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Default 12-21-2006, 03:51 AM

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Dead Zone

The Top 10 Deadlifting Mistakes and How to Fix Them


Dave Tate


I go on the road for a seminar, I have to find a place to train. Most of the

time this isn't a problem because I have to secure a gym to run the second half

of my seminar anyhow, and usually they have the basic training needs. I always

try to fly out on a Friday afternoon, after my dynamic-squat workout, and then

get back home Sunday night so I can get to the gym Monday morning for my max-effort

squat and deadlift training session. This way, all I have to do while on the

road is catch a dynamic-bench workout.


session doesn't require very much so I usually don't have any problems.


there was one time I had to fly into a location on a Wednesday afternoon. This

meant I'd have to find a place to squat on Friday morning. While this may not

seem like a big deal to some, to me it would present a major change. When I

got to my hotel I pulled out the yellow pages and turned to the health-club



was looking for something like "Iron Pit" or some other hardcore name. It didn't

take long to see I wasn't going to find such a place in the phonebook, so it

was on to my second choice. I started looking for a Power House, World Gym or

Gold's. I found one about ten minutes away and thought I was set.


breakfast on Friday morning I was going over my workout in my head. I was planning

on using 405 with the strong bands on the box squat. Then I'd move on to speed

deadlifts, lower back, and abs. I already knew I was going to have to find some

way to rig up the bands and probably find something to sit on instead of the

box. After I finished my breakfast I gathered my bag and headed to the gym.


I pulled into the parking lot I began to feel this was going to be a long day.

From the outside the place looked too nice. Those of you who train in

a hardcore gym know exactly what I mean. I entered the club (after being blinded

by the neon) and spoke with the front desk girl. I signed my wavier, paid my

dues, and headed for the one and only power rack.


is when I saw something I couldn't believe. The bar was loaded with a dime on

each end and some guy was doing barbell curls in the damn power rack! Not to

be a dick, I waited until he finished what seemed to be ten sets and then made

my way over to the rack.


started by setting up a few dumbbells on each side of the rack to attach my

bands to and then picked out the best bar I could find. They actually had an

Okie Squat Bar. This made my day because it's very difficult for a big man to

use a standard Olympic bar for the squat. I found a set of aerobic steps to

use as a box and started my warm-ups.


warm-ups felt pretty good, considering the environment I had to train in, but

I did notice about a thousand eyes on me trying to figure out what the hell

I was doing. A few people even came over to ask. As I began to explain, I realized

they were cutting into my timed rest intervals so I pulled out the back-up plan.

I put on my headphones, cranked the DMX and got to work. The squat session went

very well. The speed was good, my form stayed in check, and all and all it was

a good session. So I stripped the bar, took off the headphones and began to

set up for my second movement.


planned on speed-deadlifting 405 for five or six singles. This is mainly to

work on deadlift technique, so I really didn't need any type of psyche-up. I

just had to pull fast with good form. I learned from Louie a long time ago that

to get a good deadlift you don't need to train the deadlift heavy all

the time. At first I thought he was full of shit, but in time I put 40 pounds

on my deadlift and became a believer. Now that Westside has a ton of lifters

pulling in the 700s and six lifters in the 800s, I have very little doubt it


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Stafford deadlifting 800 pounds.


first set felt like crap. The bar was too far in front of me and I didn't keep

my shoulders behind the bar. This was no problem as I'd adjust on my next set.

The second set felt great. I hit the groove and the bar felt about a hundred

pounds lighter. I try to keep the rest periods on these sets to 45 seconds at

the most and was about to pull my third set when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned and saw some 20-something kid who was wearing a polo shirt and looked

to be about 165 pounds dripping wet. I motioned him off like a annoying mosquito

and pulled my fourth set.


my set I asked the kid if I could help him. He asked a question I'll never forget.

"What are you doing?" he said. I thought to myself, "What the hell does it look

like I'm doing?!" Out loud, I replied very kindly that I was doing deadlifts.

