The deadlift is one of those lifts that you can do over and over and still continue to refine your technique. I console frustrated athletes with the fact that I, even after nearly 10 years of deadlifting, am still tweaking my technique and learning to to most efficiently hoist iron.
That said, here are three cues I use on myself and with my athletes that should speed up the refinement process.
Cue: Hold pieces of paper under your arms. OR Squeeze oranges under your armpits. (Courtesy of Tony Gentilcore.)
Fixes: loose upper back
Why do we want a tight upper back? A) by creating tension in the upper back and lats, which in conjunction with the anterior core, it creates a nice "belt" around the spine and protects the lower back; b) tension throughout the back transfers force from the hips to the arms and thus the bar moves. Without it, there's a much higher risk of injury- particularly to the lower back- and the movement deteriorates rapidly.
"Squeezing oranges," which is a great external cue, cleans it right up! It's especially useful with newbie deadlifters as they may not have the body awareness to know what a tight upper back feels like yet.
Cue: Pull your chest (or sternum) to the back wall.
Fixes: Hips rising faster than the shoulders
If you or an athlete struggles with popping the hips up to soon- like the immortalized "Bend and Snap"
then this cue can help. By thinking about pulling the chest to the wall behind you, it shifts your focus from yanking your hips up to pulling your chest up, thus slowing down the hips ascent and, for most athletes I've seen, will synchronize the rise of the shoulder and chest so they move at the same rate.
Hips, above, are rising faster than the shoulders and it will quickly turn into an RDL. Below, the hips stay lower than the shoulders and the two move together.
Cue: Grab the floor with your toes
Fixs: flat feet, wiggly feet, loose feet
All of the above are unhelpful for deadlifting. Considering that the feet are the only body part in contact with the ground, wouldn't you want that contact to be stable? You can't produce maximal force while standing on an Airex Pad so why create one with your wobbly feet? Gripping the floor tightens up the foot and lower leg musculature which in turn, produces a rock solid foundation to push against.
Another boon to the cue: it breaks the habit of "toes up." (Note: I'm not 100% oppposed to the "toes up" cue, particularly when I'm teaching someone how to posteriorly weight shift for the first time. But as an athlete progresses, we pull the toes back down and teach gripping. Jarrett did a fantastic job explaining why we do that in his article. If you want to increase your lifts by 1000%, read his article linked above. Seriously, you won't regret it.)
Give those a shot and I guarantee you'll feel fantastic!
A house won’t be much of a house without nails, screws, and cement. I would say the same goes for your training as well. Consider your main movement of the day (squat, bench, deadlift, overhead press, pull-ups) the building blocks of your house. With that first lift you have the makings of a giant mansion; now how will you hold it all together? This is where your “assistance” work or “supplemental” work comes in. The assistance work of your program act as the nails, screws, and cement that solidify the work you’ve put in with your main movement. They will provide your house the ability to stay strong and not crumble.
Before I go any further let me explain what qualifies as assistance work. If your main lift of the day is a squat then your assistance would be a variation thereof. This can be another bilateral movement or a unilateral movement; but almost always compound in nature and will mimic the movement pattern of your main lift. Examples of assistance work for a squat would be a box squat, front squat, split squat, BSS, etc. (these lifts can be used as a main movement but in this instance they would be considered assistance work). Your assistance work can be used for different reasons be it to reinforce the movement pattern of your main lift, bringing up weak points and imbalances, to make the main musculature stronger and bigger, etc. Regardless of the reason the main point becomes that assistance work will get you stronger and better at the main lifts which in the end will make you stronger overall. Plus it gives you yet another way to get your Hulk on and smash weight.
I’m not saying go out and work up to a heavy double on safety squat bar good mornings for an assistance lift, that would just be overkill. I believe you should still be moving some appreciable weight but the volume should be greater than your first lift (as long as your volume for your first lift wasn’t absurdly high). In order to work on your weaknesses or to get better at the movement pattern you need to practice. This would be the reason why it’s important to keep the volume higher; it provides a lot of practice.
