Category Archives: Deadlift tips

19 Squat & Deadlift Variations



Here’s what you need to know…

• Variety is good for both strength and hypertrophy and it helps prevent overuse injuries.
• Every body is unique, and the best form for a lifter is the one that best suits his unique anthropometry and injury history.
• Contrary to popular belief, there’s no standardized perfect form, only what form is best suited for your body and goals.

Strength training gurus love to say there’s only one way to perform a lift, and that all other techniques and variations are either wrong or ineffective. Such a philosophy is shortsighted, and this article will show how intelligent variation can build a bigger, stronger, bulletproof body.
First, every body is unique, and the best form for a lifter is the one that best suits his or her unique limb lengths, body segment proportions, tendon attachment points, muscularity, and injury history.
Second, the form that a lifter uses is heavily predicated on his or her overall goals. These goals might include hypertrophy, in which case it’s possible to accentuate tension on a particular muscle; strength, in which case it’s possible to perform a lift in a manner that maximizes leverages; or transference, in which case it’s possible to execute an exercise in a manner that best transfers to another lift or sporting action.
And third, all lifters should purposely perform lifts in a variety of ways in order to build well-rounded and maximal strength.
Stubbornly sticking to a particular form or variation that isn’t right for you, no matter how popular it is, will eventually lead to injury. It’s akin to forcing a square peg through a round hole.

Top Athletes Vary in Exercise Form

All my powerlifting and strongman friends look markedly different when they squat, deadlift, and bench. Hell, take a look at the various powerlifting world record holders, strongman champions, top Olympic weightlifters, and even the best bodybuilders on the planet – you’ll see that their techniques with the big lifts vary markedly.
They’ve all taken the time to figure out the style of each lift that caused the least pain and injury, maximized their leverages and performance, and/or allowed them to best reach their particular goals. What’s hilarious is that many of these top strength and physique athletes “break the rules” according to various experts, making it difficult to find merit with any hard rules in lifting mechanics.
The top lifters have also taken the time to figure out their favorite exercise variations. The top bodybuilder might prefer rack pulls over full-range deadlifts because they’re safer on his low back, but still might hammer his entire posterior chain.
The top powerlifter might perform low bar squats and sumo deadlifts in competition, but prefers high bar squats and conventional deadlifts in training until a month out before the meet since they better build his lifts.
The strongman might tell you that he gave up low bar squatting years ago to preserve his shoulder health, but that he still front squats every week. Lastly, the top Olympic lifter may prefer the Romanian deadlift and high-bar full squat as assistance lifts, whereas the top powerlifter might prefer the deficit deadlift and high box squat. You get the picture.

Useful Barbell Variations of Squats and Deadlifts

I realize most don’t have access to specialty bars, so I only included traditional barbell variations. However, there are dozens of incredible variations that use the rackable cambered bar, safety squat bar, or Dead-Squat™ Bar, to name a few.

Deep Back Squats: High Bar Versus Low Bar

Though the difference might appear subtle, the high-bar squat exhibits less forward trunk lean and therefore places more stress on the quads. Conversely, the low-bar back squat increases trunk lean and places more stress on the hips.
Strong quads are critical for proper squat performance, as are strong hips. You should incorporate both types of squats into your training arsenal.

High-Bar Back Squat


Low-Bar Back Squat


High-Bar Versus Low-Bar Parallel Squats

With sufficient training experience, most lifters will find that they’re stronger with squats when they use a low-bar placement and take a wide stance. However, there are lifters who discover that they’re indeed stronger with high-bar squats.
Usually, high-bar squats are performed with a moderate stance as opposed to a very wide stance. Again, the high-bar squat emphasizes the quads, whereas the low-bar squat will emphasize the hips. Both variations are great for squat training.

High-Bar Moderate Width Parallel Squat


Low-Bar Wide Stance Parallel Squat


Front Squats: Wide Versus Narrow Stance

Most of the time, when you see someone performing front squats they’re using a narrow stance. But there’s no reason why you can’t perform front squats with a wider stance. Again, both should be used in your training regimen.

Narrow Stance Front Squats


Wide Stance Front Squats


Box Squats: Low Box/High Bar Versus High Box/Low Bar

Most lifters are familiar with high box/low bar squats where they sit back and keep vertical tibias, thereby maximizing stress on the posterior chain. However, it’s also a good idea to perform low box/high bar squats from time to time. This variation places considerable stress on the quads and is quite useful depending on the purpose.

High Box/Low Bar Squat


Low Box/High Bar Squat


ZercherSquats: Hip Emphasis Versus Quad Emphasis

Most lifters only employ one style of Zercher squats but it’s a good idea to occasionally perform two different styles. To stress the hips, take a wider stance, keep the shins vertical and sit back more, descending to parallel. To stress the quads, use a moderate stance, keep the torso more upright, sit down, and descend below parallel.

Hip-Dominant Zercher Squat


Quad-Dominant Zercher Squat


Deadlift: Conventional Versus Sumo

You should perform both conventional and sumo deadlifts from time to time. They build each other, especially if you have a huge strength discrepancy between the two variations.

Conventional Deadlift


Sumo Ddeadlift


Block or Rack Pulls: Conventional Versus Sumo

The same logic applies to block or rack pulls. You can and should use a conventional and sumo stance throughout your training year.

Conventional Block Pull


Sumo Block Pull


Sumo Deadlifts: Quad Versus Hip Dominant

When you pull sumo, there’s a sweet spot for trunk angle and joint ROM that enables you to hoist the heaviest loads. That said, sometimes it’s a good idea to use lighter loads and practice your sumo deadlifts using a quad-emphasis or a hip-emphasis. With the quad-dominant style, sink deeper and keep a more upright trunk. With the hip-dominant style, raise the hips and use a greater trunk lean.

Quad-Dominant Sumo Deadlift


Hip Dominant Sumo Deadlift


Deficit Deadlifts: Clean Grip Versus Snatch Grip

When pulling from a deficit, you should employ a traditional grip width as well as a snatch grip width. The snatch grip deficit deadlift increases joint ROM and is a brutal yet useful variation.

Deficit Deadlift


Snatch Grip Deficit Deadlift


Hack Lift

The hack lift is a nifty way to build quad strength in a deadlift. Just place the bar behind the back and try to mimic your typical deadlift form. This variation stresses the knees and should be used only occasionally. The lockout can be tricky, but most lifters can learn to perform the movement correctly with practice.

Hack Lift


The Spice of Training Variety is good for both strength and hypertrophy and it helps prevent overuse injuries. Through tremendous effort and experimentation, accomplished lifters determine optimal positioning and technique for their bodies as well as figure out the movements that transfer best to their particular goals.
The takeaway point is that the best do what works best for them, not what some guru tells them to do. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no standardized perfect form, only what form is best suited for your body and goals.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat… or squat or deadlift a weight.

Deadlifts: One of the Most Functional Exercises for Everything!

By  On November 6, 2013 · 

I often say that I feel Deadlifts (and Deadlift variations) are one the most functional exercise options you can do, regardless of your training goal. That said, I can’t talk about why deadlifts and deadlift variations are functional for the 3 basic categories of training goals – Physique, Sports Performance or General Fitness/ Fat Loss – without first defining what the “functional” means.

Defining Functional Training

As I discussed in my What is Functional Training? The Real Definition post, The core problem with the term “functional training” isn’t the variety of different definitions trainers and coaches use in attempt to define it – that’s just a symptom of the real problem. The core of the problem which is that the fitness and conditioning field as a whole seems to have chosen to ignore the dictionary definition when it comes to this special word: “Functional.”
In school, we were taught to look up a word in the dictionary to understand its meaning, not make up our own definition. That causes chaos and confusion­—hence the current problem we have in the fitness field & conditioning fields with “functional.”
With this reality in mind, our Performance U philosophy on defining the word functional is not about attempting to just making up our own definition based on our favorite training methods; it’s about going with the dictionary definition.
According to the dictionary definition (each dictionary provides basically the same definition), the word “functional” is defined as something that is able to fulfill its purpose or function.
So, as I stated in my Functional Bodybuilding article, “Functional training has nothing to do with what the exercise looks like, nor does it have to do with the type of equipment you’re using – functional training is all about transfer into your training goal(s)!
Put simply, if the exercise transfers positively into the target sport, activity or physique goal you’re training for, it’s functional! Now some exercises have an obvious and direct functional transfer while other exercises offer a less obvious, indirect transfer. As I mentioned in my Truth About the Bench Press article, in the Performance U training system we classify our exercises as either Specific orGeneral based on how they (functionally) transfer.”

Deadlifts are Specific (i.e. Functional) for Everything!

