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Saturday, August 12, 2017
Why Does Coach tell me to RETURN the Bar to the Ground???
Dead Wrong About Deadlifts
August 9, 2017
You probably already know that you get stronger when controlling the eccentric portion
of a rep. If you don't believe me, slow down your tempo while lifting for a few sets and
you'll feel all those antagonist muscles firing hard. In the bench press, for example, the
lats and biceps are primarily responsible for controlling the bar's descent to your chest,
allowing the muscles through the pecs and shoulders to stretch and build up kinetic
energy before changing directions and loading all that energy into the bar. Slow your
bar's descent and you'll start to feel those muscles sizzle.
There are a few opportunities for improvement in the deadlift that are not only going to
increase your total, but even out your strength and help with your longevity in the
Yet the contemporary novice powerlifter seems to have forgotten this when it comes to
deadlift. The style today is to take a deliberate slow tempo down with the bench and
squat before coming up fast, but for the deadlift the opposite is true. They get to lockout
and then CRASH down to the ground. Why?
When you take your time lowering the bar to the ground, you're building your back, core, and hamstrings to a degree that no other exercise can fully do. You're building muscle strength completely through the posterior chain that would otherwise be lacking
when crashing to the ground like so many new powerlifters.
THE STANKY LEG
First, establishing the lifter's deadlift stance has become a ritual with more complicated footwork than any agility ladder drill in the NFL combines. At the last meet I judged, I counted several lifters who moved their feet more than a dozen times before finally starting their attempt.
Why does this matter?
So imagine you're in the chute getting ready for your attempt. When you're 3 out, you
start psyching yourself up. Maybe pacing a little bit. When you're 2 out, you start
chalking your hands and reaching for the ammonia. When you're on deck, you've worked
yourself up into a frenzy, your training partner slaps your neck, and you inhale a head-full
of ammonia to really unlock the beast. There's no room for thoughts in your head - it's
just a whirling storm of lightning bolts and rage.
Then you stand over the barbell for 30 seconds, wiggling your feet, huffing and puffing.
What's happening during this time?
Well, your ability to get mentally whipped into a human tornado only lasts so long, so as
you're facing down the loaded bar your mental stamina is fatiguing, the storm is clearing,
and you're starting to think about this lift again. Thinking doesn't belong on the platform.
Now imagine you're watching your favorite quarterback, he takes the snap, takes 7 or 8
steps backwards, then proceeds to dance in the pocket for a while. You already know
what's going to happen if he does this for too long. He's going to lose his focus and
become a stain on the ground at the hands of a 275lb outside linebacker. Quarterbacks
learn how to take 3 and 5 step drops back from center before releasing the ball because
hey know it's effective and efficient.
In fact, you're probably already doing that with your squat set up. Unrack the bar, slide
one foot back, slide the other foot back, then slide one foot over to the proper width of
your stance. That's it. So why do the hokey pokey with the deadlift?
PRACTICE LIKE YOU PLAY
Another reason you're missing out on your deadlift getting better is the quality of the
reps performed in training. If your goal is to compete in powerlifting some day, your
reps in training should as closely mimic those necessary for competition as possible.
That means no straps, a convincing lock out with a pause at the top, and a controlled
Scroll through your Instagram feed and you'll see deadlifters with a lockout and drop faster than an Olympic weightlifter. It's almost like they're afraid to hold that deadlift at the top. t's not hot, it's not painful, in fact it's when the weight is at its lightest. Then
on meet day when they get into their second attempts they can't lock out the last 2"
because they have absolutely no strength there. Especially with a sumo deadlift. This
goes back to what I said above about the eccentric portion of your deadlift
strengthening your hips and hamstrings too. The bar flies off the ground and above the
knees, then it grinds to a halt a couple inches short of lockout where the lifter struggles
and strains for that extra strength. I see this all the time at meets too, then the lifter
complains they should have put more baby powder on their legs. No, you should have
put more emphasis on your lockout!
Even if you're never planning on competing in powerlifting, practice the reps with
competition-quality form. Take that extra second or two to really solidify your finish
position and focus on stacking all your joints. Squeeze your ass hard to support your low
back and ensure your hips are through and your shoulders are back. Hold this position.
Own that rep. Then set it down with a careful focus on the eccentric. My first powerlifting
coach used to say "set it down like you're putting it to bed and you don't wanna wake it up"
We get it, you look very tough when you drop the 315 on the ground but your posterior
chain looks flatter than Kansas because of it.
Phil Pfister, World's Strongest Man winner, once said "You're only as strong as what your
hands can hold." Strapping in for every set above 60% is neglecting a crucial component for
strength - your grip! Straps allow you to be lazy with your upper back position and don't
engage the muscles in the forearms and bicep like grabbing the bar does. Even if you try to
squeeze the bar while wearing your straps, it isn't the same as lifting the weight with your own
These straps are over 2 feet long, making it possible to wrap around the wrist, around the bar, over your hand, and still have about a foot of seatbelt left.
People who know me will say "But Clay, your grip is great! Of course you would hate on straps.
" Do you think it was always this way? The very first day I got into the gym, I trained deadlifts.
Although I shouldn't have done this on Day 1, I wanted to see what kind of baseline strength I
had so I worked up to as heavy single. I got 315 but as soon as I hit 365, the bar rolled out of my
left hand and fell to the ground. This was before I knew anything about a mixed grip or hook grip.
I realized I needed to get my hands stronger so I could lift more weight, so I started reading what I
could about grip training. This led me down an entirely different path. I really like training grip on
its own and I haven't had an issue holding onto a bar in over 10 years. I personally only use straps
when I'm doing max block pulls or competing in strongman. But powerlifting doesn't allow straps
so I don't use em and neither do my lifters.
Involving the grip also builds the biceps tendons by exposing them to controlled amounts of stress,
increasing your longevity in the sport. Take it from a guy who has surgical scars on his elbow and
knees, you're going to want some longevity in powerlifting.
The deadlift is one of the most simple, pure lifts in the gym. You simply walk up to a bar, bend down,
and pick it up. But it's hard to watch all these lifters on the platform struggle when a few simple
changes to their training could not only result in better performances but much heavier weights.
If you're overcomplicating this lift with neurotic foot shuffling, tying your hands to the bar, and
crashing to the floor, you're missing out on the most important reason for doing any of this -