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The "Do You Even Deadlift" Clinic
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StrikeBack Offline
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Post: #11
RE: The "Do You Even Deadlift" Clinic
The Deadlift Movement

Alright, here's the big one.

The Deadlift for me is a sport skill and movement, like a punch in boxing, or a free kick in soccer. I have a general model for this movement, built upon observing strong deadlifters, and all my tips revolve around this visual model.

There are three parts to a good deadlift:

1. The starting position aka the setup

- How to find this ideal starting position for your leverage
- (Optionally) how to enter this position dynamically

This is by far the most important. The rest flow from it.

2. The actual lift

- How to break the bar off the ground
- How to lock it out

3. Repetitions

- How to perform reps so that subsequent reps are identical to the first rep, thus getting the most out of skill practice i.e all your reps (and sets) should look like the same single rep on replay.

I will cover #1 in this post, and the rest in subsequent posts.

1. The starting position

The starting position is a very visual thing, for me. The best way to learn is to find a great deadlifter who has similar levers to you and observe / copy his setup. Luckily, with Youtube, this is very easy.

Above is the Youtube channel of the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). You will see hours upon hours of competition videos, and most of the recent ones would be raw lifting (or Classic). These are the best lifters from all over the world, with many different body types and many lifting style variations. You will see some familiar styles popular in the Anglosphere, but you will also encounter style that are very foreign yet potentially much more suitable to you.

While these guys deadlift here as a showcase of strength, 99% of the time, a technique that makes you strong is also one that keeps you safe. You can learn a lot from observing them.

To get the most out of this, you'll need to know what you're supposed to be looking for. While these lifters are the world's strongest and are at least above average with techniques, some can get to that level simply by being brutally strong. I advise finding the technicians who take a lot of time to set up carefully before the actual pull. You'll find that the very best (top 3, including record holders) tend to be guys who are both genetic freaks and great technicians.

It will also help to see the commonalities hidden behind the many setup variations. So here are the common things all good deadlift setups have (described from points of contact with the bar all the way up to the shoulders, down the back, through the hips and down to the feet):
  • Hands and fingers tightly secured on the bar, gripping as hard as possible
  • Arms are like ropes pulled taut, hanging directly down from the shoulders. No bent, no slack.
  • Shoulders down, NOT back
  • Neck in line with torso for maintaining a neutral spine (where you look isn't important as long as the line is maintained)
  • Shoulder blades in a lat spread (bodybuilding pose) position, NOT pinched back (this is the biggest cause of rounding, more on it later)
  • Back tightly braced, maintaining a neutral spine, NOT trying to over-arch.
  • Hips as close to the bar as possible
  • Quads flexed tight (like a bodybuilding pose)
  • Feet planted hard against the ground, like you're trying to leave imprints

Note: there's nothing here yet about hamstrings or glutes, as they don't get involved that much until the second part of the lift off. There's also nothing about the chest either, as it's really about the torso angle.

What I'm describing here is the observation of a system of levers around your arms, torso, hips, thighs and lower legs, and to select the best balance for you.

Earlier, RexImperator asked me about how to flatten his back and where his hips should be. I get asked this question a lot by people who have done Starting Strength and the likes. This is because they have been taught that the deadlift is a lower body, posterior chain dominant exercise (which isn't wrong) so naturally they think of the setup in that way: how to set up the posterior chain.

I take a different approach. I look at the arms, shoulders and upper back first. Think about it this way: if you magically have longer arms (i.e longer reach downwards in this particular case), you will have a better, flatter, more neutral back (aka advantageous torso angle), and your hips will be closer to the bar. Look at your positions in a rack pull vs pulling off the ground, if you want to visualise the differences.

When I fix most people's deadlifts, what immediately stands out is how much slack they have in their arms, shoulders and upper back. The moment they try to break the bar off the floor, the weight will pull the slack out of their arms, shoulders and upper back, in that order, and throw them off their starting position completely, which compromises any position they might have tried to force their lower body into. Imagine playing tug of war or pulling a car, and yanking on the slack rope trying to get the pull to start.... not very strong, right?

I'll show you just how much slack you have. Use the mirror or photos to compare. Take note of your arms and shoulders positions in each of the below poses:

1- stand up in a neutral position, hands down by your side.

2- set up in your deadlift starting position (without lifting the bar off the ground).

3- grab 2 kettlebells (DBs not ideal), should use somewhat heavy-ish weights for this to make sense i.e 2x24kg for girls, 2x32kg for average sized guys, heavier for bigger guys.

With these KBs, stand up like in #1 (or do farmer's walks) for a bit of time. What's going to happen? You'll see this:

- The KB weights will pull your arms taut like tight ropes (if you don't let your arms hang down, you'll fatigue quickly)
- Your hands (and fingers) will act more like hooks than wraps around the weights
- Your shoulders will come way down, NOT back nor forward, packed tightly in the sockets
- Your traps will stretch out and down
- Your lats will flare and lock tight
- Essentially your reach downwards will be a lot longer

And more:

- Your chin will get pulled back, your neck will be in neutral position to your spine (else you'll get a sore neck fast)
- Your abs will brace tight
- Your rib cage and pelvis will compress towards each other, as braced by your abs and erectors
- Your glutes will squeeze
- Your feet will start to static-stomp the ground

Now, why don't you set up your deadlift more like that? Wink

If you can feel all of these with 2x32kg = 64kg or 135lb, imagine your usual working weights with a deadlift bar.

Repeat the above #3 while bending over a bit to be more like a barbell deadlift, and feel your position there.

Do these during warmups and between sets of deadlifts to mobilize your upper body and get into a better position.

Bonus 1: to mobilise, slightly shrug up with the weights then breathe out and let the weights pull your shoulders and arms down a tiny bit more each time. You can also do this with a lightly loaded barbell (60kg or 135lb is more than enough for most people) - I learned this from Pavel's Strength Stretching - but the KBs are more effective, I've found.

Bonus 2: if you stand in the sumo stance performing this #3 with KBs, check to see where your shoulders naturally end up. You'll find one of the major differences in the setup between sumo and conventional. To sum it up:

- Conventional: shoulders down, put them in your side pockets
- Sumo: shoulders down, put them in your front pockets
- Horrible deadlift: shoulders back, put them in your back pockets

This post is to help you visualise and feel the position you want to be in, before the bar leaves the ground. The last part with the KBs will help you mobilise your upper body to some extent for this purpose. There are many ways to get into this position (as the Youtube channel demonstrates). I will show you my setup in a later post as an example, with a few tips on setup in general.

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(This post was last modified: 04-14-2015 03:54 AM by StrikeBack.)
04-14-2015 03:50 AM
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RE: The "Do You Even Deadlift" Clinic - StrikeBack - 04-14-2015 03:50 AM

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