Note: When I use the word “Deadlifts” here, I’m not just referring to the standard style Barbell Deadlift, but rather (in the context below) I’m using “Deadlifts”  to encompass all deadlift variations from standard deadlifts to RDLs to Single Leg RDLs to Trap Bar Deadlifts. 
In our the Performance U training approach, deadlifts are classified as a specific exercise (i.e. high on the functional spectrum) because they offer a direct and specific transfer into each of the three main training goals:
Functional Transfer into Sports Performance: Deadlifts specifically transfer to all field, court and combat sports because the movement closely matches the force generation patterns involved in sprinting, jumping, rotating to swing an implement like a bat or club (their hip extension involved in all of these movements), along with changing levels like shooting takedowns and picking up your opponent in MMA and grappling sports, etc.
Functional Transfer into Bodybuilding: It’s no secret that deadlifts are a very effective tool for helping to build bigger and better looking glutes, hamstrings and lower back muscles. And, since achieving that is a goal specific to bodybuilders, figure and physique competitors, along with those looking to add size; this make deadlifts a specific exercise.
General Fitness and Fat Loss: These are individual that are not training to compete in anything, nor are they interested in following the type of diet (of lifestyle) required to look like a fitness model. These are the folks who may be weekend warriors, moms, dads, and everyday people who’re looking to get into better shape for either an upcoming event (like a wedding or school reunion), or who simply want to have (and maintain) the physical capacity to easily perform the daily tasks of life an lead an active lifestyle. And, it’s important to note that this is the group of individuals who makes up the vast majority of the clients almost every personal trainer has, but hates to admit they’ve got because they’re not nearly as sexy to talk about as the physique and performance athletes.
Anyway, the deadlift has a high-transfer into the goal of improving general fitness for the same reasons I described above: it can help your move better and look better. Both goals of those interested in getting into better shape. And, deadlifts can be a great tool to contribute to fat loss because they’re a compound exercise option, which requires lots of muscles to activate simultaneously – The more muscles worked, the higher the metabolic demand.
Note: Weightlifting athletes and recreational lifters who’s goal is to become master deadlifters have been left out of the list above because this article is not discussing deadlifts from that perspective. This article addresses deadlifts and deadlift variations as they relate to those individuals who aren’t in the weight room to be weightlifters.

Don’t fit yourself to the Deadlift; Fit the Deadlift to You!

In short, to summarize what I just covered: Regardless of the training goal, deadlifts are used in some form or fashion in the Performance U training approach. That is, of course, unless we feel or have been advised by a medical professional that they’re contradicted for a certain individual’s injury or limitation.
That being said, one of the common practices I often see when it comes to using deadlifts is to attempt to fit everyone to deadlifts performed in the tradtional style (as demonstrated in the image above by my man Tony Gentilcore).
I submit to you that this is not only mentally lazy, it’s also dangerous  because it’s like trying to fit square pegs, triangular pegs, star-shaped pegs, etc. into round holes. And, it’s no secret that when you do that you’re going to cause lots to splinters!
In other words, because we all come in different shapes and sizes, we recommend fitting the deadlift styles and variations you use to YOU; don’t try to fit yourself to a specific type of deadlift.
Note: Depending on individual ability, some people may be able to use several different deadlift variations and styles while others may be more limited in the stances and styles they use. 

Deadlifts for Dummies

This is a guest post by Lee Boyce.
Deadlifts are one of those “no cheating” exercises. The steps are simple:
  1. Pick up bar all the way off the ground.
And that’s it.
For most of us, that’s about as far as it goes. Unfortunately, most of us are kinda stupid.  Deadlifting is one of those moves that looks so easy but has more particulars than meets the eye.  Less the cape and tights, I’ve come to save the day with the most comprehensive guide to deadlifting so you’ll be pulling strong, and pain free into oblivion.  Let’s get to it, step by step.

Grab a Hold

The grip for a deadlift can either be straight (palms over) or mixed. The mixed grip (one hand over, one hand under) is great for heavier loads, but I recommend not getting used to the same mix each time. It can begin to develop imbalances if you deadlift with it frequently. When performing a conventional deadlift, use a grip that’s just outside your hip width. Too wide and you’ll have issues keeping a strong grip on the bar. Too narrow and the bar will begin to lose its balance.  Remember to wrap the thumbs around firmly also.

Position Your Body

There are many schools of thought as to the technique used for a deadlift to be performed correctly.  My research and opinion leads me to use what you’re about to read as my choice way to keep a client safe, while pulling the most weight possible if need be.
The first step is to line the bar up with your shoelaces. The bar should be positioned over your foot to divide it into a front half and a back half. You should be able to see your toes come out in front of the bar, as it will be very close to your shins. Without changing anything, reach down to the bar and place your hands in your desired position – just outside hip width. At this point your back will be rounded and your butt will be way up in the air.  The next step is to lower your hips and raise your shoulders. Doing this simultaneously should encourage the low back to arch, and the chest to raise. Your shins should be right against the bar now, with the feet flat on the ground. Keep your head down.
Next, make sure your chest is what’s directly above the bar. If your chest is what’s over the bar, that means your shoulder blades are too. It’s a lot easier to transfer your forces into a heavy bar when you have your entire back helping you out. If you follow the physics by keeping your scapulae over the bar when you set up, you can’t lose.

Getting Tight

You may have thought that was what the last step was for, but you still have some tightness you need to achieve.  Grabbing a firm hold of the bar, with your shoulders where they should belong, actively try to squeeze the chest out. This will get the lats tight, low back tight, and arch your thoracic region so you’re ready to pull. At the same time, ensure your arms are fully straightened. Make an effort to “bend” the bar, or to “pull the flex out of it” without moving it off the floor.  Now you’re ready to pull.

So Pull!

Make sure the heels are dug right into the ground and stay tight. Drag the bar up your shins.  Now all the stuff we worked on in the setup section just became important. If the scapulae aren’t located over the bar, or the bar was located too far away from the shins, the hips would shoot upwards and the bar would move in against the shins, as soon as it was one inch off the ground. This goes to show that the physics are most closely followed through the setup above. Take a look at this bad deadlift and you’ll see what I mean.
In the video above, the girl does about everything you could do wrong in a deadlift wrong.  She doesn’t take her time in her set-up, and her feet aren’t in tight enough to the bar. As a result, the bar stays under her shoulders/armpit region and she has no stability in her pull. Her lats aren’t tight, her back isn’t arched and her scaps aren’t over the bar. So as you can see, the bar escapes her and the bar path is irregular on its way up.  Of course, this causes her hips to shoot up first and her back to round. But look what happens to the bar – it goes right where it belongs, under the scapulae, where the most support will be available.

Hip Drive

As the lift nears completion, what happens with your hips becomes important too. Remember that the deadlift dominantly works the big three muscle groups of the posterior chain – the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.  It’s easy to let the glutes slacken up and not fully contribute to the lift, and it all depends on how we finish.
I hear a lot of different cues to explain “hip drive”. Many of them involve a subtle forward thrust of the hips to encourage the glutes to activate, especially nearing the end of the lift at the lockout. I like to think of a pulley system, something like how elevators work. To me, it’s the simplest way to visualize the muscles.
In the picture, the weight (m) represents the barbell. The rope (on the side the hand is pulling on) represents your hamstrings, and the fulcrum (the block) would be your pelvis. Drive your heels straight into the floor and feel your hamstrings and glutes contract downwards. Keep the tension on them as the bar travels up your shins and thighs to correspond.  Your entire back will be working whether you try or not, so just make an effort to keep it just as tight as it was when you first started your pull.
I don’t focus on “creating” a hip drive, because the angle will close on its own, especially if these cues are followed properly. Often people create false drives at the top of the lift that usually just throws the low back into hyperextension, with the glutes just coming along for a free ride.  Having said this, the pelvis needs to be “unlocked” at the top of the lift so that the glutes can assist in completing the lockout. Check out the RKC plank by my man Bret Contreras:
This is essentially the hip position that would be ideal at the end of the deadlift.  We can achieve them through practicing these positions through supplementary exercises like this one, and also exercises like glute bridges, shown by Nick:

The Final Product

In a T-NATION article I wrote a couple of years ago, I included a video that demonstrates properly executed deadlifts. You’ll note the bar travelling in a straight line off the ground, and my hip position being dictated by my glutes at the end of the lift.
In a deadlift, the lowering phase shouldn’t be a slow one. Let the bar drag back down the thighs with the chest staying out. As soon as the bar passes the knee level, let it drop to the floor much faster by dropping your shoulders. Get your scapulae right back over the bar as fast as you can. Using this approach in the negative half of the lift will make it feel not so negative at all. You’ll avoid injury by not spending too much time lowering a heavy bar.

That’s All, Folks!

Clear as day – a deadlift is a simple battle with physics to make heavy bars move off the ground. Applying these words of advice can take you through strength plateau, and through a development plateau too. It may be a matter of a few subtle tweaks to your form and technique.  Keep in mind this was a guide to the conventional deadlift, not sumo, defecit, snatch grip, single leg, Romanian, or Give-a-Dog-a-Bone deadlifts. We’ll save those for next time.

All About the deadlift

The deadlift is the often-overlooked weight lifting exercise that is actually one of the best ways to burn fat and build muscle. It is a strength builder that body builders and powerlifters use to gain lean muscle mass and improve their strength.