He then informed me that they didn't allow deadlifts in this gym. Now I was

getting a little pissed. He told me that the weights hitting the floor are too

loud and it bothers the other members. So I told him the sound of the treadmills

and Stairmaster motors are too loud and that bothers me. Why doesn't

he go over and tell the other patrons to get off the machines?


this point I must've pissed him off because he said under his breath that I

wasn't even doing the deadlifts right. I asked him what he saw wrong in my technique.

(You never know, he could've seen something I was missing.) He told me that

I needed to sit lower to the ground and pick the weight up with good form and

not use my back. He also told me my shins had to stay close to the bar and I

should be using a wider stance.


not being a dick, I asked him where he'd learned this information. Then I saw

it. I couldn't believe I'd missed it the first time, but there it was right

in my face: a gold name badge with his name and "head trainer" right underneath

it. At this point I asked him if I could finish my last set at which point I'd

love to sit down and discuss his training concepts with him. He was cool with

that so I pulled my last and by far best set. Maybe it was the added geek aggression

that made the difference.


I tore the bar down I started up a friendly dialog with Mr. Head Trainer. I

let him know I was in town to work with a few ball players on their strength-training

programs. He told me he'd been in the personal training field for three years,

has been to several conferences, had done a few internships, and this was where

he learned how to lift. Out of curiosity I asked him how much he could deadlift.

He told me he could pull 315 for five reps. I spent the next hour going over

with him what I felt were the ten biggest mistakes in the deadlift.


first thing I told him was the old deadlift motto: The meet doesn't end until

the bar hits the floor. To a powerlifter, the deadlift can be the end-all or

the end-of-it-all when it comes to closing out a total or placing in the competition.

In short, we have to know how to deadlift the most weight in the safest manner

or we'll have a very short career.


also told him that most people never read a whole lot about the deadlift because

of one reason: it's very hard and demanding to train and perform the deadlift.

To be frank, most in the strength training/fitness training/bodybuilding field

would rather come in the gym and train their back with various pulley machines,

talk to the girls, and go home with their carb drink in hand. They like to live

on the light, easy side of the game while avoiding the dark side.


get ready to enter the dark side as I share with you what I told my new personal-trainer


The Top 10 Deadlift Mistakes


#1: Training the deadlift heavy all the time


few people can train the deadlift week after week and still make progress. I

feel the only ones who can get away with this are the ones who're built to deadlift.

If you're built to pull, then the stress on your system is going to be less

than those who aren't built to deadlift.


deadlift is a very demanding movement and it takes a lot to recover from. This

is compounded if you're also squatting every week. The squat and deadlift train

many of the same muscles and this is another reason why you don't need to train

the deadlift heavy all the time. Years ago the only deadlifts I did off the

floor were in meets. The rest of the time was spent training the lower back,

glutes, and hamstrings. While my deadlift increased 40 pounds over the first

few years, I did run into some problems with this approach.


major problem I had was when I'd go to a meet I didn't know where to place my

feet and if I got stuck I didn't know how to adjust. Since I'm not built to

deadlift, these things aren't natural to me. I had to find a way to put some

pulling back in the program without taxing the system. What we came up with

was a session of speed deadlifts with a moderate weight pulled for five or six

singles. This way the weight was heavy enough to teach good form and not too

heavy to tax the system. This worked out to 45 to 50% of max to be trained after

the dynamic or speed squat workout. These don't need to be done every week but

should be used as the meet or test day get closer.


still suggest letting the box squat train the deadlift muscles with dynamic

squat training of eight sets of two reps in a wave-like sequence. (For squat

training details, see the following articles: <a href="javascript void0;" onclick="MM_openBrWindow'','popup','scrollbars=yes,width=47 5,height=450'" target="_blank">Periodization

Bible Part II</a>, <a href="javascript void0;" onclick="MM_openBrWindow'','popup','scrollbars=yes,width= 475,height=450'" target="_blank">Squatting

from Head to Toe</a>, and TNT Part II

for cycles and percentages.)


the max-effort day be for training the heavy deadlift. Try to pull off pins,

off mats, or with bands one out of every four to six max effort days. Let the

other day be some type of medium or close-stance good morning or low-box squat.

