5 Ways to Improve Your Deadlift
When it comes to fitness, you don’t get anything more functional than the deadlift. It’s a powerful movement, with endless benefits, but many people struggle to make any real progress. Here are five ways you can improve your deadlift:
1. Prioritise Your Technique
Although the deadlift is a simple movement, your form is especially important. If you lift the bar with bad technique, it can be dangerous - as well as inefficient. Make sure your form is dialed in before you start to add any significant weight to the bar.
Here are a few key points to remember:
Keep your spine neutral
The majority of deadlift-related injuries happen when people fail to keep their back neutral. An arched or rounded back puts your spine under a significant amount of pressure, and can lead to spinal disk herniation. Pay close attention to your lower back - if it does start to round, it's a sign you're not yet strong enough to lift whatever's on the bar.
You should also make sure you're neck's in a neutral position. To keep it in-line with the rest of your spine, focus on a spot on the floor, just in front of you throughout the lift - make sure you don't look up, as you would in the Olympic lifts.
Lift with your arms straight
Your arms should stay straight throughout the lift - from the initial pull, until you're standing. If they bend at any point, it's a sign you're pulling the bar with your arms - not lifting from your legs, glutes and back muscles. Straight arms protect your elbows and biceps from injury, so always keep them locked out.
Push the floor
It's easy to think of the deadlift as a pull, but your form will improve considerably if you imagine pushing your feet into the floor. This will help you spread the work between key muscle groups, recruiting your glutes and hamstrings and reducing the load on your lower back.
If you're unsure about any aspect of your form, keep the load light and ask your coach to walk through the movement with you. It can also help to film yourself - this is the only way to see your lifts for yourself - watching in the mirror is all kinds of bad for you.
2. Attack Weaknesses With Accessory Work
As you work on your technique, you'll very quickly identify the areas that need more work. As well as deadlifting regularly, you should include some accessory work to target any weaknesses.
If you find it hard to keep a neutral spine, or your shoulders come forward during the lift, dedicate your accessory work to improving your back strength:
- Barbell rows,
- Seated cable rows,
- Pull ups,
- Lat pull-downs,
- Reverse flyes.
Glutes and Hamstrings
If you're relying on your back too much, focus on building lower body strength, activating the glutes and hamstrings:
- Good mornings,
- Heavy kettlebell swings.
3. Improve Your Grip Strength
If you've got your technique nailed, but you're still failing heavy lifts, you could be limited by poor grip strength. If you include a little grip work each time you train, you'll soon notice an impact:
- Farmer walks,
- Plate pinching,
- Barbell holds,
- Hang from the pull-up bar for as long as possible.
If you find you're limited by your grip strength, you can also experiment with different ways to hold the bar, such as:
- Overhand grip,
- Underhand grip,
- Mixed grip,
- Hook grip.
A little chalk can help you grip the bar more effectively - but don't rely on it too much, as this will be detrimental to your grip strength in the long-term.
4. Warm Up Effectively
Although the deadlift is a relatively simple, functional movement, you still need to prepare your body to get the most from your lifts.
If you spend most of your day stuck at an office desk, you need to take some time to mobilise your lower body and get everything moving again. If you don't, it's likely you'll struggle to reach the correct starting position, and your deadlift will suffer.
When you sit at a desk all day, your glutes are continually stretched, which means you're more likely to have problems activating your glutes in the deadlift. Here are some glute activation exercises you can include to combat this.
5. Eat More
It's almost impossible to increase your deadlift without eating a sufficient amount of food. This can be the biggest challenge to some, especially if your goal is to lose body fat. However, restricting calories before (and after) deadlifting is likely to do more harm than good. Your body needs the energy to fuel the lift, and to recover afterwards. So, if you're serious about improving your deadlift, you need to eat more: eat big to lift big!