5 Secrets from a 700lb Deadlifter

People often assume that, because I deadlift 700+ pounds, I was always a good deadlifter. This is not the case. I had to work for years to get my deadlift where it is today.

If I could get the bar past my knees, I could always lock it out, but a lot of the time I couldn’t even budge it off the ground. Moving the weight off the floor was always a struggle for me.

I read as much as I could, and watched every video out there, searching for the right variation to build the bottom portion of my pull. I tried everything: deficit deadlifts, low block pulls, paused deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts. You name it, I tried it.

After all that work, with little to show for it, I went back to the basics. I figured that, like everything else in life, practice makes perfect. So I went back and focused on perfecting my technique. I didn’t worry about choosing the perfect variation. My mission was to master the deadlift technique. It’s not that choosing the right variation isn’t important. I just had to shift my attention to mastering the deadlift before moving on to different variations.

My form had been inconsistent. Just ripping the weight off the floor as hard as possible wasn’t going to cut it anymore. This meant practicing just the plain old conventional deadlift. It meant getting a lot of submaximal reps in, and resetting each rep to really practice my form.

I realized I wasn’t building enough tension in the bottom of the setup. I thought I was getting tight, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t braced properly in a neutral position. My hips were out of place, my lats weren’t engaged, and my chest was parallel to the floor. This was causing my form to break as soon as I initiated the pull.

One of the best ways to get the bar flying off the floor is to build as much tension as you can during the setup.

Create tension.

It will allow your body to remain in an optimal position throughout your pull. It will also allow you to accelerate through the movement, and smash through your sticking points. It’s one of the most crucial elements to a big deadlift. If you want to move a ton of weight, you have to be able to stay tight and maintain your technique, especially under heavy loads.

It wasn’t until I learned the importance of building tension, and started implementing the tips below, that my deadlift shot up.

1.    Breathe and Brace

Getting tight is dependent on breathing and bracing correctly. This is one of the most important aspects to heavy deadlifting. Keep your ribs down towards your belly button and to breathe into your lower back. Fill your torso completely, getting as fat as possible with air. If you are wearing a belt, that entire belted area should fill with air.

A common mistake I see among many lifters, especially powerlifters, is wearing their belt too tight. You shouldn’t need your friends to assist you in and out of your belt. Cranking the belt on too tight can inhibit your ability to take in a big breath of air. A lifting belt can be a great tool, just make sure it’s not restricting your ability to take in your air and get tight.

Next, brace your abs as hard as you can. Keep them flexed as hard as possible and arch your back. If you arch your back when braced properly, you will maintain a nice neutral posture. If you have braced incorrectly, your lower back will hyperextend. Maintaining a solid brace is the foundation for a good deadlift. If you can stay tight throughout your torso, you will have far less breakdown in your deadlift technique. This will allow you to stay tight, with good form, throughout the lift.

This technique for bracing is extremely important for the deadlift, and many other lifts. I recommend spending time working on this technique. Breathing and bracing sounds simple, and it is. Like everything else, it requires practice.

A great exercise for creating tightness throughout your entire body is a High Tension Plank.

  • Setup in a standard front plank on your toes and elbows.
  • Straighten your legs as hard as possible, flexing your quads.
  • Flex your glutes as hard as possible, like you’re trying to crack a walnut between your butt cheeks.
  • Pull your ribs into your belt buckle.
  • Drive your elbows toward your toes, and your toes toward your elbows. Your elbows and toes won’t actually move, because they will be firmly planted in the ground.
  • Squeeze as hard as you can. 10-15 seconds should be extremely challenging.
deadlift secrets adam pine

This technique for bracing is extremely important for the deadlift, and many other lifts.

2.    Pull the slack out of the bar.

You want to create a tremendous amount of tension using your lats. Grab the bar, and use the weight as a counterbalance to pull yourself into proper pulling position. You will use the bar to drive your chest up, and lower your hips into their optimal position.

This video demonstrates a drill that will help you use your lats to pull the slack out of the bar.

  • Set Up to the safety pin like you would a deadlift.
  • Grab the bar keeping your arms straight the entire time.
  • Keep your torso at the same angle the entire time.
  • Engage your lats via pulling your shoulder blades and lats into your back pockets.
  • Bend the bar over your knee caps.
  • The safety pin will click and you will feel your lats and upper back engage, creating tension to the bar.
  • You should feel your lats flex like you are initiating a row.
  • Remember, grip the bar as tight as you can!

Two common mistakes when trying to pull the slack are:

Pulling against the bar with bent arms. Keep your arms straight the entire time and pull the bar with your lats rather than your arms. Think of your arms as hooks that are there just to connect your hands to the bar. They don’t do any pulling.

