The deadlift is one of the most taxing exercises you can do in the gym, but it’s a great way to measure strength. The bigger the number, the bigger you will likely be— and there’s no denying the fact it’s cool to talk about a big deadlift number.
At the same time, the deadlift requires everything to be locked in and loaded properly so you don’t get hurt. Any time you’re moving serious weight, you have to make sure every part of the lift is done correctly. Getting to that point requires a lot of work, but that’s what this game is all about.
I have done powerlifting meets since I was 17 years old. I’m 35 now, so that puts me at nearly 20 years in the game. Along the way, I’ve been around some great deadlifts and picked up a lot of tips regarding this supreme exercise. I’ve tinkered and toyed with a lot of them, but to me it all comes down to getting stronger while reducing the chance of injury.
With that in mind, here are my three favorite tips to send that pulling strength through the roof while keeping that back and posterior chain feeling fresh.
1. SUMO OR CONVENTIONAL?
Which type of deadlifter are you? Finding the style that suits you is always a big step in getting the most out of your deadlift. Some people feel very comfortable with a wide stance (sumo), while others pull better with a close stance (conventional). There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s good to play around with both and find out what feels more comfortable. I am a more natural sumo deadlifter, which puts more of an emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. Conventional deadlifting, meanwhile, puts a great focus on the lower back and hamstrings. Your body type also plays a part in which style suits each person, which is why it’s important to experiment with both styles.
When it comes to meet day, I always pull sumo, with my best being 575 pounds weighing 208. That said, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. I pull with a conventional style in my training to help make my sumo pull actually bigger. That’s an important key for a lot of people. Find out which one is more natural for you and then adjust your training accordingly. Then plug in the opposite style into your training to yield even more gains. By doing this, you’re making your deadlift more well rounded, which means increased strength and less weak areas to help curtail injuries.
2. PULL AT A DEFICIT
This has been a big one for me lately and has really helped add strength and stability to my deadlift. Pulling at a deficit means you stand on one or two 45-pound plates or something similar in height (3-5 inches) and do your deadlifts off that. The bar has to travel a great distance and it creates a significant increase in leg drive required to complete the lift. The extra distance you have to pull is a definite challenge, too.
The good part is that once you remove the deficit, your normal deadlift should feel a lot easier.
I like implementing this style for a few weeks to really teach the legs how to fire during a deadlift. The deficit makes leg drive imperative and the carryover you get to a regular deadlift is certainly noticeable. A stronger leg drive off the floor equals a greater deadlift, and the cool part is how easy this can be worked into your routine at any gym. To pull big, I truly believe you deadlift off a deficit. Try it and see how much of a difference it makes for you.
3. LEARN HOW TO USE A WEIGHT BELT
This may sound simple, but it’s a very big key if you want to push your deadlift to some major league levels. Everyone knows one guy at the gym who wears a weight belt his entire workout. Definitely don’t be that guy, but I am here to tell you that a real belt— i.e., a power belt— can help a great deal if you use it properly. When deadlifting, using it properly means to first tighten it so it’s snug around your waist.
The next part is important when you’re grabbing a big deadlift. Pull your air (breathe) into your stomach and then push out on the belt. It sounds easy, but I would say most people don’t know how to do this correctly. I recommend practicing this a lot until you know you’re doing it right. It creates a definite tightness in the belt, also activating your abdomen and lower back. Think “big air” and keep that air in your stomach to create that tightness on your belt. It creates a wider, tighter and more secure base and, therefore, a stronger lift. The increased safety aspect of this is also crucial when doing heavy weights. The tighter you are, the more your body is activated and the likelihood of injury is decreased. The belt helps in that regard and can pay major dividends.
Done properly and used correctly, a weight belt could mean an extra 20 to 50 pounds on your deadlift, which is music to everyone’s ears.
There you have it— three easily applicable tips to help your deadlift get stronger and keep you safe. Have fun and pull big!