For a large portion of the early part of my powerlifting career I hated deadlifts. I found all kinds of excuses as to why I sucked at them (short arms, long torso and a big gut to name a few). Ultimately it came down to the the realisation that I hated deadlifts because I sucked at them and I sucked at them because I hated deadlifts. It was a vicious cycle.

Over the last few years I’ve embraced the fact I’m not naturally built to deadlift and learned to love the mental and physical test that comes with a big training session. Now I look forward to deadlifting almost (but not quite as) much as I do squatting.

I’m by no measure an amazing deadlifter (currently my best deadlifts are 265kg conventional and 282.5kg sumo – both gym maxes) however the 3 points explained below are the foundation of what I’ve used in my own training and that of my lifters to help develop consistently improving results in the deadlift. These points are by no means a definitive guide to the deadlift. Instead think of them as some ideas to experiment with in your own training. Have a read of the explanation for each then be sure to check out the video at the end for some practical demonstrations of each point.

1 – Setup from the top down

This is probably the most common first port of call I have when teaching the deadlift to any new lifter to walk through the doors of Burley. Essentially it involves starting your deadlift setup from the standing position before slowly and methodically lower your body to the start position. Most people will walk up to the bar and bend over without conscious regard to their body position before fidgeting about trying to find their start position.

A consistent position in the deadlift is essential to both reducing injury risks and increasing performance. I believe that a large portion of lifters (especially those new to deadlifting) would benefit from a top down approach to the setup. This approach allows you be more aware of your start position and therefore move more efficiently (meaning more weight on the bar). It also, I believe, dramatically improves your ability to brace your core and breath effectively.

Your ability to set and maintain a braced, neutral spine in the deadlift has a direct influence on the weight on the bar. Most, if not all, lifters will find it much harder to brace effectively in the bottom position of the deadlift (especially the larger lifters). By setting the brace at standing and controlling your spinal position on the descent you’ll be able to create a much more rigid core and limit the amount of messing about you need to do in the bottom position before you start the pull.

2 – Push before you pull

The deadlift is often referred to as a pull. I don’t believe that’s incorrect but I do believe that never considering the pushing component of both the sumo and conventional deadlift is a great way to sell yourself short.

Learning to push is arguably most important for those of you that choose to pull with a sumo stance. One of the biggest advantages to a sumo deadlift stance is that by externally rotating your feet and hips (i.e. turning your feet out) your are able to produce more knee bend in your setup without pushing the bar too far way from your centre of gravity. This will allow you to better utilise the strength of your legs and hips and, potentially, increase your deadlift.

The conventional deadlift shouldn’t be left out when we’re talking about pushing. You do have to be careful that you’re not bending your knees too much and producing a bad start position however most people should be able to find a middle ground start position that allows them to still utilise their legs without dramatically effecting the start position mechanics.

Ideally in both the sumo and conventional deadlifts we want your hips and shoulders to rise together so that you can maintain a neutral spine and finish the movement from a position that allows the greatest mechanical advantage. In my experience the lifters that focus on initiating the movement with a pull often end up compromising their start position leaving them to have to fight to finish the deadlift from a mechanically disadvantageous position. This idea ties nicely into the final point…

3 – Patience young Padawan 

If this isn’t the greatest life lesson to ever come from deadlifts I don’t know what is.

It’s pretty cliché to say it but everything good will always be worth waiting for. Whether that’s success in your career or a solid lockout on your deadlift doesn’t matter. Either way you MUST be patient.

More often than not your lockout issue is actually the manifestation of setup issue. Most people will start with a decent setup position and then as soon as they start the lift they position breaks in order to get the bar off the floor. A smooth deadlift will always be better than a jerky deadlift.

My favourite analogy when talking about this topic is to imagine driving in the wet. If you’re sitting at the lights pretending not to check your Facebook status while waiting for the lights to change and then, when they go green, you slam you’re foot on the accelerator you’re likely to spin your wheels.

Now while I may have undertaken some nefarious activities as a reckless teenager but now as a mature adult who’s ‘got his shit together’ I’d never condone doing burnouts. Especially when we’re actually talking about deadlifts.

In order to maintain an efficient start (and therefore finish) position you need to be able to gradually apply force to the bar. This is especially true if you compete in a federation that allows the use of a specialist deadlift bar. Find the tension point of the bar and gradually apply the force. Once you’ve felt the bar start to move then it’s time to accelerate but you should never rush the process of taking the slack.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post – this is not a definitive guide to deadlifting. Instead you need to consider each of these points and how you might implement them in your own training. Above all else you should try them in training for a couple of weeks and see how you like them!

As always, if you’ve got any questions or issues just let me know!

Until next time,

Stay Strong.



John Sheridan
John Sheridan

Burley Owner & Bearded Overlord

Burley Strength

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