Pulling the back and chest up to make the pins click. While you will want to drive your chest up in the deadlift, this drill is for finding your lats. Make sure you are engaging them to pull the bar, not just raising your back.

3.    Pull your chest up tall

  • After pulling the slack out, drive your chest up hard. If your t-shirt has a logo on it, everyone in front of you should be able to see it.
  • Pull your torso upright and get your spine into a neutral position.
  • You should feel immovable, like you’re torso is a solid piece of steel.
  • Drive your chest up, keep the bar close to your body, and stay upright in an optimal pulling position.

Common Mistake:

Leaving your chest parallel to the ground, and shoulders way over the bar. This puts a lot more stress on your lower back. It forces you to use a lot more of your lower back to pull the weight off the floor, instead of using your legs to drive it. This can put you in a disadvantageous pulling position, and can make it more of a challenge to keep the bar in close to the body. A lift is often missed when the bar travels away from the body. The further the bar travels from your body the more likely your form will break down.

deadlift secrets konstantin-konstantinovs-deadlifting

After pulling the slack out, drive your chest up hard.

4.   Create tension in your hamstrings.

  • As you are pulling the slack and your chest upright, lower your hips towards the ground.
  • As you lower your hips, load up your hamstrings.
  • Find your heels and create as much tension in your hamstrings as you can. You should be using the weight as a counterbalance to sit back onto your heels.
  • Try to maintain a vertical shin angle. This will help ensure that you’re keeping your weight back, and getting full use of your hamstrings.

At this point your whole body should be “spring loaded” and ready to explode. You should have so much tension on the bar that, if it’s a warm up weight, the bar will actually float off the ground. If there’s heavy weight on the bar, it will start to bend. You’ve built so much tension through your body, and to the bar, in your setup that you’ve pretty much initiated the pull. This will give you a smooth transition from setup to pulling off.

When done properly, this will eliminate the weight jerking you towards the floor and throwing you out of position. Create so much tension in the bottom of the setup that you have no option but to explode off the floor.

Common Mistake:

You don’t want to lower too much and lose tension in your hamstrings. Don’t squat your deadlift.

5.   Be Explosive!

When you’re ready to initiate the movement, drive your heels as hard as you can through the floor. Drive your heels so hard that they leave imprints in the floor.

Even though I refer to the deadlift as a pull, you should think of this as a push. You are pushing your heels into the ground as hard as you can. It’s like a leg press. You push the platform of the leg press away from you. This is exactly what you are doing in the deadlift, driving the floor away from you by pushing your heels as hard as you can through the floor.

This technique will prevent you from pulling the weight off the floor with your lower back. It will allow you to get good leg drive off the floor, and prevent your hips from shooting up. This will allow you to maintain a good bar path, keeping the weight close to your body. You want the weight to skim your body the entire time. When the weight travels away from the body, the lift is usually lost.

Common Mistake:

Don’t just try to muscle the weight up. If you are not trying to move the weight as fast as you can, you will always be leaving pounds on the table.

deadlift secrets leg press

Even though I refer to the deadlift as a pull, you should think of this as a push. You are pushing your heels into the ground as hard as you can. It’s like a leg press. You push the platform of the leg press away from you. Image courtesy of MuscleMag.

Implementing These Tips

A good rule of thumb when you practice these tips, or any other ones, is to start out with submaximal weights. Get a ton of practice in moving weights less than 85% your 1RM. When you can consistently implement the tips, and they’re ingrained in your technique, you can apply them to heavier weight.

I recommend working on one of these tips for several weeks. Start by mastering how to breathe and brace. After several weeks you will be a pro, then you can move on to the next tip. It’s much easier to master one thing at a time, instead of focusing on 4 or 5 different things. It’s better to master one than work on five things and understand none.

Really ingrain the technique until it is an automatic, mindless procedure. After a while you’ll have everything down pat and the entire deadlift will be second nature.

When I go for a heavy attempt, I focus on being as explosive as I can. That’s it.

The less you have to think about the movement, the better your performance will be.

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If you want to move heavy weight you need to maintain good form. Staying tight in the deadlift is crucial. It will allow you to maintain optimal position in the lift at all times. This will enable you to safely move more weight than ever.

Remember to work with submaximal weight, and implement one thing at a time. Doing too much at once can be overwhelming. Take it step by step. Perfect each tip and, soon enough, you will be a deadlifting machine!

About the Author

Adam PineAdam Pine is a Strength Coach in Boston, an Elite level powerlifter with a 700+ pound deadlift, and the owner of a rapidly growing online coaching business. Sign up for his newsletter or get in contact with him at www.AdamPine.com