by Nick Hickey
House of Muscle founder and owner Joel Sward says, "If there is one lift that really shows how strong someone is, it is probably the deadlift."
A test of total body strength, the deadlift is right up there with the squat as the granddaddy of all lifts. It is simple enough on the surface; there is a loaded barbell on the ground, bend over and pick it up. However, as with any other lift, it is a technical movement that requires proper form.
Many people have negative feelings about the lift and claim it is bad for your back and you can get injured. Well, lifting with improper form can cause injury no matter what the exercise. When it comes down to it, the deadlift is a fantastic movement to build total body strength and explosiveness. The deadlift should definitely be part of your exercise program. The deadlift can also build muscle onto your erectors, lats and traps like no other exercise can. You need to deadlift to maximize your back muscularity. Everyone can benefit from deadlifting with proper form to strengthen your core and lower back.
Bottom line, the deadlift is hands down a strength and muscle building movement that should be included in all exercise programs. With that being said, here are 8 tips to help improve your deadlift. Use these tips and watch your strength increase and your physique improve.
1. Lose the shoes.
Many people, maybe yourself included, lift in running or athletic shoes. Those shoes are designed for running and have a slight heel. This will pitch you forward on the deadlift. Instead, wear flat shoes so you can transfer your power to the floor or better yet, kick your shoes off and pull in your socks.
2. Line up with the bar crossing midway up your foot.
When looking down at your feet, the bar should cut your foot in half. Some people may prefer standing closer so the bar drags your shins -- this is fine also. Taller lifters, such as myself, leave a bit more space between the bar and the shins. This is to allow the bar to travel directly up in a straight path and not have to go out over the knees before it comes back into the body. It is a preference and leverage thing, but generally speaking, standing this way will line the bar up for most people in an advantageous spot.
3. Squeeze the bar.
Seems simple, right? Making sure your grip is tight on the bar will help keep your hands and whole body tight. This will activate more muscles and prime your body for the lift. As with any other lift, stay tight! Next time you step up to pull, make sure you are seeing white knuckles.
4. Keep the back arched or extended -- do not round!
This is the most important point for deadlifting safely. Keep your back arched or neutral and do not let your spine round over. A rounded back will put enormous tension on your body and can cause injury. One way to make sure you are pulling with your upper/mid back and hamstrings is to squeeze your glutes. This will take the stress off your lower back.
5. Pull the slack out of the bar as you settle in.
As you grip the bar, begin sitting back into position with your back arched and tight. When you settle in to the start position, keep tension on the bar, like you are almost about to lift it. This will remove the slack from the bar and build up tension so you can explode off the ground like a spring. Which leads to the next tip. . . .
6. Be explosive.
When trying to lift a heavy weight, one of the most important things is to be explosive. Keep your body tight and form dialed in, and explode right up through lockout. This can help you blast right through any sticking points where the bar usually slows down.
7. Reps for mass.
To maximize muscle mass from deadlifts, you should pull reps. How many is an individual thing, but 4-6 would be a good starting point. I am also a believer in throwing in a high rep set of 10 or so reps to really push yourself. I only recommend experienced deadlifters try high reps with maximal weight because your form can break down with fatigue.
8. Singles and speed for strength.
Pulling maximal (85%+) singles is the route many strength athletes take. This is how you test yourself. It gets your central nervous system to feel the stress of a heavy weight and leads to increased strength and mental fortitude. In addition to heavy single rep sets, try adding in speed reps after your main sets. Take 50-70% of your max deadlift and pull it for 6 sets of 3. The kicker is: only rest 45-60 seconds between sets. This will help dial in proper form and add a ton of explosiveness to your pull.
Well there you have it. 8 tips to bring your deadlift up. Whether you are looking for strength, muscle building, overall health or a combination of all three, the deadlift is a great exercise that should be included in all workout programs. Get out there and pull!
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