Many of you know already but last year I had the pleasure of competing in my first powerlifting competition. I will admit up until I had registered for that competition I had not spent much time working on my deadlift. I was under the assumption that if you had a strong squat, and trained consistently then your deadlift would be okay. While I still believe this to an extent, let’s face it an “OKAY” deadlift is not making anyone’s face melt with amazement. With this in mind I began to explore ways that I could improve my deadlift. In no particular order, here are the top 3.
Warming up is just good advice for exercising in general. Unfortunately I see far too many beginner and intermediate athletes jump into the gym and begin to train without fully warming up. I generally make a point to ask them if the play sports… many say yes. I then will proceed to ask do you warm up for your sport? How early do you show up for practices or games? An hour maybe two? Then why would you jump into the gym, proceed to put your working weight on a bar, and attempt to pull? This is far to common, beginner and intermediate trainees do not spend enough sets working up to the weight they hope to train with that day. This over time will lead to injuries, aches, pains and other unfortunate events.
After seeing this logic many of them will see the value in warming up however may not have an understanding on how to do it. The trick is that the higher your max becomes the longer your warmup will take. The purpose of the warm up is not to fatigue, but to prime the nervous and muscular systems for the upcoming work. Let me post an example below. Suppose your max deadlift is approximately 400lbs a sample warm-up to a 3×3 at 335lbs may look like.
135lbs x 5 x 2 sets (warm up sets)
185lbs x 3 x 2 sets (warm up sets)
225lbs x 2 x 2 sets (warm up sets)
275lbs x 2 x 1 set (warm up sets)
315lbs x 1 x 1 set (warm up sets)
335lbs x 3 x 3 set (working set)
With this warm up the rest between sets would be relatively shorter and build up in duration as the weight approached the working sets. Each athlete will have to experiment with how much/little warm-up they need to feel ready but this is a good place to start. This is also a good way to figure out exactly how much warm-up your body specifically needs to work with heavier weights. Take not of this process and tweak it to fit your own goals and working weights.
Do Grip & Assistance Work
It goes without saying that eventually you will hit a plateau with any major lift. Some part of your movement will break down and limit your ability to make progression. With deadlifts this can be caused by the lower/upper back, hamstrings, glutes, grip, lats, etc. With this in mind it is important to keep assistance and grip work in especially in the early phases of your programming to ensure that these areas are strong enough to allow for progression.
Some key areas to focus on are the glutes, hamstrings, lower/upper back, Trunk and grip strength. Utilizing exercises trained for strength for each of these areas will allow a more constant progression in the deadlift. Some examples of exercises you may want to include are:
Hip Thrusts / Glute Bridges
Chin ups/ Lat Pull Downs / Row Variations
Squats / Leg Presses / Single Leg Work
Trap Bar DL / RDL / Glute Ham Raises / Reverse Hypers
All Grip Work
Start to incorporate more of these types of movements into the programming and watch your deadlift numbers grow. The amount of accessory work that you should be performing is inversely proportional to the amount of deadlifting you are doing in a current program. As the sets increase of your main lifts, then in order to avoid overtraining you will need to decrease the total sets of accessory work to keep balance. However never remove the accessory work completely this is some of the most important work you will get done in the gym.
Work Your Technique
Its easy put weight on the bar and pick it up right???? …. Wrong. In fact the deadlift is a very technical lift. Many athletes and lifters spend years fine tuning and perfecting the technique so that they can lift as much weight as safely as possible. SAFELY.. that is the key, we have all see those horrendous deadlift videos with guys rounding their backs looking like scared kittens, but if were being honest most of us have had reps that look like that. It is the buildup of these reps that will eventually lead to injury. If you get injured it does not matter how strong you are, you will not be lifting anything.
So what I am saying is practice your technique, every set, ever rep, every training session aim to have flawless reps. This means pulling your chest away from the bar keeping a flat back. Another common mistake that I see is the bar getting too far away from the body. Keeping the bar close to the body will allow the center of mass to stay close to the midline and more weight can be moved. When you are first learning the movement take the time to perfect your set up. I have my clients put the bar down step away from it then set up from the start for each rep of each set of each workout for at least a phase or two to ensure that this motor pattern is developed properly the first time. Give this a try, take some time perfect your movement and reap the rewards for years to come.