“Growing stronger is about accumulating wisdom, learning from your mistakes and inspiring others to become the strongest version of themselves.” – Elliot Hulse
Deadlifts Are The Best
The deadlift is the king of all exercises. It is a well-rounded compound lift that utilizes 20+ muscles across your entire body. It is a great exercise to build size, definition, and strength. You will find it in any bodybuilding, powerlifting, cross-fit and strongman programming. Mastering this exercise will put you on the fast track to achieving your goals (whether bodybuilding, powerlifting or strongman).
At first, you will find yourself quickly and linearly increase in strength. It is not uncommon for people to be able to add 5-10 pounds to their 1RPM every two weeks for the first year. However, once those beginner gains stop, you will plateau. Deadlift plateaus are extremely difficult to break and take a long time.
I have been powerlifting for 10 years now and I still hit deadlift plateaus every couple of months. However, unlike other powerlifters, I am always able to break through my plateaus in a relatively short period of time and continue on the path to increasing my 1RPM. I utilize 5 simple, yet effective techniques that I have amassed from various different strength training coaches, online articles, and youtube videos.
If you are stuck in the deadlift plateau or would simply like to become more comfortable with your 1RPM, I would encourage to try some of my techniques listed below.
How To Increase Your Deadlift
0. Proper Form
Form is vital to any lift. It is critical to ensure that you do not leak power in your kinetic chain, correctly use your muscles together and prevent injury. Using the wrong form will prevent you from properly utilizing all of the necessary muscles needed to generate maximum power for the lift. None of the techniques listed below will work for you if your form is not proper. The form basics that you need to pay attention to when deadlifting are:
- Proper Hand Placement: Your hands are at the correct width apart.
- Proper Feet Placement: Your feet are at the correct width apart.
- Proper Bar Placement: The barbel is under your scapula, over midfoot and an inch away from your shin.
- Proper Hip Placement: Your hips are at the correct height.
- Proper Concentric Technique: You are raising the barbell in the correct path
- Proper Lockout Technique: You are locking out the lift in the correct place
- Proper Eccentric Technique: You are lowering the barbell in the correct path
As much as I would like to write up a detailed article on how to execute the proper form and technique for the above-listed areas, there are people who have already done this in a great way. My top three resources for a complete breakdown and walkthrough are:
- Lane Norton’s Complete Guide to Deadlifting
- Elliot Hulse Teaching How To Deadlift
- Allan Thrall’s How To Deadlift in 5 Steps
Each of these are excellent and thorough guides on how to execute all parts of the deadlift. Each trainer is an accomplished powerlifter and strength coach. I would encourage watching all three to get a well-rounded view on form.
1. Loading The Hamstrings
The deadlift is one of the few exercises which recruits and utilizes a large set of muscles throughout the body. However, the primary muscles driving power through the lift can be boiled down to the: hamstrings, quads, glutes, and lower back. Out of these primary muscles, very little attention is paid to the hamstrings. They are one of the most neglected muscles because it is difficult to engage them and utilize them properly.
In my experience, the hamstrings are one of the most important muscles that need to be engaged properly if you ever want to see some real gains in the deadlift. I like to think of the deadlift mechanics as similar to a pushup. The barbell is your body, your legs are your arms and your hamstrings are your biceps. As you push yourself up (raise the barbell), the primary muscle generating the most amount of force is the bicep (hamstrings). The force your biceps are generating go straight through your forearms (calves), palms (feet) and straight into the ground. It is not until your elbow angle goes past 135 degrees (barbell crosses your knees) that your triceps start to take over and help to complete the remaining part of the lift.
Now imagine trying to do a pushup when your biceps are weak or not stable. Try flaring our elbows out so that your biceps are not tight and loaded. It will be very difficult to raise your body up. Your biceps have little tightness and are able to generate very little force, causing the other muscles to work extra hard to pick up the slack.
