Few athletes know this, but Broses, aka the founder of the “10 Commandments of Leg Day,” also built a comprehensive list of commandments for the deadlift in his tenure as an ancient strength pioneer.
Unlike the leg day commandments, Broses didn’t stumble upon this list during his training, he actually helped construct it for fellow lifters to come because he knew the benefits the deadlift possessed. He understood that the deadlift is often classified as “the ultimate test of strength” and wanted to build a comprehensive list to help others push their limits, while keeping them safe.
Are these the end all be all to the deadlift and what comes along with it? No, but they’re great points to keep in mind when beginning or pursuing big numbers moving weight. After all, the end goal is for continued progress and longevity in the gym.
1. Thou Shalt Set Thy Back
We hear this cue all of the time, but what does it actually mean? Setting the back refers to acquiring and maintaining a rigid torso throughout the movement to avoid excessive forward torso flexion. Without a set back, athletes have a higher chance of experiencing injury due to the direct pressure and loading on the lumbar (lower back) with their flexed torso.
Ensuring the back is set and safe for each rep is a combination of multiple factors. In reality, it typically comes down to an athlete’s ability to mentally cue the same characteristics for each rep and achieving proper deadlift postures (starting, mid-rep, and so forth). Check out the video below discussing lower back rounding from powerlifter, YouTube personality, and coach Jonnie Candito.
[Need help fine tuning your deadlift technique? Check out our Ultimate Deadlift Guide for movement tips, muscles worked, and benefits.]
2. Thou Shalt Not Replicate Another Lifter’s Form
A deadlift, similar to a squat, will differ slightly from athlete to athlete. Not differ in the respect to major mechanics, but with little details that play to one’s body type. An example of this could be hip height for taller and shorter individuals in a conventional deadlift. This is why it’s important to absorb as much knowledge as you can from a variety of reputable sources, and then analyze how the information can be applied to your specific body type and lifting style.
By all means, watch and breakdown another lifter’s form to learn the movement better and to figure out what works and what doesn’t, but keep the idea in mind that they’re built slightly different than you. Long story short, make an attempt to avoid beating yourself up mentally for not emulating another lifters form to a tee.
3. Thou Shalt Dial In Thy Setup
One of the biggest keys to success of consistently strong deadlifts is the ability to setup properly. This can be a tricky aspect for newer lifters, because often they’re still working on figuring out what setup will work best for them. An athlete’s setup will usually come down to their limb lengths, anatomical strengths, and the technique they’re using to pull with, conventional or sumo.
Regardless how you lift and how your body is built it can be useful to keep a few points in mind when setting up. Some of these major points include foot placement, grip width, total body tightness, pulling slack out of the bar, and a couple others. Check out our conventional deadlift check list below for a few more examples.
4. Thou Shalt Avoid Overuse of a Belt
This point may be a little controversial, but it’s important to understand when a belt has a time and place in training. Like the squat, overuse of the belt can leave you with imbalances or weaknesses by relying too heavily on supportive strength equipment. A belt is a useful tool for goal oriented training, and it should be treated as that. Newer athletes should work to build a strong foundation of muscle before turning to a belt for assistance.
A few examples of when a belt can be useful in training are when an athlete is prepping for a meet and needs to get accustomed to using it, working at higher (near) maximal intensities (after building a strong foundation of strength), and if someone is doing slightly higher rep work with the focus being on their hinge strength (not touch n’ go reps).
5. Thou Shalt Check Thy Ego
Everyone likes to joke about Snap City, aka the place athletes go when they’ve bit off more than they can chew. The infamous Snap City comments are typically made when a lifter is moving weight with poor form and has a higher chance of injury. Often times, this isn’t because of a lack of knowledge with lifting, but a lack of checking of the ego.
These are always funny jokes until you wind up with a ticket that you didn’t plan on buying. By checking your ego and staying true to your form/weight you can limit your chances of getting hurt with a totally preventable aspect. Injuries happen and are sometimes unavoidable, but when they’re provoked by trying to prove something to others or yourself, then you’re playing roulette with the Snap City ticket agent.
