Elitefts Deadlift Manual

TAGS: how to deadlift, deads, breaking deadlift records, deadlift

This is a 15-part article that would be better thought of as a manual on deadlifting. This is not something you will sit down and read in one setting.  I suggest you read this in sections and bookmark to reference later. I have never seen the need in using manuals as "bait" to get people to sign up for our mailing list. As a business owner I am part of hundreds if not a thousand mailing lists. They provide quick insight of what is going on in the industry (and others I follow) and inspire ideas. Almost everyone in the strength, fitness and conditioning industry uses this "bait" to get you to sign up for their list so it must work right? Maybe - maybe not but I still like the elitefts way better...Give you to the content first and let you decide if you want to revisit the site, subscribe to our newsletter (strength club), or support us with your business. Maybe it doesn't work as well but you won't have to keep closing annoying pop up screens so that has to be worth something. Enjoy this manual on The Deadlift. 

- Dave Tate founder Elitefts.com Inc

Part 1: Why I Hate the Deadlift


The Deadlift

The first and simple reason why I hate the deadlift is that I’ve always sucked at it and making gains on it was the slowest process in the world. Actually the only real time I made decent gains was when I stopped doing them altogether.

I never hurt myself (seriously) doing the deadlift and was scared to do them (how can you be scared picking something up?) and they really aren’t that hard to do. Sure, if you do 20-rep sets they will kick your ass, but so will 20 reps sets on just about any compound movement. My point is that there really isn’t any real reason why I hate the deadlift so much, but I do.


To me, the deadlift was just that thing you had to do in a meet before you could go to dinner. I was NOT one of those “the meet doesn’t start until the bar hits the floor guys.” To me, most meets NEVER started on time and it sure as hell wasn’t when the deadlift began. To regress, deadlifting in a meet wasn’t that bad, it still sucked, but it was a means to a total and I thought that was always the most important thing. What I pulled was always more determined by what I wanted to total than by breaking a deadlift PR. Toward the later years of my career, I knew I could pull between 700-740 pounds on any given day, if I trained the lift or if I didn’t. What I ended up pulling was based on how I finished the squat and bench.

Training the deadlift was much worse. The BEST thing about when I trained at Westside was that we didn’t deadlift often (many times not once for months). We did pin pulls, close stand yoke bar low box squat, TONS of goodmornings, and special movements, such as reverse hypers and glute ham raises. Not only did these increase my squat (and deadlift), they also provided a means to NOT deadlift and that was AWESOME!

No More

Now that I’m retired from the sport, I don’t care if I ever pull another deadlift in my life. I don’t write my own programs, but I will admit if I see the deadlift or pin pull in the program I WILL replace it – even if I have to do three extra movements for 12 extra sets, I would much rater do that then a few sets of deadlifting.

I CAN’T stand the deadlift!

That ONE day

There was ONE day where I almost liked the deadlift, but as usual with the deadlift, that got shot down. I have no idea why, but at a local Ohio meet back in 2002, I pulled my 650-pound opener and it was easy (it always was). I then jumped to 720 pounds for a PR total. Normally I would call it a day and pass the third, but the 720 was really easy. This isn’t “powerlifer talk” it was seriously really easy. I called for 770 pounds on my third attempt for  a 30 pound PR. The bar flew up and right before lockout without even slowing down, my right hand popped open and the bar hit the floor.

At this point, I did the infamous “hand stare.” You’ve seen it. You may have actually done it. This is when you drop a pull and look at your hands like WTF just happened.

I was totally confused and did the hand stare for what seemed to be 20 minutes until Louie finally walked over and said, “Your pulls looked really good.” I asked him what the hell happened to my grip. His answer, while classic Louie, just made me hate the deadlift more, “You were never strong enough to have a grip problem before.”



At this point you may be asking why I’m writing this article. Here is the honest answer: we are having a Day of the Deadlift Sale the same day this article is launching, so it can’t help to have this extra promotion. Since I’m writing about something I can’t stand, the least you can do is check out the sale. Hahaha – wait! I’m serious.

I also figured if I’m going to do this, I want to write something that will actually help you all. I’ve been in the sport for a very long time and taught hundreds (if not thousands) of people how to deadlift. For many people it is really as simple as just bending over and picking it up, for others it is a real struggle to teach them how to pull effectively and correctly. Unlike the squat and bench where deep detailed instruction seems to work best, deadlift instruction seems to work best with very simple verbal cues.

This gave me the idea to send an e-mail to Team elitefts™ and ask them for their top three verbal cues when teaching the deadlift. At the end of their tips, I posted mine with a couple videos that I think might help you out.

These tips are listed as Sumo or Conventional. Some of the team provided just how they pull, while others provided tips for each.

Mike Robertson


  • Get your heels underneath the bar
  • Sit down, push your knees out to keep shoulders over the bar
  • Tight lats/pull the bar BACK

Zane Getting


  • Arch hard
  • Get your hips low
  • Take the slack out of the bar and get your whole body tight
  • Spread your knees hard
  • Spread the floor


Vincent Dizenzo


  • For any style-deadlift, flex your triceps while pulling (this helps prevent bicep tears)
  • The hook grip is an excellent way to protect your biceps and back. However, you need to condition your hands for this, especially your thumbs. It gets better every week. Be patient.
  • If you are riddled with injuries and still want to pull, try a trap bar.


  • Get and keep your hips flexible.



deadlift sock


Marc Bartley


  • This applies to either doing 75 to 80 percent work. Ease the weight off the floor. Once it leaves the floor, about two to three inches, then apply as much speed as possible.
  • Overextend at the top by trying to get the shoulders behind your waist as fast as you can. The bar will ride the legs and distribute the load better. Squeeze the UPPER glutes at the top to lock the quads in and limit bent-knee lockouts.


  • Going back to easing it off the floor, a way to know if you’re getting the legs and glutes in it, once it comes off the floor, if you are holding the best leverages, you literally FEEL the weights drop into the legs, hips and glutes.


Molly Edwards


  • Setup is key
  • Get one big breath before grabbing the bar. So many of us lose our air.
  • Use your ass from the floor


Clint Darden


Disclaimer: I’m such a non-technical lifter and still learning, so my thoughts may be completely wrong.

  • Push your abs out as far as you can to take up as much space as they can vertically. When my abs push out, they also force my chest up and keep my lower back from rounding, which is important under heavy loads. The stronger your abs, are the more weight they can hold. I think of it as a turtle shell that runs from my nipples to my nads.
  • DO NOT STOP PULLING! A lot of amateur lifters miss their pull because they thought that it was hard and mentally decided to quit pulling. Lifts CAN be finished! It’s just like every grip event, you have to tell yourself that you will NOT quit. The only way that I will stop is if it simply falls out of my hands or drags me back down to the floor.


Al Caslow


  • Spread your knees out to get your crotch close to bar
  • Arch hard and pull your chest up
  • Spread the floor
  • Start pulling your head back
  • Be patient while driving off the floor




Matt Rhodes


  • Pull the slack out of the bar
  • Don’t jerk the bar off the floor
  • Push your feet through the floor and drive your head up
  • Set your feet in the most powerful position for your body


David Kirschen


  • Pull yourself into your arch before breaking the bar off the floor
  • Keep your lower back tight, but your upper beck relaxed
  • Keep your arms straight, do not bend your elbows
  • Lean back to the point that you would fall if the weight was not there to counter balance you

Harry Selkow


  • Keep your head in the neutral position. Neither up nor down, but straight ahead.
  • Keep the spine “organized”
  • Lean back into the heels and add tension to the glutes and hamstrings
  • Scrape the shins and then throw the hips into the bar like you mean to do on a Saturday Night


  • Like in those ballet classes you got kicked out of, Plié. Push your knees out along the bar.
  • Arch hard
  • Sink back into the heels
  • Put tension in your hamstrings and glutes and GO!
  • Dip
  • Grip
  • Rip the skin from the shins
  • For a great deadlift, you have to have “skin in the gym, for the win.”


Josh Bryant


  • Visualize yourself completing the lift ahead of time. The lift is done before you approach the platform.
  • Speed is your cue as you approach the bar
  • Commit to the pull!




Julia Ladewski


  • Pull the slack out of the bar


  • Arch your lower back, but don’t shrug your shoulders.
  • Keep your hips down, but don’t sit too low. Find the point where you’re in a good position, but still get some pop off the floor.


Jo Jordan


  • Drive down through your heels
  • Pull up and back
  • Drive your head back as you pull


Matt Kroc


  • Try to push out to the sides with your feet versus down, “spread the floor.”
  • Open your groin as much as possible to keep your hips in close and improve your leverage.


  • At the start of the pull, use your quads and try to squat the bar off the floor to get it moving quickly, which will keep you in a good position leverage-wise for the lockout.
  • Keep your ass down and head up
  • After taking the slack out of the bar, rip it off the floor.
  • Grip the bar with your hands directly under your shoulders to get the maximum length from your arms and to decrease the distance you have to pull the bar.


CJ Murphy


  • Flex your lats and tris when taking slack out (tri -lat tuck)
  • Put your weight on your heels/big toe up
  • Drive your hips into bar once it passes the knees”fuck the bar.”
  • Fall back at lockout




Steve Goggins


  • Get your head up at the beginning and keep it there the entire time until you finish the lift.
  • Make your arms long and relax your shoulders.
  • Pull on your heels, but keep your feet flat and toes down.
  • Explode but don’t jerk!


  • Pull the bar into your legs as close and as hard as you can. Try to drag the skin off your legs.


Matt Ladewski


  • If you’re having grip issues at lockout, you may be pushing the bar out in front of you when your hand is against your leg. Try widening your hand spacing.
  • Don’t be afraid to use straps in training. It will allow you to focus on the pull without the worry of your grip failing. It will also allow you to work your back evenly.


  • If you don’t have a problem with lockout and miss off the floor, open your feet up and push your knees out to the side.
  • When you pull, drive your heels into the ground as if you’re pulling yourself into the ground.
  • Don’t try to lift the bar straight up! Try to pull the bar back into you.


  • When setting your grip, use your elbows to push out your knees before you pull.


Adam Driggers


  • Have a training partner flatten the bar before you pull. When the bar is loaded, sometimes it’s left with a bow when it is let down from loading. If that bow is there when you begin the pull, it can cause an unusual recoil.
  • Keep your head up, your chest bowed out and your shoulder blades together.
  • At the top, when the weight slows, squeeze your glutes like it’s your first night in prison. This really helps the last few inches to lockout.
  • Buy a Metal Pro Deadlift suit. I’m sorry, sometimes I pander…


Hannah Johnson


  • “Squat the weight up”
  • Thrust your hips forward and squeeze your glutes at the top
  • Keep shoulder blades tight


Steve Pulcinella


  • Always think of your start as a PUSH with the legs, not a PULL with the back.


Dave Tate


  • When you set up, keep your crotch over the bar the entire time you sit down
  • Arch your lower back
  • Round your upper back


  • Begin the pull by flexing your abs
  • Keep your arms straight
  • Keep your head UP
  • Try to fall over backwards




Part 2: Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift



The deadlift can be considered as one of the best tests of overall body strength (Groves, 2000). It is a multi joint movement that in simple terms involves picking up a barbell from the floor and standing to the erect position. The movement includes the recruitment of the muscles of the hip, lower back, upper back, quadriceps, hamstrings and abdominals. If used correctly, it can be an excellent exercise to use in the development of strength, speed and power. During this analysis, the objective was to compare and contrast the biomechanical efficiency of two types of deadlift styles and determine which type should be used for certain body types.


The participant was given instructions on both conventional and semi round back deadlift techniques. The video recording equipment was set up at ninety degrees to the demonstration at a distance of approximately five metres away. This was to ensure parallax and perspective errors were each accounted for. Recordings were then made for a series of conventional and rounded back deadlifts. Multiple repetitions were performed in each style at approximately 80 percent of the lifters one repetition maximum. One repetition from each style was then analysed.


The participant for this study was one elite level power lifter who has been competing at national level for two years.


The equipment used was a Sony digital handicam 120x zoom video camera set up on a tripod to record the observations. A weights belt was used for back support, as well as an Olympic style barbell in conjunction with weight plates. All observations were conducted at Apollo Fitness Centre.