The Benefits of Deadlifting

One of the reasons that the deadlift works so well is because it is a compound move that involves many body parts, including the hamstrings, quads, glutes, abs, traps, lower back, triceps, biceps, lats, calves and grip. Working all of these muscles with a sizable amount of weight on the bar is an effective way to build your strength.
Deadlifting requires physical and mental strength. Convincing yourself you can make the lift and beat your personal record takes a lot of mental power. The benefits of the deadlift are worth the effort though. Aside from discipline and self-confidence, deadlifting improves stability, posture, flexibility, and your cardio level.
deadlift muscles

Why People are Scared to Deadlift

The main reason people are scared to deadlift is the risk of injury. It’s not that deadlifting is a dangerous exercise, it’s just that you need to use proper form every time. It’s especially important to perfect your form and have a spotter before you start deadlifting 300, 400, 500 pounds or more.
Another reason people are scared of deadlifting is because no one has ever trained them how to do it properly. Cardio and weight machines at the gym are pretty self-explanatory. Even bench pressing and squats are more widely used exercises among gym-goers than the deadlift. You can really mess up your back or tear a bicep if you don’t use proper technique. A lifting belt is also a good idea because it protects the back during heavy lifts. The best option is to hire a qualified trainer to get you started and monitor your progress in the beginning. If you can’t afford to to that, you can also videotape your lifts to see what your form looks like and how you might improve your lifts.
Lastly, women in particular tend to fear deadlifting because it will make them bulk up and look manly. The truth is, deadlifting is a great exercise for women and it can help them burn fat and build lean muscle mass, just like men. The difference is that men and women can train the same, but they can’t eat the same. Women who perform heavy weight training exercises need to follow a high protein, low-carb diet to avoid bulking up. Combined with this diet protocol, women can see phenomenal results as their body changes. The ratio of fat-to-muscle changes and creates a leaner, stronger and healthier look.
crossfit girl

Deadlifting Basics

There are several types of deadlifts. The first is conventional or Romanian deadlifting. This style works the quads, hamstrings and glutes the most. It also involves hip extensions.
• Start by stacking the barbell in front of you on the floor with the appropriate amount of weight. Beginners may need to use just the bar, without additional weight plates, until they get used to the exercise and perfect their form.
• Approach the bar until your legs are almost close enough to touch the bar, spread about six inches apart.
• As you bend down to grab the bar, keep in mind that you need to stick your butt out and pull your shoulders back. No slouching.
• Keep your weight on your heels and avoid rolling up to the ball of your feet or on your toes.
• Find a comfortable grip. Its perfectly fine to use an overhand grip when lifting lighter weights or if that is your preference. To get a better grip on the bar and prevent the bar from slipping out of your hands, however, a reverse grip is recommended. This simply means using one overhand and one underhand grip at the same time.
• Take in a deep breathe and puff out your stomach before you lift the bar.
• Aim for a steady upwards pull, arms and elbows locked in place.
• Stand all the way up, locking the bar in place with your hips fully extended, shoulders back and chest out.
• Stay in control of the weight as you let the bar down and set the weights back on the floor.
• Stretch out your hamstrings and hip flexors to prevents soreness after your workout.
The sumo deadlift is a little different in that the legs are spread wider apart, the toes are pointed out and the hips are rotated out. This version works your hips and quads more than the conventional method.

Deadlifting Training Schedule

You may be thinking that the deadlift is an easy move and the training is easy as well. But it takes a lot of work to increase your deadlift max and there are a few ways you can do this. While going all out and reaching your personal best lift is exciting, it’s not a good idea to max out often. Instead, switch things up with your training.
• Do light weights for high repetitions of 12-20 to increase your deadlift. It also doubles as a cardio exercise, elevating your heart rate in intervals.
• Lift a moderate amount of weights for 3-5 repetitions.
• Do mini deadlifts. The difference between these and conventional deadlifts is that you use a much lighter weight and don’t set the weight down between lifts, the weight hangs just below the knees at the low end, then you stand straight up as if you were doing a regular deadlift. Two sets of 20 is usually enough to feel it in your hamstrings. If you feel it in your lower back, it’s time to rest.
• Use seated machines to build your hamstrings and quads.
Be careful not to overdo it. Never train the same body part two days in a row. Allow time for your muscles to rest and repair themselves. You can also spend time doing isolated exercises that strengthen each of the muscles used to deadlift. Over time, this type of training will increase your maximum deadlift.
Tracy Rose
*Tracy has set the female record for deadlift in the state of Michigan
Tracy’s blog:

Heavy Lessons

by Charles Staley – 6/04/2012

Heavy Lessons

Those who know me from my seminars or my writings know that I’m a huge proponent of the Olympic lifts.

Sure, I’ve written about the power lifts, and have coached several powerlifters, but I’ve never competed in the discipline – until this past April 1st, that is. This article is a summary of my experience, and what I learned from it.

Just to set the stage, back in August of last year, I re-injured my left elbow trying to improve my jerk technique. I had (for unknown reasons) developed some calcification in that elbow, which had gradually reduced both my full flexion and extension in that joint.

So I found myself at a crossroads – I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to clean and jerk again, and at the same time had grown disappointed by my limited progress in the “O lifts” in recent months.

I needed a change, a new challenge.

In September, my friend and client Gene Lawrence (a world champion powerlifter in the master’s division) told me about an upcoming raw powerlifting meet: the 100% Raw! Federation’s Southwest Regional Championships in Prescott Arizona, which would be held on April 1st, 2012.

I had about six months to prepare, and the competition was only a few hours away from my home, so after some deliberation I decided to enter.

Before I share some of the important lessons I learned from training for and competing in my first powerlifting meet, I’d first like to tell you why it took me so long to finally “pull the trigger” on this adventure.

I had (and still have) an enormous amount of passion for the sport of weightlifting. I worried that dividing my attentions would hamper my efforts in that sport. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I’ll share with you shortly.

I felt I wasn’t strong enough to avoid complete embarrassment in the powerlifting world. Although I’d deadlifted 500 pounds a few years earlier, my lifetime best squat was about 365 pounds. Furthermore, while I had done a sloppy “touch and go” 300-pound bench press in my mid-thirties, at age 52, I hadn’t done any form of bench press in years due to shoulder issues. In fact, on the day I sent in my entry form, I probably wasn’t capable of a legal (paused) 200-pound bench.

I wasn’t sure I was capable of performing “legal lifts” in powerlifting. First, after several serious knee surgeries, I have very limited flexion in my right knee. I knew I could squat “close” to parallel, but different federations have different depth requirements, and I wasn’t certain that I could train at or compete with proper depth in the squat.

Second, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bench press intensely and consistently enough to prepare for competition due to the aforementioned shoulder problems. In the past, any time I got more than 5-6 workouts into a bench press program, my shoulder would flare up and eventually stop me in my tracks.

Initial Training Approach: Linear Progression
Heavy Lessons

After a short layoff from my usual training in weightlifting, I started my preparation on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 – almost 6 months to the day from the competition. (I started documenting my training right here at T Nation on October 31st, for those of you who might like to reference my training journal).

My initial training approach involved bench pressing and squatting on Mondays and Fridays, and deadlifts every other Wednesday, using a simple “linear progression” approach popularized by Mark Rippetoe here for the bench and squat. I’d work up to a challenging set of 5 on day one, and then 3×5 (with slightly less weight) on the second weekly workout, starting off with very light loads.

On deadlifts, I worked up to a single work set of 5 reps per session (again starting very light). I planned a progression of 5 pounds/session for the bench and squat, and 10 pounds/session on pulls.

Here’s what my initial training week looked like:

Power Clean
Squat 1×5
Bench Press 3×5

Snatch variant

Power Clean
Squat 3×5
Bench Press 1×5
Dumbbell Curl


For squat and bench, I paired a 1×5 lift with a 3×5 lift, rather than doing 3×5 for both lifts on the same day. This was for the purpose of evenly distributing workloads.

I haven’t listed loading parameters for the Olympic lifts, chins, and curls. That’s because I purposely made these decisions intuitively, based on what felt good at the moment. If I felt great on a particular day, I’d try for something big. If not, I didn’t stress about it.

I allowed for occasional variety when it came to the non-competition lifts. The Big 3 lifts, however, were set in stone. I think that training programs should have a “compulsory” as well as an “optional” category, meaning that you should be able to discern between tasks that are central to your goal versus drills that are less critical to your core mission. Therefore, you’ll see that I eventually dropped curls, skipped chins, and so on. Great programs are characterized by a “flexible structure.”

While it may seem excessive to squat twice a week while deadlifting during the same week, keep in mind that volume on Mondays and Wednesdays was fairly low (1×5 for each).

Some readers may notice the complete lack of a general/dynamic warm-up, foam rolling, stretching, and so forth. Personally, I’ve never experienced much benefit in any of these activities, and decided to finally listen to my inner voice on these issues. That said, if you feel you benefit from any of them, certainly use them.

