One of the most common deadlift problems I see — in both beginners and advanced lifters alike — is lazy glutes. Ever seen the guy in the gym who blasts the bar off the floor on a heavy deadlift attempt, only to struggle and stall inches from lockout? He might be suffering from lazy glutes.
Now, by “lazy,” I’m not talking about muscle activation, or mobility, or any of those other buzzwords. I simply mean that the lifter isn’t putting himself (or herself) in the right positions to use the glutes most effectively. In fact, we can extrapolate from “lazy glutes” to “lazy posterior chain.”
The body works as a system, so it’s a bit unlikely that you’ve got weak glutes and super-strong hamstrings and adductors. On the contrary, if you’re not using the glutes effectively, you’re probably not using those muscles effectively, either.
Editor’s Note: The video below highlights heavy deadlifts by Steve Johnson. For those with viewing issues on mobile — check out this link!
One big caveat: That’s not always a problem! Clearly Steve Johnson knows the best way to deadlift for his body. I’m not saying he should change a darn thing about his style, and I’m not saying you should, either. But more often than not, if you end up in that position, it’s because you need to use your posterior chain more effectively.
Why Lazy Glutes Suck
See, in almost every case, your body is going to be able to demonstrate the most strength when it’s in a position to balance a load across all the relevant muscle groups involved in a movement. The opposite is true, too: if your posterior chain isn’t doing enough work, then you’re going to end up in position that isn’t ideal for lifting the most weight. In some cases, you might even be risking injury. In our example above, the result of lazy glutes are a position where the knees and shoulders are locked out, but the hips are still behind the bar.
Again, there are some caveats to the balance rule. Keep in mind that balance is relative: if you’re naturally a quad-dominant lifter, you’re always going to rely on your quads a bit more than on your hamstrings. That’s fine, as long as your hamstrings aren’t limiting you when you’re lifting maximally. Furthermore, the rule applies to any muscle group, not just the glutes or the posterior chain.
Many coaches and lifting gurus recommend correcting lazy glutes by using different cues, or using very light weights so that each rep looks perfect. These approaches aren’t wrong, exactly, but I don’t think they’re the best ones, either. Cues are great, but they won’t strengthen weak muscles. And lifters who lack kinesthetic awareness (the ability to “feel” their body moving and muscles working) will probably really struggle implementing any cues. Using very light weights is not the best way to practice technique, because in most cases, form only breaks down under heavy weight. If you’re not a beginner, you can probably use really good technique at light weights, only to find that you suffer from the same problems when you start to load the bar up.
My Solution: The Partial Stiff-Leg Deadlift
The third choice is corrective exercise. This isn’t always a cure-all, either — you very well might be able to use the right muscles on some movements and not translate that to the squat, bench, or deadlift. But in the case of the lazy glutes, I believe that it works really well.
Let’s go back to our example above, the one where our imaginary lifter is struggling at lockout because he’s locked out his knees and shoulders but not hips. For this lifter, I’d try to find a movement that puts him in a position just before things start to veer off course, and that forces him to use the muscles that he should be using in the deadlift in the first place. This is exactly the reasoning behind most lifters’ use of boards in the bench press, but it can be applied to other movements, as well.
For this particular problem, I like the partial stiff-leg deadlift. Now, most movements are pretty complicated, so I strongly suggest that you check out the video above to get the hang of how to perform it, but if you’re in a rush, you can just check out the summary points below.
Incorporating the Partial SLDL Into Your Program
It’s pretty simple to use the partial SLDL in a powerlifting program, because you probably won’t be able to use a ton of weight, and so it shouldn’t impact your recovery too much. I recommend performing this movement for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps immediately after your heaviest deadlift training for the week. For example, if you’re following my UYP course, you might change your second training day to look like this:
- Overhead Press: 5×5 @ 80% 1RM
- Deadlift: 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
- Partial SLDL: 4×8 with a weight you could use for 12
- Chin or Pull-up: 3×8 (add weight if possible)
- Abs: 3 sets of max reps
Lazy glutes aren’t the only problem you might experience when it comes to finding balance in your squat, bench press, and deadlift. But no matter what you’re struggling with, you can apply this same, simple framework to overcome it:
- Identify the position that’s limiting your ability to demonstrate strength.
- Identify the muscle groups creating the problem.
- Find a movement that forces you to use those muscle groups correctly in a similar movement pattern and through a similar range of motion.
- Train that movement hard!
Have you found any movements that really help you to correct lazy muscles? Share them in the comments below!
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 Ben Pollack YouTube Channel.