Franco Columbu, Deadlift

10 Deadlift Trade Secrets

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In primitive times, strength was tested by lifting logs, rocks and, in the case of Milo of Croton, a 6th century BC wrestling champion, deadlifting bulls.

Regardless of technological advances, there is something that primordially satisfies the soul when deadlifting heavy weights.

My Story
I have short, alligator arms and a very long torso; my leverages are about as fitting for world class deadlifting as Elton John and Anita Bryant singing a duet. So I got busier than a cat covering up crap on a concrete floor.

Diligence paid off!

Within seven years of seriously training the deadlift, I had an above-average deadlift; within 10 years, I had a world-class one. My struggles led to answers, which are constantly refined; they have given me the opportunity to coach and help dozens of 800+ pound deadlifters.

(Author, Josh Bryant, Training the Deadlift)

Bodybuilding Objection
Protruding bellies are a consequence of growth hormone and insulin; distended guts are a carryover from the 1990s, when these drugs first poked their ugly heads on a wide scale basis. There is not a shred of scientific evidence that would suggest deadlifts cause a distended belly.

Arnold deadlifted 700 pounds and epitomized a tapered waist. In bodybuilding’s golden age, when waists were smaller, hearts were bigger, and natural testosterone flowed like wine, bodybuilders trained with heavy deadlifts. The thought in this era is embodied by York Barbell icon, Bob Hoffman, who says, “Train for strength and shape will follow.” Some bodybuilding “gurus” still preach that if you train for shape, strength will follow; as this false gospel spreads, so do distended bellies. Strength is your base.

Functional Argument
The deadlift’s basic action is picking a weight off the ground, forcing the posterior chain to lift a load that’s in front of the body. A strong posterior chain is essential for executing explosive movements that require extension of the hips. This is as “functional” as weightlifting can get. Not to mention, deadlifts are very effective for developing explosive power.

Deadlifting for Muscle Gains
Ronnie Coleman has the biggest, most-developed back of all time, big enough to win eight consecutive Olympia titles. Heavy deadlifts were always at the staple of Coleman’s back training! Coleman was a powerlifting veteran before he ever threw on the posing trunks.

Deadlifts are King
Deadlifts work virtually every muscle in your body! They are far from a lower back movement—numerous EMG studies show deadlifts elicit high levels of hamstring activation. Deadlifts build monstrous upper back development and when performed without straps, they catalyze forearm growth. Deadlifts are the ultimate limit strength builder. As the great Kaz said decades ago

“A strong back equals a strong man.”

If we were only allowed to train one strength-training movement, a strong case could be made for the deadlift. Conventional deadlifts offer the highest carry over to real life activities and physique development. Let’s take at a look at 10 strategies to build a big conventional deadlift.

The 10 Trade Secrets

1) Focus with Purpose-The gym is not a social club. Neither is the ride over. Stay off your phone, put on some tunes and walk in the door ready to pull. Even consider daily mental imagery training for 15-20 minutes. Relax and envision yourself succeeding. Make visualizations vivid; get senses involved like smells, noises, whatever – the more vivid, the more real. Create your deadlift reality!

2) Commit to the Pull-Among traditional barbell lifts, the deadlift is the ultimate test of mental toughness and testicular fortitude. Technique is essential to mastering this exercise, but in no other lifts does aggressiveness and internal rage aid an athlete as much as in the deadlift. Committing to the pull means walking up to the bar and knowing that the lift is complete. You have made a decision that you won’t drop the weight, come hell or high water

3) Find the Right Stance-In the 1970s, Fred Hatfield suggested jumping off a bench and where your feet land was your deadlift stance. Many old timers swear by this method! Another tried and true favorite is to perform a standing vertical jump. Note the width of your stance at takeoff. This becomes your foot stance at the start of the lift. Ultimately, with trial and error, you will find what works for you; these are good starting reference points.

4) Starting Position-If you want to hoist Herculean weights, don’t pull straight legged, also a great idea if you plan to walk upright in years to come. By the same token, the deadlift is NOT A SQUAT WITH THE BAR IN YOUR HANDS. Use logic–can you half squat or full squat more? Starting position will vary between lifters but full squat deadlifts and stiff legs need not apply.

5) Grip Tightly-This may seem elementary as you have to hold on to the bar. Grabbing the bar tighter activates the central nervous system and more muscles are involved. Since we want to lift as much weight as possible, the more muscles activated the merrier!

6) Make a Point of Not Letting Your Hips Rise Faster Than Your Shoulders-Legs locking out before the shoulders puts one in a biomechanically weak position. Exacerbated by the fact the lower back and hamstrings have a much greater chance of injury. If your butt shoots straight up, cue “pull back.”

7) Perform Work Sets in a Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) Style-This means performing repetitions as explosively as possible! Remember, this is never at this expense of technique or tightness. Losing tightness or altering technique to pull faster kills the training effect.

8) Perform Cluster Sets- More sets and fewer reps equal more gains. Far too many strength athletes do not perform enough sets; multiple sets offers the chance for multiple first reps, powerlifting is a one-rep sport! Multiple sets build the motor pattern (aka skill at deadlifting) and remember strength is ultimately a product of the central nervous system. To add insult to injury, cluster sets allow for greater force production, power and peak velocity. For you, bodybuilding-types, science conclusively shows cluster sets do not sacrifice hypertrophic gains—for most, they will enhance them!

Johnnie Jackson Deadlifting 832 in 2012

9) Take Caffeine-Loading up on caffeine prior to a light session makes as much sense as Mike Tyson bringing brass knuckles to a street fight against Bob Saggot. Big workouts and meets are another story! An overwhelming amount of research shows that caffeine can help lifters enhance limit strength, increase pain tolerance during intense exercise and improve muscle endurance. Use caffeine 30-60 minutes prior to training. NEVER on unloadings or light training sessions.

10) Specific Grip Training-Many lifters never get strong enough to have a grip problem. One can be reactive or proactive. Some methods to launch a preemptive strike or eliminate an existing grip problem are—overhand deadlift holds for 10-15 seconds, farmers walks, plate holds between the thumb and pointer finger, and plate holds between thumb and middle finger.

Final Words
The meet don’t start til the bar hits the floor!
A strong deadlift is a strong finish in a powerlifting meet; a strong finish usually equates to a favorable performance.

From physique enhancement to general fitness, a stronger deadlift will offer huge benefits.

Time to pull!