The deadlift is the holy grail for strength training and arguably the greatest test of full body strength, closely followed by the squat of course. The deadlift tests the strength of everything from the legs, right through to your grip, and it will take no mercy when highlighting areas of weakness when the weight gets heavy. Identifying these and correcting them is the best way to continually improve your strength in this lift.
The Perfect Deadlift
The perfect deadlift can differ from person to person and will also depend on what style of deadlift you choose, conventional or sumo. However, a few common truths will hold true. The ideal starting position will have your hips above your knees and shoulders above your hips. Your lower back will be locked into a neutral lordotic curve (broadly flat) and your thoracic spine will be extended (chest lifted).
The perfect deadlift will have you hold this position throughout the first portion of the lift, to just above the knee. From here you will extend the hip with the shoulders coming up at the same rate, locking yourself into a solid upright position with your chest up and shoulders behind the bar at the top of the movement.
This is an ideal world scenario here. As the weight reaches near maximal then form is, of course, going to fail, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you know what you’re doing. In fact, the point at which your form fails merely highlights areas you need to work on if you wish to lift heavier weights with “perfect” form.
Get your back up
For the most part, especially in beginners, the limiting factor in the deadlift is going to be upper back strength. If this is true for you and you are serious about improving your deadlift, ensure that you include plenty of work to correct this, and make try to make your back as strong as possible. Think rows, lots and lots of rows. Single arm rows, bent over rows, Pendlay rows, it doesn’t really matter, just get your back as strong as possible.
The next common area of relative weakness is going to be the hamstrings. These play an important part in the initial portion of the lift, as the bar leaves the ground, to ensure that your hips don’t rise too early, leaving your lower back to do all of the work. Again, the stronger you can make your hamstrings, the better equipped you will be to pull some big numbers. My personal favourite hamstring exercises include Glute/Ham Raises and Romanian Deadlifts.
If the lock out at the top of the lift is your problem, then your glutes may not be pulling their weight, literally, and a little more focus on getting them stronger will very likely be necessary. Weighted hip bridges work well for strengthening here, as do rack pulls. Just make sure you focus on squeezing the backside in each exercise, really focusing on maximising its involvement.
All in all, the road to a bigger deadlift is making your self as systemically strong as possible, addressing any relative weak points. The deadlift takes no prisoners, so if you want an impressive deadlift, getting stronger is the only way.