3 Common Deadlift Mistakes

TAGS: Deadlift mistakes, form, weak points, lockout, too heavy, deadlift

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the deadlift for a while. A few years back, my max pull was around 500 pounds and although I knew it wasn’t record-setting, I still felt pretty confident about it. Then I started competing in strongman. Through competitions, I realized pretty quickly it kind of sucked. Then I began to hate the deadlift. It seemed that no matter what I tried I couldn’t get it to improve. After months of trial and error and then finally checking my ego, it started to climb. Since then, I’ve taken my raw pull from 500 to 670 pounds at roughly the same bodyweight (though my body composition has improved).

The thing is, I’ve also helped countless others do the same to their pulls. In the past year alone I’ve had a 49 year old guy take his raw pull from 525 to 625 in six months, another 17 year old go from 315 to 500 in 50 weeks, and even one that took his raw pull (as the biggest deadlift I’ve had a client pull to date) from 725 to 805 in around seven months. The methods I’ve used to do this really aren’t all that revolutionary or top secret — just smart programming. Below are the common mistakes that I see and how to correct them to help add pounds to the deadlift.

chase karnes lockout deadlift 0810141. Going Too Heavy

The one thing I almost always do when a new client is looking to increase his or her deadlift is back them off a bit. The majority of the time when clients come to me they’ve been pushing their deadlift hard and it has plateaued. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that it seems the harder you try to push the deadlift the more it seems to fight back and not increase. The deadlift is its own animal and has to be treated a bit different than other lifts. There are times to push it hard in regards to intensity and volume, but there is also a time to back things off. Most of the time, guys base their training numbers off of a max they either pulled in competition or pulled that one day in the gym when the stars aligned perfectly. We all know those days and we’ve all had them, but basing your general work numbers off of a max that was done in a heightened state of arousal is a big no-go for increasing your deadlift. I first read about maximum competition weight and maximum training weight in “Science and Practice of Strength Training” where Zatsiorsky talks about using a competition max and training max. Jim Wendler made the training max even more popular with 5/3/1. Regardless of how you train, make sure you’re working off of a max number that you’re good for any day of the week, not the number you pulled in competition after a peaking cycle.


chase karnes deadlift mistakes 0810142. Losing Their Form

This goes hand in hand with going too heavy. Pulling weights with poor technique ingrains poor motor patterns. Sure, for a while you may be able to progress and get “stronger” pulling this way, but losing technique at the expense of adding pounds on the bar will eventually bite you in the ass. You will plateau. Eventually you’ll have to take some weight off the bar, learn proper technique, and then ramp back up over time. To keep from wasting time by having to do this, you should just focus on using perfect technique every time you pull. If your hips shoot up from the start and you stall around the knees only to hitch it to lockout in training, you’re pulling too much weight. When training, you should strive for picture perfect technique from 135 pounds and on.

Once you hit your top end set for the day there may be some small technical errors. This is fine and expected, but to most people the pull should look very close to your first warm-up set of the day. If you’re working up to a 5RM then reps four and five may not look perfect, but if on rep one you look like a dog taking a dump, you’re going too heavy. From your warm-ups forward, focus on creating tension and pulling that bar off the floor as fast as humanly possible while staying as tight as humanly possible. Try to make each rep look the exact same – whether it’s 135 pounds on the bar or 600 pounds.

bo chase karnes deadlift mistakes 081014

3. Not Identifying & Training Their Weak Points

This one seems pretty common sense, but as humans we are creatures of habit. So if you’ve always done touch and go deadlifts then chances are that’s how you’ll continue to deadlift. But what about when your weakness is off the floor? Based on many people I’ve worked with and talked to over the years, this is very common. Even when they know their weakness is off the floor, they still do touch and go reps. Why? Ego. They know they can get more reps utilizing the slight stretch reflex and rebound of the weights and they don’t want to use less weight or get less reps. However, this is exactly what they need, at least at first. Video yourself deadlifting or have an experienced training partner watch you. Where do you miss lifts or what is your weak point as you start to fatigue? Identify this and fix it. One of my favorite ways of training weak points is simply start the training session with regular deadlifts from the floor. Then the second lift of the day, make a variation that targets your specific weak point. A few examples:

If you’re weak off the floor:

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Deficit Deadlifts/OR/Snatch Grip Deadlifts/OR/Front Squats

Weak below the knees:

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Block Pulls/OR/Rack Pulls/OR/Speed Pulls

Weak above the knees:

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Paused Deadlifts/OR/High Rack Pulls/OR/Good Mornings

I find this to work exceptionally well. As you continue to progress and train the actual main lift first, which also helps with reinforcing technique, these layouts work very well. If you want to get better at throwing a football, swinging a tennis racket isn’t going to do much. I view the deadlift the same way. If you want to improve it, you’ve got to be pulling from the floor. Then your supplemental work targets your weak point. Hammer these weak points.

deadlift putting it all together mistakes 081014

Putting It All Together

Programming the deadlift can be very tricky for some. With enough thought, patience, and disciple, you can get your pull moving in the right direction. I find that programming the deadlift out over time in phases to work very well. I’ll typically start a client with a lower intensity phase where the main focus is moving the bar fast and perfecting technique. If the client can handle higher reps with good technique, we will typically start in the 8-10 rep range and increase intensity over six weeks and gradually drop the reps to around five. After the deadlift work is done, the supplemental work targeting the weak point is hit hard. This takes six weeks. I’ll have the client pull every other week, alternating with squats, at this time. Then there will be a deload week followed by another six week phase. During this phase we will push the intensity a bit higher and work up to true training 5RM, 3RM and 1RM (we don’t miss lifts here) over the course of the six-week phase while still alternating squats and deadlift. We will also continue to train the weak point as the second exercise of the day. This lift may stay the same or it may get rotated with another variation. This is followed by a deload after six weeks. I like to run these phases back to back and then when the time is right to go for a new PR we will run a short six-week peaking phase pulling each week, gradually ramping up the intensity before a deload and then testing day. In fewer words, here's how it looks:

So, remember this when you're trying to build a stubborn deadlift: don’t go too heavy too often, maintain proper movement patterns and not only identify but also fix your weak point.

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