If you’re a fan of “functional” movement then you can’t go past the deadlift. MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY explains how there’s nothing more practical than picking up heavy shit off the ground and moving it around…
BEATING A DEADLIFT PLATEAU: THE BOTTOM LINE
The deadlift can build extraordinary strength and size, but it’s also a great diagnostic tool. It can tell you what you need to work on and which exercises to use in your program. It can also tell you what muscles or range of motion need to be the focus of your program to ensure continual progress. Here are my top tips for pulling more, pulling harder and pulling safer (chicks not included).
Plateau Buster #1: The Set-up
Many of the lifts you make or miss are determined before you actually move the bar. If your set-up sucks, it’s going to dictate the rest of your movement. Don’t just bend over, grab the bar and lift. Your aim should be to OWN the bar.
Take your shoes off: Lifting barefoot allows you to “feel the floor” and more effectively engage the posterior chain. Create a tripod with even weight underneath the big toe, little toe and heel. Screw your feet into the ground and then rip the floor apart – this improves the rotational torque through the hips and helps stabilise the lower back.
Full Body Tension: Getting and maintaining tension is crucial for a big deadlift. Lock in the upper back and the lats. Use the barbell as a counterbalance to get the chest up and weight back in the heels and then “make the barbell click”. There should be no slack in the body from the hands to the heels. The harder you squeeze the bar, the more you cue your CNS.
TOP TIP: PROTECT YOUR ARMPITS
Getting the lats to fire is a game changer for a big deadlift. The latissimus dorsi is the body’s largest back muscle with attachments at the humerus, scapulae, rib cage, and pelvis. It provides a ton of stability to the spine during heavy loading. If you struggle to keep the tension in your lats and upper back, try popping a couple of towels in the armpits and squeezing them. If you lose the towel, you’ve lost the tension.
Plateau Buster #2: Technical Troubleshooting
Once you’ve nailed your set-up and basic technique, you can start looking at your lift from a bodypart perspective. Figure out which muscle group(s) are weak, strengthen them and then watch the primary lift go up!
Problem 1 – Weight Shifts Forward: If the weight shifts at the beginning of the lift, it’s most likely weak hamstrings or tight hip flexors. Try strengthening your hamstrings in the lengthened position and work on hip flexor elasticity – suggested exercises would be Toes Elevated Romanian Deadlift, Reverse Hypers, Toes Elevated Standing Good Mornings and Long Stride Walking Lunges.
If your weight shifts mid-range, it’s most likely the lats that are weak, making you unable to keep the bar close. Try including exercises that strengthen the lats in their shoulder extension function – snatch grip deadlifts, DB Pull Overs, Straight Arm Pulldowns, Sweeping Deadlifts with a front loaded resistance band.
If the weight shift happens at the top of the lift, chances are your glutes need some extra attention in their hip extension function through hip thrusts, glute bridges, band resisted Romanian deadlifts (band around waist) and cable or band pull throughs.
Problem 2 – Weak off the floor: This could be an issue of inadequate core rigidity. You can’t stay tight enough and lose force-transfer into the bar. Learn how to belly breathe to create intra abdominal pressure and increase the strength of your abs and lower back by using exercises like the Zercher Carry, Farmers Walk, Loaded Plank and Back Extension.
TOP TIP: WEIGHT BELT
For more advanced lifters, a weight belt is an effective tool that works by giving the muscles around the spine something to contract against, so that they can produce a harder isometric contraction. This means heavier lifts, and more strength gains.
Problem 3 – Losing the Bar: A weaker grip leads to less force transfer to the bar, which will limit the amount of weight you can move. Use a double overhand grip for as long as you can. Once grip becomes a limiting factor, switch to a mixed grip, and alternate each set. Adding in supplementals like Dead Hangs, Loaded Carries and Pinch Grip Holds will help.
TOP TIP: STRAP IT UP
Grip-centric exercises are harder on the Central Nervous System (CNS). Using straps when deadlifting decreases the neural demand of the lift, allowing you to do more volume and ramp up the frequency, both of which are important for muscle growth.
Plateau Buster #3: The Speed-Strength Perspective
Once you achieve an intermediate level of strength, you need to have an understanding of what kind of lifter you are. Are you an explosive speed freak or a brute strength kind of guy where you grind the weight up? From here it’s relatively simple – train what’s weak and you shall become strong. If you’re a grinder – think about including speed work. And if you’re already quick, then focus on adding weight consistently to the bar.
TOP TIP: UNF–K YOUR HEAD
Where your mind goes, your body will follow so visualising a successful lift can be helpful. If you approach the bar like it’s heavy, it will be.
“Action Alexa” is an internationally published celebrity trainer, sports model and nutrition and lifestyle coach with over 15 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, and has worked with NZ’s world champion rugby team, the All Blacks. She has qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs and was named as one of the Five Toughest Trainers in Asia during her seven-year stint in an MMA gym in Hong Kong.
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