Get Better At: Deadlifts
Today in our in depth series we are going to look into way to improve our deadlift and get the results that you want. The deadlift is the most basic movement compound movement and it engages the most muscles. While the squat is king, the deadlift is just as vital to lifting performance and overall quality of life. In our opinion both are equal and should be taken seriously.
The Safety Dilemma
Many people that have been lifting for a few months or years have come to realize that the deadlift is the simplest, but most complex lift there is. The main issue with the deadlift in terms of safety is that you do not need the best form to put up large numbers. There are a great deal of people in the 300 pound club that look like they are one wrong move away from looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. While I think finding a flaw in your bench is harder, if your lower back always hurts after a deadlift session then there is something mechanically wrong with your deadlift. Nothing about deadlifting is bad for your back, in fact if done properly you should have a stronger lower back as a result of deadlifting.
First let's talk about the various grips out there. The standard grip is when both sets of knuckles face away from you and you close your hands like you would a fist. This standard grip is a good starting place, but your grip strength may make this challenging. The next grip that many people use is the mixed grip. One set of knuckles faces out and the other faces your body. With this grip you hands should be a little closer to your body as not to put too much strain on one bicep. This mixed grip is easy to use and most athletes have a hard time using any other grip after getting used to this one. The last grip that matters is the hook grip. The hook grip is talked about in Olympic Weightlifting alot. It essentially takes the standard grip, but instead of your thumb being over your fingers, your thumb actually goes beneath your index and middle finger. This hook grip essentially gives you your own pair of deadlift straps and you can still consider this a "Raw Lift". Hook grip will feel extremely uncomfortable at first, but is useful in the long run. If you are a veteran lifter I recommend using hook grip during your warm ups and then progressing from there. If you are new to lifting I recommend using hook grip right off the bat.
The deadlift is basically just lifting something off the ground and to your waist. Sounds pretty simple right? Well it is, but there are some steps along the way that can't be ignored. When you start your deadlift the bar will typically be at the first third of your shins. You will want to crouch down into a semi squat stance. Knees bent and your back straight, but where you have your shoulders matter. If you are a taller athlete and are struggling to lift the bar you may want to try putting your shoulders a bit more over than bar than most other. If you are a normal sized athlete then setting your shoulders over or a bit behind the bar is fine. Comfort level matters just as much as technique (as long as you aren't getting injured). Now that you have your start position you are just going to grab the bar and lift it to your waist. The bar should stay close to your body and your knees, hips, and torso should all rise at the same time. Many people have an issue of their knees locking out, but their torso is still over the bar. They look like a 90 degree angle and have to put in a lot more effort to lift the barbell, this is also what tends to injure people's backs. Keep your back flat and your body moving at the same time and your lifts should stay relatively clean. Remember that your arms aren't doing anything other than holding the barbell.
If you have hit a plateau in your training and need some extra movement to try. You may struggle with lift off or lock out see below for which applies to you. For starters though make sure you are doing extra core and hamstring work such as good morning, glute bridges, weighted sit ups, and v-ups. If you are already doing those then the next few paragraphs will help.
Lift off is what most people struggle with. Once you get it off the ground you know you can get that sucker up. The best way to improve lift off is by doing percentage work with a 2 inch deficit. This will help improve your lift off as you are now lifting at a height that you weren't lifting at before and will engage the muscles needed for that lift off to improve.
Lock out is basically getting that bar from the top of your knees to your waist. I'd say the split between lifters that struggle with lock out and lift off is about 55% lift off and 45% struggling with lock out. What you will be doing to improve this is setting up lifting blocks or weight plates until you are at about mid shin. Put the barbell on and that bar should now be sitting at about knee level. The weights for this will be pretty heavy around 85%-105% of what you normally do. You are taking away half the movement, so your body isn't do as much of the work. Try a few sets of that for a few weeks and see where you are.
Stretching is vital to lifting. Most of your lower back pain may be coming from tight hips. I will list a few stretches for you to do to give you some relief and help you improve your hip mobility.
Sun Warrior from Yoga
Iron Cross for low back and hips
Toe touches (standing or sitting)
I have found those five stretches to be the most effective for relieving any tightness I may be feeling.
Safety is the top priority in lifting. If your back hurts take a step back and some time off and come back and assess your form. Find the right grip and body placement for yourself. If you have plateaued make sure you do your accessory work. Stretching is the best way to keep your body from aching. Remember to always Unyielding and never give up!