Deadlift Better Part 1

Deadlift Better (Part 1)

Almost every day I receive messages or comments on how to improve your deadlift.  The answer is incredibly simple… deadlift better. What I mean when I say that is… deadlift better! It’s as simple as that, in order to get stronger in the deadlift you must maximize everything about the movement; including positioning, trunk and hip strength, and flawless execution.

The deadlift is an incredibly stubborn movement that often cripples those who aren’t prepared, and destroys the hopes of a massive total. For example, my first powerlifting meet circa 2008 I deadlifted 600 at 198. Now fast forward to May 2016 I lifted 727 at 220. That’s a huge increase, but it took nearly 8 years to get there. What’s even more frustrating I first attempted 700 in 2011 and could not break the 700 barrier for almost 5 years from that point, so you can see that strength takes time.  With that being said, don’t expect to pull a PR after reading this article but instead evaluate your own training and technique and see what needs to change.

Here are some of the key components to my recent success in the deadlift. These have helped me break the 800+ deadlift barrier.

  1. Proper Set Up.

In my opinion, the success of your deadlift begins before the weights ever leave the ground.  A familiar phrase or terminology that you’ve heard or seen thrown around the internet is “Pull the slack out of the bar.” Now this may seem simple enough, but, in reality this one of the most difficult aspects of the deadlift and can lead to lifters having trouble breaking the weight off the floor. This is due to the lifter applying a vertical force on the bar (through hip extension, not elbow flexion or lumbar extension) but when the lifter drops their hips into the pull they more often than not release the vertical tension they just created, and as a result their hips often shoot upward first resulting in a poor movement pattern. They utilize more relative effort and place greater stress on the back (specifically lumbar extensors).  I admit that this was one of my biggest obstacles when learning sumo and re-learning my conventional deadlift.  


For me, I utilized sumo stiff leg deadlifts (the idea works the same for both sumo or conventional) with relatively light weight (35-45%). I would practice bracing my trunk and try lifting the weight using only my hip extensors. As I felt comfortable with my form, I would slowly add weight each session. I would keep the reps between 2-3 and usually between 6 to 8 sets, keeping rest to a minimum and always resetting after each rep. This helped me to utilize my hips extensors to a much greater degree and create a false eccentric phase during the drop to the bar that allowed me to utilize the stretch shortening cycle and aided in my initial pull off the floor. Below is an example of how I look like from when I first set up on the bar (top image) and how I look when I begin the initial pull from the floor (bottom image) after loading my hips and dropping into the pull. As you can see, the distance from the floor and the apex of the bar increases as I apply the vertical force on the bar. This helps optimize your starting position, decrease the distance the bar travels (a small degree) and allows you to develop more tension or force before the initial pull.



  1. Beltless Training.

One of the greatest things I have ever done for my training was to get rid of the belt. Not only for deadlifts, but is also just as beneficial for squats. Beltless training allowed me to focus on creating a much tighter or rigid trunk and more efficient setup.  Plus, I can now see abs, which is kinda cool (yes I know that’s more diet but I can still see them so chill out). When increasing the rigidity of the trunk through abdominal bracing, the force created from your legs can be transferred to the bar more efficiently, thus allowing you the potential to lift more weight and you are less likely to have increased trunk flexion during the lift, which often leads to a more difficult lock out because this can limit glute activation.  


For the past year I have only utilized a belt during meet preps, which runs 8-10 weeks at a time with 1-2 reload/deloads in each. This past year I have competed twice, and so 12-14 weeks out of 52 weeks I will use a belt. For so many people, they use the belt as a crutch and often never want to push themselves without it. However, in all reality, as long as your program or your coach has any common sense and start at a safe weight, you can easily acclimate yourself to beltless training with little to zero difficulty.


So, like I said at the beginning of this rant, it’s very simple to deadlift better. I didn’t say it would be easy and it would happen overnight, but I can guarantee if you put the time into developing your starting position and focus on keeping a rigid trunk it will start to get easier and you will slowly chip away at the deadlift monster the hides under your bed at night.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Three Common Meet Prep Mistakes

     The goal of any competitive powerlifter is to be at their strongest on the day of the meet. Although this seems like a relatively simple plan, there are a number of mistakes that can dramatically impact performance on meet day; unfortunately these issues extend across both experienced and novice lifters. The general success of any meet can be attributed to the successfulness of the “peaking” cycle. A peaking cycle is a preparatory block of training designed to enhance athletic performance; in the case of powerlifting, athletic performance can be defined as muscular strength. For simplicity sake, this phase of preparation will include the highest level of intensity and the lowest level of volume and usually include some form of active recovery and rest. This article will outline 3 common mistakes that could hurt your chance for that PR!

