No two lifters are alike. That’s the main reason a cookie-cutter workout may not work for all athletes. The key to successful programming is identifying weaknesses and, through intelligent exercise selection, turning those weaknesses into strengths. For example, if you are gorilla strong off the floor but your top end strength is comparable to Richard Simmons’ you don’t need to be doing endless deficit deadlifts (which build starting strength in the deadlift.)
Luckily, in the deadlift, weaknesses are usually glaringly easy to identify. If you can lift a weight off the floor but stall around your knees, you need more lockout work. Conversely, if you are one of the lifters who can lockout anything that you can break off the floor, you would be best suited by working on your start. Once you have identified your weaknesses, it’s time to devise a plan that attacks the weak points in your lift.
Three Exercises for the Lockout-Challenged Deadlifter
Deadlifts with Bands
One of the best ways to work on the top end of your deadlift is to employ the use of bands. As you lift the barbell from the floor the bands start to stretch further, adding more and more weight as you reach your weak point—the lockout. So you may only be lifting 400 pounds off the floor, but you are actually locking out 500 pounds. This concept is called Variable Resistance Training (VRT).
The bands can be set up a few different ways. You can hook the bands to heavy dumbbells on the floor; just make sure the dumbbells are heavy enough to hold down the outstretched band. You can also wrap one end of the band around the collar of the barbell and stretch it over to the other side and hook it on the opposite collar. This method will require you to stand on the band while performing the lift. The last way is to go inside the squat rack and reverse the bands so that they are attached to the top of the rack and then hooked around the bar. All these methods accomplish the same goal.
Deadlift With Chains
The same VRT principle is at work with chains. The weight gets heavier as you lift the bar up and chain links are lifted up as well. The chain method is much easier to hook up, and it’s easier to gauge how much weight you are actually lifting. Also, a lot of lifters prefer this method of VRT because it allows the bar to travel closer to its natural path, whereas bands can pull you back or forward if not set up exactly right.
Deadlift from Blocks (or Squat Safety Bars)
To perform this variation simply set up blocks or safety pins to just below your sticking point. Next, try to mimic your true deadlift position as closely as possible. Often athletes will change the mechanics of the lift so the transfer to the deadlift is not as good as it could be. You can really overload the weight on this exercise… so don’t be scared to throw some big numbers on there.
Best Exercise for the Start-Challenged Deadlifter
The deficit deadlift is the single best exercise for someone who lacks starting strength in the deadlift. Set up a platform or plates so you’re one to three inches off the ground. Then simply perform a deadlift. Do not set the platform above three inches as this puts you too far out of a true deadlift position and the transfer will not be as great.
If you find yourself struggling in the deadlift follow these three steps:
- Identify your weakness
- Plan your training accordingly
- Attack the weakness in training