My plan was to run this progression until I hit a wall (which I knew was inevitable), and then devise a new strategy when that happened.

For quick reference, my first 1×5 workouts featured the following loads:

Bench press: 170 x5
Squat: 225 x5
Deadlift: 340 x5

That should give a sense of how light I started off, although these opening workouts weren’t especially easy. I was both embarrassed and nervous on the bench press in particular, given my shoulder history.

That said, I had no pain on those initial workouts, nor did I experience any significant pain or injury during this six-month training period. The only injury I suffered was a moderately-tweaked low back on a 185-pound squat early in the cycle, and a period of 3-4 weeks where I was experiencing moderate left pec discomfort on bench presses. That’s it.

Never before have I experienced a pain/injury-free six months of training, and I sure wasn’t expecting it to occur at age 52.

Reaching A Plateau On Linear Progression

Heavy Lessons

Right around mid-February, I could sense that my linear progression honeymoon period was coming to an end. It was taking all I had to continue making my 5-10 pound jumps, and an additional concern was that April 1st was coming up fast, and 5’s seemed a bit non-specific for hitting big singles in competition.

I had benched 225 x 4 (missed the planned 5th rep) squatted 300 x 5, and pulled 363 x 5, but by this time my discipline had already eroded. I was already “experimenting” (or “pussing out” to be more forthright) by either taking heavy singles, or sometimes going more than 5 reps. Basically I was just sick of 5’s. I needed a new approach before I started losing my discipline altogether.

Enter Chad Waterbury

I’ve known and respected Chad Waterbury for years and asked him if he’d help my with “last minute” peaking strategies. Chad looked at my training journal and told me that in his discussions with people like Franco Columbo and Pavel Tsatsouline, he’d developed a strong affection for a “Medium – Heavy – Medium – Maximum” type of progression.

Medium days were 3 x 3, heavy days were 3 x 2, and maximum days were mock competitions essentially, a chance to evaluate your progress. In terms of progression, each type of workout, when repeated, should be done with slightly more weight.

I immediately implemented Chad’s suggestions, and after about 10 days could feel a renewal, physically and psychologically. My numbers started moving dramatically – before I knew it I was hitting 380 on the squat, 465 on the deadlift, and 255 on the bench, and I felt less drained at the same time. I was peaking. Things were coming together.

In my last month of training, I managed to chalk up a 403 squat, a 255 bench, and a 475 deadlift (see the videos below). I simply wanted to hit these numbers (or slightly more if possible) during official competition, when the pressure was on, without getting hurt. I felt ready go, but I had a lot of unknowns ahead of me…

So How’d I Do?

In terms of expectations, I only had a few:

I really wanted a 400 squat and a 500 deadlift, and I didn’t want to get hurt in the process. I had no idea what to expect on the bench. But I felt I had to be ready for anything, given that this was my first experience in the sport, and also considering that the warm-up room was scantily equipped and crowded.

I had to be prepared for a rushed and/or incomplete warm-up. I had to be ready for the possibility that my squats might not be deep enough, or that I might not be prepared for the various technical rules I’d face on the bench, including the pause, keeping the feet motionless, and so on. I’d trained for all of this, but you never know exactly what you’re up against until it actually happens.

Here’s an event-by event breakdown of my meet:


My last warm-up was with 315, which I had to take from a very low position due to the much shorter guys who were sharing the rack with me. Nonetheless, it felt fine and I was confident overall.

I opened with 340, which felt about as heavy as I expected, and much to my relief I got three white lights – my depth was legal.

My second attempt was with 369, and now that I knew my depth would pass muster, I felt energized and confident. I probably could’ve hit it for a triple if I’d needed to. Three whites.

I went to the administrators’ table and asked for 402, one pound less than my PR in training, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I would’ve been super happy to hit 400, but had I tried, say, 415 and missed, I’d be in a bad mood for the rest of the meet.

402 was heavy and slow. I struggled out of the hole, and waited for what felt like an eternity for the head judge to signal me back to the rack. I think my spotters and I got the bar back on the stands about a second before I nearly passed out from pressurizing against that load. Three whites! I was off to a great start – 3 for 3, no red lights.

You can see my 402 attempt below:

Bench Press

My last warm-up backstage was with 205, and it felt uneventful. My first attempt was 225 pounds – a weight I’d hit for 4 reps in training. I smoked it easily for three whites.

Second attempt: 245. This went up okay, but not as well as I’d expected. Somehow my placement on the bench was off – I reasoned that

I needed to be closer to the uprights for my final attempt. Due to the difficulty of this attempt, and also because I was 5 for 5 at this point, I asked for 253 for my final attempt – 2 pounds less than my training PR.

As I positioned myself on the bench, I remembered the positioning error I wanted to correct, and moved a bit closer to the uprights. Two fifty three went up with ease – the adjustment paid off better than I’d anticipated. On the bench, I again went 3 for 3, and no red lights. My only small regret is that I was probably good for 260, which would’ve been a new PR. That’s what the next meet is for I guess.

You can see my 253 attempt below:


Heavy Lessons

By this point in the day I was pretty wiped out, and my low back and hamstrings were toasted from the heavy squats. One of the unknowns I knew I’d be facing today was that I’d never maxed out my squat and deadlift on the same day.

There was a war going on in my head: a struggle between wanting to play it safe and hit 500, and the desire to get a new PR, say 510 or so. At this point I’d gone 6 for 6 with no red lights, so I decided to commit to a “perfect meet” – going 9 for 9, no red lights, and at least meeting (if not exceeding) training PR’s.

My last warm-up in back was with 405. It was clear that I could’ve hit at least 5 reps with that, so I felt ready for my 440 opener. After I set that down, I was warned by the head judge to lower the bar with more control, which took me by surprise, but nonetheless, I earned three whites for my effort, and asked for 469 for my second attempt, which I handled successfully. The trick of course, is to optimally bridge the gap between my second attempt and my goal for my final lift, which was 501.

Walking out to that 501-pound barbell, I had confidence that I’d already hit that weight before in the past, but also felt pressure that until this point I’d been running a perfect meet. To say that I was determined to make this lift would be a gross understatement.

Internally, I’d worked myself into such a frenzy of effort that I honestly don’t remember feeling the bar in my hands. As I began pulling, I felt relief that I at least got the weight moving upward, but it felt significantly heavier than I expected. I kept pulling, however, knowing that my deadlifts usually move faster than what it feels like.

As the bar passed my knees, I thought, “Okay, I’m home free now,” but my improved leverage was offset by the mounting fatigue. The pull was a grind from start to finish. Finally, I locked it out, and remembering my earlier admonition from the head judge, did my best to lower the bar under maximum control. Hands on knees, I looked back at the scoreboard – three whites! A perfect meet!

In summary, the only change I would’ve made would’ve been to take a heavier final bench attempt, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. I felt I’d performed a perfect meet, but what I learned from the experience was far more valuable than winning my first powerlfting meet (oh, did I forget to mention that detail?).

Lessons Learned

Injury Avoidance: I had virtually no pain during this 6-month training cycle, despite performing nearly every “challenging” lift in the book (squats, deadlifts, bench presses, two Olympic lifts, rows, and chins) hard and often. There are three plausible explanations for my injury-free experience.

First, I started well below my abilities. Second, I progressed very gradually – only 5-10 pounds per session. Third, I didn’t do any “junk” work, which limited my overall wear and tear.

I didn’t do accessory single-joint lifts, nor did I perform “advanced” techniques like eccentrics, plyometrics, chains/bands, partials, or forced reps. I simply did super-basic exercises using tried-and true programming principles, and I did it consistently and progressively.

I never took a single ibuprofen, never iced anything, and I never missed a single workout or failed to hit my numbers because of pain or injury. In short, my training was remarkably low-tech and the only thing exciting about it was that I got bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner; and I did it without injuring myself in the process.

A note about bench pressing: I noted that my traditional experiences with all forms of bench pressing were characterized by shoulder pain and injury. I can attribute my sudden good fortune to only one thing: since September 28th, all of my benches have been done with a pause, as is required in competition.

I believe this pause helps mitigate the high tensions that occur when the shoulder is at its weakest position (when the bar touches the chest). If you’re having issues with your shoulders when you press, put your ego aside and implement the pause – it took me until age 52 to figure that out, so consider this a head start!

Body Composition: Body comp has never been my strong suit. When my focus was primarily on the Olympic lifts, things like squats, presses, and pulls received only cursory attention – by the time I got to squats, I often had nothing left in the tank.

But by putting my primary focus on “big” multi-joint movements done for higher volumes and longer time-under-tensions than what I was used to, lo and behold, I actually started developing a physique. And while I’ve never particularly cared much about aesthetics, I have to admit it’s fun to at least look like I spend time in the gym.

Improved Olympic Lifts: Perhaps the most pleasant outcome occurred as I gradually started reintroducing power snatches and clean and jerks into my prep. Not only did I discover that I could still perform a workable clean and jerk despite my elbow issues, but in late April – after just five sessions and not having performed a single C&J for more than 6 months – I reached 95% of my best C&J ever, despite weighing significantly less and having not practiced that lift in months. I also reached 98% of my best snatch, after only a handful of sessions on that lift as well.

