42 tips & tricks to improve your deadlift

I have written quite a bit about deadlifting, so it’s no surprise that it’s my favorite lift.  It’s also a lift I coach nearly every day while working with competitive strong(wo)man, and powerlifters.  Here is a list of 42 cues I use to coach the deadlift. 

  1. When deadlifting for strength, keep your reps in the 1-5 rep range. For hypertrophy purposes, 6 – 10 is ideal.

  2. Thinner, taller lifters tend to be better pulling sumo, shorter thicker lifters tend to pull better conventional. There are always exceptions, of course.

  3. Conventional deadlifting will have a better carry over to those wanting to gain overall muscle mass.

  4. If you suck at sumo then you need to work on your sumo to increase your conventional pull and vice versa.

  1. Always take the slack out of the bar before the initial pull, otherwise known as taking the bend out of the bar.

  2. Never do touch and go deadlifts in training, it’s a DEAD-LIFT. The only time this is acceptable in training is when an upcoming competition allows it. If they do, bounce the shit out of it, because you compete to win.

  3. Once you are set up properly always explode off the floor, the more speed you can generate, the easier the lockout will be.

  4. If the bar moves away from you off the floor then set the bar up a little further. If the bar rolls into you when you start, set up with the bar closer to your shins.

  5. When locking out, do not let the knees lock out too soon. This will take the glutes out of the movement, and put all the stress on the lower back.

  6. Overtraining is very easy when deadlifting. The stronger you get, the more you need to decrease your volume. This is especially true for advanced powerlifters and strong(wo)man competitors.

  1. Chuck Vogelpohl was able to deadlift over 800lbs using both sumo and conventional. He even was known to switch within the same meet. This isn’t a tip, but I find that to be pretty amazing.

  2. Conventional deadlifting requires more brute strength, while sumo requires far more technique to use leverage to your advantage.

  3. Head position will vary from person to person. I personally like to look at an upward angle on both styles of the pull, but looking upward is especially important while pulling sumo. “Packing the neck” or having a neutral head position can help glute activation on the lockout.  If lockout is a problem for you, give this a shot.

  4. The lower back doesn’t need to be excessively arched, but it does need to stay in a neutral position throughout the lift.

  5. The upper back can be rounded; in fact that is the natural curve of our thoracic spine.

  6. When starting the pull, think about pushing the floor away from you to engage your quads better, some like to think of it as a standing leg press.

  7. You should take as little time as possible while setting up. Longer set ups will take more energy.

  8. Try to keep your shoulders behind the bar throughout the lift. This isn’t always possible for everyone but it will help keep the bar in a straight path.

  1. Once the bar comes toward lockout drive your hips forward, and again make sure your shoulders are back!

  2. When pulling sumo the bar should be as close to your shins as possible, so the bar is as close to your center of gravity as can be.

  3. When warming up make sure you form is picture perfect. Don’t get sloppy just because 135 is on the bar, pull 135 like it’s your max every time to ensure good technique on your max sets.

  4. Drive your knees out hard while pulling sumo, this will keep your hips close to the bar where they should be.

  5. When gripping the bar your hands should be shoulder width. Set up with your hands hanging straight down, and locked out at all times. If you are deadlifting on an axle or fat bar with no straps this is especially important to do.  Contract your triceps to ensure they are locked.

  6. Typically alternating your grip with your dominant hand being underhand will ensure the best grip.

  7. Pulling with a hook grip is also an option. This will take time to develop, and a lot of pain when moving heavy weights.

  8. Dan Green’s number one tip is to regularly perform stiff legged deadlift: that means you should be doing these!

  9. If you are weak off the floor, do both deficit deadlifts and snatch grip deadlifts.

  10. If you are weak at lockout, perform block pulls and pause deadlifts from the height you fail at.

  11. I hate rack pulls, they damage bars, and do not apply as much to a pull from the floor. Get some blocks and/or mats to pull from.

  12. If you lack grip strength on the deadlift, you should start holding your top sets for a few seconds at lock out. Also make sure you are doing farmers walks on a regular basis.

  13. Make sure you are doing single leg work, Single leg deadlifts, and Bulgarian squats are at the top of my list.

  14. Getting your lats tight, in my opinion, is the most overlooked part of the deadlift set up. It will protect your spine and ensure the bar stays close to your body.

Work on flaring the lats like a bodybuilding pose once your grip the bar.

  1. If you set up with your hips too low, your hips will initially shoot up when starting the pull. The hips and chest should rise at the same time. The hips shooting up too fast will put all the stress on the low back and make for a very difficult lockout as I said earlier.

  2. Use the weight of the bar to set your hips in the optimal position. This will also keep you tight, and take the slack out of the bar.

  3. Imagine you are on a teeter totter. Think about throwing your bodyweight behind the bar to ensure the best leverages.

  4. Coming back to getting the lats tight, they also must be extremely strong. Make sure you do lots of row variations. Some of my favorites are dead stop dumbbell rows, Pendlay rows, and Meadows rows.

  5. When locking out, do not excessively lean back. This is a common beginner mistake that can injure your lower back and even take you out of lockout. This is a problem I have seen in powerlifting, leaning back too much will cause a bend in your knees.  Your body should be in a complete plank, just be as tall as possible with your glutes tight.

  6. During your warm up sets, stretch your hip flexors in between. Tight hip flexors can cause low back problems, and a poor lockout.

  7. A simple way to increase grip strength while deadlifting is to pull double overhand as long as you can. Once you get to your heavier sets switch to a staggered grip.

  8. Learn how to grind. I see too many people give up on a deadlift that could have been successful, but they gave up too soon. Make sure you give it everything you have, every rep.

  9. Take your air in at the top before you go down to the bar. Some people like to raise their arms up in the air to fully expand their belly with air.

  10. When pulling double overhand or in straps, try to bend the bar in half by externally rotating your hands. This is another way of getting your lats tight in the set up.

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