Literature review:

In competitive powerlifting, the deadlift is the third lift in order following the squat and bench press. It often comes down to performance in the deadlift to decide the difference between winning and losing a competition. There is a saying in powerlifting circles that the competition does not start until the bar hits the floor, meaning that a strong deadlift will often lead to a good competition result.
Much of the research that involves the deadlift has looked at sumo and conventional styles. Sumo style is used with a wider stance in which the lifter grips the bar with the arms placed on the inside of the legs. Conventional style deadlifting involves foot placement at approximately shoulder width apart and gripping the bar on the outside of the legs (McGuigan & Wilson, 1996).
Both techniques have been used effectively in elite power lifting competition. Conventional style places a large emphasis on the use of the erector spinae muscles because in this position the trunk is normally flexed forward. Sumo style is performed with a more erect and upright back alignment that allows for greater recruitment of the hip muscles to perform the lift (Piper & Waller, 2001).
The sumo lift is considered to be the more biomechanical efficient lift of the both techniques (McGuigan & Wilson, 1996). It is suggested that bar travel is minimized with a shorter stroke and aids the ability to recruit a greater number of muscle fibres from the posterior chain. Studies have indicated that sumo style deadlifting can reduce bar travel by nineteen percent (McGuigan & Wilson, 1996).
Studies by McGuigan & Wilson (1996) have indicated that in elite competitive powerlifting the majority of world records are held by lifters using the conventional style. Sumo style deadlifting has not produced as many world records but has performed greater lifts in terms of relative body weight. This gives rise to the suggestion that conventional style deadlifting may be suited to lifters of larger body mass with longer arm length and sumo suited to those of smaller body mass.
The conventional style involves the use of the erector spinae, trapezius, quadriceps and hamstring muscles (Stone & O’Bryant, 1987). Further analysis of the conventional deadlift indicates that the gluteal, latissimus dorsi, teres minor subscapularis, infraspinatus, supraspinatus and biceps brachii all assist with the lift to some degree (Farley, 1995).
The kinesiology of the conventional style involves setting up with the feet spaced shoulder width apart. Common practise is to use an alternating grip which involves one hand pronated and the other hand supinated to assist with grip strength. Common practise to set up for the initial pull involves aligning the shins close to the bar (Farley, 1995).
Keeping the load as close to the body as possible should assist with increasing the mechanical advantage for greater force production (Stone & O’Bryant, 1987). In contrast to this, some literature has suggested that keeping the load too close to the body may cause excessive drag and friction against the body that may decrease the efficiency of the lift. Correct starting position indicated by many texts suggests that the pelvic girdle is in line with or slightly below the knees. The back should remain flat and at an angle of forty five degrees to the floor.
Additional support for this method put forth by Daniels (2003) indicates keeping the back flat and placing the hips below the half squat position. This position is said to put the initial load of the pull on to the quadriceps muscles without placing undue stress on the lumbar region of the spine (Groves, 2000).



Discussion/ Conclusion:

Choosing a style of deadlifting can best be suited to a person’s individual body mechanics. Many variables come into play that may affect the efficiency of the lift. These factors include torso, leg and arm length (Stone & O’Bryant, 1987).
Movements are governed by physical laws. Understanding and applying biomechanical principles to deadlifting technique can result in the lift being more energy efficient and allowing greater peak performance. In contrast , poor body mechanics become less efficient and may cause injury (Stone & O’Bryant, 1987).
Mechanical work can be described as force exerted on an object over a distance it is dislaced (Siff, 2000). For efficient use of force, the displacement should be along the same line and in opposite direction to the resisting force of the load (Stone & O’Bryant, 1987). This gives additional support to keeping the bar close to the body while deadlifting which will assist with a more efficient movement and less wasted effort. This may be due to the reduced moment arm of force.
In contrast to much of the research put forth, I suggest a different starting position to the conventional deadlift that may assist those lifters who tend to be of taller stature with longer arm length. Both sumo and conventional styles have been studied extensively but minimal research has been done in what I call a semi round back style which may contra-indicate some previous research with regards to lumbar spine loading.
The semi round back style involves a similar initial set up to the conventional style but the hip girdle is set at a higher start position for the initial pull. This position would be almost a quarter squat position with the upper back kept flat and at a ten degree lean to the floor, as opposed to forty five degrees lean suggested in many texts.
Previous research has suggested that a person maybe more biomechanical efficient in the quarter squat position than in the half squat position. Studies have indicated that greater loads can be used in the partial quarter squat movement than the half squat (Siff, 2000).
The semi round method also allows for the bar to travel in a straight line. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, therefore this can decrease the distance of travel. The conventional method causes the lifters lower limbs to shift forward in the starting position. This will cause the bar to travel in a ‘S’ type motion with the load moving away from the body and then moving back towards the body once the load has cleared the knees.
This gives rise to the idea of trying to turn the deadlift into the quarter squat motion but the load being off the floor. For this to occur, the lifter must have an extremely strong upper and lower back. The higher starting position can reduce the displacement of the load and therefore in turn reduce the amount of work performed.
Studies by Horn (1988) suggest that electromyographic activity in the spinal erector muscles were twice as active in conventional lifters when compared with sumo technique. Cholewicki et al (1991) studied the lumbar spine load of both sumo and conventional technique. No significant difference was found in disc compression force at L4/L5 regions using both techniques. There were significantly greater L4/L5 moments and load shear forces in the conventional technique. This may suggest that the greater forward lean of round back technique may further increase L4/L5 moments and shear forces indicating that much caution must be taken when considering this method for athletes as for the increased risk of injury to the lower back region.
This type of lifting conflicts with much of the research that suggests correct deadlift form. In the absence of previous research, experiential evidence has indicated that using the semi round back method has resulted in three athletes breaking world deadlift records in WPC and WDFPL federations. Other competition results include a further five lifters who have broken Victorian state and Australian national records. This may be due to reduced bar displacement and therefore reducing the amount of work performed. This technique has only worked for taller type lifters, which may be more biomechanical efficient for those with longer type levers.
Much assistance work must be employed to strengthen the abdominal, spinal erector, hamstring, gluteal and upper back muscles for this method to be effective. Care and patience must be exercised if considering using the round back method as a preferred style.
Further research in this area is needed to investigate differential leverages and the muscles responsible for effective motion. When considering various techniques, individual body leverages need to be taken into account along with the assessment of the individuals muscle strengths and weaknesses. Caution should be used before considering this technique due to the increased risk of injury. If employed correctly, the semi round back method may lead to greater competition totals for the powerlifter.



Cholewicki, J., McGill, S. and Norman, R. (1991). Lumbar Spine Loads During the Lifting of Extremely Heavy Weights. Medical Science Journal of Sports Exercise. Vol 23, pp1179- 1186.Daniels, D. (2003). Deadlift 101, Part 1. Powerlifting USA. Vol 26. No.8.

Groves, B. (2000). Powerlifting: Technique and Training for Athletic Muscular Development. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
Farley,K. (1995). Analysis if the Conventional Deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol 15, No. 2, pp 55-58.
McGuigan, R.M. & Wilson, B.D. (1996). Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 10(4), 250-255.

Piper, T.J. & Waller, M.A. (2001). Variations of the Deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol 23, No. 3, pp 66-73.
Stone, M. & O’Bryant, H. (1987). Weight Training: A Scientific Approach. (2nd ed.). Edina: Burgess International.


Part 3 Deconstructing the Deadlift

I hate deadlifting. Going the rest of my life without doing another pull would be fine by me. The reason for this is that since my first competition back in 1983, my deadlift has been a struggle. It was nothing like the squat and bench press, which are my strong lifts, and I’ve tried everything to fix it. From deadlifting three times per week, to twice per week, to once a week, to once a month, and (my favorite) not deadlifting at all. However, I never gave up and eventually I was able to build my pull to a point where it became my “means to a total,” and I still look for new ways to build bigger deadlifts today. The difference is now I really don’t care about my own pull but do care about how I can help others pull more. This article is about helping you improve your deadlift. The deadlift is surprisingly complex. While it’s cool to say “just walk up to the fucking bar and lift” that’s not enough—I laugh every time I hear that. If only it was that simple. It certainly won’t cut it if you’re stuck in a plateau—and a deadlifting plateau can be the worst you’ll ever come across.

3 Things                                       

Like the bench press and squat, a deadlift plateau is due to one of three issues:

  1. Physical – programming, flexibility, strengthening weaker muscles and movements.
  2. Mental – level of arousal/over-arousal.
  3. Technical – exercise technique and execution.

Most lifters think their deadlifting slump is due to physical issues. So they ask, “What exercises should I do?” or “How do I tweak my programming? Do I pull every four days or every five?” They got it all wrong. In my experience, only 20% of deadlifting slumps are due to physical issues or programming flaws. Technical or technique problems represent a full 70% of lifters’ challenges, with mental issues making up the final 10%.

Note: These tips are based around increasing maximal strength in the deadlift, my particular area of expertise. It’s not about tweaking the pull for a bigger back or programming for a greater hypertrophic response. To accomplish that, I’d defer to a true expert in that realm, namely someone like John Meadows.

Mental: 10%                                          

The deadlift is getting popular. It’s weird, considering it’s such a shitty experience, at least in my opinion. While not nearing the fan appeal of the squat or bench press, the gap is definitely closing, which I’ll concede is a good thing. As a result, you now hear guys spouting that the deadlift is the “true” measure of strength. I must be in bizarro world. Ten years ago the argument was the squat or the bench press was the true measure or strength, as too many otherwise weak people can sport above average deadlifts just by having the right leverages. Here’s the thing. Whatever a lifter is strongest at will always influence the “best strength indicator” debate. So every 600-pound raw bencher is going to say that the bench press is the true measure of strength, just as every 1000-pound squatter will say the same thing about the squat. The fact is, its what you’re shitty at that really measures ability. So in my case, perhaps the deadlift is the true measure of strength. Lucky me.

Most mental issues in the deadlift pertain to arousal—about 50% of lifters need to be extremely aroused to pull a lot of weight. You’ve seen them—they pace around, smack heads with their training partners, scare old ladies, etc. The other half is the opposite. Like me, they need to be more relaxed. When I got too aroused all hell broke loose. I screwed up either the setup or execution. So for mental issues, the first thing you need to do is identify the type of lifter you are. If you aren’t a hyper-arousal type, don’t chase those methods. You’ll just make any other underlying issues worse. The nature of the deadlift also contributes to its potential for mental fuck-ups. Unlike the squat or bench press, in the deadlift there’s no pre-load. You can’t unrack the weight and “feel it out” and adjust your mental state accordingly, whereas in the squat or bench you can tell right away if the lift is going to be cake or if you need to get your shit correct. Furthermore, in the deadlift there’s no eccentric loading and therefore no stretch reflex to take advantage of. So unlike the squat or bench, you go in blind and completely on your own.

Note: There are some ways to get some stretch reflex but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

All that adds up to guys showing up on meet day and failing to budge their 3RM weights. They mentally fuck themselves out of the lift before they even get up there. Let’s not forget all the cues. Coaches use different cues to accomplish basically the same thing—“Keep the shoulders in line with the bar” versus “Chest up” for example—however, depending on the lifter, one may be too much information and the other not enough. This is true with all lifts and all sport skills for that matter. So if you have doubt, ask what the end result should be, or look for it in the cuing being used. Don’t let a confusing cue knock you out of your most natural lifting pattern.

Technical: 70%                                           


The keys of proper deadlift setup are things I learned as a young lifter from Bob Wahl, Louie, Ricky Crane, Steve Goggins, and Ed Coan. Honestly, I can’t remember whom I learned what aspect from, so I want to make sure they all get credit. That’s a pretty esteemed list of teachers, and it’s for a reason—my deadlift sucked so I consulted with the best.


Foot position is much ado about nothing. Here’s how you figure out your ideal width: Hang from a chin-up bar and drop to the floor. Note your foot position when you land. That’s the right conventional deadlifting stance for you. I think I first learned this from Fred Hatfield, but have used it many times over the years with lifters, as well as with run of the mill personal training clients.