An even more remarkable surprise was that, for years, both snatches and jerks have been problematic on my shoulders, particularly my left shoulder. Remarkably, I found that suddenly, I’m performing very heavy snatches and jerks completely pain free.

This was one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced in my entire training career. I attribute this to the 6-month break away from these lifts that allowed my old shoulder injuries to heal, but I also believe that bench pressing contributed to my overall shoulder integrity. Furthermore, I became much stronger as a whole, which certainly contributed to my shoulder health and integrity.

Prologue: What I’m Up To Now…

Heavy Lessons

My current goal is to be ready to do either a powerlifting meet or a weightlifting meet at short notice, any time of the year, while continuing to improve my body comp and staying injury-free at the same time. In other words, I want to be a bit more well-rounded as I get older, and I’m having a lot of fun getting stronger in my 50’s without nursing injuries in the process.

The take-home lesson is, there’s lots for all of us to learn, even if we’re well-known experts who’ve been training for decades. I humbly hope that this story has inspired you to reach out and seek new challenges for yourself – no matter how good you are, no matter how much you may know, no matter how old you are, there are new heights for all of us to reach.

Deadlift Assistance 911

Deadlift Assistance 911
When I was a little kid, my parents once had to call 911 for me. It wasn’t for anything serious, though. I was going about my normal routine of being awesome – running like a maniac and jumping over stuff – when disaster struck. I fell into a hole.
My leg was wedged. My knee was pinned against the front wall and my foot against the back. It took two firemen to get me out.
I watched Rescue 911 for months waiting for my segment to air but it never did. I realize now, 20 years later, that a six-year-old stuck in a culvert isn’t exactly television worthy. But man, at the time, I was pissed at William Shatner.
A lot of deadlifts suffer the same fate – they get stuck in a hole. Sometimes the hole is deep and the entire movement needs an overhaul. But more often than not, a deadlift that needs saving is pinned in a shallow hole, not all that different from the one I was in. All that’s needed is attention to a weakness that’s pulling the movement out of balance.
This article will examine the pitfalls that can betray each phase, along with the best movements to save your deadlift. If you’ve felt your deadlift sinking slowly into a hole, here’s the answer to your 911 call.

Speed Off the Floor

The first question you should ask yourself when you’re having issues early in the pull is, “Am I tight enough?”
Check your grip, make sure you have the slack out of the bar, and secure a tight back – you can now confidently say that you’re tight enough. If you’re still slow off the floor, you need to develop speed and power.
Here are the best deadlift speed exercises.

Concentric-Only Jumps

Deadlift Assistance 911
Most jump training includes a full cycle of muscle contraction – eccentric on the down phase and concentric on the up phase. But the deadlift start is in the bottom position with limited stretch reflex, so we can’t count greatly on the elasticity of the myofascia.
Instead, we have to start jump training in the bottom position, using only the concentric phase to replicate speed off the floor. Remember that the stretch reflex can linger in the myofascia for close to a second, so when you prepare to do the following jumps make sure you’re holding in the bottom position for 2-3 seconds.

Box Jumps

As you sink into the bottom position to start concentric-only box jumps, run your hands down your legs and set up in your starting deadlift form. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds and jump.
The videos below show the body weight version and the loaded version that includes holding two dumbbells.

Seated Jumps

Starting in a seated position limits the stretch reflex and has the added bonus of a strong glute and hamstring contraction as you start to jump.
Here are the box jump and broad jump versions of the seated jump.

Swings, Hang Cleans, and Dynamic Effort Deadlifts

Though they aren’t concentric-only movements, swings and hang cleans improve pulling speed due to the violent hip extension involved in both exercises.
Performing both exercises, however, can be frustrating. If the O-lifts cause you performance anxiety, forget about it. Extend your hips violently from the hang position and drop under the bar. Unless you’re planning on mastering the movement to compete as an Oly lifter, it’s no big deal.
Swings, though, shouldn’t be butchered, as they are the simplest exercise in the world. Start with the kettlebell in front of you and then, while keeping your back flat, pull the kettlebell between your legs and extend your hips violently to swing it.
Tighten up as the kettlebell levels out at the top and don’t break at the hips until your arms hit your torso on the way back down. At no point should it look like a squat/front raise hybrid. The video below shows a great looking swing.

Dynamic effort pulls must be in your training if you’re slow off the floor. Jumping, swings, and hang cleans are great, but if you aren’t specifically applying speed to the deadlift, you’re a few shovels short of a digging party.
Unless you can pull over two times your body weight easily, don’t worry about accommodating resistance using bands and chains. Work on being fast with good form and bar weight.

Drive off the Floor

Deadlift Assistance 911
Remember back in college there was that skinny wide receiver that could jump through the ceiling but collapsed like a pile of laundry as soon as a bar was on his back? We want to avoid being the deadlift version of this guy.
If you’ve got hops and can pull a lightly loaded barbell with speed but still struggle off the floor with heavier weights, you need drive, which is where speed and strength meet to create power.
Great drive off the floor requires strong legs (especially quads) and powerful glutes. Squatting develops quads of strength and fury while building glutes that could crush walnuts, but when it comes to driving your deadlift off the floor, we can get more specific.

Anderson Squats

Paul Anderson was a behemoth and his ‘bottoms up’ squat method is the most devastating strategy to overcome inertia ever invented. Lifters have been using Anderson squats to get out of the hole of the squat for a long time, but they’re also killer for deadlift drive off the floor.
Both the regular and front versions of the Anderson squat are great for building deadlift power. That is, if your hips and knees move in unison and you don’t shift your hips forward to put the stress of the movement entirely on your quads. Check out the videos below for solid performance visuals.

Barbell Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusts

Bret Contreras hit the nail on the head with barbell glute bridges and hip thrusts. Not only do both exercises mold a derriere into something magnificent, but also they train for immense amounts of glute drive.
Get your glutes involved early in the lift to compliment quad drive and your deadlift will climb, and effective glutes are strong glutes. Do your bridges and hip thrusts, and do them heavy. See the video below.

Pulling Through the Mid-Range

Deadlift Assistance 911
The mid-range is the deadliest phase of the deadlift, the area most likely to send you back into the hole.
The good, and the bad, news is that most mid-range emergencies can be narrowed down to three problems: inability to maintain power off the floor, weak hamstrings, and loss of back tightness – with the former sometimes becoming the product of the latter two issues.
If it’s mid-range power you seek, check my article Half Pulls – Not Half Assed for ideas on adding accommodating resistance to partial range of motion deadlifts.
Weak hamstrings and a tight back need direct assistance work. There’s no complicated schematic; just picking targeted assistance work and using rep ranges that work for your body.
Hamstrings are best hit with glute ham raises and RDLs. I keep the reps around 6-10 for each movement, but you have to do what works for you. If you don’t have a glute ham raise at your gym, substitute lying leg curls or Russian leg curls on a lat or seated calf machine like in the video below.

Training for a tight back is accomplished by doing good mornings, both heavy and for reps. Focus on keeping your lats pulled tight and maintaining neutral spine. If you feel your back round you’ve either gone too low for your mobility level or didn’t keep your back tight.

Finishing the Pull

When I think about training to finish the deadlift, I think of Matt Kroczaleski. It’s been that way ever since I watched the video of him explaining how he developed Kroc rows. He couldn’t find anything that worked – until he trained the balls out of his lats using high rep one-arm rows and, like magic, he finished his pulls stronger. Finishing is all about the lats. Check out the video below.

Train your lats heavy and train your lats with high reps and you’ll get better at finishing your pulls. Also, don’t count out heavy barbell rows and other rowing variations done in the bent position. Rowing while bent builds strength through the entire posterior chain, which carries over to deadlifting. Keep the barbell rows heavy and use one-arm rows to train for reps.
Discounting our old friend the pull-up would be a travesty. Outside of the rowing variations mentioned, no other exercises are as effective for building thick and strong lats. Do them heavy, do them fast, and do them for reps.

Core and Grip

The deadlift is a core and grip exercise. But as you add wheels to the bar each can become a limiting factor if not up to snuff. Like any other weak point, you must address it during your assistance work.

Core Exercises


The deadlift is all about extension, yet one of the best core assistance exercises for the lift is based on anti-extension, the rollout. Being able to resist over-extension creates stability in the lumbo-pelvic complex, allowing you to recruit your glutes and pull like crazy. See the video below.

Front Squats

The front squat is a great exercise for building leg drive, but if you’re failing to hold extension as you pull, front squats also train you to stay tall by coordinating a hard abdominal brace with a contraction of the lats and upper-back musculature. Training for better T-spine extension while strengthening your abs will improve your deadlift.

