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Default 11-20-2005, 09:19 AM

The Top 10 Deadlifting Mistakes and How to Fix Them

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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.

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

But, 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 section.

I 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.

During 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.

When 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.

This 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
**** 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.

I 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.

The 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.

I'd 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 ****, 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 works.

My 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.

After 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?

At 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

While 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.

As 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.

The 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.

I 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.

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

The Top 10 Deadlift Mistakes

Mistake #1: Training the deadlift heavy all the time

Very 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

The 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.

The 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.

I 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:
Periodization Bible Part II, Squatting from Head to Toe, and TNT Part
II for cycles and percentages.)

Let 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

This 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

This 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.

If 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.

There 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

As 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.

One 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!

So 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

The 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.

Proper 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.

For 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

I'm 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.

If 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

Next 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 start.

In 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.

These 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

You've 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.

I 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.

Mistake #9: Looking down

Your 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

This 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 **** 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.

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.

Once 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!)

You 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….)


After 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

Next, 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!

by Dave Tate

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Default 11-20-2005, 11:23 AM

post these in the articles forum
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