Similarly, the hamstrings help to build stability in your lower body as you raise the weight off the floor. They can generate large amounts of force that can be used to drive through your legs and into the floor. For most people, the sticking point is lifting the bar from the ground to past the knees. Thus, it is important to know how to properly utilize the hamstrings and harness their force. In my experience, the best way to do this is to “load the hamstrings”.
Loading up your hamstrings is a phrase that describes getting into a position where your hamstrings are tight and coiled up with potential energy to release. Once the lift has started you can release that potential energy through your legs and into the ground. This drive of potential energy will act as an additional force to help you achieve more velocity and speed off the ground as well as momentum through the rest of the lift.
Since I learned how to properly load up my hamstrings and drive through my legs, I have noticed that my bar speed has substantially increased. With this increased bar speed, I am able to channel the momentum to raise the bar faster through my sticking point.
As much as I would like to break down the specifics of loading up the hamstrings, I will defer to Tyler Yeager’s video.Alan provides a detailed walkthrough of how to properly load up the hamstrings utilizing the form of a Romanian deadlift. Another good tutorial on how to get into the perfect position to load and utilize your hamstrings is
2. Increased Frequency & Volume
Once your form has been fixed and you are properly recruiting all of the key muscles in the deadlift, the next area is to build up frequency and volume. Frequency is the number of times per week you do the lift. Volume is how many reps and sets you do. There is a saying, “if you want to become good at something, do it more”. It is a similar concept but too many people seem to neglect this. Performing the deadlift multiple times a week and with larger sets and reps will build:
- Muscle Tolerance to Heavy Weights
- Conditioning of the Central Nervous System
- Build Muscle
- Increase Endurance
All of these help the key muscles you use in the deadlift become stronger and more efficient. Stronger muscles lift more weight. Efficient muscles use less energy and resources. More energy to utilize and the tolerance to handle heavy weights means you will be able to lift more in the deadlift.
There is no magic formula for frequency or volume but there are some good sub-maximal training programs on the web. My numbers are:
- Frequency (How many Times Per Week): 2
- Volume (How many Reps and Sets Per Workout): 5 sets x 5-7 reps at 70–75% of 1RPM
3. Dynamic Effort
For most people, the hardest part of the lift is off the floor to the knees. The reason this is the hardest part is that the barbell is stationary and a large amount of force must be generated to generate momentum. The barbell is moving from a stand-still and so generating inertia by lifting the bar from the ground can make this portion of the lift feel extremely heavy, difficult and energy intensive.
Most people go through this portion very slowly because the weight is heavy. However, I have found that accelerating during this portion of the lift can help build the necessary momentum to make the rest of the lift easier. Completing the lift faster means less stress on your muscles for less time and less energy consumption. If you go to slow, you will run out of energy to complete the lift by the time you raise the barbell to your knees. Speed and accelerating off the floor is vital to solving this.
The best way to build speed and acceleration is to focus on splitting your programming to include dynamic effort exercises. Dynamic Effort is a training method aimed at building explosive speed and power. Generating more force in an explosive manner allows you to improve the effectiveness of muscle fiber recruitment and carry the momentum farther in the lift. Simply put, this means that you will be able to rip the barbell off the floor rather than slowly pulling it off.
Dynamic Effort training was perfected by Louie Simmons in the Westside Barbell system of strength training. For the most effective application of this training method, I would recommend reading the Westside Barbell Book of Methods. However, for those that want a quick application, I would recommend incorporating a few Dynamic Effort variations of the main lifts to your weekly training program. Take your week and add in an extra day for Dynamic Effort exercises. These exercises could be the deadlift, variations of the deadlift or any other non-barbell assistance exercises to build explosive power from the legs and hips. Regardless of the exercise, the focus will be on moving sub-maximal weight as fast and explosive as possible. The idea is to do a number of reps and sets at 40-50% of your 1RPM for deadlift. Focus on speed, form and explosive power. Each rep should be fast, powerful and clean. My programming for the week looks something like this:
|Day of Week||Lift||Maximum Effort or Dynamic Effort||Sets/Reps|
|Monday||Bench Press||Maximum Effort||5 sets x 5 reps (75% of 1RPM)|
|Tuesday||Conventional Deadlift||Maximum Effort||5 sets x 5 reps (75% of 1RPM)|
|Wednesday||Shoulder Press||Maximum Effort||5 sets x 5 reps (75% of 1RPM)|
|Thursday||Squats||Maximum Effort||5 sets x 5 reps (75% of 1RPM)|
|Dynamic Effort||10-12 sets x 5 reps (50% of 1RPM)|
Do this for a few weeks and you will notice that your deadlift speed and explosive power have increased substantially. This will in-turn make you feel like you are stronger and lift heavier weight.