This can vary from right against the bar to six inches or more away from it. I think mid-foot distance is an optimal starting point but it really depends on quad size. Someone with huge quads will need the bar further away so it doesn’t ride up and hit the quads—meaning if you have Meadows-like quads the bar will be stuck under them and you’ll have to pull over and around them—while someone with skinny quads and no teardrop can start much closer. Again, mid-foot is a great starting place. Some lifters like to lift the toes to get the weight moving backwards while others find twisting the feet (meaning the action of doing this, your actual foot doesn’t move) helps activate the glutes. I like the most natural position to start. This lets me keep an “ace in the hole” so if I find it sticking mid-lift, I can turn my toes (twist). This will further contract my glutes, which may be enough to keep the weight moving. If I did this from the start, the glutes would already be firing all-out at the sticking point and as such couldn’t be “called in” to assist. This is what I mean by always keeping something in the tank.


I prefer a slight, not extreme, arch in the lower back. The upper back should be rounded and somewhat relaxed, the shoulders slightly slumped. This improves leverage and shortens the distance of the pull. At no point during the pull should you allow the spine to enter into over-flexion.


To set up, I normally coach guys to just drop the arms straight down and grab the bar, although a bigger, heavier guy with broad shoulders will need to be a bit wider. Keep the arms straight but relaxed. There’s no need to flex the triceps unless in extreme situations. If the hand position is correct then the hips should be where they need to be. We don’t want the hips to be in the squat position (too low) or in a Romanian deadlift position (too high). The best descriptor would be like a quarter squat. This allows for the ideal hinge and posterior chain recruitment. Also, there’s knurling on the bar for a reason so if you need to grip one finger wider to use it then do so. The biggest mistakes I see with grip are holding the bar way too close on a sumo deadlift and too wide with a conventional. Of course there will always be deviations from the norm, but if you shoot for keeping the arms in a straight line you’ll probably end up in a good position.

Note: If you’re a powerlifter, I suggest using a mixed grip as this is how you’ll compete. If you aren’t a competitive lifter I “normally” suggest not using a mixed grip (and if you need straps then use them) but this depends on what you’re training for and what the deadlift has been put into the program to enhance.


The idea is to drive the head back into the traps, not just look up. The excessive head cranked up towards the ceiling thing you see today is completely unnecessary. It’s also counterproductive. The head follows the body, so you want to drive the head back, not up. For the same reason, looking down is a surefire way to miss a lift. Find a spot on the wall that requires you to keep your head up and back into the traps and begin the pull from there. Another head position issue I find (working with powerlifters) is their traps and upper backs get so thick that they have a hard time keeping their heads up in the first place. I’ve seen guys so thick they can barely turn their heads to the side without having to rotate their torso. Telling them to look up will get you about as far as asking them to pick up a nickel they dropped on the floor. You can scream at them all day to get their heads up but if the structure won’t allow it they’ll just tune you out. However, they can and should drive their heads back into their traps and this is what you need to look for.

Pull The Slack

The first thing to do after the setup is to pull the slack out of the bar. Reach down and grab a loaded barbell. Hear that clicking sound? That’s the sleeve of the barbell connecting with the collars. You want to remove that play before you initiate your pull. That’s what guys mean when they say to pull the slack out of the bar. Doing this initial “pre-pull” allows the hips to drop down slightly. Although this step is subtle, if skipped, the hips will slide out of position once you really start to pull, which is when the weights break from the floor.


Wear your belt as tight as you can. I always cinch mine at least 1 or 2 holes tighter than where I have it when I squat or bench. It’s so tight I basically can’t breathe, meaning I can only draw in about 50% of the air I can normally draw in.

Less air in the lungs helps keep everything—the lungs, the chest—lower, making it easier to hit the lockout position. If you don’t wear a belt, just remember to draw in 50% of your lung capacity, brace your torso, and keep everything tight.

Should I Pull Sumo Or Conventional?      

The answer is whichever version makes you feel stronger. If the beautiful simplicity of that response isn’t enough detail for you (imagine that) here are some general rules of thumb.

Torso Length

  • Short torso – You can pull conventional or sumo.
  • Average torso – Pull sumo.
  • Long torso – Pull sumo.

In other words, the longer your trunk, the more better off youll be pulling sumo.

Arm Length                                          

Guys with short, T-Rex arms should pull sumo. Those with longer arms should pull conventional. How do you know if you have short arms? I get asked that all the time and it never fails to make me laugh. Do you have to roll your sleeves up all the time? Then you probably have short arms. Go try on a fucking dress shirt. If the sleeves are too long, congratulations, you just determined you have short arms. How do you know if you have long arms? Let’s be honest. If you have long arms you’ll know. Does it seem to take you twice as long to bench press when comparing yourself to your partner who happens to be built like a fire hydrant? Keep in mind, this is all based on an average build. When a lifter gains weight, things can change dramatically. For example, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound lifter might have comparatively long arms. But if he gains weight and gets up to 280 pounds, he suddenly might have average-length arms. That’s because as someone gets bigger and wider, their proportions often change. So, when someone contacts me saying they “always” pulled a certain way but are noticing their lifts have gone to shit since bulking up, I usually tell them to switch styles. It often works. When I was 180 pounds I pulled conventional. As I got bigger and my deadlift started to suck, Ed Coan suggested I switch to sumo. It worked, and I stuck with sumo from 190 pounds up to 220 pounds and beyond. Once I reached 275 pounds, however, I had to go back to conventional. Obviously I didn’t get taller, just thicker and wider. As such, my proportions changed, meaning my deadlift had to change too.


Grip is tricky. Many guys screw it up. In terms of placement, your thumb should overlap the first one or two fingers. Your thumb shouldn’t be crushing all your fingers, just these two. But you should squeeze the shit out of them. Typically, when a grip fails, the little finger fails first. Ed Coan used to say you want to keep that finger breaking first, which meant strengthening the pinkie finger and ring finger. To accomplish this, buy one of those heavy black paper clips from an office supply store and do pinches against the thumb, first with the pinkie finger and then with the ring finger. I never had a grip issue. Louie would say it’s because I never pulled enough to develop a grip issue. Chuck Vogelpohl, however, is someone who did have one. He’d often lose pulls due to failing grip, which drove him crazy. What finally fixed it for him was single dumbbell holds using a hex dumbbell. Be careful not to let the fingers rest in the grooves where the numbers are stamped in.

The Overall Pull                         

A key point that often gets overlooked is that a deadlift, be it sumo or conventional, is less about pulling up and more about pulling back. You know you’re setting up right when the only thing preventing you from falling backward on your ass is the weight of the barbell. To understand why, think of the deadlift as a teeter-totter. Say you weigh 250 pounds—you want to get as much of your bodyweight helping you pull that weight as possible. This means less pulling up and more falling back. So, if you had 250 pounds on the barbell, your bodyweight alone should be enough to move the weight—without you exerting an ounce of force. You’ll know you’re doing this correctly when your warm-up sets seem to fly up from the floor like you were using a broomstick instead of a loaded barbell.

Dead to Rights             

You don’t have to like every exercise you perform. And you won’t get any grief from me if you say you hate the deadlift. However, like it or not, you need to respect it. And if something is so important that you force yourself to do it despite hating it with every fiber of your being, then you might as well do it right. Give these tips a run and make your pull a thing of beauty.

Photos courtesy of Kenneth Richardson

Part 4: Sumo Deadlift: EliteFTS Roundtable Discussion


James Smith: Elite level lifters who pull sumo, what have you found to be the most effective means of increasing your pulling strength off the floor? My technique is solid so I’m looking for insights on any special exercises that have yielded you significant results in the low end/off the floor strength component.

Dave Tate: The best thing I’ve found is getting stronger. This sounds very simple but has worked for so many lifters. What I mean by this is that you have to increase your overall body strength. This would be quads, hamstrings, low back, abs, etc. This is really basic stuff, but something that people may forget. The start depends on position. If your hips are off, they move too far back and you lose your force. If you can film the pull, let me see it. I have to see what’s going on to make any type of assessment.

J.L. Holdsworth: I used to suck at these, but then I started pulling my sumo deadlifts off of mats and it seemed to make a big difference. You can try three inches or so (three mats). You can also get a similar training effect by using 35-pound plates on the bar rather than 45-pound plates. The 35-pound plates are obviously smaller and will require larger ROM. Or you can just put on more equipment like Dave does.

Dave Tate: I don’t even take that as an insult.

J.L. Holdsworth: It’s not. I admire that in you.

James Smith: I actually tried pulling sumo off of elevated surfaces. I just didn’t keep it around long enough to experience any significant training effect. My dumb ass fault. I think I’ll perform a cycle of those for my next training block.

That’s also my logic for increasing pulling strength off the floor – increasing the ROM. I just didn’t know if maybe I had overlooked or was unaware of another means of strengthening the bottom end such as using a cambered bar bench press. For strengthening the low end press, I’ve also thought of performing low wide stance squats (although these are hell on the hips) and perhaps even a repetition version of partial deadlifts such as dumbbell presses and suspended push-ups.

Jim Wendler: I agree with Dave on this one. Sometimes we’re too busy looking for the magical exercise rather than doing the ones that we know work – and doing them hard and with purpose. My deadlift went up simply because I quit screwing around with the light weights on my assistance work and did movements and weights that were challenging and had a great carryover. Remember, there is a difference between training with exercises to get stronger and training to rehab a muscle group. I think these lines get crossed too much.

I’ve also found that sumo deadlifting is more technique than conventional pulling. You have little room for error when pulling sumo. A conventional deadlift is more of a grunt, caveman lift. So if your technique is even slightly off, an easy pull can turn into a max effort. Unfortunately, most people think they are going to be great sumo pullers when they do their speed deadlift work. This is because it’s easy. It’s only when you start pulling around 85 percent does the form start really making a big difference.

J.L. Holdsworth: Never forget that the special exercises are for refining problems. Nothing fixes getting a sumo dead off the floor like getting stronger hips and legs (if you’re in the position). All of your basic accessories are still the best ways to increase the deadlift. I think so many times we get caught up in being so smart about training we forget that grabbing a heavy ass deadlift and pulling is a great way to get stronger. Even the simple things like shooting hoops helps with the basic conditioning and muscle coordination. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t leave your glute hams, reverse hypers, and other basic accessories for the magic bullet exercise.

Jim Wendler: Isn’t that what I just said?

J.L. Holdsworth: Sort of but different.

Jim Wendler: And when did you start shooting hoops?

J.L. Holdsworth: When you started losing weight.

Jim Wendler: Touché.

James Smith: JL, good stuff. I appreciate your comment regarding the role of special exercises. I really need to make a trip to see you guys at WSB/EFS. All this time I’ve developed my technique by studying videos and illustrations. I was fortunate to have lifted with some very strong elite lifters when I was in San Diego, but for the last year, I’ve trained alone. The good thing is I’ve gotten stronger. The bad thing is I have no one to watch my form. I video stuff but as you guys know it’s not even close to having an elite or stronger lifter coach your ass.

Brian Schwab: I pull sumo and there are a couple exercises that have really helped me. First, is training my abs. These exercises made my mid-section extremely strong:

  • sit-ups with a plate behind your head
  • spread eagle sit-ups
  • medicine ball throws
  • incline sit-ups
  • hanging leg raises
  • pull-down abs
  • sit-ups on the glute ham raise

For your hips, I think people need to try these exercises:

  1. Band abduction and adduction: Try not to make this more complicated than it is. To do this, there are several ways you can rig the bands up with a power rack, bench, or jump strength platform. Just pick one for each muscle group and a do a couple sets for each.
  2. Light sumo pulls standing on blocks: This is done exactly as it sounds. Keep the weight light and work on keeping a tight arch and working the range of motion.
  3. Pull thrus with a wide stance: This is great for the hip drive needed to finish the sumo deadlift.
  4. Duck under: This is a great/mobility movement. Set a power bar up in the power rack so that it’s chest level. Stand off to the side and squat down, side step and duck under the bar while keeping the chest up. This is great for hip mobility. As you get better, lower the bar.

James Smith: Thanks, Brian. I’m going to have to try some of those exercises.

Jim Wendler: You can do something other than train heavy?

J.L. Holdsworth: I can see the light bulb flickering over your head.