How much volume are we talking here? You want to give yourself a rep range that is going to work on your specific goals. Is maximal strength your goal? Then I would probably keep the volume low (18-30 reps). Is hypertrophy your goal? Then I would probably keep the volume on the higher end (30-50 reps). Keep in mind I am speaking generally, there are many exceptions to what I just said based on a person’s strength level. One exception would be if you have a relatively young training age then I would stay at the low end and be focused on quality not quantity. What I like to do is pick a number of reps and flat load it over a few weeks. For example, if I picked 24 reps for my total volume then my sets/reps would go something like, week 1: 6x4, week 2: 5x5, and week 3: 4x6. This way I can stay at the same volume while hitting it in different ways each week. Mark Bell has talked about this before and I think it’s a great way to go about programming your assistance lifts.
The tricky part in all this is to keep from going overboard. As I stated before I feel you should be using heavy weight but that heavy weight should be appropriate for the volume you are working at. If your max deadlift is 315 then it’s probably not a good idea to try and do 300lbs RDL’s for 5X6. You would look awful doing it, if you could even do it at all. Good luck trying to groove a movement pattern using 95% of your deadlift max (yeah I did the math, what of it!). Have you ever read or heard a fitness professional say “just focus on your main movement; don’t worry so much about your assistance work?” The reason they say that is because if they told you to treat it with the same intensity as your main lift then you would probably load the bar as heavy as possible and the lift would look as ugly as this dog.
The problem with fitness professionals coaching that or writing that is now people seem to just go through the motions when it comes to assistance work; they feel it’s not important. Well I’m telling you now that it is. Just work hard and make the reps look smooth!
I know it can be challenging for people to get in their training session with their hectic schedule. Your main movement is primary and crucial but your assistance work is a close second. If you need to cut out anything then cut out your accessory work (accessory work would be something like tricep pushdowns, delt raises, facepulls; most of the time they are single joint movements done at a high volume, 30+ reps near the end of a training session). You really shouldn’t lose focus on anything while training. All your movements should be intense and deliberate. If you can’t devote the effort needed to an exercise then you shouldn’t do it at all. With that said, it’s time to show your assistance work some love, it has feelings too!
Today’s post is in honor of “Female Strength”. I had the privilege of seeing two feats of strength this past week. The first was with three of our softball girls who train with us at SAPT. They had their senior night last Friday and it was pretty cool to watch them perform on the field. Not only did I get to see them beat the other team 11-0 but I got to watch Nancy lay out for a line drive up the middle. I’m pretty sure at one point she was parallel to the ground. Did I mention that their team has 3 captains and it just so happens that all 3 girls who train at SAPT fill those slots. Coincidence?
These girls can drive me crazy sometimes but their work ethic and general awesomeness makes me feel privileged that I get to coach them. Great job girls!
The second feat of female greatness comes from one of our adult clients, Lisa. For anyone who reads our blog I’m sure you already know the legend of Lisa. This woman refuses to be weak and proves it just about every 12 weeks. I got to watch Lisa retest her bench press and deadlift from 12 weeks ago this past Saturday. Check out the video below to see her 15lbs bench press PR and her 35lbs deadlift PR!
“…Would be interested in hearing more about what it takes to enter a powerlifting competition: requirements, mentality, gear/no-gear, training, scoring/judging, what it takes to win, etc.”
This was a comment left on my meet write-up blog post from last week. As soon as I saw it I thought what better way to talk about this than through a post for everyone!
Scoring and Judging/What it Takes to Win
Powerlifting consists of three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift (they are performed in this order). At a meet you get three attempts at each of these lifts. At the end of the competition your highest successful attempt from each of the three lifts will be added up for your “total”. Your total is what determines your placing within your division/weight class. In my opinion your placing should not be a focus for you especially if this is your first meet. Your goal should be to show up and to perform because most people won’t even do that.
