If you have missed a deadlift near lockout, then you probably have been told that you need to do more block/rack pulls. In theory, it makes sense right? If the top end of the lift is weak, train it more often. However, more often than not a lifter can block pull more than they can pull from the floor. This tells us that the body is strong enough to finish a good lift, but it is actually positioning we need to consider.
In my opinion, the most important portion of the deadlift is the setup and the breaking the floor. This can literally make or break a lift. When rushing the set up and pulling the bar aggressively off the floor it is common to see back rounding occur coupled with posterior pelvic tilt right away. When this occurs with maximal weights, it is near impossible to finish the lift.
If you were looking for a flashy variation or technique as the answer here, you will probably be let down. Fixing your lockout can be straightforward and can be achieved in a few simple steps.
1. Addressing Deadlift Setup
Setting up properly for the deadlift is extremely crucial for a good lift. A setup can be highly individual, but should achieve two key points. The first focus should be on back tightness. This word gets thrown around in strength training circles quite often, but knowing how to achieve it will help your deadlift tremendously. The back should be in a neutral position, with the shoulders shrugged down.
The second focus should be on IAB or “Intra-Abdominal Pressure”. This allows for a proper brace, where the torso is neutral and rigid and ready to take on load.
Setting up for the Deadlift (Checklist):
- Step 1: Approach the bar and find your stance.
- Step 2: Squeeze the lats (think protect the armpits) and bring the arms as close to the body as possible to achieve proper back tightness.
- Step 3: Hip hinge and grab the bar maintaining a rigid torso.
- Step 4: Inflate the abs with a good pre-lift breath creating an even tighter set up.
- Step 5: Drop the hips to your proper position while pulling the slack out of the bar.
- Step 6: Deadlift.
Following these steps can allow for a perfect setup where rigidity of the back is kept in proper position, and lead to a more efficient pull.
2. The Pull
After setting up, it will be time for the bar to break the floor. Before the pull is initiated, the lifter should, “pull the slack out of the bar”. This means pulling the bar so that there is no slack between the barbell and the weights, and the bar is fully flexed. This flex will be more apparent as the weight on the bar increases, or if the bar is a deadlift bar. This concept allows you to test your rigid positioning and slowly produce more force.
A good analogy for this would be pushing a very heavy sled. It would be more efficient to grab hold of the sled, find your footing, and start slowly driving the legs — versus just running straight into the sled and hoping it moves. This is why many professionals in the field of powerlifting are against “yanking” the bar, as it will most likely cause a loss of torso and hip positioning, making the lockout very hard.
When the bar is yanked and the focus is on speed, the body often compensates to achieve this. As soon as the lifter yanks the bar, typically the glutes lock out prematurely, the back goes into flexion, the shoulders come unlocked and protract, and the hips rise too fast. If the bar is able to pass the knees in this position, then lockout will be near impossible. With the glutes already locked out, and the back rounded, the lifter then has to “uncurl” the back to achieve a full lockout, which is extremely hard.
Now, on the contrary, when the barbell is not yanked, and the focus is on positioning and control rather than speed, a deadlift can be much more efficient. The bar may travel slower from the floor past the knees, but if positioning has been well kept through the setup and the initial pull, then the lockout will be smooth and easy.
A lifter that achieves this perfectly is Yury Belkin, all of his deadlifts are extremely elegant and a real sight to see. With that being said, his positioning and patience off the floor is absolutely impeccable. Some of his heaviest deadlifts have taken what seemed like eternity to break the floor, only to be locked out effortlessly. Every lifter can take a page out of Belkin’s book, as he is a true deadlift technician.
3. Programming Considerations
Proper positioning for the deadlift is typically lost as the bar travels up the shins before it passes the knees. Therefore, on top of completing normal deadlift volume training with good technique, selecting variations that help increase bottom end strength of the deadlift are important.
This will put emphasis on maintaining your back position throughout the lift. Deficit deadlifts and pause deadlifts are a great way to achieve this. For deficits, the deficit should not be so radical that it changes a lifters mechanics for the lifts. A 2-3” deficit should suffice without issue. For pause deadlifts, a pause at “mid-shin” will get the job done. This will teach the lifter to have patience off the floor, and as the bar just breaks the floor.
Example Hypertrophy Block Deadlift Day:
- Conventional Deadlift: Work up to a top set of 8 at 70-75% of 1RM, then drop 10% for 3 sets of 8 reps
- Comp Stance Pause Deadlift at Mid Shin: 60-70% of 1RM for 3 sets of 5 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps (3 Reps in Reserve)
- Seated Row to Chest: 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps (3 Reps in Reserve)
- Single Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps (3 Reps in Reserve)
- Ab Roller: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps (3 Reps in Reserve)
If you have historically pulled with more of a “yank”, then switching to a more controlled pull may mean a regression before a progression. Hold yourself accountable in training, and make sure each rep of every set looks identical, as that is very important to see any form of progression.
Stay patient with the training process, and know it is a long-term game. Next time you miss your deadlift at the lockout, you know what needs to be done. If you implement these variables, and give yourself time for your body to adapt, then you’ll be left with a more efficient pull.
Related: Romanian Deadlift Guide
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from @bartellbarbell Instagram page.