Exercising with the deadlift is when you get serious about your physique. It’s the original full-body exercise and very few other exercises bring emotions out quite like the deadlift. They can allow you to enjoy that amazing feeling of raw power when you move that really big weight off the ground. They can make you sick to the stomach just at the mere thought of actually doing them. Nevertheless, the deadlift can produce incredible results, which is why it should be one of the staples of almost everyone’s weight training program. You’ll still get some people telling you it’s too dangerous, or that the deadlift will have the effect of turning women into men. Never mind that though!
Improving With the Deadlift
This exercise is one of the very few that can improve strength, overall power, explosiveness, as well as speed in almost any athlete, whether you are a weekender, or seeking to gain a healthier lifestyle, or if you’re a pro. It develops strength in those areas that are tied to athletic performance – the core, the legs, and the back. No matter what you want to improve on, the deadlift can provide support to that growth. Keep in mind though that although it may appear simple, it’s not. It’s not merely about bending over and picking a heavy object off the ground. An object that is sitting plainly on the ground will have no motion. And Newton’s First Law of Motion is that an object will remain at rest until an outer force causes it to move – also termed as inertia. During a deadlift, this is what must be overcome.
Which Deadlift is The Right One?
Two basic forms exist – sumo and conventional. Both focus on the same muscle groups but both are somewhat variable in nature. The sumo deadlift takes a wider stance, and thus more of the load will be on the legs and hips. The conventional deadlift on the other hand focuses more on the posterior chain muscles and the back.
You may be familiar with the Romanian deadlift? Well, the way most people perform this lift means that it’s technically not a deadlift because between repetitions, the weight does not actually touch the ground. It helps to develop similar muscles to the deadlift, but that’s about all.
So which one is best for you? What it comes down to is body characteristics. What feels more comfortable for you is probably the right lift for you.
Rule of thumb – long arms and short torso tend to mean that the conventional deadlift is the better option. Shorter arms and lengthier torso – the sumo will generally be the better fit, because the distance the bar must travel from the ground is shorter.
And it’s for these reasons that women often prefer the sumo deadlift over the conventional format, regardless of the macho name for it. Further, the sumo is regularly better for anyone who suffers from problems with mobility, which in turn can mean it’s difficult to get the right form for the conventional lift. On the other hand, there’s a view taken that the conventional format is the “more pure” of the two, but the truth is that neither one nor the other is necessarily safer or better. Both actually offer similar benefits, and you’ll see many lifters who alternate back and forth between the two.
Before You Try
You should be aware that the deadlift is not something that is merely tossed in towards the conclusion of a workout. The best results will be achieved if it is treated as the centerpiece. In order to get the best results, either complete it at the very beginning or near the beginning of your workout program.
It’s the same for complex and compound movements such as bench, pull-ups, and squat. The most benefit is to be had when the muscles are not yet tired, and so they should be performed prior to auxiliary exercises.
Also keep in mind that, when planning your workout, the deadlift is more about strength than anything else. So even if you are not intent on entering a powerlifting competition, no matter the style, deadlifts are not supposed to be high-repetition, which requires a lot of endurance.
Your progress will be slow if you try to hit 20 reps. Fatigue and muscular failure take hold pretty fast when performing the deadlift, thereby the potential for injury rises because form has taken a nose dive.
Keep the load heavy and the amount of reps low. This depends on your own training cycle, but rep count should be between one and six, and the weight should remain at 85 to 95 percent of your 1RM. If that confuses you, then choose a weight that feels heavy to you, but allows you to complete your sets while still retaining good form.
Starting off a bit lighter than you can handle is fine. Get the form nailed first and foremost, and don’t focus on going too heavy early on. This is worth planning for and working up to because the overall results will be worth that little bit of extra effort.
Footwear – What’s Best When Performing the Deadlift?
To perform a deadlift, you begin by pushing your feet against the floor, and thereby generating power through the legs and into the remainder of the body. It’s imperative to wear non-slip shoes, and ideally, those shoes will have a solid base and supportive sides. What is not recommended is to wear overly cushioned shoes like the ones that have air-filled soles and are more appropriate for long distance running. These shoes do not offer enough support to the foot in order to deal with the levels of stress we are describing here.
And this is particularly true with the sumo deadlift. The conventional deadlift allows the force to be generated upon the feet to be relatively straight downwards. However, with the sumo lift, the force on the feet travels in a more outward motion – from both the sides of the feet as well as forward from the toes. You don’t want your shoes blowing their sides or any slippage occurring during a deadweight lift!
Hand Grip to Perform the Deadlift
Whichever style you wish to use, the grips are the same. Find which one allows you more control of the weight – the lift that you feel most comfortable with.
What’s the most popular grip? The “mixed” or “alternating” grip are the most popular. One of your palms faces forwards, the other backwards. It’s up to your own preference which hand faces which way, while many people alternate this in order to avoid any potential for uneven development in the upper body.
One advantage of this particular grip is that in comparison to an overhand grip, there’s not as much grip strength required, which means that there’s less of a chance that the bar will twist or slip from your grasp.
