4 Powerful Ways to Fix a Stalled Deadlift
I believe everyone has their own crazy idea. You know, that thing that makes them look ludicrous to others?
It’s that idea that breaks the normative thinking.
It’s the pursuit that makes them get off work and be-line straight to this activity instead of plopping on the couch to watch a re-run of 30 Rock. It’s the dream that nobody else can see but them.
It’s different for everyone. For some it will be opening a boutique tea lounge in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. For some it will be writing a children’s book. For some it will be moving to Costa Rica while running their consulting business from a laptop.
If you’re reading this article, I would bet that your thing is to build a deadlift that makes you feel like the strongest thunder-cat on the block.
Somewhere along the line, you got a taste of what it’s like to rip a heavy bar off the floor. The anticipation before lift scares you and excites you at the same time.
Ronnie Coleman deadlifting 800 pounds.
The initial pull off the floor tests your mental fortitude and physical ability simultaneously – something you thirst for but don’t get anywhere else. You secretly crave the grind – the point where the bar is halfway up and your face is red as a tomato with sweat flying off your lips as you release a battle cry to finish off the lift.
And then when you win, it feels like you can march into a bar full of bikers and not feel like a underfed house pet.
The beauty of the deadlift is that this pursuit can be scaled to every level of lifter. This invisible story of conquering is the connective tissue between world record holders and the weekend warrior.
Whether someone builds up and sets a new PR at 625 pounds or 375 pounds, the feeling is mutual. Each lifter knows that it took an incredible amount of sweat, reps and sets to achieve that new PR.
To people who don’t lift, this is crazy. But not to you – the one who goes to bed thinking about the next day’s pulling session. However, things have gone stale. Your initial gains have slowed and your deadlift has stalled.
It’s time to identify the problem.
You’ve got to become your own investigator and do some sleuth work. What follows is a template for diagnosis. I’ll point out different touch-points that can cause a stagnation in your deadlift and then provide a solution as well.
It’s your job to take these suggestions and objectively asses yourself, which takes some work on your part. And that shouldn’t be problem – if you deadlift I can bet that you are accustomed to hard work.
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4 Ways to Fix Your Deadlift
#1 – Re-visit your deadlift technique
Let’s take an athlete for example and assume that the kid is a senior in high school and is aspiring to get a scholarship to play at the collegiate level. The kid isn’t naturally gifted but works hard and therefore has earned his spot on the team.
After every practice, when everyone else has gone home, he stays to do two things:
- He goes until he makes 200, fifteen foot jump shots off two or three dribbles. This is the most common shot attempt he gets in the game.
- Then, he ends his extra work with 50 free throws makes. This is important because he’s the point guard. When the game is close with seconds left, he knows he will have the ball and if gets fouled he goes to the line for a one-and-one.
Over the course of a week this kid gets 1,000 more jumpers in than anyone on his team. He also gets in 250 more free throws in than any of his teammates. In a month, he’s getting 4,000 more shots and 1,000 more free-throws than anyone on his team.
The number reps start to add up quickly. This gives the kid an advantage. When he gets in the game, he’s practiced so much that it’s automatic. If he has to think about his form or technique in the middle of battle, it’ll slow him down and create a disadvantage.
Have you practiced the deadlift so much that your from is air-tight? Or have you just adopted a grip-it and rip-it habit?
If you look at the best deadlifters, they have mastered their technique. While details differ due to pulling style, limb length, pre-pull rituals, the fundamentals of the pull have been burned into their brains. It’s automatic. They don’t have to think about deadlifting – it’s a subconscious response to the environment.
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Re-visiting your technique (even if you’ve been lifting for a while) and nailing down your form will increase your effectiveness. When we’re talking about near-maximal weights in the deadlift, even the slightest burp in the bar path can result in a missed lift.
The best way to evaluate you yourself is to film your deadlift from the side. This way you can see everything – your set up, back angle, hip placement, bar path etc. Ideally, which is less practical but can do wonders, is having a strength coach evaluate your pull. A second eye will keep things objective.
If you find any thing that needs fixing in your technique, adjust and get your reps in at sub-maximal weights. Practice it until it becomes automatic.