4. Central Nervous System (CNS) Overloading
One of the reasons we fail in 90–100% of our 1RPM is because we are not used to the weight. Lifting heavy weights which the body has not experienced before creates a feeling that is foreign to you. Your body has no memory/context of how the weight feels. As such, your central nervous system freaks out and tells your brain that this is too heavy. These thoughts immediately rush throughout your body and can significantly hamper the true amount of weight you can lift.
As much as people do not want to admit it, lifting is at least 50% mental. The amount of weight your body can actually lift vs the amount of weight your body will allow you to lift is at least 20–30 pounds.
To help get your body used to heavy weights and your max, you have to frequently lift heavy weights. Once or twice a week as an assistance exercise, lift greater than or equal to your 1RPM through a partial range of motion. Use a rack and set the pins right above your knees. Start from that position and perform lockout reps with heavy weights. Since the lockout portion of is typically the strongest part of the lift for most people, you will be able to do above your 1RPM without the risk of injury and massive fatigue. This is called overloading.
By doing this your body gets used to holding and locking out heavier weight than you are used to. When you get the feel, your body will slowly become comfortable and your confidence will rise. When it comes time to lift the weight, it will be heavy but your body won’t freak out as much and you might even get some signals to the brain convincing you that you can lift this weight.
When I first started deadlifting, 315lbs terrified me. I would rarely work up to it and because I did it so infrequently, I was not used to the weight. I knew I could physically lift it, but doubt and insecurity corrupted my mind and body anytime that I attempted it. 315lb made me it’s bitch. However, I started to incorporate rack pulls with 360+ lbs and when I got used to that, 315 quickly became “light” in my mind. I mentally knew that my body was capable of much heavier and 315 became insignificant. This is how I mentally mastered the weight.
5. Grip The Bar Tight
When we execute a lift, grip is usually one of the last things on our mind. We think about grip as maintaining a firm hold on the barbell to prevent it from dropping. However, grip has a secondary function which is extremely important to the success of lifting heaving weights.
Gripping the barbell tightly also sends a neurological signal throughout our central nervous system that we are about to utilize the body for a maximum exertion of force and energy. This signal fires throughout the body and acts to tighten up muscles, increase blood flow and prepares the central nervous system for overloading. The tighter the grip, the stronger the signal through the body.
As you set-up for the deadlift, get tight and positioned in all other places first. When it is time for you to grip the bar, grab on as tightly and possible. Squeeze the barbell as hard as you can for a second or two and then start the lift. Continue to apply pressure through the entire lift. You will notice:
- More muscle recruitment
- Easier liftoff
- Easier lockout
- Weights feel slightly lighter
- Increased stability of the barbell throughout the lift
I started incorporating this cue every time I get into position, and have immediately seen improvements in my deadlift. Not only do the weights feel lighter but, mentally I am more confident in the lift. My body transforms into a solid kinetic chain. Gripping tight is not the last part of my set-up and has become my primary cue for connecting my mind and body for maximum effectiveness in the lift.
What Are Your Best Deadlift Tips?
What I’ve shared above are learnings from my own experiences. However, I am always in search of better or more effective ways to increase my deadlift. I would love to hear what lessons/techniques you have learned or if you have any corrections to my points.. Feel free to comment below with some examples. Please share so we can all learn and grow.