Nevertheless, the overhand grip is also popular, where both hands face backwards. Here, grip strength is developed more as is upper-body strength. You may lack the ability to pull as heavy a weight with the overhand grip, but a good policy is to work both grips in rotation.
The third grip for the deadlift is called the hook grip. It’s more difficult to get used to but potentially it’s the strongest of the three grips. This grip is usually applied during the snatch process and it allows for the better control of heavier weights. Both palms should face backwards in an overhand grip, but wrap your thumb around the bar before placing your hand on the bar. Next, wrap your fingers around the bar as well as your thumb. The index finger or index and middle finger will act to hold the bar correctly in place.
Finally, you may be wondering about the use of straps? Well, unless you have some form of medical condition whereby you have difficulty holding onto the bar, straps are best forgotten. A strong grip is a necessity when it comes to lifting weights, and developing it can be extremely helpful, both in and out of the gym. If you can’t hold onto a weight, it’s best you don’t even try.
So, let’s say that it’s now time to head on to the gym and find your deadlift bar. And you are now wondering which one? Don’t opt for the short, weight-specific dumbbells. Instead, use a standard Olympic barbell. If you decide to use a trap bar, well, that’s an article all to itself, really.
If you are using a commercial gym opt for the Olympic bar and a power cage with a wood and rubber platform at the front. And that’s another benefit to performing the deadlift – there’s rarely a queue for this apparatus.
For the conventional lift, ideally your feet should be between shoulder and hip width apart, toes pointed a little outwards. Squat down and hold the bar using one of the grips we’ve mentioned. Hands need to be a little wider apart than shoulder-width. Arms outside the legs and the elbows need to be extended.
On the other hand, for a sumo lift, the feet need to be positioned more specifically to the body than in the conventional style.
The distance the bar has to travel will be reduced if the feet are wider, and the body is closer to the ground. Plus, it’s easier to keep the knees from being knocked by the upward-traveling bar, and the bar will be closer to the center of gravity. Don’t be tempted to go too wide though because then you lose the mechanical advantage of the correct lower body positioning, and thereby the level of force which is generated from the hips is reduced. In turn, this means that the smaller muscles (which are also weaker) of the lower back and inner leg are exerted. Not what we would want!
Everyone is different however, so you need to find the best positioning for you in order to achieve the greatest results.
If you’ve never snatched before, focus on these directions for hand positioning:
Take a measurement (roughly) from the outside of your shoulder to the first knuckle of your closed fist on the opposing arm. Your arm should be pointing straight out from your body, and to the side. This should provide for the measurement between the index fingers once they are positioned correctly on the bar.
Then find the same position using an Olympic bar, and keep it in memory. It should be somewhere around the second ring of knurling, fairly near to the collars on the bar. Next, position your feet right beneath these places on the bar. Toes should be pointing a little outward, and in line with the knees. With arms leading directly down from your shoulders, reach for the bar.
From This Point Forth
It’s wise to come up with a mental checklist in order to work the way through the pull. The main focus should be on the actual movement, but at the same time, the amount of mental processing should be at a minimum. In order to remember these points, do what suits you best. The checklist applies to both sumo and conventional deadlifts.
First, the Set-up
- Keep the shins close to the bar – right up against it.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades – pull shoulder blades and lats together, down and back.
- Chin down but head up – where the head goes, the body should follow suit. Keeping the chin down and the head up will stop the head from drifting forwards or hyper-extending, which in turn allows the back to round.
- Fix your vision – find a spot in front of you and focus on that. This helps to keep the head up and in a fixed position.
- Keep the chest up – helps to get the bar on the move and creates a strong upper body.
- Hips back and keep the back tight to ensure that there is no possibility of rounding.
- Breathe deeply – fill the belly with air so that the back is supported.
- Triceps tensed – this helps to avoid the biceps pulling the bar up. You certainly do not want your biceps to be converting the deadlift for you.
- Hips below the shoulders – we don’t want an RDL to occur whereby the hips rise before the shoulders, which increases the chance of injury.
- Use the legs to push – drive with the feet and the huge power of the legs.
- Use the back to pull – the second part of the movement is to use the large back muscles to pull.
- The bar should be kept close to the body – no drifting. If you keep the bar close to the body as possible, you are maintaining a healthy center of mass, which then means less chance of injury, and less workload to be endured.
- To finish the pull, squeeze the glutes – to help complete the pull, squeeze the glutes at the top of the movement. This then prevents the hyper-extension of the spine, which is a common error, and that can easily lead to a bad injury.
- The trickiest part of the lift is now over, once the lockout is achieved. All there is to do now is to get the weight back on the ground, and there’s obviously a little more to that than simply dropping the bar. Nevertheless, it’s far easier to lower the bar than it is to raise it, but because of that, some lifters take the easy way out, which can once again, lead to an injury.
- Keep your mind on form at all times. Perfect form is the mainstay of a good, solid lift every time. So in order to achieve the lowering of the weight, simply turn the given method on its’ head and do things in reverse.