#2 – You’re weak off the floor
If you do rack pulls from the knees and handle that load fine, but from the ground it doesn’t budge, it means you’re week off the floor.
The first thing this reveals is that you can’t generate enough force fast enough to budge the bar. Even when you witness other lifters pulling a heavy bar off the floor and it looks slow, the actual rate of force development is very fast (it’s only reason why they pulled the same weight you couldn’t budge).
To fix this, speed pulls need to be in your game.
A simple template to follow would be doing a second pull day during your training week with sub-maximal weights for doubles. Waving the load between 50-70% of your training max over three weeks is a good start. Use the same variation of any deadlift for three weeks with increasing loads by the week. The fourth week return to ~50% and switch to a another variation of the deadlift and follow the same cycle.
Another way to bring up your speed off the floor is deficit deadlifts. Anywhere from 2-4″ deficits should do the job. Why do these work?
The deficit forces an increase of range of motion off the floor – making the lift more difficult. Once you return to conventional pulling, it’ll feel like the bar is flying off the floor since the range of motion (compared to the deficit pull) is a lot shorter.
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#3 – You’re weak at lockout
This one is painful for the lifter and anyone watching.
You’ve done all that work, and you’re almost there. Then, everything falls apart. Not only did you miss the lift, but the miss also cost you a rep. And when we’re talking about reps above 90%, missing any of them sucks.
This usually means that the lifter is weak in the hips and abs.
To target hip strength to improve lockout, block pulls just below the knee are a good tool. Getting some reps under your belt here simulates the fatigue that usually sets in during a pull when lockout strength is needed the most.
When your pulling a bar off the floor, a strong back is a given. But, strong abs are just as important. Your obliques act as stabilizers during a pull and are play a big role in hip extension as the bar comes off the floor. Also, when deadlifting, pushing your abs out and into your weight belt is a skill that must be learned.
It’s also worth considering to do your ab work in a position that mimics the deadlift. In other words, ab exercises that are done standing up. Two movements you can do are standing cable sit ups and side deadlifts.
Lastly, a mental cue directed at your hips can help your lockout. Once you get above the knee, instead of thinking about locking the knees out, cue yourself to aggressively bring the hips through. By doing so, you can bring yourself to lockout faster. And in a deadlift where every second matters, this is crucial.
#4 – Your grip goes out
Your legs, back, and abs can all be up to par, but if your meat hooks can’t handle the load, it’s like a Ferrari with no engine.
If you manage to handle loads but can’t hang onto the bar, your grip is the culprit. After all, the deadlift can only happen if you can hold onto the bar. The stronger your grip, the more you can handle.
For starters, ditch the straps and gloves if you use them when you deadlift. This will automatically help your grip and hand strength.
Then, you can add some direct, hand and grip strength to your attack:
Thick bar deadlifts
The most practical way to do these is to buy a set of fat gripz and throw them on the bar. Thick bar deadlifts are potent grip builders. Don’t even try to attempt your normal weighs with a thick bar. In fact, anywhere from 200-300 pounds on the bar with a set of fat gripz strapped on will challenge the strongest men in the world.
These are simply done inside a power rack set at the mid-thigh. You’ll load a barbell up, lockout and hold the bar for timed sets. Don’t let the bar rest on your thighs.
Sure, you could buy some handles to attach to barbells. If you got the resources and space to do it, why not. But, for most gym rats, that ain’t happenin’. So, grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and do 100 yard sets. Your forearms will hate you after.
If you’ve been stuck with a certain load, stop doing the same thing over and over again. Yes, increased volume over time is important, but if the quality of your volume sucks, then it’s almost useless.
Take a step back and evaluate your deadlift. It’s best to bring in a companion or coach who isn’t afraid to kick you in the pants. This keeps it objective and penetrates the truth right into your soul.
And that’s often exactly what you need when it comes to busting a plateau in your deadlift.
Use these touch-points to run through your lift and see where you need to polish things up. It might be the only way you’ll ever breakthrough, unless of course you’re cool with never setting another PR.
I doubt that describes you.