Full Body Tension: Use It
Want to improve your deadlift? Then you must understand and use full-body tension. One of the things lifters have a hard time understanding, especially those just learning the deadlift, is just how important full-body tension is. You can't be loose or passive if you want to lift heavy things.
If I'm coaching someone and I see them lose position – shoulders or lower back excessively round, hips popping up too quickly – I know they're not getting (and maintaining) appropriate full-body tension. If this is the case, I'll take a three-fold approach:
1. Tell them to never do what they're doing ever again.
2. Address setup.
This alone can make or break someone's success with the lift.
Most lifters have no reference point at just how meticulous and precise they have to be here. Most just bend over, grab the bar, and then lift. We might as well add a "meh" sound here for auditory effect. You know, as if to imply, "Meh, I'm not putting forth any effort here, meeeeeh."
More intent with the setup will make a profound difference. Grab the bar and murder it. Melt the bar in your hands. Then you'll want to use the bar as a counterbalance to "wedge" yourself in – to pull your chest up and hips down(ish). Another popular way of saying this is to "pull the slack out of the bar."
Pull the Slack Out of the Bar
3. To get better at deadlifting you need to deadlift.
However, it's still important to use our accessory work to address any technique flaws or general weaknesses that may exist. If I find lifters are still having a hard time maintaining tension (lats on) off the floor, I'll be meanie head strength coach and add some pause deadlifts into the mix.
This forces them to stay engaged and also to increase time under tension during a phase of the lift where they're weakest.
The Paused Deadlift
For programming, it may look something like this, using 55-70% 1RM:
- Week 1: 3x3-5 – 1 second pause, 2-3 inches off the floor on the way up.
- Week 2: 3x3-5 – 2 second pause, 2-3 inches off the floor on the way up.
- Week 3: 3x3 – 1 second pause, 2-3 inches off the floor on the way up AND down (cue evil strength coach laugh here).
- Week 4: 3x3 – 2 second pause, 2-3 inches off the floor on the way up AND down.