Written by: Kevin Cann
As some of you may know, and others may not, I have been working with Team Russia Powerlifting coach Boris Sheiko for the last few months. Coach Sheiko writes my programs and gives me feedback on my lifts from the videos that I send him. On top of that I have my boss and Team Elite FTS team member, Murph, coach me every training session.
I do this because every coach needs a coach. That is how we continue to learn and improve both as athletes and coaches. 10 years in the field and a Master’s Degree in kinesiology and the lessons I learn from being an athlete are priceless. My mistakes in the deadlift have allowed me to learn these tricks from my coaches. One issue I had with my deadlift was my hip position.
Hip position at the start of the deadlift is critical, and often the most common fault that I see. Hip position is going to be primarily based upon our structure. Someone with longer femurs will typically have their hips higher than someone with shorter femurs. The good thing about hip position is that if everything else in the setup is correct the hips will be in the correct position. Due to this I very rarely will cue hip position to a client in the deadlift. So with that said how do we setup everything else so that our hips are in the most effective position?
When we setup we want the bar to cut our feet right in half and we want our shoulders over the bar. Our shoulder position over the bar tends to dictate where our hips are. If are shoulders are too far in front of the bar, our hips will be higher than what they should be. If our shoulders get too far behind the bar our deadlift will look more like a squat and our hips will be too low.
The shoulders effecting hip position makes sense as they are both connected to our spine. If we start with our shoulders too far in front of the bar and our hips too high we put ourselves in a very ineffective pulling position and run the risk of hurting our back.
When the shoulders are too far in front of the bar there is not sufficient tension in our lats. This leads to the hips extending while the back remains in a static position. By the time the bar actually breaks the floor we have exhausted most of the use of our glutes and hamstrings. This leaves us only the use of our back to lock out the lift. This will decrease the amount of weight one can lift and also increase their risk of a back injury.
We want the glutes, hamstrings and back muscles to work together. The deadlift is a push from the lower body and a pull from the upper body at the same time.
In the picture on the left the shoulders are too far in front of the bar. The knees are almost fully extended and the rest of the lift will be 90% back to lockout the weight. The picture on the right is the correct position. The knees are more bent and the shoulders are directly in front of the bar. Here her whole body is working as one unit to lift to the weight.
On the contrary some people will setup with the shoulders behind the bar and the hips too low. This is a very disadvantaged position to attempt to lift something up with. Upon initiating the pull the hips will rise into a proper height to lift the weight before the bar will break the floor. Once this happens we are in the same position as we are with the shoulders too far in front of the bar.
Getting into the proper position does not just happen overnight. It takes practice and working on building up weak areas. Part of practicing is being aware of your positions during the lift. Sheiko programs a higher volume of lighter weights (average weight lifted is roughly 67%-69%) so that adjustments can be made from rep to rep. Also, as weight gets heavier we are going to see more of a form breakdown. The goal is to practice good reps frequently.
On top of practicing good reps frequently, we will need to strengthen weak muscles. For example, in the above the lats are weak and adding in some exercises to strengthen the lats will definitely have some benefit. However, just because we strengthen the lats in isolation does not mean that they will be strong when integrated into the deadlift pattern.
Since we want these muscles strong when integrated into a lift, we need to strengthen the weak positions of the lift. One way that Sheiko has helped strengthen the bottom position of my deadlift is through deficits. A deficit deadlift places the lifter up on a platform, making the ROM of the pull larger. Most people recommend a deficit of no more than 2” as this is enough and anymore may be dangerous.
Sheiko recommends a deficit of no less than 4” (10-15cm). I have done 2” deficits in training before with no changes in my starting position. I did as my coach said and completed my sets with a 4” deficit. I was curious what my start position would look like and there was an immediate improvement. I was tighter and in a much better position. The drastic challenge to get tight in the deficit taught me how to create more tension without it.
In addition to the deficits we have used some positional deadlift training. One exercise we used was a deadlift to the knees. This is literally what it sounds like. This exercise just focuses on the part of the pull from breaking the ground and bringing it to the knees. Once the bar reaches the knees pause for a second and lower it back down slowly. Once this position is improved and consistent you can progress to a deadlift to the knees plus full deadlift.
This might look like a deadlift to the knees + full deadlift 4×2+2. This means there are 4 sets of performing 2 deadlifts to the knees and then 2 full deadlifts. This helps correct start position and integrate it into the full lift.
Another common exercise in my training to strengthen the bottom portion of the pull was a deadlift + deadlift below the knees (as low as I can go without touching the floor). These are absolutely brutal. From the floor lockout a full deadlift and then lower it the same way it came up into a position as close to the floor as possible without touching.
This puts us under some serious time under tension. It also builds eccentric strength, which is often overlooked piece of training. Eccentric strength will make you stronger off of the floor. It also is important in increasing someone’s mobility. These should be programmed with lighter weights and volume needs to be controlled. Start with a 4×1+2 with 65% of 1RM and add them into your program every other week.
Start to video your sets of deadlifts. Slow down the video and analyze each position. From there add in exercises that may be weak in those positions and also add in specific lift variations to help strengthen those positions. Keep the weight manageable. You should be able to make adjustments from rep to rep. Once you can control the lighter weights then you can start to challenge those positions more by increasing load.