  1. Select the correct training intensity at the start of the meet prep.

So how does one go about picking the correct training intensity? Well, in short, it depends. Depends on the length of your training cycle, the intensity of your previous training block, and how quickly your body can recover in time for the meet. The length of a peaking cycle can generally vary between 4 and 8 weeks, and can include varying intensity throughout the cycle. Why is the starting intensity so valuable in designing a peaking cycle? For one, based on the length of the cycle and the initial intensity will dictate the week to week progression. For example, if you have designed a 4 week peaking cycle which includes a “deload” or recovery week,  with a goal to stay below 100% of your max and increase no more than 10% from week to week. Here are a few examples of what these could look like:

Example 1. With 10% increments.

WK 1   70%

WK 2   80%

WK 3   90%

WK 4   50%


Example 2. With 7% increments

WK 1   85%

WK 2   92%

WK 3   99%

WK 4   50%


Example 3. With 5% increments

WK 1   85%

WK 2   90%

WK 3   95%

WK 4   50%


As you can see there are a number of options that you can choose from and each has pros and cons. As mentioned earlier, the choice is not as simple as just picking one. Remember along with the length of the cycle you must also recall the intensity of the previous training cycle and evaluate on how well your body will recover from the training. The difficulty and intensity of the prior training cycle can provide a large amount of information about how well the future peaking cycle will go. When switching into a new block or phase of training, intensity and volume should be altered in order to prevent overtraining and/or risk injury. In my own training, I have found that I am generally more successful come meet day when I choose higher intensity initialially, with small increases, especially for a short training cycle. In addition to analyzing the prior training block, one needs to have foresight to predict how they will recover from the higher intensity training in preparation for the meet. The initial training intensity and weekly progression can have a significant impact on the final intensity. This brings us to our second point, selecting the final intensities of the training cycle.

  1. Selecting the appropriate final intensity of the meet prep.

This is where most good lifters fall victim to their ego and punish their totals which ultimately lead to missed attempts and failures at the meet; like before, the final intensity is not as simple as selecting a number between 90 and 100%. First off, what number should you base the intensity off of? In short, there is some ambiguity as to whether you should select the intensity off of a training max or a true max; if we refer back to the previous examples we see that the final intensity ended with:


WK1 @90%

WK1 @99%

WK1 @95%


Now if we apply that an individual who squatted 700 pounds at their last meet, it will look like this…


WK1 @ 630lbs

WK1 @ 695lbs

WK1 @ 665lbs


But say we based the intensity off of their training max ~90-95% of max (665lbs or 95% for this example)


WK1 @ 600lbs

WK1 @ 660lbs

WK1 @ 630lbs


Although the differences seem relatively small as percentages, we can see that these ending points can vary almost 100 pounds. Unfortunately a majority of lifters, myself included, will fall victim to the iron bug and want to go for a new max towards the end of the meet cycle, which in reality is great if you get it but at what cost. Often this new “max” is at a much higher effort than you wished and you exerted more effort than what was programmed, which could lead to you peaking to early or pushing your body to hard and not giving it enough time to recover. I personally prefer to be more conservative with my training intensities later in the meet prep. For example, for my squat during my last 4 weeks of training, the heaviest (intensity wise) weight that I used was 635 pounds. Two weeks out from the meet I tripled 635 pounds, which was 2 pounds over my opening attempt. Ultimately I ended with 677 pounds for my third attempt and believe I left a few pounds on the platform. In this example, I selected a lower final intensity which yielded great outcomes come meet day.


  1. Specificity of the Movements


Often times, individuals will tend to structure their program with specialty movements; these are generally designed to enhance a weakness, for example pulling from blocks is generally used to help improve your lockout or from a certain position. This is a common practice and generally accepted in most training regimens. However, as the date of the meet approaches and the training intensity and effort rise in parallel, technique becomes increasingly more important. Unfortunately specialty movements have the potential alter your mechanics in a negative manner. For example, if you squat against bands for the majority of your training block, your body will become used to the bands pulling you down and creating a false loading pattern. Thus when you squat at the meet your body will be unable to recall the correct loading pattern since the bands are not loading the bar. Although, variable resistance and specialty bars are great alternatives to traditional movements and have their place within a specific macrocycle, it is important that you understand you do not use the specialty bars and training styles in competition. One way to enhance technique would be trying to reduce the variability of the movement; whether it is bar path or angular kinematics, a reduction in variability would great improve the efficiency of the particular exercise.


