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Improving the Start of Your Deadlift

By Doug Daniels, monthly contributor to Powerlifting U.S.A. since 1986 and regular contributor to many other weight lifting magazines.

The deadlift can be divided into 3 distinct parts; the start off the floor, at the knee, and the lockout. In this article, I'll deal with the start off the floor. First of all, most sumo pullers will find that the initial pull off the floor will be the most difficult part of the lift, and for many conventional pullers, the start maybe the strongest part. For those of you out there that find the initial pull is the part of the lift that needs the least work, I say read on because if the pull off the floor can be further improved, that power from the bottom may be the margin that gets the bar past the sticking point later in the lift. Let's examine some exercises and techniques that can help us snap that bar off the floor.

The best exercise for power off the floor, and perhaps the best assistance move for the deadlift, is the deadlift off the blocks. Stand on a study platform about 4-6 inches high (a 100 pound plate will do) that allows you to lower the bar to the floor without crushing your feet. Deadlifting from that position will develop your range of motion over a greater distance, especially the start. I recommend this one be used as your main deadlift assistance move, up to 6-8 weeks prior to a contest. Even sumo deadlifters should use this one as it will build a high degree of back strength which is important no matter what style you use.

The lats, teres major and minor, etc., are valuable to the pull too. Exercises for these muscles consist of pulling the arms back as in rowing, and pulling the arms down as in chins and lat pulldowns. The main contribution of the lats in the deadlift is to keep the arms in and back during the pull. So, it would stand to reason that an exercise that pulls the arms back, like various rowing moves, would be preferable over pulldown moves like chins. To save your back from extra stress, try one arm dumbbell rows or another exercise where the back is supported.

Positioning for the deadlift is critical. Many newer lifters start the lift with their shins too far away from the bar. Their initial pull must bring the bar into their body, then up. This adds many "pounds" to the lift, not to mention additional chance for injury. I suggest getting your shins no more than 1-2 inches away from the bar, if not right up against it.

Another technique to use in training would be not to bounce any of the reps no matter how light the bar is loaded. The deadlift is the only lift of the big three where we can't generate any momentum to start upwards, so why train using momentum? Also, bouncing the bar between reps may leave you in an unadvantageous position which may result in a poor leverage position or again, open you to extra chances of injury. Pause and reset your position between every rep of every set. Your technique will improve also and technique is an extremely important part of getting the bar off the floor, regardless of style used.

While we're on positioning, try to use as upright a back posture as possible. This will decrease the distance the bar has to travel and allocate more of the load to your powerful leg muscles. You may need to devote a little extra time to develop additional flexibility to reach a more erect upright position, but it will be worth it.

One last positioning tip. Don't begin to pull with bent arms. It seems some lifters think they are going to curl the bar. If you begin the lift with bent arms, the first moment of the pull goes to straightening out your arms, wasting valuable drive where you need it most.

Now a bit on lifting gear. Conventional deadlifters should try to use slipper type shoes or wrestling shoes. They fulfill the rules for footwear and are low to the ground, thus further decreasing the distance the bar must travel. Some lifters deadlift with work boots or high heeled squat shoes. These are a no-no for deadlifting as they increase the distance the bar must travel and position you more forward over the bar, causing you to pull back as well as up as I discussed earlier. Sumo lifters might try a flat soled cross-training shoe as they may need more foot support because of the wide stance used.

Lastly, I have found that certain squat suits help greatly in the deadlift. I myself gained about 40-50 pounds by using a specific squat suit. Some squat suits are terrible for the deadlift, but some that were worthless for the squat prove to be effective for the deadlift. Try a few out. Also new on the market are deadlift suits. I have not tried one of these, but they are worth considering. If nothing works, just use a wrestling singlet. Of course use a belt.

I didn't mention any sets or reps on the exercises I recommended. That's up to you. I do hope that I gave you some useful tips on how to improve your pull off the floor. Even if the start of your deadlift is the strong point of the lift, an increase there might get the bar up and past your sticking point later.


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Improving the Start of Your Deadlift

The information presented is intended to be used for educational purposes only. The statements made have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (U.S.). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease. Please consult with your own physician or health care practitioner regarding any suggestions and recommendations made.


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