Tim Harold: Damn it! I saw this thread, and my eyes lit up. Why is Dave the only one who said anything about form? Special exercises are great, but you can throw that into the water if your technique isn’t up to par and you’re unable to use the strength you’ve worked so hard to develop. If your form is off because of a weakness somewhere in your body, that’s another story. Make sure your form is correct before you start trying all these cool exercises. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a great good morning but your deadlift will still suck because you can’t do it right. Once your form is correct then we can talk about exercises to make you strong and raise your deadlift.

What’s good form? Well, I don’t necessarily think that I have the best sumo form in the world. However, I don’t think there are too many people who can rip big weights off the floor with the speed that I do. How do I do it? Before every deadlift attempt, I have Joe Bayles and Bob Coe shove a grenade up my ass. It’s simple. I see all these people who want to ease a sumo deadlift off the floor because somewhere along the timeline of weightlifting some fucking jerkoff said that sumo is hard off the floor and easy at lockout. Also, they said that conventional is the opposite – easy off the floor and hard lockout. BULL FUCKING SHIT! Maybe that’s why there are only a few people who have pulled 900 pounds with sumo style. I’m really rambling but hopefully you’ll learn something to take to the gym with you. The deadlift, whether you’re pulling sumo or conventional, is about attitude. Every time you pull a deadlift, snap it off the ground! But to do that, you have to have perfect form.

When I pull, this is what I do:

  1. I set my feet. ALWAYS have your toes pointed outwards, never straight on the sumo deadlift. You can’t get your knees out wide enough to get your hips as close to the bar as possible if they’re pointed straight ahead.
  2. Take a breath into your gut. Flail your arms if you do that faggot shit and whatever other tai chi-like dance moves some people do before they grab the bar.
  3. Bend over and grab the bar semi straight-legged. Don’t squat down. If you do, you’ll defeat the purpose of why I pull this way. While you’re grabbing the bar, start tightening up your lats, erectors, etc.
  4. This is the secret right here. Take another very quick breath into your belly if you can and the sit back and SNAP. Push your knees and feet out as hard as you can while sitting back and pushing your hips to the bar, staying back on your heels.

If you do this right and in one seamless motion, which will take time, the weights will jump off the floor. You should wear gear for this for sure. I’m kind of weird, but I like the Metal deadlifter for this and maybe a thin pair of briefs underneath. You need tons of tightness in your hips. Because of the way the Metal deadlifter is cut with the straps and that groin shit, it will help push your hips forward, and if you’re lucky, castrate you.

I’m going to post more if you guys want to ask questions. This just popped into my head, but I have to run. I have a date with a girl who has TMJ. I think she might come down with a serious case of lockjaw by the morning.

I forgot one tidbit about why I pull that way…

The bending over and then sitting back is kind of like levering yourself off the floor. It reminds me of school when we learned about fulcrums. I don’t remember what that means but just go with it. When you have your belly full of air and you’re leaning and sitting back, a tremendous amount of force against the bar is created before you snap off the ground if you’re wearing enough gear and you’ve even started to use your strength yet. If you can get the timing down by practicing with moderate to heavy weights (never light weights because I don’t believe in light weights for mastering form), then you’re well on your way to leaning how to have a much bigger sumo deadlift.

I don’t pull every week. I think that would be too stressful on the body. I do think that pulling heavy twice per month is okay though. If you need to work on your sumo technique, focus on a few keys every time you pull. Record some of your sumo deadlifts and post them on your myspace page or somewhere I can see them. Maybe I’ll be able to give you some key points to focus on while you’re pulling. I think you can deadlift every week if you really want to, but you shouldn’t do it for too long. You’ll also need a decent deload period. Typically, I have only pulled when I felt like it.

But for seniors, I’m going to try a few ideas that I’ve gathered from conversations with other lifters. I’m going to apply them to deadlift training and see if can pull three times per month without affecting my overall training too much. I would like to get two good pulling sessions on DE day per month. I want to work up to a moderately heavy weight for a few singles, and then take another good jump for a big single and stop. Nothing too hard. But when I’m fully jacked and ready for seniors, I’d like my last pull workout to be 800 lbs for 3-4 singles and then 845-865 for a single. This won’t be necessarily be a full bore max workout, but if it’s heavy enough, I think I can get some good form work in. (Also, for WIW, I don’t think you’ll need to do speed pulls at all. I really haven’t done them in a long time. I believe that if you’re training your squat properly and not squatting on too high of a box, force development will transfer to the deadlift.)

I also hope to get in one pulling sessions on ME day per month where I’ll do something fun like reverse band deadlifts of a box deadlift for an absolute max. This might also be the only max effort work I do at all leading up the seniors too. The rest of the ME days will be rest pause workouts on the back attack. I’ll talk more about the rest pause later, but it’s a training method that I picked up from Dante Trudel (who owns Truepreotein.com). I can tell you it’s the real deal, and it’s fucking hard. It’s working so far, and I believe it will be rewarding on meet day. It’s also the perfect compliment to the Westside style do training, although some may disagree. I think it used properly it will make you brutally strong and BIG. This stuff is the best of both worlds. Powerlifters make fun of bodybuilders and vice versa, but there are many things we can learn from each other.

Dave Tate: I agree 100 percent with Tim, and I’m actually kind of proud of him for his great advice. Tim has come a long way since I first met him, which proves that you need to keep learning to get stronger. Very few get as strong as he is without figuring some shit out along the way.

The only thing I would add is that with speed work, you should reinforce your technique with each and every rep. Make damn sure that they are all dead on. If you ever pull for one more rep, let go of the bar and reset each rep. This way you’ll learn to pull one rep. Also, when you do speed pulls, you should use 40-60 percent weights to work on technique. For most, this will be okay, but some will need to work up to heavier pulls to the get the full effect. In other words, some will look great with sub-maximal weights while others will look like crap with bigger weights.

There are two ways to avoid this. One, you can always pull in a slightly fatigued state (same as meet) such as after a speed squat session. If you pull on ME day, do more warm up sets then you do now (double them). Second, you can work up the weights on the days that your speed pulls feel great. Most of the time, they feel great because your form is on. Work up to see if it will transfer to bigger weights. If it does, that’s great. If not, analyze the breakdown and you’ll discover your muscular weak points. When you find your weak points, add in some special exercises to bring them up.

This is why it’s useful to see training videos. You can look for the breakdowns to see if they’re technical or muscular. When you do post them, post some speed sets and also some heavy sets. Don’t post any reverse band or against band stuff. They will only alter this to a certain degree. It’s hard to see from video because you can’t determine how much the tension is affecting you without seeing every warm up set.

Here’s another tip that I picked up from Louie. Take your Chucks to a shoe repair shop. Have them build the front up two inches higher in the back (on the slope). This helped me to pull back better.

Tim Harold: Here are some of the common sumo pulling problems I see.I’d like to see a lot of sumo lifters point your toes outward and think about a slightly wider stance. Their hips can be much closer to the bar during the pull. They’re pulling straight up and slightly forward. I’d like to see them pulling up and back instead. A wider stance as well as getting their hips closer to the bar and pointing their toes outward more should help this.

Also, lifters often spend way too much time bent over trying to position themself. For fuck’s sake, they look like one of those cats that has to step on the pillow for an hour before it decides to lie down. Shit or get off the pot. You don’t realize how much energy you’re wasting by taking so much time to get to the bar and set your grip. Without gear, this takes a lot out of you and even more when you’re in tight gear. Get your feet set, grab the bar, and go.

Another thing to consider is the angle of your shins. They should be perpendicular to the bar when you break ground. By not doing this, you’re not taking advantage of those leverages and you’re hindering your pull a great deal. If your knees are over the bar, that means that you’re leaning forward. And that means your back is hunched over, you’re not arching enough, and you’re on your toes. Basically, you’re fucked from the get-go.

Let’s recap some things for you to work on:

  1. Feet pointed outwards, wider stance: This will get your knees out more and your hips closer to the bar, which makes it easier to keep your shoulders behind the bar. This really takes advantage of the strong back, ass, and hamstrings that we spend most of our time developing. This also helps with getting back on your heels and not up on your toes.
  2. Sit back more before you break the ground: This should feel very tight (while sitting back, you’re pulling the slack out of the bar). This will get your shins perpendicular, and improve your arch and hip position (which should still be as high as possible without leaning over or losing your arch).
  3. Get your fucking head up: We all know this, and we all still need to be told about it from time to time. Fucking do it.

This is going to be a process, but eventually, you’ll start feeling how everything works together and your deadlift will improve a great deal. I think when seniors come around you should be able to really grasp my concept on sumo pulling and hit a big PR. That’s if your fat hands can hold on to as much weight as you’ll be able to pull.

Mark O’Shea: Tim, ages ago you posted the routine you used when you switched from regular to sumo. I’m not sure if you remember it, but it was something like this:

  • DE cycle
  • ultra-wide, 70 percent
  • feet raised on platform, 70 percent
  • bands, 70 percent
  • sumo, 90 percent before beginning circa max

How did this go, and what changes have you made?

Tim Harold: As far as the post I made about training sumo deadlift some time ago, don’t pay attention to it. I don’t even remember what’s in the post. I don’t remember what the reasoning behind what I was doing at the time was or whether or not it would work now. Every time I train for a meet or talk to lifters from around the country, I learn new things. My training is CONSTANTLY evolving. I take what works and keep it in and throw away what isn’t cutting it. As my training evolves, so does my philosophy on training. What I said 1-2 years ago may not jive with what I would tell you today. Scrap that article or read it and try some of it out to see what works for you! Evolving as a powerlifter involves immeasurable amounts of trial and error. You will and should try everything that Louie, Dave, or the other great minds of the sport have already said is retarded and don’t work or will get you hurt, especially the hurt part. Dave’s crippled ass has a PHD in fucking yourself up.

The ultra-wide speed pulls are gold. Do them as a special exercise or do them hardcore for a month or two until you start getting strong on them. After you’ve done them for 1-2 sessions and your progress stagnates (or you’re just flat bored with them), drop them completely for a while. When you come back to them, you probably won’t be right where you left off – you may only be at 90 percent from where you stopped – but you’ll surpass that easily when you train the ultra-wide hard again. I FIRMLY believe in the saying, “One step back to take two steps forward.”

In other words, look at it like this. As a lineman in high school, we used a technique when we were down blocking called the drop step. You take one step with your outside leg (whichever way you’re going). This gives a little ground but you’ve positioned yourself to get on that guy’s outside shoulder more quickly so that you can take him out of the play. Give to take. Enough rambling. I do that too much sometimes.

Jim Wendler: Spud, you had some tips on the Q&A about sumo deadlifting. And since you have perfected your style, what are some tips? I know you have some unique views on this.

Marc Bartley:

  1. Speed deadlift work. This was a tremendous help. I went up to 500 lbs and did five sets of triples for five or six weeks. I didn’t squat on this day. I did wide-stance leg press with a dead stop in the bottom. Sometimes, I would mix in conventional speed pulls with the sumos. Check out my Saturday logs.
  2. The sumo is mostly a pinch off the bottom and then you slam the speed to it. So don’t worry about speed out of the hole. Form must be first. Drive the head and back up the whole time so that when you get to the suit, it won’t pull you over. The sumo is basically a wide-stance squat so you have to treat it as such. Take your suit straps and put them right over your delt, not the traps. When you go to pull, lift your arms over your head. This will cause an erector shirt type effect to help hold your shoulders back even more.
  3. Line your feet up pigeon toe if possible. Or, in other words, try to line up your feet parallel to the bar as much as you can stand it. You’ll have to practice this. It’s very uncomfortable, but it will keep you in line better to lockout the bar. When you put the suit on and line up on the bar, spread the knees out towards the plates and push back. This will eliminate the tail tuck caused by the suit. I like the Metal deadlifter or one ply squatter suit for this type of pulling.
  4. Over exaggerate the top of the movement. I learned this by watching the Europeans in Finland. Right above the knees, they throw the shoulders back as hard as possible so that the upper body is slightly behind the hips. It’s old-school deadlifting like the Strongmen do on car deadlifts. This shortens the lockout distance and puts your hips and lower body into a better position to lockout (squat-like). Do lots of rack lockouts for threes right above the knees on ME day and remember to over exaggerate.

Jim Wendler: What about people who get stuck the last couple of inches?