Reverse Crunches

Reverse crunches don’t meet the badass quotient of rollouts or front squats, but they’re useful for creating lumbo-pelvic stability. Excessive lordosis of the lumbar spine caused by repeated extension limits stability and hinders recruitment patterns. Reverse crunches correct hyperextension and create balance.

Grip Exercises

Barbell Suitcase Holds

I labeled them as a grip exercise, but suitcase holds combine grip and core training. They present a serious grip challenge, training crushing strength and forearm leverage strength. At the same time you’re presented with a strong stimulus to avoid lateral flexion. Your obliques, lats, and glutes work like crazy to keep you from bending like a willow tree.

Fat Bar Cleans

I won’t piss on your leg and tell you that it’s raining – fat bar cleans are rough. Any barbell exercise done with a fat bar requires a grip commitment, but adding the wrist extension of the clean marries you to the exercise. A few sets of five at the end of your training session and you’ll be steering with your elbows on the drive home.

Kroc Rows

Kroc rows train you to finish the pull out of the deadlift hole while training your grip for endurance, provided you don’t use straps. Grab a heavy dumbbell and rep it for 30. It could be the shovel that digs you out of the hole.

Make the Call

Deadlift Assistance 911
There’s no hole that’s too deep to pull your deadlift out of, and it’s never too late to call for help. But for the best assistance, you have to know why you got stuck. Give your deadlift an honest assessment and then come back to this article and make the call.


Half-Pulls – Not Half-Assed

Half-Pulls – Not Half-Assed

That’s what grandpa used to say when I’d help him with the yard work. Admittedly, I was quite the lazy ten year-old, but when the threat of the boot came down I’d straighten up and get the raking and mowing done. Instead of a half-ass, I’d become a full-ass.
Partial range of motion deadlifts, unfortunately, often receive a similar half-assed treatment. That’s a downright shame as partial pulls can transform anemic deadlifts and skinny hamstrings into impressive full deadlifts and a posterior chain that gets noticed. It’s time partial pulls get the respect they deserve.

Educating the Hips

Most of us have stupid hips. Sitting all day kills our hip IQ. It’s like the old egg in a skillet as your brain on drugs metaphor. “This is your ass. This is your ass after eight hours in a chair.” For normal working stiffs that just hop in the car and head home after work without a thought of deadlifting, that might be okay (although, it probably isn’t).
But we’re out for pulling dominance, so we need to reeducate our hips to recruit the right muscles at the right times.
Unfortunately, postural issues such as anterior pelvic tilt dominate many of us. This results in short (and usually weak) hip flexors, weak/inhibited glutes, and hamstrings that bail on us like a Kardashian with a pre-nup.
Without strong hamstrings to pick up the slack when our quad drive dies out, we’re left incapable of pulling the bar past the knee barrier – too low for our glutes (if they’re firing well) and lats to finish off the pull.
Basic partial-range pull variations like the rack pull and deadlift off blocks are great for taking the glutes and hamstrings to deadlift school. Because the bar is set anywhere from low on the shins to just below the knees, the involvement of the quads is limited. This gives the hamstrings a chance to let their true colors shine. Rather than hanging the glutes out to dry, the hamstrings get back to keeping the weight moving through the mid-range of the pull, provided we use weight that keeps us within the confines of good form.
As a bonus, we can also position our hips advantageously (with good hip-hinge mechanics) to recruit the hamstrings and glutes while the bar moves through the mid-range. Some coaches take exception to this notion, arguing that “pulling from an advantageous position doesn’t carry over to the full range pull,” to which I respectively say, “bullshit.”
A good coach teaches movements in segments so their clients and athletes learn good form through each portion of a movement before being subjected to the Full Monty. This is referred to as a top-down training progression. The deadlift is no exception.
Teaching the hips to pull from different starting points gives the body a memory to draw on when the going gets tough and form starts to break down. And this lesson isn’t just for the newbies – we veterans also need refreshers. Training for longer periods can often lead to subtle bad lifting habits. Breaking down the deadlift helps prevent these habits from becoming major issues.
Check out the video below for a rack pull refresher.

Notice that my hips are positioned where they would be if it were a full range deadlift. The glutes and hams squeeze the weight off the pins and the lats finish it off.
Below is an example of the deadlift off blocks. While they’re less convenient than rack pulls, they more closely replicate a deadlift off the floor as the plates are resting on an elevated surface rather than the bar resting on pins. As you initiate the pull, the “slack” will come out of the bar and you’ll get an inch before the weight starts moving, much like a full range deadlift.

The hip positioning is similar to a rack pull and deadlifts off of blocks can be loaded intensely. But if you’re planning on training with Jim “Smitty’ Smith of Diesel Strength, don’t make the mistake I did. Start out with a hook grip, not an alternated one.
Smitty recommends the double overhand grip (with or without the thumb hook) because it’s safer. Many athletes and gym goers alike stand with excessive internal rotation at the glenohumeral joints and kyphotic upper-back posture. This suboptimal posture puts stress on the biceps of the supinated arm during an alternated deadlift grip, thereby increasing the chance of a tear.

Finishing Power

Half-Pulls – Not Half-Assed

Speed-strength (high velocity low load) and strength-speed (high velocity high load) are both important for maximal strength. There are many technical terms that can be used here: rate coding, motor unit synchronization, and rate of force development are a few. But the important take away is the faster you move – or attempt to move – a weight, the more motor units you’ll recruit. It’s about hot, nasty speed.
Speed off the floor is necessary for a successful pull, and training for speed-strength can raise a deadlift number steadily, at least for a little while.
But where do we go when speed deads are no longer effective? When we’ve exhausted dynamic effort deadlifts versus bands and chains? When pulling from a deficit is no longer stoking the flame and heavy pull attempts are again failing at the knees, there has to be another strength catalyst. Thankfully, there is: the rack pull versus bands.

Rack Pulls Versus Bands

Half-Pulls – Not Half-Assed

With speed deads being an application of speed-strength, rack pulls versus bands work well as an application of strength-speed.
Training speed-strength will take you a long way, but as the weight you’re able to move becomes heavier, strength-speed must become a focus. When max effort attempts become slow grinders it’s strength-speed that maintains the power you’ve generated off the floor. Having good levels of strength-speed means you’ll be able to keep the weight moving at a constant rate, rather than feeling it slow down as it approaches your knees.
Bands provide accommodating resistance by overloading the lockout, forcing bar acceleration throughout the entire pull. When training for speed, a standard rack pull won’t cut it because deceleration will take precedence over acceleration as the bar approaches lockout.
The bands also keep us honest. Rather than slapping plates on the bar with typical meathead disregard, we have to account for the tension of the bands. Add too much bar weight and you’ll be left doing the involuntary shakes when the bar hits mid-thigh.
To generate the most speed off the pins you must concentrate on tension and breathing. Make sure you’re belly breathing, setting your grip as hard as possible and bracing your core hard (lats pulled tight, abs contracted). Also, reset between each rep. This will make the exercise safer and give you a chance to produce more power.
Like regular rack pulls, rack pulls versus bands can be done with the bar set anywhere from low on the shins to just below the knees. Just remember that the higher up your shins the bar is, the more band tension required.
Here are two examples of rack pulls versus bands; one mid-shins and one just below the knees.


Serious Back Mass

What if your goal isn’t to pull as much iron as possible? Maybe you just want bigger, thicker lats and traps; perhaps an upper-back that makes shirt collars scream uncle? Partial range deadlifts can help build a yoke that would turn an ox green with envy.
The “how-to” is relatively simple and follows the normal rules of muscle hypertrophy. More weight plus more time under tension equals bigger muscles.
Rack pulls, along with other partial range deadlifts, can be loaded at a higher intensity than a full-range deadlift can be, creating greater amounts of muscular tension. Since the range of motion is decreased, we can also work with higher loads for a greater amount of reps, increasing the total time under tension.
So rather than being able to pull 400 pounds for 1-2 reps with a rack pull, you can rip it for a set of 6-8. It’s a perfect equation for fantastic lats and traps, with the bonus being that the weight is moving mainly through the top half of the deadlift motion, where the lats are increasingly active.
Strong guys know that burning out your nervous system and diminishing your ability to recover by hitting high rep, full deadlifts isn’t necessary. Keep the full range deadlift sets heavy and for low reps (1-5) and then add in partial range pulls during your assistance work for higher reps (6-8). If you want to get your back big in a hurry, high-rep rack pulls are a tool you can count on.