Mistake #2: Pulling the shoulder blades together


is a mistake I made for years. Stand in a deadlift stance and pull your shoulder

blades together. Take a look at where your fingertips are. Now if you let your

shoulders relax and even round forward a little you'll see your fingertips are

much lower. This is why we teach a rounding of the upper back. First, the bar

has to travel a shorter distance. Second, there's less stress on the shoulder

region. It'll also help to keep your shoulder blades behind the bar. You'll

read more on this later.

Mistake #3: Rounding the lower back


is another mistake I see all the time and most lifters know better. It happens

most of the time because of a weak lower back or a bad start position. While

keeping your shoulders rounded you must keep your lower back arched. This will

keep the shin straight and the shoulders behind the bar and keep your body in

the proper position to pull big while keeping the back under minimal stress.


you pull with a rounded back, the bar is going to drift forward away from the

legs, thus putting you back into a very difficult position from which to recover.

When the bar drifts forward, the weight of it will begin to work against your

leverages and cause you to have a sticking point just below the knees or mid-shin

level. When you pull you can either arch your back in the beginning standing

position before you crouch down to pull or once you grab the bar. Either way

it's important to keep the lower back arched and tight.


are many ways to strengthen the lower back for this. Good mornings, reverse

hypers, and arched back good mornings are a few. You can also use a band around

your traps and feet for simulated good mornings. With this technique you only

use the bands and train for higher reps (in the 20 to 30 rep range) for local

muscular endurance.

Mistake #4: Not having enough air in your belly


with most exercise you must learn how to breathe. Stand in front of a mirror

and take a deep breath. Do your shoulders rise? If so, then you need to learn

how to breathe. Learn to pull your air into your diaphragm. In other words,

use your belly! Pull as much air into your belly as possible, then when you

think you have all you can get, pull more. The deadlift isn't started by driving

your feet into the floor; it's started by driving your belly into your belt

and hips flexors.


note on holding air while you pull. You do need to try and hold your air as

long as possible, but this can only last for a few seconds while under strain

because you'll pass out. So for a long pull, you're going to have to breathe

or you'll hit the floor and people will stare. While there are several people

out there who may think this is a cool thing, I disagree. It's much cooler to

make the lift!


when you reach the point where you begin to really have to fight with the weight,

let out small bursts of air. Don't let it all out at one time or you'll lose

torso tightness and cause the bar to drop down. By letting out small bursts

you can keep your tightness, continue to pull, and lock out the weight.

Mistake #5: Not pulling the bar back


deadlift is all about leverage and positioning. Visualize a teeter totter. What

happens when the weight on one end is coming down? The other end goes up. So

if your body is falling backward, what happens to the bar? It goes up! If your

weight is falling forward the bar will want to stay down. So if you weigh 250

pounds and you can get your bodyweight to work for you, it would be much like

taking 250 pounds off the bar. For many natural deadlifters this is a very instinctive

action. For others it has to be trained.


positioning is important here. If you're standing too close to the bar it'll

have to come over the knee before you can pull back, thus going forward before

it goes backward. If your shoulders are in front of the bar at the start of

the pull, then the bar will want to go forward, not backward. If your back isn't

arched the bar will also want to drift forward.


some lifters, not being able to pull back can be a muscular thing. If you're

like myself, I tend to end up with the weight on the front of my feet instead

of my heels. This is a function of my quads trying to overpower the glutes and

hamstrings, or the glutes and hamstrings not being able to finish the weight

and shifting to the quads to complete the lift. What will happen many times

is you'll begin shaking or miss the weight. To fix this problem you need to

add in more glute ham raises, pull-throughs and reverse hypers.

Mistake #6: Keeping the shins too close to the bar


not too sure where this started but I have a pretty good idea. Many times the

taller, thinner lifters are the best pullers and they do start with the bar

very close to their shins. But if you look at them from the sides they still

have their shoulders behind the bar when they pull. This is just not possible

to achieve with a thicker lifter.


a thicker lifter with a large amount of body mass — be it muscle or fat

— were to line the bar up with his shins, you'd see he would have an impossible

time getting the shoulders behind the bar. Remember you need to pull the bar

back toward you, not out and away from you. So what I believe happens is many

lifters look to those who have great deadlifts to see how they pull, then try

to do the same themselves. What they need to do is look to those who are built

the same way they are and have great deadlifts and follow their lead.