Marc Bartley: I would say the tightness is hip flexor related. There are a couple of dudes at the compound with the same thing. You might try some good hip flexor stretches before and after squat/pull. Don’t do too much during but do a lot after. I had the same problem with the ducking feet. It’s very hard to over pull at the top. I pull my toes in slightly so that I can get more overextension at the top. I wouldn’t say that you’re weaker with the extra weight but less coordinated. Work on speed deadlifts on DE day first to cement the form and lockout. I’m also deficit pulling speed off a three-inch box for three-week waves. This seems to help on both ends.

Jim Wendler: I know you have sausage fingers. What are some grip exercises that you do to help you when pulling?

Marc Bartley: I would do rack pulls just below the knees. This will help with the lockout and holding weight. Do triples without straps until you can’t hold anymore, and then go to the straps and continue doing threes. This is what Steve Goggins suggested to me, and it seemed to help me out. Another thing is to do soap swings one-handed sumo style with heavy kettlebells. Go outside somewhere and out of the way, soap your hands thoroughly, and do 8-10 violent swings on each hand or until the weight pops out of your hand. My grip has always been an issue because of my short arms and fat fingers, which I do believe limited my lockouts. If I could use straps in a contest, I know I could pull well into the 800s so this tells me the grip is limiting me.


Part 5: Conventional Pulling for the Sumo Deadlifter

Are you a sumo deadlifter? Have you ever pulled a PR attempt to your knees and stalled completely?

If you answered yes to one or both of the above questions, I have a sure-fire way to add pounds to your deadlift and help you blow past your current PR.

There was a time in my lifting career when I was stuck at a 620-pound deadlift for over a year. I pulled against bands, chains, and combos of both. I pulled triples, double, singles, changed suits, etc. Still, no matter what I did, I couldn’t crack that barrier. The bar would break the floor and stop dead at my knees. That was, however, until my good friend Brian Carroll suggested that I incorporate conventional pulling into my training. After just a few months, I pulled 711 pounds in a meet. That’s right—over a 90-pound PR in just a few months.

The sumo deadlift is a funny thing—it’s as hard as hell to learn, but once you do, it’s so easy to use that you never want to go back to the harder conventional style again. It’s a very technical lift, but it’s a shorter, more efficient stroke executed in a much stronger position (for most people). This makes many of us sumo deadlifters steer clear of the harder work…but this couldn’t be a bigger mistake.

As I said above, just like most sumo deadlifters, I would stall out as the bar reached my knees. I never attributed it to the fact that my lower back just wasn’t strong enough to hold the position—but that’s exactly what it was. I continued having the same problem until I finally listened to Brian Carroll and added in the conventional pulling. I say pulling and not deadlifting because I was doing several variations of the pull.

The main variation was block pulls with the weights elevated to four and six inches. I established rep PRs on these lifts in the conventional stance while wearing a belt and gym shorts. These became part of my rotation, and I would shoot for a new PR every time I did them. Since I was so weak at them, my strength built very fast and I was able to PR in a very short time-frame. For instance, the first time I pulled off of the six-inch blocks, I hit a top double of 525 pounds. Within two months, I was in the high 500s. This wasn’t bad considering I was only trying for a PR on that height/rep range every four to six weeks.

During this period in time, I was also pulling sumo from the floor for sets of two to five reps. So, a training session would include both styles. (Usually, the sumo pulls were my main movement and the conventional block pulls were a secondary movement). As time went on, I began pulling conventional from the floor. It even became my main movement at one point, with sumo pulls being done for form/speed every three to four weeks. The more progress I made on the conventional pulls, the more my sumo pull rose. My first meet after switching to this style was the 2010 APF MI State meet where I pulled 711 pounds at 220. This was the same weight class that I had missed 650 pounds so many times before.

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that conventional pulling for a sumo guy who has developed a weakness is no fun. I hated it at first—absolutely dreaded it. But over time, and after experiencing the rewards that came with it, I grew to love it. I promise you that if you give this a run, you won’t be disappointed. Just keep in mind that you need to start slow and you need to stick with it. The only way this won’t work is if you push it too hard too fast and hurt yourself, or if you give up on it because it sucks to use 100 pounds less than you do in the other stance. And trust me, it sucks, but the reward is the opposite of suck.

Let me know how it goes!




Part 6: Finnish Deadlift Secrets

Through out the years, the deadlift has been our ”national sport” here in Finland. World records has been broken since early 70´s. What makes Finns pull so much, what is their secret ?

I took a look and after collecting training information of many new and former greats, here is some background and information.

# 1 Genetics

To be able to lift a lot, you have to be talented athlete. Most of the guys had long arms and legs. You could see middleweights pulling over 200 kilos the first time they saw a power bar. But that’s only a good start. The best deadlifters in the late 70`s and early 80´s had two things in common. Most of them had a background of hard labor, like lumberjacks, construction workers, farmers or something similar. They carried, lifted and dragged for their living. That laid a perfect background for deadlift training and very often ensured a hard grip too. The second thing was Olympic lifting background, they had pulled alot before their powerlifting career. Raimo Välineva held Scandinavian records in Olympic lifting and was able to clean 330 pounds with straight legs. He had World records of 688 in 148´s and 716 in 165´s in early 80`s. When weightlifting had the press it was more a pure strength sport as now when speed and technique more critical.

Many of the new lifters have some type of athletic background from other sports. Ismo Lappi, 338,5 kg deadlifter in 165´s, has thrown javelin over 75 yards and ran 100 meters in under 11 seconds in his teens. He is fast and explosive enough to deadlift big.

# 2 Squatting for the deadlift

All of the former record holders and many of today’s too, squatted with a narrow stance. This had two advantages. First, it served as an excellent special exercise for deadlift. Many trained the squat three times a week. Twice back squatting and once front squatting. The other back squat could be a high bar session.
Other squat exercises were something like lunges, or step squats, using bar on back. These were done sometimes a box under front or back feet, varying how it hits glutes and hamstrings. A 8-12 inch box under back feet hits the upper part of glutes quite hard.

Many used different stances. The narrow stance high bar was the most common but many, like Taito Haara, Reijo Kiviranta and Hannu Saarelainen, squatted with 3-4 stances.
During the last years, the box squat has become very popular in Finland. Janne Toivanen put it in practice by hauling up 804 in `96 IPF World’s in Austria. Many have followed. Ano Turtiainen started using the box and now pulls over 859 in every meet he enters. Ismo Lappi, the new WR holder in 165´s in IPF, does box squats as assistance. Veli Kumpuniemi stated that if would have known how to use a box in his prime he would have lifted a lot more. How much more? He tore his hamstring while trying 804 in the 181´s back in 1981. He hit 822 ( 373 kilos ) in a national before that weighing under 190 pounds. All his hamstrings could handle he hauled up. He never really recovered but wanted to send his compliments to Louie Simmons for this excellent exercise.

# 3 Deadlift variety

Many still train the deadlift two times a week. In the early days, it was not rare to deadlift three times a week. Veli Kumpuniemi, the only man we call Mr Deadlift in Finland, trained deadlift sometimes four times a week. Here’s some pulls to use:

Deadlift standing on the block. Many used 2-6 inch block and pulled standing on it. That has been a pull used very often. Many did these for 3-5 reps using conventional style even if they pulled sumo in meets.

Straigth leg deadlifts. These were done off floor or using a block under feet. There were two styles. Some pulled with a bent over style, rounding the lower back. Some, like Janne Toivanen, Ismo Lappi and Ano Turtiainen, pulled in a romanian style with arched back and pushing glutes to rear. With a round back, most used only 40-50% for high reps like 10´s or so. For the romanian style, some go quite heavy. Janne Toivanen hauled up 4×661 from an 4 inch box and Ano Turtiainen has done 5×727 off floor.

Olympic pulls. These were done many times as a warm-up or speed work before the deadlifting. High pulls, raw cleans, raw snatches were the most common. The old school did some pulls with straight legs like Russians.

Pulls with a snatch grip. This has two variations too. Some pulled the weight all the way up and some just up to past knees. These developed technique by forcing you to keep shoulders in line and it´s a good one correct technique.

Partials. Hannu Saarelainen did partials on knee level, just moving the bar from below to above the knee. The bar traveled 8-10 inches in the area where the leverages were the poorest. He did high reps with rather light weight. He tried to get speed too to overcome the sticking point as fast as possible. By concentrating on weakness enabled Hannu to pull 765 in 242´s with quite poor leverages for deadlift. Rack pulls and pulls where the bar is on blocks are common, although they do not benefit as many as you could imagine.

Hack deadlifts. Many long armed lifters were able to pull with the bar behind their back. This form of deadlift developed the leg drive and helped to get the bar off floor.

# 4 Technique

Veli Kumpuniemi stated that if his foot stance was half inch off, the bar stayed on floor. And Veli was ranked rather a power puller than a technique expert which he was too. The conventional deadlift was always mostly back work. But the sumo pullers were sort of split in two categories. People like Raimo Välineva and Hannu Malinen, the 1988 IPF World champion, used the hips alot. Raimo Välineva was the developer of the style maximized hip drive in sumo deadlift. Lifters with extreme tecnique had quite a difference between sumo and conventional deadlift. Ari Virtanen, the little brother of Jarmo had one of the best technique I have ever seen. Every weight he got off floor he finished too. Ari´s best conventional was around 570-580 and he pulled 677 with sumo in `91 World’s. Pirjo Savola, the European Record holder in 123´s with 446 said she has a best conventional of 360-370 range.
Sumo lifters with a strong back, like Veli Kumpuniemi, Janne Toivanen and Aarre Käpylä locked out their legs way before extending their torso. Aarre Käpylä, who pulled 10×661 via conventional too, got the most out of his hips by keeping his legs almost straight. Jarmo Virtanen, an eight time IPF World champ, used the technique.
People used to think that Jarmo Virtanen was just very talented and had good leverages. They couldn’t be more wrong. He had many things on perfecting the technique. Once he demonstrated the difference between relaxed and flexed shoulders. By dropping shoulders and using sumo, the distance was 12 inches shorter than using conventional with flexed upper body. He stressed the importance of being relaxed while deadlifting .

You should climb to tree from bottom. Most advised to learn to pull conventional first, then switch to sumo. Reijo Kiviranta, Kullervo Lampela and other conventional style greats stressed two key points. The is to push your knees over the bar in the start position. This brings the hips closer to bar and makes the leverages better. The other thing was to turn feet out. This helped the lockout and enabled specially the bigger lifters to use their hip muscles.



# 5 Basic strength and GPP

Like mentioned in beginning, many early day deadlifters did physical labor which laid good background for training heavy and often. Olympic lifting was an aid too.
Many of todays lifters don´t do any other physical work than train with weights. So the GPP has to come from somewhere else. Janne Toivanen did an extra workout six times a week, early in the morning. He did abs, side work and sometimes lower back work together with some aerobic training and streching. His training program would kill most people, but he found a way to back it up. Ismo Lappi does the same type of workouts too. It keeps the bodyfat low and aids recovery.
At the moment five or six our strongmen pull 800 pounds or more. They have long competitive season when their weight training is mostly for conditioning and recovery. Their training is one form of conjugate method. They carry, drag, lift stones and flip tires and cars using the same muscles that are important in deadlifting. Jukka Laine did 804 in September ´98 and had deadlifted twice during the summer. All he did was the event training and many meets. Jouko Aholas deadlift stayed in the same range with no deadlift training at all. He used a short cycle to peak and succeeded with 853 in meet. Janne Virtanen and Juha Räsänen both pull over 800 too, 837 is their best in training but either of them haven’t attended in any meets so far.

# 6 Assistance work

Most supplemented their training with wide variety of assistance exercises. Two key muscle groups were upper back and lats and the abs.
As you noticed, I ranked Mr Deadlift, Veli Kumpuniemi as a strenght puller. Here’s why. What do think about chins with up to 200 pounds for 5-6 reps, bent over rows using 400+ pounds or doing one arm rows with 185 pound dumbbell for 8-10 reps ? It was usual stuff for him and it was assistance work, not something he shot for.
Weighted chins are quite common still but the variety is wide. Ano Turtiainen likes to do lat pulls with different handles, and low pulley rows. He does chest supported and bent over rows too. Many do shrugs every now and then.

