How To Squat

The Squat, the infamous test of your mettle, the exercise that separates the men from the boys, builder of legs and toner of the lower body.

Why Squat?

The back squat has a few major benefits

  • It’s a very effective exercise for building strength and muscle in the legs and hips
  • It’s probably the most time efficient way to get a good leg workout
  • It strengthens the core to a great degree
  • It has carryover to lots of different athletic and everyday movements

These benefits aren’t unique to the back squat but squats in general; the front squat is a powerful alternative with many of the same benefits.

The squat is now, quite rightly, seen as a way for women to achieve a shapely behind. Squats combined with a hip extension exercise such as the deadlift help to achieve the toned look to which many women aspire.

Fair warning, the squat is tough. Not everyone is able to squat or built to squat (my sympathies to our long-femured friends) but if you are, I encourage you to include squats into your routine and reap the many benefits.

Keys To A Good Squat

There are a few keys to squatting that you should know before you start.

Always squat in a rack

Unless you’re a seasoned lifter, comfortable with throwing hundreds of kilograms off of your shoulders and onto the floor behind you (and you have a floor that won’t be destroyed by such an occurrence) then you should squat in a rack.

  1. You could get pinned under a heavy weight
  2. You could injure yourself, pass out or even drop the bar onto yourself causing serious and perhaps permanent damage.

Yes I’ve done it, I’ve been pinned under heavy barbells and had to throw them off. While a little exhilarating, it is dangerous and unnecessary.

Wear Suitable Shoes

The shoes you wear when you squat are important. You can wear flat shoes or shoes with a slight heel (as seen with many weightlifting shoes) but they must be solid. You should not squat in running shoes, you’ll lift less, be more likely to injure yourself and almost certainly ruin your shoes.

Start Light

The squat is a powerful exercise but that power acts as a double-edged sword. You need to work on your flexibility with light weights first before you graduate to heavier weights. When you do go heavy, keep the reps low and your efforts focused.

How To Perform The Back Squat

Low Bar v.s High Bar

Low bar or high bar refers to the position of the bar on the back. High bar sits across the top of the traps and low backs sits across the rear delts. High bar is the harder of the two, for that reason I encourage you to use it most of the time. A low bar squat is the more powerful version of the high bar squat, it provides better leverage and therefore you can lift more but it often a bit harder to hit depth with and puts more emphasis on your lower back.

The Setup

The squat begins in a standing position, the bar is taken from the rack by extending your legs then a step back is taken. Take just a step back and then bring your other foot in line. Too much adjusting of the feet will tire you before you get to squatting. Over time you’ll get your squat set up down to two or three steps. Focus on keeping your set up short and near-identical each time.

The Lift

Keep your weight on your heels, never should they come up.  You should have your chest up and your abs tight. This will give you a neutral spine and keep the muscles surrounding the spine tight and rigid.

From a standing position, descend into the squat. If you’re squatting high bar then imagine you’re sitting between your legs. If you’re squatting low bar then you’ll push your butt right back. Keep your chest up, and your knees in line with your toes.

Descend until the crease of your hip is just below the top of your knees. This is known as ‘below parallel’ and it is the standard for a legitimate squat in powerlifting federations and any reputable gym.

Drive up by pushing your feet through the floor and your traps into the bar. Once you are comfortably above parallel keep your chest up and bring your hips forward. This is a little different for low bar and high bar versions, you’ll have to experience each for yourself but you will feel the difference and find the right time for each phase quite quickly. Below is a video briefly demonstrating high bar squats.

Getting out of the hole

If you fail in a squat, it is most likely that you either at the bottom of the movement or just above parallel on the way back up where you have the least leverage. This is known as getting stuck in the hole.

As the weights become heavier, the main challenge is getting out of the hole. You need to hit parallel or just below and then quickly extend your knees before bringing your hips forward into a more favourable position.

The key to getting big squats not to slow down too much as you approach parallel, it’s almost instinct to tighten up and resist the weight but it causes all momentum to dissipate leaving you stuck at the bottom of the lift unable to muster the strength to get back up. You want to go down under control but fast enough to take control of the stretch reflex.

Racking The Bar

Once you’ve finished the squat you should be stood up with your hips and knees extended in what is almost a normal standing posture. Pause for a moment (good practice for if you ever decide to compete) and then walk into the rack until you hear the bar hit the back of the rack, then lower the bar onto the pins.

