Why Your Deadlift Sucks

By: Brian Carroll

In this three part series, I’m going to help you see five very common mistakes in each of the three lifts. We began with the squat, moved onto the bench, and now onto the deadlift.

Strength training in general is gaining popularity in the mainstream world, thanks to crossfit. I know a lot of people like to knock crossfit, but there are some very good aspects of training to it. I like to keep it posisitve, so there you have it. CrossFit is not all bad. Back to my point, CrossFit has brought the power lifts squat, deadlift and sometimes the bench press to the mainstream and its not only just cool to press anymore, but you’re extra cool if you can bench big too. Everyone is pulling – if you can even call it that – as some looks more like a cross between a row and a hip thrust, but the problem is too many people are not getting coached properly and they have no clue about main lifting cues/form, what shoes to wear, how to program for it, the mentality and staying tight.

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Main Lifting Cues

I cover this at length in my book 10/20/Life, but some very common things that I see totally over looked would be locking your form in. This is huge. Pushing your belly out and stiff into your lifting belt, or making your own lifting belt with your core. Gripping the floor like monkey and solidifying your foundation is the start to a big and powerful deadlift. Once again, gripping the bar with a firm over under settting is something that I don’t see don’t anymore on social media. Looking up and not down – basically where the wall would meet the ceiling, you wedge in the the Gorilla lean, as I coined it “the lifters wedge” and drive your heels through the floor. You pull tension on the bar to an extent that the bar should be rising before you’re ready for it to be with anything less than 70% or so. This is not only good and healthy posture ala Dr. Mcgill, but will give you the best leverage with and neural drive. I always see so called “experts” completely miss the most common things; like pulling with their head down, no wedge, and on their toes.  Pulling on the bar allows you the tightness before you jump into a big pull. Also, the deadlift does not have an eccentric start like a squat or bench does. Neural priming is huge to get ready for exertion, so this is another little trick.

Shoes

The cool new thing to do now is wear a heeled oly shoe – I even see it on the deadlift. While this can serve its purpose – on the squat or even the bench –  there is NO advantage to pulling in them that I’ve found.  Why would you want to be on your toes? That “logic” makes no sense. Having a flat shoe will really help your stability as you won’t be as likely to pitch onto your toes.

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There is not always a rule of thumb with a lot of things, but…see what I did there? Never say never, but I’ll say for the deadlift, almost always wear a flat shoe. Again, chucks are a fine choice, especially when on a budget, and most of us are. Wrestling shoes or slippers are great too. Little bit of support for the foot, but not much added to the distance of the pull. Win/win.

Programming The Deadlift

Sounds simple, right? Just deadlift. Well, it can be. The best way that I’ve found to progam for the deadlift is by attacking your weak points. Movements like block pulls, explosive deadlifts (think speed), pause deadlifts, rack pulls and even wide box squats (sumo stance deadlift) and the like are what can make the difference in making your deadlift a strong point from a weak point. Attacking your weak points are KEY to improving it, not just simply doing more. Sometimes doing more is good, but just doing more just to do is illogical and dumb. Knowing where you are lacking is paramount in getting better. I go into great detail as how to attack weakpoints and how to design your assistance work according to what you need. 10/20/Life makes life easier with your assistance. I prefer lower reps (1-5) on the main movement (squat/competition style) and higher reps assistance work (4-12), depending on what movment and where you are in training.  For pulls off the floor and from the rack or blocks, less reps, and for things like rows, pull-downs and the like, higher reps.

Mentality

The mentality when approaching the bar is huge. You have to conquer the weight before you even feel it.  Knowing that you own the weight before you even do it. Confidence, but not being cocky. You have to respect the weight, but you should not have an unhealthy fear.  I talk often about how having a mental checklist is a good idea. Thinking about the cues I list above and going through them in your mind is good, and taking your time is the right thing to do.

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Controlled and explosive, but calm and methodical.  The deadlift is probably the most mental of the big 3 lifts. You can’t be casual and lazy. If you are not ready to grip and (methodically) rip, then you will be stapled. I see it all the time. Like I talked about above, you don’t feel that weight before you start to pull, there is no negative portion of the dead, so you have to be ready for it to feel super heavy and explode. Treat all weights the same.

Staying Tight

Staying tight might be the most important part of a good deadlift.  Being loose is not good for your health or your power and drive. Locking yourself in top to bottom is key to generating power. I go over the cues above, but pushing your belly out and firm is important, as well as having the ablity to generate the tightness and stiffness necessary. A stiff core is crucial. The “McGill Big 3”, rolling planks, McGill crunches, birddogs, stir the pot and KB swings are the best for this.

Use these cues above to stay as tight as possible. Also, don’t try to have super loose back and hips. A little bit of a tight hip and back is a good thing. If you can get down into position without having to force it down to depth, then don’t stretch. Tightness is part of what helps you explode and create power. On the flip side of the coin – you may have to do a little mobility work from time to time to ensure a healthy back and hips. A great one to use is to get into a position in the lifters wedge with an empty bar. This helps you stay tight in all the right areas, and only loose enough to do what’s needed.

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These are the 5 most common issues I see all over the social media, plastered everywhere. My purpose with this is to help you become a better, stronger lifter. One little correction could make the difference between a new squat record, or missing badly. With lifting big, the little things sometimes count the most. With more people lifting, more people will be doing it wrong. My job is to help in anyway I can. As a powerlifter, we know theses lifts best. It is our craft, and it is our job, to help as many people as we can and to try and help everyone get as strong as possible, while minimizing injury as much as possible. Stay tuned for my follow up on the bench and the deadlift. Be very careful to who you listen to, and take advice from. There’s and expert around every corner.

The squat, bench and the deadlift is a part of JUST about any successful strength training or muscle building program, but what good is it if you’re destroying the body you’re trying to build up?

 

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Brian Carroll

Owner and Founder at PowerRackStrength.com
Brian Carroll is committed to helping people overcome back pain and optimizing lifts and movement. After years of suffering, he met back specialist Prof. McGill in 2013, which led to a life-changing transformation. In 2017, they co-authored the best-selling book "Gift of Injury." On October 3, 2020, Carroll made history in powerlifting by squatting 1306 lbs, becoming the first person to break this record. He retired with a secure legacy and a life free from back pain.
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