I’m not going to tell you why deadlifting is awesome and I’m definitely not going to reiterate the same rehashed “deadlift tips” you’ve read in every fitness blog over the past 10-years.
Instead, by the end of this article you’re going to learn 3 uncommon, albeit highly effective, deadlift tips that most people have never even considered.
And as a Powerlifting record holder with a 4x body weight deadlift under my belt, I can personally guarantee you these deadlift tips will help you increase your deadlift.
Ready to get started?
Let’s do this.
3 Absurd Deadlift Tips That Also Happen to Be Highly Effective
1) Quit Thinking About Your Lats
Quit thinking about your lats.
And quit thinking about every other other muscle group as well.
I know this is the exact opposite of what every internet expert has ever said so allow me to explain.
But First Read This…
Thinking about your muscles, how they function, and how you are supposed to use them effectively is a great tool for beginner lifters to understand proper technique. It helps them ingrain the right movement patterns before they start handling near maximal loads.
So thinking about your muscles isn’t inherently bad. To the contrary, it does have utility and can help many lifters especially at the beginning of training.
As you progress into more of an advanced lifter, thinking about your muscles is a waste of time.
Not only that, it may actually impede your performance.
See, research has noticed that actively thinking about the effect of your movement (an external focus) will lead to drastically improved performance when compared to thinking about the movement pattern itself (an internal focus).
In other words, focusing on the involved muscle groups during a movement will tend to result in decreased performance-based measures whereas focusing on the effect of your movement (I’ll clarify what this means in just a bit) will tend to improve your performance.
These findings are largely credited to the Constrained Action Hypothesis which I’ll briefly explain below. But first I’ll provide working definitions for both internal and external focus cues.
Internal Focus Cues cause you to think about how your body moves in relation to itself. For example, internal focus cues for the squat include:
– Chest up
– Knees out
– Drive through your heels
External Focus Cues cause you to think about how your body moves in relation to your environment. For example, external focus cues for the squat include:
– Show me the letters on your shirt (in place of chest up)
– Force your knees to the walls on either side of you (in place of knees out)
– Drive your heels through the floor (in place of drive through your heels)
Small and seemingly insignificant changes but they hold drastic implications to overall performance.
Keep in mind, external focus cues are not inherently better than internal focus cues. In fact, in many cases (i.e. during regular training – NOT competition) I’ve found internal cues to be more convenient and easy to understand. However, when it comes to true performance (in this case displaying your ability to express maximal strength in the deadlift) using internal cues may not be your best option.
So What Is the Constrained Action Hypothesis?
Specifically, research has noticed an internal focus is more likely to disrupt unconscious thought processes, increase antagonistic muscular co-contraction, and subsequently impede your performance.
External cues, on the other hand, are more likely to promote unconscious thought processes, improve motor coordination, and consequently improve your performance.
Simply put, external cues help you perform movements naturally – without thinking.
Look at the best athletes in the world…
Of course not.
In fact, ask any elite athlete and they’ll tell you they don’t think. They just do.
And that’s part of what makes them elite. Their ability to compete and perform extraordinary tasks without thinking improves their reaction time, coordination, strength, power, balance and performance.
So what makes deadlifting any different?
The more you practice, improve, and hone in on the best deadlift form for you, the less you should think about the movement itself and instead focus on the movement effect.
Your Takeaway: At the beginning stages of your training career and during practice/training sessions, by all means think about your lats, glutes, and other involved musculature. However, don’t make it a habit. And to be perfectly candid, I don’t suggest you do it for very long. The sooner you can think LESS about the movement and involved musculature, the sooner you’ll deadlift more weight.
2) Make Your Arms as Long as Possible
Arguably the single greatest deadlifter of all time, Lamar Gant truly understood the meaning of make your arms as long as possible.
Take a look at his shoulders.
See how far away they are from his ears?
Also, check out his elbows.
Notice how they’re completely locked out without any hint of a bend?
All that’s done on purpose.
See, if you shrug your shoulders towards your ears and/or bend your elbows while deadlifting – both of which are extremely common technique flaws I see on a daily basis – you not only increase your risk of injury (torn bicep, anyone?) but you also increase the lifts range of motion (ROM) which will severely impact how much you can lift.
So how do you make sure you don’t shrug your shoulders or bend your elbows?
Make your arms as long as possible.
Literally shove your shoulders down & away from your ears and actively reach for the floor throughout the entire movement.
For an in-depth video demonstration, I made the brief tutorial below.
How to Make Your Arms As Long As Possible
Keep in mind, a well designed program is just as important as perfecting your technique. And if you’re not sure which program to follow or how to write one yourself, I highly encourage you to look into my 12-week program, Raw Strength for Powerlifting.
In addition to 12-weeks of pre-written programming, there are numerous technique videos teaching you exactly how to perfect the squat, bench press, and deadlift. So essentially all the thinking is done for you – all you need to do is get your ass outa bed and lift.
Getting back to my original point…
Your Takeaway: Take a video of yourself deadlifting and check to see if you shrug your shoulders and/or bend your elbows. If you do, make a conscious effort to make your arms as long as possible throughout the entire movement. In doing so you’ll decrease the lifts ROM which will allow you to handle heavier loads, and simultaneously reduce your risk of neck, trap, and bicep injuries.
3) “Breathe, Click, Pull”
3 simple deadlift tips to perfect your set-up and improve your performance.
I’ve used this exact checklist with my clients and athletes for years as it makes the deadlift simpler and significantly easier to understand.
Let’s go through each point so you can learn how to use it too.
A good breath can be the difference between a massive deadlift personal record and a severely injured back.
That being the case, one of the very first things I teach my clients is how to properly breathe and brace prior to deadlifting.
Briefly, and exactly as I outlined my 3-part breathing series (read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), before you initiate the first pull off the floor it’s essential to fill your belly AND chest with a huge amount of air. From there, brace your abs as hard as possible (squeeze them like you would if someone was about to punch you in the stomach) while simultaneously initiating the lift.
Learn to do all that correctly and you’ll be well on your way to a stronger, safer deadlift.
Unfortunately, despite being one of the most common deadlifting tips, most lifters have absolutely zero clue how to do it.
To simplify this cue and make it easier to comprehend, instead of saying “pull the slack out,” I cue my lifters to “pull the click out.”
See, when you pull on a loaded bar you’re going to hear a slight “click.”
This “click” happens when the end of the bar makes contact with the inside of the weight plate during the initial pull off the floor.
If you pull the slack out correctly, you’ll hear the click while setting up and generating tension prior to actually pulling the bar off the floor.
Do it incorrectly, however, and the you’ll do more of an uncontrolled jerk off the floor and hear the click at the exact same time.
To keep your back safe and improve the efficiency of your deadlift, make sure to pull the click out prior to actually pulling the bar off the floor.
Granted, how you initiate the pull will depend on a variety of factors, not least of which includes your stance: sumo or conventional.
For sumo deadlifters I substitute the word “spread” for “pull” as it encourages the lifter to spread the floor apart – my favorite cue for initiating the sumo deadlift.
For conventional deadlifters I use the words “push” or “drive” as it cues the lifter to push the floor away from them – an extremely effective visual cue to improve force output.
Again, small changes in word choice that hold drastic implications for improved deadlift performance.
Breathe, Click, Pull.
Nothing fancy, right?
Just 3 words.
3 simple deadlift tips that hold significant meaning and imagery benefits prior to initiating the deadlift.
Instead of using 27 different cues and 15,000 words to describe each one…make it easier on yourself and your clients by breaking down each cue into a single word.
It’s easier, faster, and infinitely more effective.
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