looks at the floor while deadlifting, I highly recommend you look in front of you (as 99% of powerlifters do) because it will help you in keeping a straight back.
Why is this so?
Because while the weight tries to pull you towards the ground, by looking towards it you will tend to be attracted by it causing your back to round up rather than staying flat, which is a very bad thing.
If during the lift you feel that you can’t keep your back in a good position, please let your ego aside and drop the bar. It is important to remember not to lift with a round back as you will surely regret it.
4) Position of your hands
Your hands should be set shoulder width apart. Furthermore, I would suggest using a pronated grip (arms on bar rather than under it). You will see many lifters using a mixed grip i.e. one hand in pronation (usually the left one) and one in supination (the right one) which in my view could well be an indication of a weak grip. I would personally recommend using this mixed grip as little as possible, since some people are using this ‘trick’ right from the warmup set. This way your grip will never get stronger.
On a personal note, I believe that with a mixed grip one side of the back is working more than the other. Also the right biceps (on the side of the supinated hand) will be put in way more stress in this stretched position that the left bicep (on the side of the pronated hand). I personally always work out with a pronated grip and once the lift starts getting too hard, I wear my arm straps.
5) Position of your body
a) Before the lift:
Check the position of your feet, put your hands on the barbell and take the bar against your legs. The position of your back is crucial – ensure it is straight, slightly curved towards the outside (the starting position illustrated in the photo above is perfect). You have to keep this back position during the whole lift. Remember to never bend the back even if it is getting hard to continue the lift as otherwise you might seriously damage your spine!
b) During the lift:
You’ve checked everything and your back is in position as you prepare yourself mentally for the lift. Here it is… take a deep breath and hold it in. Start the lift by pushing onto your legs and squeezing the glutes to lift the weight off the floor. Try to be explosive (as safely as possible) at start, as during the lift you will tend to lose velocity. It may prove hard to complete the lift if you start very slowly or without enough force. Try to keep the back in the most standing position possible as otherwise in the middle of the lift you will have to lift the weight with your lower back. While your legs start the lift, slowly try to erect your back so that you will complete the lift in the position shown in the right photo above. You can finally exhale 🙂
6) Belt or no belt?
You might see a lot of people deadlifting with a training belt. I recommend you use this only for heavy weight or maximum weight reps. You should definitely not use a belt for warmup repetitions. The purpose of this belt is to support your lower back during heavy lifts. Wearing it all the time will weaken your back which is the opposite of what we want from our deadlifts.
In the next part of this series I will be sharing with you a training program to improve your deadlift record. In the meantime I urge the novices/beginners to try the deadlift out. Do not be afraid, focus on learning the right technique and eventually start piling up the weight gradually. In the meantime, follow the Mirror Friendly lifestyle and try out some heavy lifts. Do not forget that lifting big and heavy (not talking about bicep curls now!) will allow you to boost your metabolism and burn fat faster.
Thank you Damien. I am looking forward to the next article as I am eager to further kill my deadlift record. It is very true when they say that deadlifts resurrect your back! 🙂
To fitness with love,