Pulling into a Partial Range Cycle

Half-Pulls – Not Half-Assed

A little while back I went through some deadlifting woes. Although it was a long, frustrating ordeal, it did allow me to experiment with my training. I eventually came up with a partial pull progression that had a great deal of carry-over to my conventional deadlift. If your deadlift is in a bad way, this cycle could be your guide back to the right track.
Check it out:

Week Exercise Sets Reps
1 Reverse band deadlift 7 1*
2 Mid-shin rack pull 5 2-3
3 High Bartley pull 4/2 2/1
4 Reverse band deadlift 4 1*

So how the hell did reverse band deadlifts sneak into this cycle? It’s supposed to be a partial range of motion cycle, right? Well, I count reverse band deadlifts as a partial range deadlift movement because the full effect of the weight isn’t felt until the bar travels to your mid-shins, or beyond.
Not familiar with the reverse band deadlift? Here’s a video demo:

Notice the bands going slack as the bar approaches lockout? Take another look at the video. Right before the bar gets to the knees the band tension dies, so does the assistance provided by the bands. I’m left by my lonesome to lock out the weight – but this is a good thing.
Again, the concentration has to be on bar speed. As the plates break the floor, the goal is to “race” the bands to the top. If you win the race you’ll generate enough bar speed to keep heavy weights moving when the band tension dies, thus training you to pull fast during the top half of your deadlift. Lose the race and you’ll be a hunched, frustrated man with iron in his hands that’s dangling in rubber bands.
This cycle is great for training the lockout because it progresses from an assisted movement (reverse band deadlifts) to a movement that uses accommodating resistance (high Bartley pulls), then allows for the realization of the training adaptation during the fourth week.
You get faster while moving heavy weights because the focus is always on bar speed. The reverse band deadlift during week four can be replaced with conventional deads if you want to take advantage of the bar speed you gained during the previous three weeks. When I used this cycle, however, I waited until week six to test my deadlift, using week five as a down week and stepping away from the bar.

Pulling it all Together

I’ve got a little too much of my grandpa in me, so I’ll never pardon a half-assed effort, be it in the weight-room or out in the real world. And considering partial range pulls can save your deadlift and kick-start some serious posterior chain development, you’re only shooting your skinny self in the foot by not doing them.
So roll up your sleeves and hit those pulls with focus and intensity, and free yourself from deadlifting mediocrity. But before you do, finish your yard work – those leaves aren’t going to rake themselves!

Are You Ignorant When it Comes to the Deadlift?

Are You Ignorant When it Comes to the Deadlift?

It’s not always apparent, and is often poorly understood. Stated succinctly, stupid is not your fault – you were born that way. You’re just dumb. You can’t learn.
Ignorance means you just don’t know. Ignorance probably is your fault, because you’ve failed to inform yourself. This is especially true since the advent of the internet has enabled the most universal and thorough dissemination of information in the history of human communication.
The obvious problem is that 95% of that information is wrong, which follows my popular maxim: 95% of all the shit that occurs everywhere is completely fucked up. The internet is no different.
But you can, with a little diligence, tease out the facts if you want to. If you’re interested in a subject, it eventually falls upon you to distill the truth from the bullshit.
This you’ll do gladly, if you’re interested enough to devote significant amounts of time and effort to it, because an intelligent person realizes that bullshit is a waste of time. A stupid person might not appreciate this, and therefore continue to be ignorant of the truth of a matter.
Take the deadlift, for example. It’s the most basic, obvious movement in barbell training, the one with the most carryover to everyday tasks and the easiest to learn of all the basic exercises.
You just step up to the bar with a vertical-jump stance width, with toes out and your shins about an inch from the bar, grab it just outside your stance with your knees still straight, then bend your knees forward and out a little bit until your shins touch the bar, squeeze your chest up until your back is flat, take a big breath, and drag the bar up your legs until you’re standing up straight.
See? One (admittedly run-on) sentence describes the whole thing.
But just because a task can be described simply doesn’t mean that there aren’t any important details. Fortunately, they can be built into the instructions, if the instructor is clever. Our one-sentence deadlift instruction carries a lot of important information, and if it’s followed correctly and intelligently, it’ll result in a perfect deadlift every time.
Let’s take it a step at a time and see what we can learn from this simple approach to an uncomplicated movement.

The Uncomplicated Deadlift

Are You Ignorant When it Comes to the Deadlift?

Stance Width

The stance width of a vertical jump is narrower than most novices’ deadlift, but it shouldn’t be. A push into the floor should have the mid-foot directly under the hip joint, and this is the stance width that allows you to push the floor without losing force to any shear that will develop along a laterally-angled leg (the sumo stance intentionally widens the stance to artificially shorten the legs, and trades the benefit of a more vertical back for the inefficiency of the angled legs – but we’re not sumo-ing right now).


Most people jump with toes pointed slightly out, and this toes-out stance is very helpful for the deadlift. It gets the thighs out of the way of the belly, which helps set your back flatter and it gets the groin muscles and the external rotators involved in the pull. Konstantinovs demonstrates this when he pulls, as have many great deadlifters through the history of powerlifting.

Bar Position

Placing the bar about an inch from your shins puts the bar directly over your mid-foot, precisely where the bar wants to be anyway, because that’s the point over which the load balances.
When you stand up straight with your feet even, where are you in balance? On your toes? On your heels? Bad idea. In either of these positions, you have to exert more effort to stand than when balanced in the middle. The mid-foot is the place that’s furthest away from both those positions of imbalance. This also applies to the deadlift.
An intelligent person will verify this by watching YouTube videos of heavy deadlifts where he’ll see that every heavy deadlift travels up in a vertical path, sliding up the shins from a fairly vertical shin angle. Even if the lifter starts with the bar forward of this position, the bar will roll back to the mid-foot before it leaves the ground.
Likewise, this same intelligent person will notice that the bar locks out at the top directly over the mid-foot. Why would you intentionally pull the bar from a position that’s horizontally different from the one you’re pulling it to? Well, you wouldn’t unless you’re stupid, so that’s where the bar starts.


Are You Ignorant When it Comes to the Deadlift?

Your grip should be designed to make the bar travel the shortest possible distance to lockout, and this means that the arms will hang parallel to each other when you grip the bar. This is accomplished by taking the narrowest grip you can without your hands rubbing your legs on the way up. So your grip will be where your hands line up with the widest point of your stance.
Most novices take too wide a stance, and therefore too wide a grip. Most elite lifters take a close grip. Verify this for yourself. If your stance is correct, your arms will hang straight down when seen from the front and you’ll have pulled the bar the shortest distance it can travel to lockout.
During the process of taking the grip you do not move the bar, because you just intentionally put it exactly where it needs to be, over the mid-foot.

Setting Up the Pull

You haven’t bent your legs yet, but now you need to drop your knees forward until your shins touch the bar. This motion places the shins at a slight forward angle that leaves the bar over the mid-foot while in contact with the shins.
If you drop your hips, your knees will travel forward and shove the bar forward of the mid-foot. So don’t drop your hips.
Remember, don’t move the bar. That would be stupid.
Just after you touch the bar with your shins, push your knees out very slightly. This keeps your thighs lined up with your slightly pointed-out toes and allows your groin muscles and lateral hip muscles to engage during the pull.
If you’re a bigger guy, you’ll immediately notice that it’s easier to get in position over the bar if your thighs are out of the way of your gut, as mentioned earlier. The knees-out motion takes full advantage of the toes-out stance, the smartest thing to do as you prepare to pull.

Chest Up, Back Set

Now comes the most important part of the procedure. Squeeze your chest up to set your back. Don’t drop your hips like everybody else does, and like you’ve been doing, too. Just leave your ass where it is after your shins touch the bar and set your back from the top down by squeezing your chest up into thoracic extension and letting that wave of extension carry itself down to your low back.
Watch Brad Gillingham do his 881-pound deadlift and you’ll see that it can be done quite effectively without a drop of the hips. It’s hard, because your back is fighting with your hamstrings for control of your pelvis and your back has to win. It may feel odd the first couple of reps, but as you warm up it will get easier. Regardless, the chest-up motion will always be the hardest part of the setup.
The fact is, if it’s easy, you did it wrong.

The Deadlift is Not a Squat

You must understand this: you’re not trying to squat the weight off the floor with the bar in your hands. This doesn’t work, as you may have noticed if you’ve watched enough deadlifting to be informed about what really occurs when heavy weights are pulled off the floor.
When the weight gets heavy, you can drop your hips as low as you want to and push the bar as far forward as it takes to make you happy, but what actually happens before the bar leaves the floor isalways the same:
The shoulders-just-in-front-of-the-bar position is a feature of all pulls that are heavy enough, whether deadlift, clean, or snatch. I take a shot at explaining why in the new 3rd edition of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training (hint: it has to do with the lats).
By now you’ve looked again at all the deadlift videos and seen this position establish itself every time, regardless of whether the lifter initiated the lift correctly or incorrectly (if the lifter initiated the lift incorrectly, the hips rise and the back angle changes until the shoulders are just in front of the bar anyhow).
You can identify this position because the arms don’t hang straight down plumb, but rather hang at a slight angle when viewed from the side. While you were looking at them again, you also noticed the bar travels a vertical path. In fact, if you fuck the pull up too badly (i.e. let it get forward of the mid-foot anywhere in the pull so that the bar path isn’t vertical) it won’t go up – unless it’s a sub-maximal attempt.
So squeezing the chest up as the best way to set your back merely incorporates the facts that you’ve gathered by watching the videos and informing yourself. If you set your back in the position it likes to pull from anyway, you minimize wasted motion before the pull and you create a simple procedure for doing it the same way every time.