The scoring is based on a lighting system. Each of the three judges has a light and if they deem the lift to be successful you will be rewarded with a shiny white light. If they feel the lift to be unsuccessful they will ruin your life with a red light. Have no fear because all you need is two white lights for the lift to count!
I’m not going to go into great detail about what the judges are looking for. To learn more about this here is the link to the IPF rule book…. http://www.powerlifting-ipf.com/fileadmin/data/Technical_Rules/IPF_rulebook_01_2011.pdf
Gear or No Gear
This is the only place where I feel things get tricky. People get WAAAYYYYY too bent out of shape about this to the point of ridiculousness. You have three ways to compete in powerlifting; Raw, Single-ply, and Multi-ply. This is entirely up to YOU and your GOALS and don’t let anyone sway you one way or the other. As far as I’m concerned it really doesn’t matter what you choose because at the end of the day we all have the same goal… to get stronger. Nevertheless you will come across the close-minded people who will tell you gear is “cheating” (not sure how it’s cheating because geared lifters compete only against other geared lifters) or “not true strength”. These elitists’ get under my skin because they have probably never been in gear and have no idea what it’s like to train in it, so therefor, in my mind they have NO room to give an opinion on the subject. More importantly why do they care what YOU do? The people who care about what others do have their own personal issues to figure out. I have competed raw and single-ply and I love both. They both offer their own challenges and are both fun to train for. It’s weird and ridiculous to me that people get so up and arms about the whole thing, it’s like 5 year olds fighting about whose toy is better. If you want to lift raw, lift raw. If you want to throw on a bunch of gear then do that.
My only caveat to this is that unless you have two solid years of strength training under you than you shouldn’t wear gear. It takes A LOT of strength to even handle single-ply equipment so unless you're going two years strong, just start out with a few raw competitions.
This is the easy part. Just get better at squatting, benching and deadlifting. The best way to do that is to perform the lifts several times a week. It can’t get much simpler than that. If you want a good set in stone program just do Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 and I promise you’ll get stronger. Don’t want to do that? Then use the Westside Barbell template. People want to treat this like its rocket science. They paralyze themselves with fear about what programs best fits their body, there strength level, etc. If these are the questions you’re asking yourself then all you really need to do is get in the weight room and press something, squat something, and pick something up off the ground and work on doing it correctly and everything will fall into place.
This encompasses a great deal of things which is why when talking about it I like to refer to Mike Robertson’s T-Nation articletitled, “7 Reasons Everyone Should do a Powerlifting Meet” (http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/7_reasons_everyone_should_do_a_powerlifting_meet ). This is an awesome article and spells out everything in a very simple way. In order to do a powerlifting meet you have to be able to do one thing… to truly say that you care nothing about what other people think of you. Most of the time when people tell me why they don’t want to do a meet it’s because they are scared of other people. They tell me they don’t want to embarrass themselves or they say there not as strong as everybody else. No one cares that you’re not as strong as them and no one’s waiting to laugh at you for failing a lift or bombing out of a meet. It is perfectly understandable to be afraid of putting yourself out there for people to see you fail. However, it is unacceptable to allow that fear to control your actions. It is your ability to face and overcome your fears that will define you as a person. So what if you fail? Failure is a marker of two things; that you actually tried and that you learned.
I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been training; I implore you to go sign up for a meet. It doesn’t matter what federation or where it is just sign up for it. Find one that is 10-14 weeks away and go train for it. Can’t squat, bench, or deadlift correctly? Go turn in an entry form and your hard-earned money and I BET you will learn how to do all of those things pretty quick. Don’t wait around saying “well, I’ll just wait a little bit until I get stronger” or “I’ll wait a little bit until I feel a little more comfortable”. If your training for something you’re going to get stronger than if you aren’t, FACT! Chances are if your excuse is that you’re waiting to feel a little more comfortable then you probably rarely step out of your comfort zone when it comes to other aspects of your life as well. If you choose to test your limits then go to http://www.powerliftingwatch.com/and find a meet.