Mistake #7: Training with multiple reps


time you see someone doing multiple reps on the deadlift, take note of the form

of each rep. You'll see the later reps look nothing like the first. In competition

you only have to pull once, so you need to learn how to develop what's known

as starting strength for the deadlift. This is the strength needed to

get the bar off the floor without an eccentric (negative) action before the



other words, you don't lower the bar first and then lift the weight as you do

with the squat and bench press. When you train with multiple reps you're beginning

to develop reversal strength, which isn't needed with the deadlift.


two reasons are enough to keep the deadlift training to singles. If you're using

multiple reps with the deadlift, then stand up in between each rep and restart

the lift. This way you'll be teaching the proper form and be developing the

right kind of strength.

Mistake #8: Not keeping your shoulders behind the bar


already read this a few times in this article and it's perhaps the most important

thing next to hip position in the execution of the deadlift. Your shoulders

must start and stay behind the barbell when you pull deadlifts! This will keep

the barbell traveling in the right direction and keep your weight going backward.

The deadlift isn't an Olympic lift and shouldn't be started like one.


did a seminar with Dr. Mel Siff at one of his Supertraining camps (one of the

best investments you can ever make!) and we showed the difference between the

two positions. For the Olympic lifts you want the shoulders in front of the

bar; for the deadlift you want them behind the bar. Period. The amount of misinformation

out there about this is incredible.

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Mistake #9: Looking down


body will always follow your head. If you're looking down then the bar is going

to want to travel forward. At the same time you don't want to look at the ceiling.

Focus on an area that keeps your head in a straight up and back position with

the eyes focusing on an upper area of the wall.

Mistake #10: Starting with the hips too low


is the king of all mistakes I see. Too many times lifters try to squat the weight

up rather than pull the weight. Think back to the number of times you've seen

a big deadlift and thought to yourself how much more the lifter could've pulled

if he didn't damn near stiff-leg it. I see it all the time. Someone will say,

"Did you see his deadlift?" Then the other guy will comment, "Yeah, and he stiff-legged

the thing." Am I telling you to stiff leg all your deadlifts? No, not at all.


I want you to do is look at your hip position at the start of the lift when

you pull and watch how much your hips move up before the weight begins to break

the floor. This is wasted movement and does nothing except wear you out before

the pull. The closer you can keep your hips to the bar when you pull, the better

the leverages are going to be.


again, next time you see a great deadlifter, stand off to the side and watch

how close his or her hips stay to the bar throughout the pull. If you're putting

your ass to the floor before you pull, your hips are about a mile from the bar.

You're setting yourself up for disaster when the lever arm is this long. This

is also the second reason why lifters can't get the bar off the floor. (The

first reason is very simple: The bar is too heavy!)


need to find the perfect spot where your hips are close to the bar, your shoulders

are behind the bar, your lower back is arched, your upper back rounded, your

belly full of air, and you can pull toward your body. Nobody ever said it was

going to be easy, but then again, what is? (Definitely not training in a commercial

health club….)



I'd discussed my pulling concepts with my new trainer friend, he was a little

set back. He'd never heard these things before and didn't really know what to

believe. After this I took him back out on the gym floor and started guiding

him through a few deadlifts. A few corrections here and there and in no time

at all he pulled 405. This wasn't an easy lift for him but he made it and with

that his confidence grew.


I let him in on the best training advice he'd ever hear. I told him the first

thing he needed to do was spend more time under the bar and suggested he find

a real gym and start training with those who were much stronger than him. The

best training secrets come from the small garage gyms with very strong lifters,

not the spandex driven, neon-machine warehouses. This, I told my friend, would

be his introduction to the dark side, and with hard work and proper training,

he may one day even enter the Dead Zone!

For more information about Dave's training concepts, you

can visit his web site at

The site is complete with an article section and Q and A, as well as an exercise

index section detailing many of the movements explained in this article. The

online store also has many training videos for sale also detailing these methods,

including the highly reviewed seminar video. (T-mag reviewed)

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by Mad Dogg Athletics, Inc.
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