It’s the biggest lift in the gym and it only takes one step to complete. But within that single step are a litany of particulars that can be tweaked to improve your lifting potential. Use these directives to break through a lifting ceiling you may not have realized was there.
If the Shoe Fits
Some people prefer to deadlift barefoot or with minimalistic shoes in order to feel and grip the ground with their feet, but those with fallen arches or poor foot or ankle stability need more structure. A pair of solid lifting shoes with a flat bottom, but without a heel lift (which changes the geometry of a conventional deadlift), is a smart choice for these people.
Skip the Straps and Gloves
You can only lift as much as you can hold. Straps are beneficial for targeting muscles in the trunk and lower body and taking stress off the grip, but if your ultimate goal is to build a stronger deadlift, make a habit of lifting raw. Skip the gloves, too, because they act as an intermediary surface between the bar and your hands. When you sweat or if the gloves fit poorly, your hands can slide and shift underneath, defeating their purpose. A better solution is chalk, which dries your hands and creates a strong bond between your skin and the bar.
It’s a Cinch
If you have a history of back injury, wearing a lifting belt can help protect you from a recurrence by increasing intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the spine. But if you’re healthy and have no issues with your back, go belt-free. If you give your core unnecessary support by wearing a belt you really don’t need, you won’t reach your true strength potential.
Mix or Match
Many lifters use a mixed grip (one arm internally rotated and the other externally rotated). This hold is useful for heavy loads, but should not be used all the time because a mixed grip may promote uneven force production and that could lead to pronounced muscular imbalances over time. Use a double-overhand grip when going lighter or during warm-up sets, and switch it up when the load gets heavy.
Put a Hex on You
Though most people deadlift with a standard Olympic barbell, the hex bar (aka trap bar) is also an option. In this configuration, your shins can travel forward a bit more, generally allowing for a lower hip position and taller torso, and therefore more quad-driven reps. Rotate both bars through your training protocol for variety.
Stop or Go
Pulling from a dead stop is often viewed as a “true” lift, since the bar completely settles on the ground between each rep and you can reset your hands, re-tighten your back and prepare for another pull. However, touch-and-go reps (in which the bar briefly glances off the floor between consecutive, unbroken reps) train your eccentric control while increasing your time under tension. Switch between these two techniques every other week to improve your overall deadlifting performance.