6. Thou Shalt Properly Hip Hinge
Outside of a set back, one the most important characteristic of a strong deadlift is a strong hip hinge. How often do you see strong and elite lifters suffering from an ability to hip hinge properly? Never. A hinge is how you maintain a rigid posture, keep the bar path in line, and transfer force with the posterior chain throughout the entire movement. It’s the ability to load the posterior with weight, and not be defeated with the load on the bar and folding like a chair.
The hip hinge will also correlate to a strong set back. If you think your hip hinge may be off, then track your bar path from setup to finish. Ideally, you want the bar to return to the exact point it started. Why? Check out the video below where Silent Mike breaks down the importance of this aspect.
7. Thou Shalt Program for Thy Sport
We’re only going to touch on this point briefly because we could take this in infinite directions, but it’s an important thought to consider. This is the point that discusses how you program deadlifts in your training. The frequency, intensity, and type of deadlifts you use should reflect what sport you practice most. For example, if you’re a weightlifter, then clean/conventional deadlifts will carry a higher degree of transfer to your sport compared to sumo deadlifts.
Conversely, if you’re a powerlifter who uses sumo in competition, then you’ll most likely want to make a majority of your deadlift training focused on strengthening this lift. Obviously, there will always be times to use both to build well-rounded strength, but a majority of a deadlift’s use will often benefit you best if it’s catered to your sport.
8. Thou Shalt Not Ignore Weaknesses and Accessory Work
Is it enough to only deadlift for a big deadlift? There will always be two sides to this debate, but there’s no denying the usefulness of accessory work for building a balanced back, and often remedying imbalances. An example of this would be performing more pull-ups to strengthen and build the lats, or hyper extensions for lagging lumbar strength. What’s most important with this characteristic is programming exercises that complement your current training goals without compromising your progress.
Accessory work should be used as a tool to further progress, and not be a part of your workout that leaves you overly fatigued for your next day of compounds. A great way to start selecting the ideal accessories for you is to assess your deadlift, then look for areas you may be weaker in. Slow off the floor? Deficit deadlifts could be useful. Trouble with bar path? Romanian deadlifts can be useful to strengthen your hip hinge.
[Lagging deadlift lockout? Check this article for 4 tips to improve your lockout.]
9. Thou Shalt Wear the Proper Gear
There’s technically no right or wrong gear to wear for deadlifts, but there are definitely better options to choose from. For example, avoid using regular tennis shoes because their rubber soles can create ankle instability, or throw off the bar path due to their compressing. Also, avoid baggy clothes that could get in the way at any point during a lift, like baggy sweats getting caught on the bar curing the concentric/eccentric.
It’s recommended to use a shoe with a firm flat sole, and most reach for Chuck Taylor’s in this scenario. In addition, shorts that don’t hang over the knees, or pants that remain relatively tight to the leg are also ideal to avoid screwing with bar path near the body. Lastly, for the competitive athletes pick apparel that you feel confident and comfortable in that also meet your federation’s guidelines.
10. Thou Shalt Love All Deadlifts Equally
Incoming trigger warning. As strength athletes, we should all make an active effort to stop hating on certain lifts (ie: hating the sumo deadlift). I pull conventional 90% of the time, but I still love the sumo deadlift. In reality, I just love impressive feats of strength. I understand the argument behind the sumo hate, and I’ve written on it in-depth before, but can’t we all make more of an effort to appreciate strength and power?
And it’s okay to agree and disagree on this topic, but do we really need to post negative comments on other’s videos? At the end of the day, what do these comments accomplish? Nothing. Let’s be honest, negative comments will never sway anyone, and it only furthers a gap in an industry that’s working cumulatively together to build its reputation higher in the public eye. If you want to hate, do it, but let’s try to keep the comments to ourselves.
After all, we’re all on the same mission: Get strong, have fun, grow, and move the maximal amount of weight our body’s can handle.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image screenshot from @steficohen Instagram page.