If you’re looking to improve your athleticism with more powerful hips, a stronger upper back and a more stable core, learning the Deadlift is key. It’s an awesome exercise to incorporate into your training, whether you’re an elite athlete looking to take your game to the next level or a general fitness enthusiast looking to move better and feel better.
When performed correctly, the Deadlift can be an effective movement to increase strength, size, speed and power. Because it trains multiple attributes for improved performance, it’s slightly more complicated than just picking a weight up off the ground and putting it back down. To get the full training benefit and prevent injury, take the time to learn the proper technique.
Below are some key cues I use to coach the Deadlift to maximize performance and maintain the health of my athletes.
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The setup for the Deadlift is key. If you start in a bad position, you’re going to finish in a bad position, or waste energy trying to get out of that bad position. A good initial setup ensures you are in a safe position to lift and able to move efficiently throughout to produce the maximum amount of force. We look for three main points in our setup:
- Start with the bar just in front of your shins. Place your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward or just slightly out, depending on your anatomy. When you look down, the bar should be over the knot in your laces.
- Hips back. Keeping your neck back, chin tucked and chest tall, push your hips back as far as you can to get down to the bar.
- Grab the bar, pull yourself down. Grab the bar with a double overhand or alternate grip, and think about pulling your chest tall and your shoulders and hips back. This creates tension in your hamstrings, hips, lats and traps, allowing you to stay stable in the torso and powerful in your lower half.
Once you’ve established a strong, stable positon in the bottom, you’re ready to lift the weight from the floor. Here are the main cues I use for the lift:
- Brace your core. In the bottom position, take a large breath in and brace your core. Think of your trunk as a can of soda. You want to apply pressure outward into your anterior core, obliques and lower back.
- Tension on the bar. Chest tall. Take the slack off the bar. By taking the slack off the bar, you add more tension in your body and prevent jerking the weight up, allowing for a safer lift. I have my athletes think about pulling their chest tall from the floor to the top of the lift to prevent them from rounding their backs.
- Push through your heels. The lift begins with a powerful leg drive through the heels into the floor. I coach to push the weight away from the ground, rather than pulling it up. I’ve found this helps to be powerful through the legs and hips rather than using the lower back to pull the weight off the ground.
- Drive your hips. Push your hips through at the top while bracing your core hard. To get powerful hips, you need to finish the lift with your hips extended and glutes powerfully engaged. This, along with a braced core, helps prevent overextending in the lower back.
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I’m not a fan of athletes dropping the weight at the top of a lift. A huge component of moving well and being athletic is the ability to absorb force through eccentric loading of the hips, which is ignored when you drop the weight. From the top of the lift, I coach my athletes to have a controlled eccentric movement to the ground, reversing the pattern they just performed.
- Brace your core. Keep your hips back. From the top, I have my athletes take another deep breath, brace their core, and begin the descent by pushing their hips back, keeping their chest tall, neck back and chin tucked.
- Sit back. Once the bar gets to your knees, continue pushing your hips back as you bend your knees, lowering the weight to the floor.
The Deadlift is a complex lift, which, when performed correctly, offers a huge return on your investment. To gain the greatest value and training effect and reduce the risk of injury, establish a strong bottom position, be powerful out of it, and control the weight back down. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, incorporating the Deadlift into your program will make a big impact on achieving your fitness and performance goals.
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