That first meet changed more than just how I approach lifting – because the lessons you learn from training and competition can be carried over to nearly every aspect of your life. -Mike Robertson
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I competed in the 2012 USAPL Richmond Open this past weekend and it was a huge success for me. I hit a PR in the squat and deadlift as well as my meet total! I competed at 181 and weighed in Saturday morning at 180.9 after cutting about 10lbs (first time I’ve had to cut weight). For anyone who read my post last week you know that I was very unsure going into the meet so for me to come out with PRs and meeting my goal of an 1100lbs total (finished with 1136lbs)is a huge deal for me. So without wasting any more time here is the video compilation of my attempts...
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The only thing that even remotely ruffled my feathers as far as judging went was on my squat. On my first attempt I got red lighted for my depth even though I felt I was below parallel. Then on my second I got a white light but the judge still told me I was almost high. So for good measure on my third attempt I decided to hang out in the bottom so there wouldn’t be any question.
Bench press went alright. I was hoping to get around 325 but after my second attempt I only took a little jump. After all the trouble I’d been having with my shirt I was just glad to get on the board. After watching the videos I noticed a bunch of problems. My arch wasn’t as big as it could have been, I tucked my elbows too much then I didn’t flare them on the way up (this causes a loss in leverage), and for the position I started in I hit to low on my chest which threw off my whole stroke.
My deadlift went a lot better than expected. I actually feel like I could have gone much heavier on my last one but whatever I got the weight and the total. I still need to sit back into my heels more and pull back more as opposed to standing straight up which is very evident on my last attempt.
Right now my upcoming goals are to get stronger and continue to refine my technique on my lifts. I don’t like saying that I have to work on my weak points because as far as I’m concerned everything is weak and it all needs to be worked on. Is this the wrong attitude to have? Absolutely not, as I’ve stated before I don’t like feeling content. The moment I feel content and that I’m strong is the moment that I stop working hard and I don’t ever want to stop working hard.
I want to congratulate Carson on his first meet, he did a great job and we are all very proud of him. I also want to thank everyone who came out to support me and who helped me out with my training and everything else. Thanks to Gabe Naspinski who did my programming and also congratulations to him as well for totaling 2100 pounds at his meet in Tampa! Sean was a great training partner and it was a shame he couldn’t attend but he had some very important things to do in New York but thanks again man! My friend and current SAPT intern Tadashi was my handler for the whole thing and did an awesome job taking the stress off me, wrapping my knees, picking weights, etc. so thanks a lot man I couldn’t have done it without you. Steve was there to handle Carson but helped me out as well, he is a great friend and I’m glad he came down.
Tim Henriques was in attendance with his powerlifting team as well. Tim is someone that I look up to in this industry and for him to help out and lend his support like he did was a huge deal for me so thanks Tim!
SAPT’s longtime client and friend Ron came down, which was awesome that he would take a whole Saturday to support Carson and I, thanks Ron! Two of my buddies who I’ve been friends with for as long as I can remember came out as well which was cool for me to share this experience with them, thanks guys. Part of my family made the trek to Richmond too. This meant the world to me so thanks to my sisters, Sissy and Stephanie and to my nephew Trevor who is one of my best friends so that was doubly awesome that he came out.
Last but certainly not least I really want to thank my girlfriend Shannon for everything she did, has done, and will do. She learned very quickly how important competing in powerlifting is for me and she jumped right on board. Without any hint of boredom or annoyance she listens to me day in and day out talk about my training successes and struggles which very few people can pull off. She watches my videos and reads my articles and doesn’t think twice about it. She made the trip with me to Philadelphia to spend two days watching a powerlifting meet that I wasn’t even in! She even drove Tadashi and me to this meet and spent 7 hours waiting to film me and support me for only the 3 total minutes that I was on the platform. I am truly lucky to have her in my life so thank you Shannon, I love you very much!