The greatest challenge to determine ones’ overall body strength has no equal. Does it really matter from a functional strength standpoint, how much you can bicep curl? Does it really matter that you can put an inflexible assisted shirt on to tell us how much you “bench press’? No, not so much. When it comes to knowing how strong your legs, hips, back, shoulders, arms really are, the deadlift is the best tool to define overall strength. Either you lift it off the ground, or you don’t simple as that.
Below are some of the most important tips you can utilize in your quest to not only become strong as an ox but to develop slabs of new muscle mass from your gastrocs’ to your erectors your traps.
Grip training 101
There are many techniques that will help you increase your ability to pull big numbers. Below are some of our favorites that will help develop an amazing crushing squeeze.
- Take a 5-gallon bucket and fill it halfway with dry rice. Basmati, Brown, Japanese or Jasmine. Any type will do. Work on long, full finger extensions and then fingers fully extended, use very slow crushing squeezes into a fist. Do as many as possible with one hand and then alternate hands for 8-10 minutes total.
- Utilize a blob or hexagon dumbbell, lift from the ground from the end and hold as long as possible. This pinching grip will help increase the length of time you can hold the bar during you deadlift.
- Heavy static dumbbell holds. By putting the dumbbell at your side, and allowing the uneven attitude of the dumbbells to move, this develops a balancing ability to your grip which translates to a new increased overall ability. Do not drop them as broken dumbbells have ways of really ticking off gym owners.
Where to look when pulling
When deadlifting, your body will follow the same pathway as your head. Look off to one side and you may lean that way. If you’re looking down, the bar will want to travel forward. At the same time, you don’t want to look at the ceiling. Your back and hips will be unutilized during the early part of the pull. Focus on a visual area that keeps your head in a straight, chin up and back position.
Variety is one of many keys to increasing your max deadlift. Whether working on grip, shoulders, core, hips, legs or flexibility… utilizing some of these foundations will make a big difference in a short period of time.
- Romanian deadlifts – Assume your normal deadlift position with about 25-50% of your ORM. Pull the bar to your waist, bend your knees about 15% and while lowering the bar stick your glutes out as far as possible while not allowing your knees to move. Lower the bar as far as possible (kneecaps to mid shin) and slowly drag the bar up your legs to the starting position while not allowing your knees to bend, ever. 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.
- Sumo pulls – Assuming you normally deadlift with a traditional stance, try sumos for a whole new experience. Place your feet out as far as possible and toes pointing out at about 35-45 degrees. Grip the bar at the innermost edge of the knurling, head high, hips under your shoulders and push with your legs, squeeze your glutes and drive your chest high. 4-6 sets of 2-4 reps.
- Heavy shrugs with straps – Let your neurological system and bone structure feel big overloads and help increase your lockout power. Set the bar in a squat rack 2-3” above the kneecaps. Assume our normal deadlift position, pull to a full lockout and hold for 5 seconds. You should be able to utilize anywhere from 5-40% above your max deadlift. 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps.
- Upper back accessories – Pullups, pulldowns, seated cable rows, T-bar rows, 1-arm dumbbell rows, upright rows, Hammer Strength machines, bent over rows and more are imperative tools to grow your upper back to balance out the strength of your lower back. 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.
- Lower back accessories – Deadlifts are very one dimensional in their approach to training the upper glutes and erector muscles in the low back. Try adding hip and glute raises from the floor, low back extensions with a twist at the top, straight leg deadlifts, Supermans on the floor and of course, back squats. 3-4 sets 6-8 reps.
- Flexibility – Ever have one of those days when reaching down to grab the bar feels like a real chore? Having the ability to deficit deadlifts will help tremendously. Consider yoga, yes yoga to really transform your game. In addition, the bare basics of standing hamstring stretches and calf stretches will make a big difference in your starting position and the amount of air your lungs to take in before your lift.
Learning to breathe
Taking a deep breath is just the beginning of your breathing technique for a huge PR. It is far more important to know what to do with that breath than to just take one. One technique is after finding your foot position behind the bar, to stand tall, stretch your arms as high above you as possible, take in a deep breath and when you think you have taken in as much as possible, find room for a little more. Descend to the bar while holding your breath and just as your about to pull, push your belly, your obliques and your diaphragm out into your belt. This will increase your core stability and strength making your pull feel smooth and sturdy.