Minimizing the differences between the main lift and secondary or specialty is one way to keep the correct the loading/motor pattern while still improving athletic performance. For example:



Competition Lift     Good Alternative      Bad Alternative

Squat                      Pause Squats              Banded Squat

Bench                     Board Press                  Floor Press

Deadlift                   Block Pull                  Paused Deadlift




Here are few examples of movements that will be more effective in maintaining a proper motor pattern when preparing for a meet.

In general there are a number of factors that can influence your training cycle and we have only scratched the surface of what we can do to better prepare for a meet. The takeaway from this article should be that preparing for a meet may not be as simple as it seems. If you are a novice with limited peaking experience or veteran powerlifter that often suffers from a lack luster meet performance, take a step back and evaluate your training cycle and determine if your training suffered due to one of these common mistakes.

Getting under the bar with 1,035 pounds

True Life: I’m addicted to my briefs…

The point of this article is not to argue or push powerlifting ideology on anyone. But instead, I want to share why lifting in gear, suits or whatever you wish to call it, was so appealing to me. I currently train as a “Raw” lifter but still get the itch to throw on a pair of briefs from time to time. As I know it all too well, it is impossible to break down the powerlifting dogma that is associated with geared/equipped lifters. Whether this came from petty jealousy or severe lack of admiration for this sport, we as “society of powerlifters” are doomed based on these principles.  

I started out in powerlifting as a “Raw” lifter (I wore a belt and wrist wraps). I always thought of myself a strong person, but when I saw people weighing 50lbs less than me and squatting over 200lbs more than me, I was in dumbfounded. But what makes me different than the countless number of gym goers than troll and plague our sport, is that instead of condemning these people, I asked how it was done? It was at this point I realized that they were lifting with equipment. Well like any rational person, I understood the differences between them and myself, but more importantly I focused on the similarities we had, to lift the most amount of weight possible!

It was never a question about who is stronger, it is always about lifting the most weight. Early in my powerlifting career I was privileged enough to surround myself with great ambassadors of the strength sports, they ranged from strongmen, all forms of powerlifters, weightlifters and highland game athletes. This allowed me to understand the strengths and weakness of each sport and to empathize with the difficulties they had to overcome. As I said earlier I was a “Raw” lifter, but when I began to train with equipped lifters, I decided to step into the dark side of powerlifting. I threw on an old singly ply centurion suit and knee wraps, a combo that is laughable by today’s standards, but it felt like a suit of armor. That day, I worked up to roughly 800lbs’ my first time in a suit and I was lifting 200lbs over anything I had ever attempted. After that I was hooked.

The next part of this article describes one of my proudest achievements in my powerlifting career, SPF Nationals, June or July of 2010. They day I broke the 1000lb squat barrier! I later went on to squat on my third attempt 1035@219, I believe is still the top 3 squat in the Open 220 Multiply Class. Very few people in this world will ever have the privilege or for lack of a better term, the balls to step under a 1000lb bar. For those of you that have never witnessed this or experienced it first hand, I will recount my experience…

There’s a rush of emotion and feelings as you approach the platform. The crowd on their feet cheering on this inhuman feat of strength. The smell of broken ammonia capsules and chalk fill your nose… you breath it in with a twisted smile. The ammonia stabs your nostrils and your eyes open; locked on and focused on the squat rack that is supporting your prize in the air as if it is taunting you. You try to remain focused and calm as you walk to the platform, but the sounds and screams of competitors and spectators are amplified 10 fold. Many people would release this surge of energy and use it to stampede to the bar, attempting to knock it from its pillar. But you approach the bar slowly, you feel the pain from the months of training, each step reminded you that you cannot fail!

Finally you face your foe; this inevitable meeting seems to last for hours, although in reality it is only a few moments. You tighten your belt as a gladiator would tighten the last piece of armor before they stepped into the arena. You attack the bar with your hands, drive your traps into the center knurling; A literal cloud of chalk stirs in the air from the initial blow to the bar. And you know… it is time…

As you begin to lift the bar from its shackles, the room goes silent, your vision is blurred and you feel the weight bear down on your back, air is driven from your body, and the stress of the weight begins to attack the foundation upon which you stand; a modern day Atlas holding up the weight of the world. Your decent is slow, every moment you are fighting to keep the bar at bay; as you approach the final decent, the pressure from the weight has already began its attack, capillaries burst throughout your body, the squeeze from the knee wraps begins to rip your skin apart and begin to question your strength. However, as you began to flirt with the sandman to take away the pain, you hear, “UPPPPP!!!” At this moment, all the pain, all the pressure seems to disappear and the animalistic fight to survive overcomes you. The weight, that moments ago was defeating you, is now at your mercy. The bar rises upward to the sky, fighting you with everything it has. As you reach the end of this arduous journey, you can only admire all those who have reached this pinnacle before you and all you can see is a view that is quite literally breath taking…