The lifters in the early 80`s or late 70`s trained abs with flat or incline sit-ups using weight many times. Side work was done using a short bar or dumbbell. One other thing they did was one arm deadlifts. They stressed the stabilizing muscles a lot too. Today a variety of leg raises, pull down abs in lat machine and abs done in a ab machine add the number of exercises alot. One thing that has become popular last years is the ab wheel. Most lifters do it on their knees using plate on their back, it targets the abs more instead of hip flexors.
As you see, the low back was trained pretty much with the main exercises, squats and pulls. The older school did also good mornings, mostly after squatting for 5-10 rep sets. Then they became a forgotten exercise until last years. Ano Turtiainen went way over 700 pounds using bands and two sets of chains as an extra resistance during his preparation for WPO semi´s. The other thing many did and still do is back extensions. These are usually done with a bar on back. Rauno Rinne used these regularly and pulled 799 in 220´s.

# 7 Jarmo Virtanen´s deadlift secrets

Jarmo Virtanen, who many consider the best powerlifter ever in Europe, was great in the deadlift. He was an excellent squatter too. Here’s some things behind his success.
In his youth he trained both power lifting and weightlifting at the same time. He also trained other sports like football and has always done some sort of physical labor. His GPP has always been high. A lot of different squats and deadlifts insured a high SPP level. A nine time IPF World Champ did lifts like high bar, front and squats with different stances. He deadlifted with both conventional and sumo, he estimated that he may have done little more conventional work than sumo. Sometimes he used the snatch grip too. One of his deadlift variations was sumo off an 1 inch blocks. He sometimes went quite high on these, 694 was his best.

He pulled conventional sets where he stopped the bar before it hit the floor to develop static strength and tightness in the start position. When using sumo, he always did every rep as the first one. Jarmo said that bouncing the bar off is a waste specially in the sumo style. He developed speed by high pulls. He did not extend his hips in the weightlifting style. He continued the pull with upper back and traps to the navel level.

He had a picture perfect technique, specially in the ´80s when he hasn’t hurt hips thigh. He developed that by squatting with an ultra wide stance, sometimes he used a Smith-machine to be able to squat as upright as possible. He practiced technique with no weights in front of mirror. It was his routine every day for six months. As far as assistance go, he did a lot of ab work but has never done good mornings. He felt they make you too stiff. He stressed the importance of being relaxed, specially in the upper body area and felt it was crucial for getting better leverages in the deadlift and squat too.

Jarmo never really maxed out in the gym and usually stayed under 300 kilos in training. He was great competitor. In 1988, in our national record breakers in the biggest ice hockey venue at the time, he hauled up 358 kilos twice but dropped it just before down signal. With torn hand, he came back and pulled it again just to loose the grip again before the ”down” command. Year before, when lifting in 75 kilo class he was on a roll. In the World’s in Norway he opened with 677 and went to WR 333 and pulled it nicely. Then he attacked twice to 340,5 kilos ( 750 pounds ) but the grip was his nemesis. Before he got the grip problem fixed, he hurt his outer thigh. There was, and still is, some scar tissue that is pressing to nerves. With the grip he had in `90s and the better technique and flexibility of `80s he would have gone a lot more. Many times I have wondered why his squat went up 20 kilos but the deadlift stayed the same. Believe it or not, he never got the best out of him in the deadlift. A 815-826 deadlift and 900 kilo ( 1984 pound ) total where something he capable of but never achieved.
We have had lots of great pullers and power lifters and we had Jarmo Virtanen. He is one of a kind. One sign of his true sportsmanship was this interview. He has always willing to help anyone whether it is training, coaching or giving seminars.

Being a no class deadlifter myself, I have given this a lot of thought. Reijo Kiviranta, the 1981 World Champ in 242´s put it together nicely by saying that the one who lifts the most has trained the most. After reading this article, you can get a picture what he meant. There is no secrets at all, just pure hard work. It’s the cold hard truth. If you want to finish on top you have to be a good deadllifter. So it’s time for some deadlift labor, good luck!


Part 7: 14 Deadlift Tips and Tricks

1. 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 that 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 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. Consequently, this is the second most common 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 that perfect spot—where your hips are close to the bar, your shoulders are behind the bar, your lower back is arched, your upper back is rounded, your belly is 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…

2. Where to Look When You Pull

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.

3. Dimel Deadlifts

This exercise helped Matt Dimel increase his squat from the mid-800s to over 1000 pounds in a two-year period. To perform this exercise, grab a barbell with an overhand grip, hands about shoulder-width apart. Pull the bar up to a standing position.

At this point, arch your back and get your abs tight. Keep your back as arched as possible, push the glutes out, and keep the knees slightly bent. Lower the bar by pushing your body weight back onto your heals while pushing your glutes out. Try to lower the barbell to a position just past the knees. At this point, you should feel a tremendous stretch in the glutes and hamstrings.

Raise the bar back up by contracting your glutes first. At the top of the movement, contract the glutes as hard as possible. Perform the exercise in a ballistic fashion. You want to drop to the mid- point position and explode back to the starting position. This is best trained with moderate weight for sets of 15-20 reps.

Training Mistakes

  • Going too low. Make sure to keep the tension on the hamstrings.
  • Not pushing the hips and glutes back. This is also to keep the stress on the hamstrings.
  • Rounding the back. Keep your back arched to help keep the stress on the hamstrings.
  • Using a slow tempo. This movement is designed to be trained fast. You’ll begin 
with a slow tempo and build the speed up with each additional repetition.


  • One of the best ways I’ve seen this implemented is when it is used as a finisher movement (using two sets of 15-20 reps). Do this at the end of three to four workouts during the week for three to four weeks.
  • The most popular way to implement this is to just toss them in once a week on your squat or dead.

4. Dumbbell Holds

There are very few things that I’ve found to work when it comes to helping with dropped deadlifts due to grip. Dumbbell holds, however, are one movement that’s shown great results.

Grab the top of a hex dumbbell, making sure that you don’t touch the numbers. Grab, stand, and hold for as long as you can. If you can go over 20 seconds, then up the weight.

5. Binder Clips

One easy thing that will help your grip for pulling is to use binder clips. These are the big paper clips that have a black end on them (and other colors). Use these like you would use grippers, but only use your thumb and little finger. You can work all fingers, but the little guy is the first to go.

Ed Coan told me this one a few years ago at the SWIS conference.

6. Get Strong(er)

If you drop your pulls, one solution is very simple—get stronger! Let’s say you always drop 700 pounds, but you can pull 650 pounds easy and pulling 700 pounds with straps is no problem. Well, get strong enough to pull 750 pounds with straps. Then, 700 pounds will feel like 650 pounds.

7. Get Your Head Right

Get your head right. Training isn’t easy and won’t always be a walk-in-the-park. There’s more to getting strong than just lifting the weights. You have to get an attitude with the weights and bust your ass. Louie once told me that he would NEVER train with anyone who didn’t scare him in one way or another. This is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. I’m not saying that you should be a dick, but there’s a HUGE difference between “training” and “working out.”

8. Multiple-Rep Deadlifts

Next time you see someone doing multiple reps on the deadlift, take note of the form of each rep. You’ll notice that 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 that is 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 yourself the proper form and developing the right kind of strength.

9. 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 body weight 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 that 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.

10. Shin Placement

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 side, 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 that many lifters look to those who have great deadlifts to see how they pull, then try to do the same themselves. However, what they really need to do is look to those who have great deadlifts and who have similar builds as them and follow their lead.

11. Pulling with Big Air

As with most exercises, 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 will 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 all of it out at one time or you’ll lose torso tightness and that will cause the bar to drop down. By letting out small bursts, you can keep your tightness, continue to pull, and lock out the weight.


12. Rounding the Lower Back when Deadlifting

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 starting position. Even though your shoulders should be rounded, you must keep your lower back arched. This will keep the shin straight and the shoulders behind the bar, allowing your body to be 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—putting your back in 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.

13. Pulling Your Shoulder Blades Together when You Deadlift

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 keep your shoulder blades behind the bar.

14. Pull the slack out of the bar

Even if you are not using a texas deadlift bar, you still want to make an effort to pull the slack out of the bar before accelerating the bar to lockout. What this basically means is to begin pulling until you feel the bar get tight against the plates and begin to bend. Once you reach that point—where you feel the bar bending—THEN begin the pull off the floor, thinking of accelerating the speed more and more with every inch the bar moves.


Part 8: Lightning Deadlifts

Until recently, the deadlift was the bastard child of the strength and conditioning community! Many lifters have shied away from deadlifts due to their immense difficulty, only to walk away with suboptimal strength gains and back development. Lately a contingent of the game’s top trainers have covered the deadlift, seemingly from every angle, in attempts of resurrecting it as the cornerstone lift in one’s program.

With all of this new interest in deadlifting, one would think a casual YouTube search would net beneficial technique cues for your deadlift. However, further examination reveals that many of these techniques look like they were designed by Barnum & Bailey and would be of more benefit to a Coney Island side show than your deadlift!

The Evolution of the Deadlift

Picking up a heavy object from the ground is a plain and simple primordial instinct. The deadlift is the most basic lift there is. Over the years, my deadlift philosophy has evolved, as everyone’s philosophy should. The key is the right kind of evolution! In biology, macro evolution involves major evolutionary changes at, or above, the level of species. Unfortunately, in many gyms throughout the country, the deadlift has morphed into a rendition of Cirque de la Soul with a barbell – its form butchered as it’s executed without much purpose by misguided trainees. It is contrasted with microevolution, which is mainly concerned with the small-scale patterns of evolution within a species or population. An example in biology would be Darwin’s finches; the finches with the longest beaks would survive because of natural selection, meaning because of their beaks, they could eat food that the shorter beaked finches could not. This is the survival of the fittest! This is my training micro evolutionary training philosophy in a nutshell. I’m excited to share a technique with you that has survived training natural selection and helped propel some of my lifters’ deadlifts to new heights; the exercise is the lightning deadlift!

Explode Through Deadlift Plateaus

The deadlift epitomizes an assessment of limit strength, but if you can lift a weight fast enough, sticking points are systematically by passed! Explosive power is crucial to deadlifting big.

Louie Simmons bluntly puts it, “It is essential that explosive strength play a large role in training, as it is not only a means of developing absolute strength, but also a method of raising physical fitness that is directed towards solving a sport-specific task.” In layman’s terms, becoming more explosive means lifting more weight.

It’s widely known that if you want to develop more explosive power in the deadlifts, you’d turn to a combination of plyometrics, accentuated medicine ball throws, compensatory acceleration deadlifts and of course, speed deadlifts against accommodated resistance. These methods are tried and true, but one technique is missing from the list.

Try this out

Go ahead and try to deadlift 50 percent of your 1 rep max (RM) slowly, then attempt it with maximum velocity. The maximum velocity deadlift will feel much lighter. Besides the obvious physiological benefits of deadlifting explosively, it yields a wonderful psychological benefit. Weight that feels light is light!


Enter the Lightning Deadlift

The lightning deadlift was inspired by the late Bob Peoples of Tennessee, the first man to deadlift over 700 pounds. Bob would lift a weight out of a jack at lockout height. Bob would then lower the weight to the floor and lift it back up, taking advantage of the stretch reflex. I’m not sure if Bob knew why it worked, but he knew it did! I wanted to acknowledge Bob for inspiring food for thought!

Let’s take a look at what a lightning deadlifts is. I have recently implemented this method with some of my lifters.  I am not claiming to have invented this technique, but I have never seen anyone else use this lift.  A lightning deadlift is very similar to using a weight releaser in the bench press or squat.  Because of the increased weight on the eccentric, the concentric is effectively sped up.  I thought there was no true eccentric in the deadlift?  With lightning deadlifts, you can circumvent this obstacle and use the stretch-shortening cycle to develop maximum explosive power.

Develop Force Production with the Lightning Deadlift

Every athletic endeavor will be enhanced by an increased rate of force development!

RFD is more important for the deadlift than the bench press or squat. Here is why both the squat and the bench press have a true eccentric phase and true concentric phase. Even with a one second pause at the amortization phase, approximately half of the original stored elastic energy is available to aid in the concentric portion of the lift. The deadlift, at best, has a pseudo-eccentric phase you can choose to create. Some studies show eccentric contractions are able to handle as much as 160 percent the amount of weight as their concentric counterparts. Truly your limiting factor in completing a lift is your level of concentric strength. Studies show that the force produced at the beginning of a concentric contraction that followed an eccentric contraction, is much greater than force at the beginning of a concentric contraction that was not preceded by an eccentric contraction.


