Workout performance is an entirely subjective experience. What works well for me isn’t going to work the same for a 5’7” individual looking to improve his or her performance. No matter what gym I travel to around the nation I continuously notice one underlying problem. A large majority of the gym population fails to execute a really good-looking deadlift. There are however some biomechanical tricks you can implement that will enhance your execution and these techniques remain the same regardless of size or height.
What’s better than being able to walk in to the gym and crank out bar bending deadlifts? Not much. Here’s how you can improve on your deadlift no matter how experienced a gym goer you are. A strong lift is all in the set-up, here’s how to fix yours!
Tip 1: Bar Placement
Bar placement in the deadlift is the most important key in executing an awesome deadlift. Placing the bar over the mid foot roughly an inch away from the shin will place your body in the best pulling position for a deadlift. The simple answer to the question of why is physics, but that’s not the answer you’re looking for. The reason being is that no matter where you start your pull from the ground, the bar is going to end up gravitating towards and end at this mid-foot position regardless. If you’re strong enough or the weight is light you can compensate for this during your pull, but you’ll be wasting a lot of your energy that you could utilize for more useful things, like pulling more weight.
This leads me in to my next point, gravity. Since gravity is constantly pulling the barbell into the ground we must pull in the exact opposite direction of this relationship. If we think about an imaginary arrow showing the force of gravity pulling downwards through the barbell in to the floor our pulling direction is going to be in exact opposite direction, being 180 degrees upwards. We call this direction vertical. Setting the bar over mid-foot an inch from our shins places us in the most evenly positioned weight distribution for driving the bar upwards vertically. Too far forward the weight distribution is placed forward of your center of gravity. Too close to the shin and the weight will be displaced behind your ideal pulling point. All of this bar placement information is great but how do we know what weight distribution is and if we’ve properly achieved this? Funny you should ask, foot placement is tip 2!
Tip 2: Foot Placement
Foot placement is the next cue to get right before bettering a deadlift. Since we’re talking about mechanical leverage it is imperative to understand how to position yourself before pulling. After recent experimentation, I have found that the best way to deadlift is barefoot, yes I said barefoot. Lifting shoes are great but they still elevate the heel slightly, which shifts our body in to an anterior tilt. The flattened position of barefoot alleviates any anterior tilt caused by elevated heel position from the sole your shoes.
It also helps set your center of gravity backwards allowing for maximal force production through the heels. The placement of the feet should be in what is known as an “active” position. This position refers to a foot placement that focuses on three points of contact. The heel, the 5th metatarsal (pinky toe), and the 1st metatarsal (big toe) should hold these three points. Once set, imagine rotating your feet outwards and you should feel greater tension in your hips, increasing stability. You should also notice that when you do this you knees open slightly and you shins will drop to the bar. This is supposed to happen so don’t worry. The more solidly placed you make yourself on the floor the less likely you are to exhibit a breakdown throughout the lower extremities when you’re pulling.
Tip 3: Shoulder and Head Placement
These two may not be as obvious, and to be fair there are technically three different placements for your shoulders. The best placement for the shoulders in consideration of mechanical leverage is to have the shoulders lie just ahead of the bar. It seems counterintuitive but placing them slightly ahead of the bar will put the rest of your body, most important the back and lats, in a great position to rip that weight off the floor. From an anatomical perspective this position places the lats at a roughly 90 degree angle between the back plane and humerus which in many cases is ideal.
Head placement is a simple thing to execute. By head placement all I mean is that you shouldn’t look “up” as many articles or advice givers will tell you. Our goal in this fitness journey is to preserve our bodies not destroy them. “Looking up” does one thing, it adds a cervical curvature to the spine. This is not good considering the one thing we want to focus on during this entire motion is keeping our back straight, especially when there is 400lbs pulling downwards upon it. When you set up and grab the bar, you’ll notice that your instinctive line of vision is going to be directed at the floor, let’s keep it there. Simple, right??
That’s all folks! Perfecting a craft isn’t easy. If it were easy we’d all be professionals. But keeping these three points in your mind the next time you go in to deadlift will guarantee you a noticeable difference in the way you’re able to execute your deadlifts. Start slow. Use a few warm up sets – the ones you’re already doing – before going into your working sets. Utilize the light working sets or even just the bar to exercise these tips. It might feel uncomfortable at first but breaking bad habits is never a comforting thing. Once you feel like you’ve implemented these three tips effectively into your deadlift mechanics, load that bar up and get to pulling!