There's no golden rule that says every athlete must deadlift conventionally from the floor. More times than not, especially in the sports performance and fitness settings, athletes and lifters are better off customizing their deadlift setup to their specific body type. Unless you are a barbell sport athlete who is competing from the arbitrary bar height of 8.75 inches off the floor, you're better off fitting the king of all movements to you if you want to get strong, build muscle and stay healthy in the process. Enter the Rack Pull.
This is the exact reason why I utilize the Rack Pull and custom pulling heights in my 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program, which is centered around developing pain-free strength and function. Here's how we determine the perfect pulling height.
Do the Hinge Test to Determine Optimal Pulling Height
How do we determine the bar height for pain-free deadlifting? Well, for one, we test it and make sure we are matching setups to the athlete to optimize both training effects and injury prevention. It's not good enough to guess, so here's how we go about doing it.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes facing forward. Brace your core and keep it in a neutral position throughout the test. Once your spine is neutral and braced, drive your hips backwards while hinging at the hips. Since most athletes have a hard time conceptualizing the "hip hinge," this may take a few rounds to perfect.
From there, assess your spinal position as you are hinging deeper into position. Have a friend film you or ask a coach to watch you do a hinge. As soon as there are any signs of lower back rounding (flexing at the back) or a loss of pelvic control (posterior pelvic tilting, a.k.a. the "butt wink"), stop the range of motion. You ideally want to stop just before you round over.
From this terminal hip hinge position, bring your hands down to the outsides of your knees with your arms vertical to the floor. Take a measurement from the big knuckle of your index finger to the floor. This distance is your theoretical starting point for the Deadlift and the bar height off the floor.
Keep in mind that after doing the hinge test, you'll have to continue to evaluate spinal position and technique when the barbell with load comes into play. For most athletes, starting off slightly higher than the theoretical starting point helps them maintain proper spinal position under loading.
Two Ways to Elevate the Barbell for Rack Pulling
To set up the bar at an elevated position off the ground, we have two major options for perfect pain-free elevated bar deadlifting:
Rack Pull From Safety Pins
If you have a power rack at your disposal, this is my preferred setup due to the ease and stability that the rack allows. Simply position the safety pins to the the proper height according to your testing.
Rack Pull From Blocks
Because many people do not train in power racks, using blocks under the weight plates to achieve an elevated height is another good option that almost everyone can set up perfectly.
If you have weightlifting blocks, great. If not, simply place 45-pound plates on the ground to elevate the bar up, or even exercise stairs if you are training at a large commercial facility, as these are often readily available.
Ensure that when using blocks, you do not let the weights roll off between reps or sets. Place the blocks, steps or stairs directly under the plates to give yourself some wiggle room!