Programming Considerations

Lightning Deadlifts are performed for doubles. The first rep is performed with a chain on the bar, generally for speed. These are done with 40-50 percent of one’s maximum deadlift and the chains are an additional 10-20 percent added on the bar. The first rep is performed with the chains on the bar. Immediately when the bar touches the ground, have the two people on the sides pull the chains off the bar. Then, pull the weight as explosively as possible to lockout without chains. This will be the most explosive deadlift you have ever pulled – you will literally feel like you are going to fall over backward. Why? Simple, because you have intensified the effect of elastic energy that aids you in the lift. You have created an eccentric portion to a lift that does not have one.  Lightning deadlifts will teach you new meaning to pull explosively – it will train your CNS to learn and adapt to that explosive motor pattern, resulting in bigger pulls and if you’re a powerlifter – bigger totals!

Some Guidelines to Remember with Lightning Deadlifts

  • Have two component helpers
  • Do not pull the second rep until you hear “go” from the designated helper
  • Pull each rep as explosively as possible
  • Do 3-6 sets
  • Do doubles – any more or any less will eliminate the benefits

Part 9: Steve Goggins: Deadlift Training Tip

The deadlift is the one exercise that allows you to relax your muscles in between each rep—unlike the bench press and the squat when you’re doing them for reps. Most believe that it’s best to let the weight down fast and concentrate more on the positive upward motion of the lift. And I agree with the fast, positive upward motion; however, you can also train the negative downward movement to be stronger overall, and this will improve speed off the floor and help with a strong lockout.

In the squat and bench, we perform a negative movement at some time or another. Some of us attempt to use speed in the negative motion, yet even then we never release the tension on the bar. We remain tight and controlled.

Back to the deadlift…I see some lifters attempt to do what they consider a “touch and go.” However, it’s more like a “bounce lift” as they bang the weights on the floor and spring up. That’s not what we want at all. One needs to be very disciplined when performing the negative movement of the deadlift. You’re only cheating yourself if you bounce it off the floor.

What we do want is to lower the bar with control, and we want to attempt to touch it lightly or set it down while keeping constant tension on the bar. This can be beneficial for building strength and for helping one’s balance and control, whether you pull sumo or conventional. I also found this to be effective in building up the hamstrings. In turn, it is important to note that riding the bar hard to the floor is not good on your elbows and joints. This can cause elbow tendinitis, which can affect your squat and bench.

The only time I recommend letting the bar down hard is in competition, and even then it has to be under control and done without releasing the bar until it is back on the floor. I, myself, have a bad habit of dropping the last rep in training. However, I have never dropped a bar in competition unless I lost my grip.

A good practice to help with this would be to lower all of your last reps (in training) slower and under control. Not only will this keep you in good practice for meets, but you will also reap all of the benefits in terms of your technique. This principle can and should also be used when performing rack pulls, block pulls, and stiff leg deads.

So, as you can see, I recommend keeping the bar loaded until you are finished with the set. It is my belief that a loaded bar under constant tension builds more power and muscle. This also will keep you in the game a lot longer. NO JERKING! BOUNCING! DROPPING AND RESETTING!


Please take notice on the 750-pound set. As I pull the weight up on the first rep, I control the weight back to the floor and lightly touch, while at the same time keeping constant tension on bar. On the second rep, I set the weight all the way down while keeping constant tension on the bar.




Part 10: Real Training Video: What you need to know about deadlifts off pins and blocks


Pins vs Boxes

My program called for pin-pulls, but considering I’m doing these for hypertrophy instead of pure strength, I went with pulls off blocks instead. There’s a BIG difference between pin pulls and pulls off blocks in how the bar and movement acts. For example:

1. When pulling off blocks, the bar will flex exactly the same as if you were pulling off of the floor. The first point of contact when pulling on the bar is the plate.

2. When pulling off pins, the first point of contact is the pin you’re pulling off, so there will be less flex in the bar. The flex will not be the same as if pulling from the floor and the bar flex is extended to the plate instead of the pins.

3. Pulling off blocks makes it easier to get the bar where you want it to be when you pull. The bar rolls the same as if it was on the floor.

4. If pulling off pins, you have to make sure your body is positioned correctly because the bar doesn’t roll well on the pins (it slides). This usually means you need to step back off the bar some.

5. Pulling off blocks is also easier on your bar, than being slammed against pins.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each based on what you’re trying to build, where your sticking point is and what you have to work with. I have the option of both, and the safer alternative for me is to pull off blocks and allow the bar to have a more natural flex when pulling – especially when pulling for reps.

If I was working with a lifter who was dealing with a specific sticking point, I’d rather have them work off pins to make it harder to pull through. If it’s for hypertrophy, high reps or technical work, I’d have them pull off blocks.

The chains made this even better because it took much of the stress off the lower back, but pounded my upper back at the top. This is exactly what I was looking for.

elitefts™ Pulling Stands 

My personal favorite out of all of these, is the Multi-Purpose Jump Box. The boxes work great for pulling stands, box squat risers, step-ups and numerous other movements.



Let me know if you like this video blog format. In many cases it’s easier to show you though “Real Training” videos than explain in words what point(s) I’m trying to explain.


Part 11: 10-Week Intermediate Deadlift Program

If you want to hit a deadlift PR, you need to build your training around it. The program I’ve written here is a ten-week cycle for an intermediate lifter who fails just below the knee. On most deadlift training days in this cycle, you will pull from the floor for triples, doubles, and eventually singles. After deadlifting from the floor, you will pull from six or four-inch blocks. The percentages will increase each week, except for deload weeks.

There are three deload weeks in this cycle. The first two (week three and week six), you will still deadlift but will stay at 60% and focus on speed and form. The final deload (week nine) will give you the opportunity to recover before the peak day on week ten. This week is extremely important if you want to hit a PR. If you push too hard on week nine, you will not be prepared to pull heavy on meet day.


It should be stressed that the prescribed percentages are meant for an intermediate lifter. If the lifter is more advanced, he should start at a lower percentage because he will need more time to acclimate to the really heavy loads. I find that intermediate guys (if they’ve been following a good off-season program) can jump right to higher percentages because the weights aren’t as heavy and don’t beat them up so badly. The heaviest movements (90 percent range) are all reduced range of motion.

When determining your numbers, base them off either your best lift in a meet or your best clean lift in the gym. Do not use the weight from a shitty grinder that you barely got and that would have been redlighted for three different reasons.



If you’re a sumo deadlifter, remember that setup is everything. You can see in my log here the difference between a correct setup and a lazy approach to the bar. If you’re out of place before starting the pull, you will never finish the lift the way you want to. It works this way with conventional deadlifting as well, but some lifters can grind out bad positioning to get back into their groove. Proper setup makes the difference between a miss and an easy triple.

Setup matters just as much for the light pulls on weeks three and six. When you’re working at a lighter weight, you need to focus on your speed and form the same as if it’s a heavy pull. This will help build your technique for max attempts.

Accessory Exercises

Choose accessories based on your weaknesses. For my deadlift, I need to build my upper back, so I have been doing a lot of rows and dumbbell shrugs. If your weakness is in your hamstrings and glutes, it won’t do you any good to program rows and dumbbell shrugs. You need to pick accessory exercises that will help your deadlift. If your weakness is in your hamstrings and glutes, do glute ham raises. If your weakness is in your abs, do planks to the front and to both sides.

Train your traps to build a strong starting position. I also like to throw in reverse dumbbell curls from time to time to help the forearms and biceps tendons. These need to be strong to remain injury free when pulling heavy.

If you follow this outline and choose the right accessory exercises, you should hit a big PR on week ten. Send videos to the Q&A if you want technique advice or have other questions, and let us know in the comments how this training cycle works for you.


Part 12: Add 100 Pounds to Your Pull

The following program is basic. I’ve used this and similar setups with clients and myself, and had great success—it works. This exact program has been used to take a client’s max deadlift from 315 to 415 in 24 weeks. There’s nothing revolutionary about this. It’s just a smart, simple program that works.  This works exceptionally well for beginner and intermediate lifters.

Long story short, I had a high school wrestler who began training with me last fall, six weeks before the season started. Once wrestling began, he was unable to make it in to train with me. During the season he injured his shoulder and required surgery. Once he healed up from surgery, he gave me a call to get back into the gym. Finally, we resumed training together on May 29th. This time around, his goals were a bit different. For example, instead of training for wrestling, he wanted to get as big and strong as possible. Training with our strongman crew, he also decided he’d like to compete.

He’s a natural, athletic kid who has pretty good genetics. The first session back in, I worked him up to a 1RM on his deadlift. Because he’s been lifting consistently for a few years, has great body awareness and natural athleticism, I wasn’t worried about working him up to a 1RM. This gave me a baseline of where he was. We worked him up to 315 pounds for a solid, but difficult rep. After one more jump up in weight, he missed 335. (Note: I don’t always test a 1RM with clients. Sometimes I’ll use a 3RM or 5RM. There are special situations where I won’t even test them for a long time. Instead, we will just progress from session to session. This really does vary from individual to individual.)

While we also wanted to bring up his squat and get him accustomed to the strongman events, my main goal was to bring up his deadlift and rehab his shoulder to allow him to press pain-free. Not knowing how the squat would affect his shoulder, the deadlift became the main focus. Adjustments to this setup would be based on his feedback.

He is only able to train with me once a week so I set his program up as follows:

Monday: Full Body (train alone)

Wednesday: Full Body (train with me)

Saturday: Strongman Event Day (train with the strongman crew)

I’m only going to show the programming for his lower body, as the deadlift was our main focus.

On Monday’s when he trained alone, I limited his reps to five on the squat and deadlift, and used a simple 5×5 progression. He was instructed to perform each rep as explosively as possible and work on perfecting technique. The first few weeks are pretty light, but progress overtime. This is by design.

He squatted and deadlifted every week. When working him up to his training 5, 3 or 1RMs, we avoided missing reps. He was instructed to always leave at least one rep in the tank.

Accessory work: I’m not going to get into what he did because everyone has different weaknesses. Just do what YOU suck at. Train YOUR weak points.

I won’t be detailing the event days below, but typically it looked like:

Week A:

Log Clean & Press

Farmers Carry

Atlas Stones

Week B:

Log Clean & Press

Yoke Walk

Carry or Medley

For those who don’t train strongman events, organize the template slightly different. I’d like to see another day or two of rest between squat/deadlift days, with the strongman events removed from the program:

Example #1:

Monday: Full Body (Squat/Deadlift)

Wednesday: Full Body (Single leg work)

Friday: Full Body (Squat/Deadlift)

Example #2:

Monday: Lower (Squat/Deadlift)

Tuesday: Upper Body

Thursday: Lower Body (Squat/Deadlift)

Friday: Upper Body

Example #3:

Monday: Lower Body (Squat/Deadlift)

Tuesday: Upper Body

Thursday: Full Body (Squat/Deadlift)


24 Week Deadlift

Phase 1

Deadlift: All percentages below are based on a training max. His training max was 85% of his true 1RM.

Squat: All percentages below are based on a training max. His training max was based on 85% of his estimated 1RM. Since his squat technique wasn’t as proficient as his deadlift, I worked him to a 5RM instead of a 1RM. This was used to establish his estimated 1RM.

The training max or everyday max is a very important part of this program. Using a true max for this program will not work properly.

Monday- Alternate A and B for six weeks

Week A- Squat

Week B- Deadlift 

Week 1: Squat: 65%x5, 75%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5, 65%x5

Week 2: Deadlift: 65%x5, 75%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5, 65%x5

Week 3: Squat: 70%x5, 80%x5, 90%x5, 80%x5, 70%x5

Week 4: Deadlift: 70%x5, 80%x5, 90%x5, 80%x5, 70%x5

Week 5: Squat: 75%x5, 85%x5, 95%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5

Week 6: Deadlift: 75%x5, 85%x5, 95%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5

Wednesday: Alternate Week A and Week B for six weeks

Week A- Deadlift

Week B- Squat

Week 1: Deadlift: 5 reps @ 60%, 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85% (Continue making 5% jumps until a 5RM is met.)

