Deadlifts for Tall Lifters – A Complete Set-Up Guide
The deadlift. Sometimes looked at as the king of all exercises, as it is one of the lifts that utilizes your entire body to complete the lift, upper and lower body. Not only is it king, but it’s also a true testament of strength, pick it up and put it down.
Pretty simple right?
Not hardly. The deadlift is a technical lift, more so than the bench or even squat for that matter. You’d never think that standing up with some weight could be such a complex thing. Hence why ensuring proper setup and your individual maximization of being able to perform the deadlift properly can lead to massive strength gains and physical growth.
Being tall can complicate an already complex lift, as our femurs are longer and leverages mechanically speaking, track in a manner, unlike our shorter counterparts. Therefore, technique and form is vital to successfully building the deadlift.
Throughout the article I’ll discuss approaching the bar, key points for form and technique, and some accessory exercises that will help build your deadlift as a tall lifter. Everything here will be tools for you to add to your lifter’s tool box of information, some of the points here may work for others and may not for some, but use it however it benefits you to maximize your growth as a lifter.
A lot of the information here can be found in the millions of articles out there, but this is from the perspective of a tall lifter and how you can apply it to build your deadlift.
The Deadlift Set-Up
When I started competing, deadlift had always been my strongest lift. Although I was unaware of the mechanical advantages and technical cues to performing the deadlift properly, I was able to pull 700+ in competition. The deadlift starts from the ground up, foot placement, hand placement, core strength, breathing, and upper body positioning.
Before my first competition, I attended a lifting seminar, where I received the greatest piece of information regarding my set-up. On the deadlift, you want to be as explosive as possible off the floor. When you jump straight up in the air, say for a rebound, you want to reach the max height as possible.
Think of your foot positioning when doing so, are they wide, outside of your shoulders or are you in sumo style position to explode and grab the rebound? Neither, you’re most effective about shoulder width apart when exploding upward. That carries over to the deadlift as well.
For the tall deadlifter, to be explosive as possible with the bar, you’ll want your foot positioning to be just about shoulder-width apart when approaching the bar. There are then two ways to set your feet, straight-ahead or 45-degrees outward. If you choose to set your feet straight ahead, it’s important to “torque” your feet into the ground, from the heel of your foot, to your toes, “gripping” the floor.
Once in position, you’ll then begin to tense up your entire lower body, including your glutes. This is so that you have firm and stable foundation throughout the lift. Placement of the bar is another technical cue that will help. The bar should be just over the middle of your foot.
Too far forward and the weight will throw you out of position, too close to your shins, and because of our knees shooting forward, the bar path will When we bend down to grab the bar, we are “out of position” from a technical standpoint, our knees shoot forward, we’re hunched over, the path of the bar can be off if not when Once your lower body is engaged, you’re now ready to bend down and grab the bar.
Before grabbing the bar, as with each of the main lifts, you want to ensure you maintain a tight midsection (abs, oblique’s, lower back/spinal erectors). Once you’ve engaged your lower body, before bending down, you’ll want to take a few breaths, before one deep breath and force all the air down in to your abdomen and not hold the air up in your lungs. Think of it as trying to force out a fart.
If you’re wearing a belt, the same applies, you’ll be applying that force against the belt. Belt positioning is all about personal preference, as some tall lifters may have a longer torso, or if you’re like me, a shorter torso. I prefer to have my belt on or just above my belly button, so that when I bend down to grab the bar, the belt isn’t obstructing my position.
I’ve also learned from other powerlifters who will place the belt just under their sternum. We’re all different, find what works best for you and adjust the belt accordingly.
After you’ve engaged your lower body and tightened your core, it’s now time to actually grab the bar. I use a split grip/mixed grip/over-under, meaning one hand is inboard and the other is outboard. I grip the bar just on the inside of the ring knurling. Hand positioning is another comfort/personal preference for some lifters, you may prefer to place them further out or maybe even closer.
As long as it will benefit you to successfully complete the lift. Once you’ve set your hand placement, you’ll want to grip the bar, dig in and squeeze the bar as tight as you can. Try to make sure you lock your elbows in tight, flex your triceps, and squeeze your lats.
