Two Cues to Skyrocket Your Deadlift

As you all know, I love lifting heavy things.  But beyond my tough exterior, I also like to think there's a softer, gentler side - I was a ball of tears when watching "The Fault in Our Stars;" I'm a sucker for Puggle and Shiba Inu puppies; I also love long walks on the beach.

Just kidding, I hate long walks.  And the beach.

Nonetheless, I wanted to share that there's more to me than JUST deadlifts (plus, being able to deadlift over 500 pounds creates a safety net for me to share my softer side.)  Why?  Because this week's post is about - you guessed it - deadlifts.

As I referenced last week, I hit a new PR of 506 lbs at a bodyweight of 188.  While I didn't catch it on video, my reaction was pretty close to Paul Rudd in this lip sync:

Anyway, by my calculations my recent PR made for a 2.7x bodyweight lift....which puts me even closer to the elite club of lifting 3x my own bodyweight.  I say all of that because when it comes to the deadlift, I may know a thing or two.

Below are the two biggest cues that have really transformed my deadlift from a shaky 350 (when my back didn't feel terrific afterwards), into a somewhat easy 506.  Hopefully you can take something from these and apply it as well:

1) Starting today, think of the exercise as a "Dead-Push."

Far too often, the biggest mistake I see in deadlifts is trying to yank/pull the weight off the floor.  I mean, that's sorta natural right?  After all, "lift" is in the name of the damn exercise!  Wrong.

Usually, this mistake can be seen by someone's hips coming up too early, bending the elbows right before the lift, or the alignment of someone's spine changing right as they begin the movement.  The problem with thinking of the movement as a "pull" is that doing so tends to take away our leg drive and decrease our overall stability - making us both weaker and more subject to injury.

See this?  Yeah, don't do this.

See this?  Yeah, don't do this.

At the bottom of a deadlift, instead of thinking that you're trying to pull it off the floor, think about putting as much force into the ground as humanly possible.  Instead of "pulling the bar up," changing the perspective to  "pushing the floor away," does two things: 1) puts our focus on external cues and 2) doesn't feed into dysfunctional lower back patterns.  Let me explain.  

First, there's a whole heck of a lot of research out there showing that externally-focused cues are the bomb-diggity (yup, haven't used that phrase since 2002).  Honestly, it makes a lot of sense.  What's going to produce a stronger and better muscle contraction?  Telling someone to "breathe through your left nostril, expand your diaphragm, brace your abdominals, then contract your quads and glutes by extending your knees"....or telling someone to get tight and break the floor with their feet?  Paralysis by analysis, indeed.  

Second, when we try and "pull" the barbell off the floor, we tend to feed into some dysfunctional lower back patterns.  Rather than relying on our hips for the movement, I've seen the perspective of "pulling" feed into our lower backs getting cranked on.  Does it complete the lift?  Yes....but it comes at the expense of core stability and lower back pain.  By pushing through the floor, it helps to keep us braced and our spines happy.

I can't even list how many clients of mine have been helped by this shift in deadlift thought, and it's helped me immeasurably with my own technique.  In fact, the only times I ever feel my lower back on a deadlift is when I'm not thinking about pushing through the floor.

2) Focus on doing everything correctly, and the weight is going to take care of itself.

File this one under Weight Lifting Psychology or Mental Discipline.  But, it's important.

Out of all the main exercises, deadlifts tend to tend to get the worst rap.  There's this overwhelming sense in many people's minds that deadlifts are going to hurt their lower backs, and with good reason - with horrible technique or too heavy a load, that's a real possibility.  There's also plenty of YouTube videos proving that fear correct (which for the purposes of killing this notion, I will not link to..)

There's also the human tendency to have your mind stray to about 87 other things when the weight gets heavy, other than technique.  Such as:

  • What if I get hurt?
  • What if I it's too heavy?
  • Milk was a bad choice..

The irony, of course, is that when your only thoughts are "I hope I don't hurt my back!" tend to hurt your back.

So when it really starts to get heavy, focus instead on doing everything correctly.  The weight is going to take care of itself if you do your part.  It's what I do every rep, even when I'm only warming up.  

By focusing on the process, and not the result, it's going to make you a better lifter.  It's simple, but not easy.