Week 2: Squat: 5 reps @ 55%, 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 5RM is met.)

Week 3: Deadlift:  3 reps @ 60%, 3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3 reps @ 90% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 3RM is met.)

Week 4: Squat: 3 reps @ 60%, 3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3 reps @ 90% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 3RM is met.)

Week 5: Deadlift: 3 reps @ 65%, 3 reps @ 75%, 3 reps @ 85%, 1 rep @ 95% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 1RM is met. This is a training 1 rep max. Not a true 1 rep max. There is some left in the tank, but the bar is approached aggressively.)

Week 6: Squat: 3 reps @ 65%, 3 reps @ 75%, 3 reps @ 85%, 1 rep @ 95% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 1RM is met. Not a true 1 rep max. There is some left in the tank, but the bar is approached aggressively.)

Phase 3

Back off sets are added after hitting RM for the day. All back off sets are done beltless.

Deadlift– All percentages below are based on a training max. We have now added 10 more pounds to his deadlift training max.  

Squat– All percentages below are based on a training max. We have now added 10 more pounds to his squat training max.

Monday- Alternate A and B for six weeks

Week A- Squat

Week B- Deadlift

Week 1: Squat: 65%x5, 75%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5, 65%x5

Week 2: Deadlift: 65%x5, 75%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5, 65%x5

Week 3: Squat: 70%x5, 80%x5, 90%x5, 80%x5, 70%x5

Week 4: Deadlift: 70%x5, , 80%x5, 90%x5, 80%x5, 70%x5

Week 5: Squat: 75%x5, 85%x5, 95%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5

Week 6: Deadlift: 75%x5, 85%x5, 95%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5

Wednesday- Alternate Week A and Week B for six weeks

Week A- Deadlift

Week B- Squat

Week 1: Deadlift: 5 reps @ 60%, 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85% (Continue making 5% jumps until a 5RM is met. Go for a 5 rep PR here.)

Back off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 65%

Week 2: Squat: 5 reps @ 55%, 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 5RM is met. Go for a 5 rep PR here.)

Back off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 65%

Week 3: Deadlift: 3 reps @ 60%, 3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3 reps @ 90%

Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 3RM is met. Go for a 3 rep PR here.

Back off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 70%

Week 4: Squat: 3 reps @ 60%, 3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3 reps @ 90% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 3RM is met. Go for a 3 rep PR here.)

Back off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 70%

Week 5: Deadlift: 3 reps @ 65%, 3 reps @ 75%, 3 reps @ 85%, 1 rep @ 95% (This is a training 1 rep max, not a true 1 rep max. There is some left in the tank, but the bar is approached aggressively. Continue working up, making 5% jumps until a 1RM is met. Go for a heavier single than phase 2.)

Back-off sets: 3 sets of 3-5 @ 75%

Week 6: Squat: 3 reps @ 65%, 3 reps @ 75%, 3 reps @ 85%, 1 rep @ 95% (This is a training 1 rep max, not a true 1 rep max. There is some left in the tank, but the bar is approached aggressively. Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 1RM is met. Go for a heavier single than phase 2.)

Back-off sets: 3 sets of 3-5 @ 75%

Phase 4

Back off sets are added after hitting RM for the day. All back off sets are done beltless.

Deadlift – All percentages below are based on a training max. We have now added 10 more pounds to his deadlift training max.    

Squat – All percentages below are based on a training max. We have now added 10 more pounds to his squat training max.

Monday- Alternate A and B for six weeks

Week A– Squat

Week B– Deadlift

Week 1: Squat: 65%x5, 75%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5, 65%x5

Week 2: Deadlift: 65%x5, 75%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5, 65%x5

Week 3: Squat: 70%x5, 80%x5, 90%x5, 80%x5, 70%x5

Week 4: Deadlift: 70%x5, 80%x5, 90%x5, 80%x5, 70%x5

Week 5: Squat: Omit– Deadlift Testing Week

Week 6: Deadlift: 75%x5,85%x5, 95%x5, 85%x5, 75%x5

Wednesday- Alternate Week A and Week B for six weeks

Week A- Deadlift

Week B- Squat

Week 1: Deadlift: 5 reps @ 60%, 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85% (Continue making 5% jumps until a 5RM is met. Go for a 5 rep PR here.)

Back-off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 65%

Week 2: Squat: 5 reps @ 55%, 5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5 reps @ 85% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 5RM is met. Go for a 5 rep PR here.)

Back-off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 65%

Week 3: Deadlift: 3 reps @ 60%, 3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3 reps @ 90% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 3RM is met. Go for a 3 rep PR here.)

Back-off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 70%

Week 4: Squat: 3 reps @ 60%, 3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3 reps @ 90% (Continue working up making 5% jumps until a 3RM is met. Go for a 3 rep PR here.)

Back-off sets: 3 sets of 5-8 @ 70%

Week 5: TEST Deadlift: 1 rep @ 65%, 1 rep @ 75%, 1 rep @ 85%, 1 rep @ 95% (Continue working up making 5-10% jumps until a 1RM is met. Go for an all time PR here.)

Week 6: Squat: 3 reps @ 65% TM, 3 reps @ 75% TM, 3 reps @ 85% TM, 1 rep @ 95% TM (This is a training 1 rep max, not a true 1 rep max. There is some left in the tank, but the bar is approached aggressively. Continue working up, making 5% jumps until a 1RM is met. Go for a heavier single than phase 3.)

Some people think that you need to train your deadlift more than once a week. In my experience, I haven’t found this to be of any benefit. Another misconception is that one should pull 90 percent or more one week before a meet. You can, but your results won’t be what you expect or what they should be. I would always stop 14-21 days out for my last heavy pull.

Beginners think that when you start to pull heavy, you should use more arms and upper body to pull the weight off the floor. Using your upper body does nothing more than cause you to lean way forward and use more lower back. Keep your arms as straight as possible and your shoulders as relaxed as possible to get the best benefit(s).


Part 14: Monster Garage Gym: Hook Grip 101…It’s a Love-Hate Relationship

His name was Master Chai, a multi-degree black belt who came to the United States from the mountains of Korea. Thinking back, I don’t recall the year, day, or date, but I remember watching the event unfold right in front of me when I was a teenager, just like it was yesterday. Master Chai had all of his Tae Kwon Do students, myself included, in the parking lot after one of the students broke his hand trying to break a brick.

I remember watching Master Chai slowly and deliberately tighten up his fist and then lay on the pavement, his fist tight and his arm laying straight on the ground. I then remember watching as one of the other black belts got in his Jeep and drove over Master Chai’s closed fist. He slowly drove the Jeep up, on, over, and then off of Chai’s closed fist. We all watched in total shock as we tried to figure out why Master Chai not only wanted to purposely crush his own hand under the weight of the Jeep, but also why he wanted us to witness this. Once Master Chai got up from the pavement, he proceeded to brush the grit from the tire and the pavement off of his fist. And slowly, little by little, he unfurled his hand, eventually displaying a perfectly functional hand, little finger and all. It is a memory that has stuck with me to this day.

Now on to your question—what does this have to do with powerlifting? Well, for the sake of this article, only everything when it comes to the hook grip. Almost a decade ago I was prepping for the WPC World’s, and during an all too routine 605-pound final warm-up, I tore my right bicep. Nearly a total detachment. Following a successful surgery, the surgeon told me that there was this little eight percent of the tendon keeping the other 92 percent from rolling up, window shade style. Therefore, pulling with that arm supinated was a no-go. I will spare the details of the rehab and such for another article (as they might be helpful for someone else who has had this injury recently), but I will tell you that I was concerned about my deadlift because as a good deadlifter. (I was, and still am, a horrid bencher on the other hand). I talked to Ernie Frantz as I sat there with ice on my bicep, and he suggested swapping the pronated hand for a supinated hand and vice versa. Since I am not indestructible like Ernie, I started talking to other guys who had blown their biceps and then swapped grip. However, nearly 75 percent of them had eventually blown the other bicep. Ernie has ropes for biceps tendons, I don’t, and I wanted no part of another rupture. Enter, the hook grip…

If you are not familiar with the hook grip, it is a way to grip the bar that is best known in the Olympic lifting community. The easiest way to describe the hook grip (versus the traditional overhand and underhand grip) is to say that you are basically using your own thumb and fingers to create a wrist-strap around the bar.
With a hook grip, both hands are in the pronated position, meaning your palms are facing in when you are holding the deadlift bar. Here are the steps:

1. Open your hands as wide as possible and try to push the barbell deep into the pocket of your palms.

2. Wrap your thumbs around the bar as far as you can, as if you were going to completely encircle the bar with your thumb.

3. Grip the barbell with your pinky and ring finger while your index finger and your “hey, you just cut me off in traffic!” finger are wrapped around your thumb as tightly as you can. (Remember, the thumb is wrapped around the bar, and it is kind of pointed toward your own pinky finger). To be clear, the index and middle finger are gripping so tightly and squeezing the thumb into the barbell that the thumb is essentially trapped by those two fingers.

*Try this on something thinner than a barbell, such as the handle of a wooden spoon or something of that likeness, so you can see what it is like to engulf that implement into your hand and use this hook grip.

The key to the hook grip is the lesson of Master Chai. The reason his hand did not break is because he tightened his fist so much that there was no room for the carpels in his hand to move. Thus, there were no moving parts to break, just one big non-breakable mass. The hook grip is like that. If there is no space between your thumb and the bar, you can pull tremendous weight and not really feel the hook grip much.

The hook will “feel” fine for lighter weight that you can still hold with a double pronated grip, even if you are doing it incorrectly and not gripping it as tightly as you should. However, when the weight is greater than what your double pronated grip can hold, you have to grip that bar as if someone is trying to steal your paycheck in order for the hook to work properly. And with a tight—and I mean TIGHT—hook grip, you are smashing your own thumb to the deadlift bar. If you grab the bar with less than your tightest grip, the bar will smash your thumb as the bar is lifted, so now you have gravity, the barbell, and 700 pounds smashing your thumb. The tighter the grip of your hook, the less pain to your thumbs. Now, when I say “less” pain to the thumb, that is a relative term. The hook grip is not a pleasant grip. When I say that, I don’t mean a “going to the dentist” kind of unpleasant. I mean it is significantly unpleasant. You are going to have to mentally commit to this grip in order to do it. It is not like lifting sumo for a training cycle and then doing another training cycle with a conventional stance. This is like getting tattooed—you kind of just get through it.

In my experience, here are some pros to the hook grip:

  • Your body won’t twist or windmill as it can with a pronated and supinated grip.
  • Your supinated bicep is not actively engaged, so it is not exposed to rupture.
  • You have symmetry between your left and right hands.
  • The distance is a little less to pull (every bit counts).
  • You won’t drop the bar because you really can’t drop the bar if you are doing the hook correctly. You will run out of air pulling before you would lose your grip with the hook.
  • You are far less likely to have a chunk of your hand rip away, which can happen when gnarled bar meets lose callouses.

That said, here are some cons I have found with the grip:

  • Hook grip is a big hands grip. If you have one of the elitefts™ deadlift bars and you have smaller hands, you should be okay since they are something like 27-28mm. But the hook can be a challenge for smaller hands.
  • Reps are tough. You have to re-grip with each rep, so this might mean using straps on your lighter sets.
  • If you have shorter arms, your fingers can get caught on your suit bottom. Powder it up.
  • The hook takes months to get used to. There is a callous to build up, and it just plain old takes some practice.
  • You can’t half-ass a hook grip deadlift like you can with a traditional grip. You have to commit 100 percent. Even if you don’t have to pull hard to get the weight up, you will have to grip hard to make it tolerable.
  • Plain old unpleasant.

The hook grip is merely one tool in your powerlifting tool box, but it is a specialty tool and well worth experimenting with, regardless if you pull sumo or conventional. Ultimately, the hook grip is a love-hate relationship. You will love the pulling power you get with it; however, you will hate how unpleasant it is at the same time.

*Photos by Bent Nail Photography.  LIKE Bent Nail photography on Facebook.




Part 15: So You Think You Can Deadlift

This is a 9 part video play list by Matt Wenning


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