Every lifter will experience a “plateau” at some point in their lifting career often due to the fact that strength is not accumulated in a direct, linear fashion. However, a plateau isn’t always due to this fact; sometimes it is the result of inefficient movement patterns and technique. One of the most obvious exercises to showcase this point is the deadlift. Seemingly insignificant technique flaws can mean the difference between making the lift or not (or worse, putting oneself at an increased risk of injury). Here are 3 quick fixes to not only optimize one’s technique, but push past plateaus and finally get those PR’s.
Deadlift Tip #1: Breathing, Bracing, Breaking PR’s
This cue can actually be used for any and all of the big 3 as the carry over is the same. Utilizing diaphragmatic breathing and effectively bracing not only creates tension in the midline of the body, but allows for force to be distributed efficiently and decrease the risk of injury. When mentioning breathing and bracing, using the “pop can” analogy is one way to visualize this concept. If a pop can is “empty” or free of liquid, squeezing it, even with minimal effort, will surely result in the can to collapse. Now put liquid in the can and making it crumble takes a lot more effort. The same analogy can be applied when breathing and bracing. Creating a 360 degree circumference around the midline allows for the core and lumbar spine to stabilize allowing for the bigger, more powerful muscles in the legs and posterior chain to do their job. One of the best ways to practice this skill is by using the 90-90 Breathing Drill.
Deadlift Tip #2: Fix Your Feet to Fix Your Back
During the deadlift it is important the lifter “engage the lats”. This helps negate the loss of tension in the upper back, making the initial pull off the floor safe and effective. However, sometimes one is “engaging the lats,” yet they still resemble a candy cane as they inch their way through the pull. So what gives?
Sometimes the loss in lat tension is due to the fact the feet are too wide in one’s stance (during the conventional deadlift, sumo is a completely different animal) pushing the arms outside of the shoulders. This makes engaging the upper back and lats incredibly more difficult, especially when the upper back may not be as developed. Therefore, sometimes bringing the stance a bit more narrow than normal will allow one to actively engage more of their lats and set their upper back. From here, now one can effectively stay tight and initiate the movement more efficiently.
Deadlift Tip #3: It’s All in the Feet
Unlike what Chubs says from Happy Gilmore, it’s all in the feet when it comes to deadlift, at least initially. The start of the pull begins by being able to apply force through the feet. Thinking of the deadlift as a “push” at first and not a “pull” allows the strong muscles of the legs to take the brunt of the workload through the movement. Because one wants to push through the feet to really maximize this concept, wearing proper footwear is critical. Things become exponentially more difficult (and/or inefficient) when wearing shoes that have a soft foam sole or exaggerated heel raise. Over the last several years, there have been a few studies to show the effectiveness of minimalist, or “zero drop” shoes on foot strength.
Take this study out of the University of Liverpool. Researchers found a 60% increase in foot strength after wearing minimalist shoes for 6 months. This may be just the beginning of more studies like these showing the effectiveness of minimalist shoes and how they may translate into optimizing force production. So for now take my (and several other coaches in the field of strength and conditioning) word that flat shoes help to optimize the initial “push” through the feet when deadlifting.
Well there you have it. 3 quick fixes to instantly add weight to your deadlift and get those PR’s you’ve been working so hard for. Be sure to let me know if any of these tips worked for you!
Article also featured on the West Coast Training Center Blog listed HERE