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If your deadlift form just doesn’t look the way it should, you need to watch this important video. There are 5 red flags that can undermine every deadlift and prevent it from being one of your strongest lifts, that are going to be covered. In general, those that struggle with deadlifts usually do so because they either don’t have the correct form, and simply kept piling on the weights over the years on a form foundation that was cracked from the beginning, or they are not strong enough in certain muscle groups to perform the whole exercise properly.
Here, we are going to focus on the different parts of the deadlift to identify the muscle weaknesses that are most likely causing your struggles to increase your deadlift.
First, we have to look at your grip strength. If you have a weak grip, you are always going to struggle with maxing out your deadlift without a compensation in the form on the exercise. While there are things you can do to overcome a weak grip (like wearing straps, or using a mixed grip) these don’t come without repercussions long term. Instead, strengthen your grip using exercises like weighted pullups, weighted hangs or even dumbbell or trap bar carries.
The best part about the weighted pullup is that it is an amazing back building exercise as well, a great compliment to the deadlift. Those additional grip strength benefits however are going to help you over time to handle more weight on the bar without having to quickly resort to straps or grip changes. Of course, the hook grip has amazing benefits but is not easily mastered, however it’s demonstrated and explained in the video linked at the end on the deadlift checklist.
Next, you may struggle to rip the bar off the floor. Breaking the bar off the ground is almost always attributed to one’s quad strength. If you have weak quads, you are going to suffer from red flag #1, an inability to get heavier and heavier weights off the ground, even if you had the strength to keep them moving once you did. Think of the deadlift as a leg exercise in the first part of the movement, and a back and upper body pulling exercise in the rest of the movement.
I like to have people envision the exercise as a standing leg press.
Push through the ground using the quads and you will get better at generating the upward movement of the bar. Exercises like the front squat, bulgarian split squat and barbell reverse lunge are going to be amazing leg exercises that are especially good at building up quad strength and getting you better able to break the ground on the deadlift and eliminate red flag number one.
That said, there are very important stabilizer muscles in the core and lats that are critical to the success of the bar breaking the ground. These are best trained through once again, carries but this time of the unilateral type or overhead to increase the core challenge and through the straight arm pushdown which trains the adduction requirements of the lats throughout the lift.
The third red flag comes from an inability to get the bar to and through the knees after getting it off the ground. Many people will struggle in this area of the lift. The key muscle groups working here are the hamstrings and the low back, with of course the quads and other stabilizers to be discussed in a second contributing as well.
Exercises like the RDL and deficit deadlift are the two best options for strengthening the hamstrings to better handle the loads in this part of the lift. The lower back muscles need to be strong as well and are best trained with something like the weighted hyperextension.
Once again, stabilizer muscles are important here too. Most notably, the lower, mid and upper traps are going to not only help you to better manage the load better through all parts of the lift but to keep the thoracic spine from excessively rounding under the loads during this phase.
Getting the hips fully extended at lockout becomes the fourth red flag when you struggle to do so. This is almost always due to glute weakness and of course still a lack of low back strength. Make sure you train hip extension movements that encourage full lockout of the hips at the top like the glute ham raise, barbell hip thrust and the cable pullthrough.
The fifth red flag however is where we tie it all together. This is where your form needs to be on point.
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