The Lockout

Are You Ignorant When it Comes to the Deadlift?

All that remains is dragging the bar up your legs to lockout. “Dragging” implies contact, and contact all the way up ensures the vertical bar path; if you let it go forward as it passes your knees on the way up, you’ll have let it drift forward of the mid-foot, and thus gotten out-of-balance.
But if you’ve set your back correctly and started the pull with the bar over mid-foot, it will come up your shins and your thighs in a straight vertical line, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a mechanically pleasing configuration.

Less Bounce to the Ounce

Of course, you have to keep your back flat, and that takes strength in the lumbar erectors that can only be built with heavy deadlifts done correctly. It has become fashionable in random exercise/”functional movement” gyms to permit the use of bumper plates and a bounce off the floor for all the reps of a set of deadlifts after the first one.
This isn’t “functional” – no sane, responsible person picks up a heavy object by bouncing it off the floor because that might break something. An informed person knows that if you don’t use a muscle, you won’ttrain that muscle. Common sense dictates this fact, and no particular intelligence is required to arrive at this conclusion.
Simple observation tells us that people who bounce their deadlifts aren’t very strong off the floor. Experience informs me that if a 185-pound man with three years of barbell “training” comes to my seminar lacking the ability to deadlift 300 pounds with a flat back, he’s probably been bouncing his deadlifts.
The lumbar erectors are the muscles that hold the lumbar spine in extension. If you fail to use them for that purpose during a deadlift, they won’t adapt to this isometric task, and you’ll have turned the most basic back exercise in the gym into a ridiculous circus trick.
Let’s be honest: you bounce your deadlifts because it’s easier to do more reps that way. But you know this already, because you were never that ignorant.
Reset all your reps and make your low back get strong enough to hold itself flat during a maximum deadlift attempt. Even if more reps are the goal, a stronger back is the only way to achieve it.
There may be a slight tendency for the bar to drift forward as it comes off the floor. When this happens, it’s usually because you’ve rocked forward during the setup so that your weight is forward of the mid-foot. Shoes with heels can do this, as can a misperception of your start position.
If this happens, you’re probably too far forward, with your shoulders too far in front of the bar and your back too horizontal. To correct this, rock back off of your toes, reset your chest up, and think about actually pushing your mid-foot into the floor, instead of pulling on the bar.

That Wasn’t So Hard, Was It?

Deadlifts are one of the easiest lifts to learn and do correctly. It usually takes me about five minutes to fix an incorrect deadlift, and everyone I fix tells me that the movement feels “shorter.” We know that the trip from floor to lockout is pretty much the same distance, wrong or right, unless your grip is very wide, so what is responsible for this change in perception?
There are two components of the system – the lifter and the barbell. If the bar travels the same distance from floor to lockout, it can’t be the source of the difference in perception. It’s the lifter, whose ass is no longer waving around in the air before the lift starts. This decrease in body movement and increase in efficiency results in the perception of a shorter pull, even though the bar travels the same distance.
So, now that you’re not ignorant, stop acting like you are. Do your deadlifts correctly, efficiently, and with impressive weights. Usually, the simplest method is the smartest method to use.


5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

I remember the first time I deadlifted “heavy.”
Granted, I’d pulled what I thought was heavy before, but I’m talking about my first legit grinding, eyeball-popping, “I’m glad I didn’t wear those white shorts Grandma got me for Christmas” kind of a pull.
It was October of 2000, and I was gearing up for my first powerlifting meet. It was also the first semester in my Masters program, so we had to train at six in the morning. Needless to say, this isn’t the optimal time for neurally demanding lifting!
Powerlifting seemed like a great fit since I was no longer active in any organized sports and I needed an outlet for my competitive juices. Although I had no clue what I was getting into, I knew I wanted to get stronger and learn more about lifting technique.
On this particular day, the goal was to determine what a good opening weight would be in our meet. I’d done a set of five at either 275 or 285, so I figured 335 would come up lightning fast.
It didn’t. Sure, I grinded it out, but “easy” wasn’t the word that first came to mind.
I learned a powerful lesson that day: deadlifting heavy is hard friggin’ work. It separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the serious lifters from the cable curl kids.
If you’re serious about your training and your physique, then the deadlift is an animal you need to tame. This article will help you do just that.
Here are five tips to help you take your pull to all-new levels.

1. Get Your Lats Tight!

Possibly the most common mistake I see when deadlifts get heavy is the bar drifting away from the body.
Many lifters assume that a deadlift is just picking the bar straight up, but this isn’t effective! As you pile on the plates, you need to think about and so that your weight shifts backward slightly.
If you find your lats are too weak, start performing some heavy upper back work, specifically vertical pulls (chinning/pulling) and horizontal pulls (rowing). Doing so will not only improve your pulls but also increase the thickness of your back, and probably bump up your bench press to boot.
This tip alone is worth the price of admission. Keeping the bar in tight helps ensure every pull is smooth and efficient.

2. Get Your Hips Down

Lifters often miss deadlifts because their lift is 100% lower back dominated.
We walk a fine line here. You don’t want the hips down too low – this isn’t a squat – but if there’s virtually no knee bend and the lift looks like two distinct motions (hips shoot up, lower back finishes), you need to get your hips down more.
The best deadlifters in the world make it look smooth. Their torso angle starts in a certain position and they get enough leg drive to keep their hips underneath them. It’s much easier to finish the weight this way than if you’re totally hunched over and reliant on your lower back.
The down side? Your weights are going to go down, at least for the time being.
However, in the long run, getting your hips down will not only give you more leg drive, it will also keep your back healthier. This is a true win-win.

3. Strengthen Those Hamstrings!

5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

There’s no way you’re going to pull a ridiculously heavy weight if your hamstrings resemble over-stretched dental floss. The question is, what kind of hamstring assistance work is going to drive up your deadlift to newfound heights?
If you miss at the top, you’re probably weak in the hip extensor function of the hamstrings. To bring this up, focus on big-bang assistance lifts like good mornings, Romanian deadlifts, safety bar good mornings, and the like.
If you miss in the bottom, focus on developing the knee flexor function of the hamstrings. Start with ball leg curls to develop the pattern of maintaining hip extension while simultaneously flexing the knee, but eventually glute-ham raises should be a big part of your program. There’s simply so substitute for them.

4. Mix it Up

Specificity is critical if you want to move maximal weights in any lift.
For instance, if you want to squat a lot, you need to squat a lot. If you want to bench a lot, you need to bench a lot.
In other words, you need to practice how you play!
The deadlift is a slightly different animal. Even if you never have aspirations of lifting in powerlifting gear, employing chains and/or bands into your training can pay dividends and help you set some PR’s along the way.
When using chains or bands, you’ve got two options:
  • Lifting against the bands or chains
  • Lifting with the bands.
I’m sure some of you are wondering, “I’ve never used these before. How can I work them into my training?”
I’ve found two types of mesocycles with bands and chains to be effective:
The first option is a two-week rotation. This is a good choice if you’re already an experienced deadlifter, or if you need to rotate your exercises a bit more frequently.
In this case, pick one exercise and use it for two weeks. It looks something like this:

Exercise: Deadlifts against bands

In this variation you’ll simply swap exercises every two weeks. So for two weeks you’ll perform deadlifts against bands, and then the next two-week cycle you’ll pull against chains, or with bands, etc.
The key with this option is to not max out every other week. It will be tempting, but I suggest only going for a legitimate PR every 2-3 months.
For those less experienced with bands/chains or who need a bit more time to “learn” an exercise, here’s a better option. We’ll stick with our example of deadlifting against bands.
Using this method you’ll simply rotate from month-to-month, or mesocycle to mesocycle.
Your months might look like this:
Finish month #4 with a taper, and then test your pull. Chances are if your technique is on point and you’ve picked good assistance exercises, you’re going to set a serious PR!

5. Don’t be Afraid to Grind!

5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

One of my biggest pet peeves is when new or young lifters fail to stick with a lift.
Look, there are times when you need to know when to bail. If the bar gets out in front of you, you’re horribly rounded over, or the weight is just too damn heavy, fine.
But what irritates me to no end is when someone hits the sticking point, holds the weight there for .23 seconds, and then drops the weight.
Look, if deadlifting heavy were easy, everyone would do it. Instead, you’ve got to learn how to grind.
Want to know what a grinder really looks like? Here’s my training partner Lil’ Stevie. He’ll teach ya how to grind!
This weight was just too much. Sometimes it happens. But he can walk away from that attempt knowing he gave it everything he had, and next time around, that weight will be his.
Hopefully you can say the same thing.


In no way was this list meant to be all-inclusive – I could probably come up with another 10, 15, even 25 tips to improve your deadlift without breaking a sweat. But these five are my all-time favorite tricks for adding pounds to your pull today!
Take a moment to review these tips and see where your tugging game may be lacking. Then, leave your own favorite deadlifting tip in the “Comments” section below. I look forward to seeing what’s worked for you!


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