Right before pulling, some lifters like to pull the slack out of the bar, meaning before they attempt the lift, they’ll pull the bar into the plates, to generate some additional tension before pulling the weight. Everyone is different, you have to find out if grip and rip or pulling the slack out benefits you the most.
At the start of the lift, your hips and shoulders should be rising at roughly the same rate. Now with being a taller lifter, we tend to have more upper body over the bar, so there’s going to be some rounding of our shoulders and upper lumbar region. It’s hard for the taller lifter to not have a slight round, especially as the weight gets heavier.
A mechanical advantage to being taller is having longer arms, so we don’t have to bend down as far to pick up the bar and depending on how tall you are, the distance to lockout is sometime equivalent to that of a shorter lifter. One keys point to prevent injury and keeping proper form through the lift due to the natural round that will occur, is to maintain strict lumbar posture as possible by locking in your lats, an upright chest, and focusing on standing straight up, pulling the bar into you.
The problem with rounded shoulders, lies in if you allow the back to round too much and you begin to fold over.
Another positioning point to make note of, is when as a taller lifter bends down to grab the bar, you’ll notice your knees are directly in the bar’s path. When you approach the bar and set your feet, the bar should be above your mid-foot. Having the bar too far forward over your feet and you’ll be “pulled” forward and will begin to be on your toes when lifting, having the bar too close and your knees will get in the way, disrupting the bar path.
Deadlift Accessory Exercises
In my personal opinion and experience, there are two accessory deadlift variations that have helped tremendously in building my deadlift strength. Deficit deadlifts and rack (pin) pulls. Both variations carry over to building the deadlift and should be included in every lifters programming.
Deficit deadlifts assist in developing strength and speed off the floor, while rack pulls aid in lockout strength, two areas where lifters have the most trouble no matter how tall or short you are.
Building speed and strength off the floor is critical to a solid deadlift. With the deficit deadlift, there are additional tools that can be added in (bands and chains) to help assist but for all intents and purpose, I’ll cover the bare bones of the lift. The deficit in which you choose to pull from can range from 1” – 4”, you can utilize whatever you have access to, from 45lb plates to mats to wooden boxes. The increased range of motion when pulling from a deficit recruits more of the posterior chain and quads.
So by being at a slight biomechanical disadvantage, you’ll see strength increases throughout your deadlift, which can improve your ability to move the bar off the ground. Having increased strength through a larger range of motion allows you to control your body to as explosive and as powerful as possible.
Maintaining proper lumbar posture while lifting from a deficit is vital to reducing risks of lower back issues caused from being in a disadvantageous position. The primary issues a lot of tall lifters run into is mobility and being able to get their hips into position and maintaining a neutral spine.
Before attempting to load heavy weight on the bar, assess what the optimal depth range for you to pull without sacrificing form. If you’re new to training or this exercise is new to your regiment, I recommend starting at a 1” deficit and working up over time.
The second deadlift variation I’ve utilized to maintain a strong deadlift is the rack (pin) pull. More often than not, a key sticking point for most lifters is locking out the weight. The rack pull is an invaluable exercise that provides lifters with a great way to manage that issue. In a general sense, the deadlift can be broken down into 3 basic zones;
- Off the floor
- The dead zone (the area between the top of your foot and your knee)
- The lockout
Lifters begin to experiencing the greatest issues with the completing the lift, between zones 2-3. The rack pull variation starts from the “dead zone” the sticking point for most lifters. The bar and side pins, should be at shin level, to optimize the maximum effective range of building past the sticking point.
For the more experienced lifter, this variation and be used as an overload exercise, and you can load the bar with 105%-110% of your 1RM. As for the new lifter or the lifter who’s adding this into their training regiment, you’ll probably want to start around 70%-85% of your 1RM.
Few of you may be thinking that these are similar to block pulls and they are, as they both assist in building lockout strength, with one minor difference. When pulling from blocks or mats, you’re still able to pull the slack out of the bar, same as pulling from the floor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that variation.
When the bar is set on a rack or pin, there is no slack to be pulled, pure dead weight. It is a very taxing exercise, but when properly added in a training regiment, can assist even the most experienced lifter progress past this major sticking point.
The deadlift is a great exercise with many variations. These are a few technical cues I’ve learned, studied, and applied to becoming more proficient lifter. As always if you have any questions regarding the points mentioned above. Feel free to contact me.