Editor's Note: Did you miss the first 20 video tips? Well, don't get your knickers in a knot. You can catch up here:
Day 21 Engage the Lats
A common technique flaw many lifters have is the barbell drifting away from the body. Not only does this make things harder from a leverage standpoint, it can be injurious to the back as well.
A simple drill I like to use is adding a band. Wrap one end around the barbell and the other around something that won't move – a power rack, or my bicep, for example.
The idea is to resist the pull of the band in order to engage the lats and keep the bar close throughout the duration of the set. If someone doesn't know where his lats are, he will after this drill.
Adding accommodating resistance to your deadlift can be a great way to add variety to your training, but more specifically it's a great way to take advantage of the strength curve.
The band(s) add more resistance where you have the least mechanical advantage (at the top or lockout) and de-loads where you're weakest (off the floor). Adding them can be tricky, especially if you don't have access to a platform or a fancy power rack with pegs. It often involves grabbing a few pairs of heavy dumbbells, wrapping the bands around each handle, and then splaying the bands across the barbell. Long division is easier. Check out the video for a simpler way.
Far too often, lifters set up to deadlift with their weight too far forward into their toes. One of my go-to cues for the setup is "armpits over the bar with maximal hamstring tension." In other words, most people need to get their weight back so they're in a better position to pull the bar off the floor.
One simple drill I like to use as a last resort is to place a box behind someone so they learn to get their weight back. The objective here isn't to sit onto the box and relax. Rather, it's to use it as a target to get the lifter more on top of the bar than in front of it.
This is one of my favorite accessory movements to build the deadlift. When hip position is matched there's a nice carryover to the deadlift. Moreover, for those who struggle with maintaining an upright torso, this is nice option to toss in for shits and giggles.
As a secondary move on deadlift day, perform 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps using 55-70% of 1RM of the squat.
The deadlift is an easy exercise to over-cue and otherwise overwhelm people. Think of it this way: If you have to use 42 different cues to get someone to perform an exercise, it's likely the wrong exercise for them.
That being said, when it comes to getting someone in the appropriate starting position we don't have to overcomplicate things. The two options in the video work well.
I'm a big fan of deadlifting more than once a week, but that doesn't mean we have to be a hero and load the barbell heavy each and every time... or use a barbell at all.
I have to give props to Artemis Scantalides for helping me see the value in the 2-kettlebell deadlift. It's a great option when you want to ramp up deadlifting volume without crushing the spine, and it really helps you learn to appreciate just how important upper back tension/lat engagement is.
I normally don't like programming more than 5-6 reps on the deadlift because fatigue tends to put a damper on technique. However, this is a variation where I'm not shy to go as high as 10-12 reps per set, assuming you can maintain appropriate form.
The landmine deadlift is another alternative variation I have a crush on. It grooves the hip hinge, it's pretty much idiot-proof, and it allows you to accumulate a bit more volume without overly stressing the spine.
I prefer to add these into a second day of deadlifting, maybe after hitting a few sets of medium-range triples: 3x3 at 75-80% of 1-rep max.
Follow those with a few sets of landmine deadlifts at 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps. Or they can be performed as a standalone deadlift variation that day.
Remember, deadlifts don't always have to be heavy, and they don't always have to be performed in a traditional manner.
A popular approach to improving the deadlift is to use "speed" work. The idea is to work on bar speed – usually using 50-70% of 1-rep max – in an effort to improve rate of force development, which in turn will (likely) allow you to lift heavier loads.
I just call it technique work. The end goal is the same. It allows lifters to use a weight that emphasizes pristine form and to be able to "own" positions to better express strength.
There are two ways I like to program speed/technique work:
I'll have an athlete hit 1-3 sets of 1-3 reps (max effort work, 80-95% of 1-rep max) and follow that with 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps of speed work. So it may look something like this:
- A. 1x2 at 80%
- B. 5x3 at 60%
- A. 1x2 at 82.5 %
- B. 6x3 at 60%
- A. 1x2 at 85%
- B. 7x3 at 65%
- A. 1x2 at 90%
- B. 8x3 at 65%
I'll have him or her perform some technique work after some heavy(ish) squats on a second lower body day:
- A. Heavy Squat Variation
- B. Deadlift Technique: 10x1 at 70% (30-45 seconds rest)
- A. Heavy Squat Variation
- B. Deadlift Technique: 12x1 at 70% (30-45 seconds rest)
- A. Heavy Squat Variation
- B. Deadlift Technique: 15x1 at 70% (30-45 seconds rest)
- A. Heavy Squat Variation (de-load)
- B. Deadlift Technique: 20x1 at 65% (30-45 seconds rest)
Gone are the days of cuing people to excessively arch their lower back during the deadlift. It's an unstable position and it doesn't do any favors on the spine.
Instead, I try to educate my athletes to adopt the canister position, which nudges the pelvis and ribcage into a more stacked position. This is a stable position, a bit more spine-friendly, and will likely allow you to lift more weight.
Unless you're a competitive powerlifter, you don't have to perform your deadlift from the floor. Anyone who states otherwise is an asshole... and probably doesn't train people for a living.
I'll often implement block pulls with people if they have a mobility restriction or are otherwise unable to get into a good position to pull from the floor.
Likewise, block pulls tend to have a better carry over to the deadlift (compared to rack pulls) because you're then able to pull the slack out of the bar. Moreover, depending on where you tend to stall – mid-shin or at lockout – block pulls can be individualized to address that issue.