If you are looking to hit a heavy deadlift or new PR then work back from the end goal and initially program your training around the muscles that are actively engaged when performing a deadlift, and strengthen these muscles accordingly.
The deadlift is a complex lift, meaning your entire structure is actively engaged in performing the lift. However if there are weak links in the chain, this may lead to reduced performance, and or injury.
Take several steps back from the deadlift, and ask yourself; what muscles are actively engaged during the lift? Your, glutes, hamstrings, VMO, lumbar spine, lats; scapular; abdominals, and your forearm muscles are all actively engaged as you pull the load from the floor, and throughout the duration of the lift.
You may often see YouTube video’s of individuals pulling and lifting with rounded backs. This could be for a number of reasons, from improper coaching; poor body awareness; excessive load for the body to handle; a muscular imbalance; and ego, however, there are also certain circumstances for thoracic curvature (flexion) that can have a positive outcome, these are specialised based on the individuals needs.
If you want to attain a big lift, leave your ego at the door and work on the areas that are weak. To reach your full potential in the lift work on these muscles independently for a phase of training, leaving the deadlift behind you temporarily. These would generally be programmed in an accumulation phase of a training program.
In my other articles on the overhead press and squat I have spoken about the need to understand how a specific lift works mechanically, and the deadlift is no exception as it will enable you to see and understand makes where you are mechanical weak. Similarly analysing your lift to determine your strong and weak points of the lift.
This is useful as you can program partial range lifts into your training. For example if you determine that the final stage and lockout of the deadlift is your weak point, perform partial deadlifts from above the knee and mid thigh. Partials are an excellent training tool to use, as the range of movement is generally short, and you can really isolate the weak point of the lift, in this case working the glutes and erector spinae muscles. Due to this shortened range of movement you will also be able to pull a heavier load. Ideally partials should be performed in a power rack, or on blocks for safety.
Partials can be programmed into either an accumulation phase or an intensification phase of your training. If choosing them for accumulation I would suggest programming them into your second block of accumulation.
Bands & Chains
Using bands and chains will alter the strength curve of the movement. Bands allow for greater eccentric speed to be achieved, during the early stages of the muscle contraction, requiring the individual to exert greater force to slow the load down at the latter portion of the eccentric contraction. Bands are ideal power and strength development, below are a few guideline and tips on how to program bands into your training:
- pulls down faster than gravity
- build up of kinetic energy
- use fast tempo under control
- use every other lower body workout or three lower body sessions back to back
- 40-60% 1RM load + bands
- can be used during rehab if bands are attached from high position (upper rack)
Chains, on the otherhand increase your mechanical advantage, decreasing the load at the weakest joint position, and increasing it in the strongest position i.e. the weak point in a squat is usually in the bottom position. Furthermore due to the nature of the chains oscillating, your body will be forced into engaging stabiliser muscles at a far greater rate. Here are a few tips on how to incorporated chains into your training:
- chains must be on ground at start
- accommodates the strength curve
- 60% of 1RM load + chains
- workout progression chain/no chain/chain/no chain
Snatch Grip Deadlift
The snatch grip deadlift is an under utilised variation of the traditional deadlift which has many benefits to strength development, especially strengthening the grip, and entire back musculature (scapular; lats; lumbar). Unfortunately this form of deadlift is not favoured by many due to the nature of the lift, not least due in part for the greater need of flexibility and mobility of the ankles, knees, hips and lower back. This variation of the deadlift is demanding, and best suited to being programmed in an intensification phase of training.
Similar to partial deadlifts, paused deadlifts are an excellent tool to use to break through your sticking point or weak point of the lift. They are also a useful tool to improve strength endurance of the back musculature. You can perform anywhere from one pause up to five pauses in both the concentric an eccentric portion of the lift. Paused deadlift are incredibly demanding and require tremendous body awareness and control, and it is not uncommon to have severe delayed onset muscle sores following a workout using this method. Paused deadlifts will never be excessively heavy nor will you need to perform many reps, however due to a greater time under tension of the muscle, I would recommend these being performed in your second block of accumulation in conjunction with or as alternative to partial deadlifts.
In sports where movement and change of direction are involved, speed is a key component, and the killer factor. That being said, even in sports where you are static, i.e. powerlifting, and weightlifting, if you can move your body and or generate speed through the bar, when it comes to lifting near maximal loads, these loads may appear lighter than they are due to an increased efficiency of your central nervous system. Much like the snatch deadlift, speed training is a neglected tool that you have at your disposal. If you were to analyse the research, in terms of percentage, speed and power work is performed anywhere from 20-50% of your 1RM, dependent on the circumstances and type of movement. Power and speed should be programmed into your training towards the end of your training cycle where you are looking to peak just before attempting your new PR, this block of training is referred to as the realisation phase.
If you want to improve your deadlift and hit a new PR, you must deadlift, common sense would dictate this. Sportspeople don’t improve in their sport by not playing their sport. If you practice the deadlift, you will become more efficient at the movement, and your technical ability will improve, in turn making the lift seem easier and less demanding.
Train with a partner who either has a similar PR to you, and who has the same training goal, or train with someone who can deadlift more than you, make it competitive, its motivating, and by its nature breeds success. Plain and simple!