Lower yourself into the squat under control and tension but also at a reasonable speed, this allows a bounce at the bottom of the squat which will take you below parallel and back up just above it, at this point you have to give everything you’ve got. The momentum generated allows you to get weights that would have pinned you if you’d gone slowly.

Equipment

Squat Shoes

Squat shoes are used in weightlifting more than powerlifting but many associated with powerlifting who squat with a narrower stance make use of them too. I own a pair of Adidas Power Perfect 2’s for olympic weightlifting but I’ve never been able to get along with them as well as I’d like for heavy squats as the heel is a bit high for me, I am much more comfortable squatting in flat shoes or my old pair of dress shoes which have a slight heel. These aren’t mandatory, records are set by people wearing squats shoes and flat shoes, it’s pretty much personal preference.

Lifting Belt

You can get powerlifting belts and weightlifting belts, the former are a lot tougher but also more restrictive. I think a powerlifting belt is generally the better choice unless your training involves a lot of olympic lifting. You can pay a lot for a belt or get them cheap, the best ones are typically the most expensive but there is a point of diminishing returns. Mine must have cost me about twenty quid several years ago (cheap) but I definitely feel more supported in an Inzer (~£100), if I was to use the low bar position more often I’d definitely look at a tougher belt but for high bar squats I don’t feel much need for it.

Programming the Squat

For Strength (Powerlifting/Olympic Lifting

In my experience, if you want to squat well then you need to squat properly and regularly. I squat three times a week at the time of writing but my fastest progress was made when I was doing some form of squat five times per week.

That sort of routine involves too much commitment for your average gym goer but those involved in powerlifting and weightlifting will be well served by it. There will be some who say that this is overtraining or only for lifters taking steroids, to those people I can only say, try it for yourselves.

In Bodybuilding

Squatting frequently will add muscle to your legs quickly but those squatting solely for muscle gain will do well squatting two to three times per week. This isn’t to say that more isn’t better, only that you need enough energy to give to each muscle group.

For General Fitness and Appearance

If you just want to tone up your legs then you’re looking for the minimum dose needed get you to your goal. Training with heavy weights a few times per week works well for this. Three sets of three performed three times per week takes up very little time and will produce the desired effect.

In Sports

Squats can be added to improve performance in a number of sports. Strength programming can add power and stability to track and field athletes, footballers and other athletes. Front squats are more appropriate for most athletes.

Assistance Exercises for the Squat

The best way to squat well is to squat properly and regularly but there are a few helpful exercises too.

Front Squat

In my opinion, the very best exercise for bringing up your back squat. Second only to the back squat itself. I’ve added thirty kilograms to my back squat in the past by not back squatting for months and it was front squats that did it.

Pause Squats

Pause squats are tough but effective for building strength out of the hole. Your pause should either be rock bottom in your squat or an inch above parallel for best results. Pause for three seconds.

Continuous Squat (Squat with Bounce)

To be used carefully, this squat variation teaches you how to use the stretch reflex to get over the movements sticking points and achieve higher numbers.

How To Bench Press

The bench press is an exercise that is often used as the benchmark of strength, ‘What do you bench?’ is a phrase most have heard at one time or another. The bench press is also a lift that I’ve never been brilliant at, so I’ve had to learn a lot about how to optimise the bench press to get mine to a decent level.

Why Bench Press?

The bench press didn’t earn its position as the test of upper body strength by chance, it replaced overhead pressing (another very good exercise) as it was a very effective, and more measurable, upper body exercise.

The bench press is an exercise that focuses mainly on the triceps, pectorals and anterior deltoids but as the weight increase it truly becomes a full body test of might – cramps in the upper back and hamstrings muscles are common when benching heavy.

The main reason most men gravitate towards bench pressing is to develop the chest muscles, which it does. If your goal is appearance over strength, I encourage you to focus on the incline bench press and supplement with the regular bench press.

Keys To A Good Bench Press

Have Good Spotters Or A Good Rack

The bench press is arguably the most dangerous exercise to perform on your own because if you get pinned under a heavy weight, you have a serious problem. While it certainly isn’t common, people have been found dead from bench pressing irresponsibly. You don’t want to be the person calling for help from under a barbell, or worse yet found dead under one.

Another benefit of good spotters, in addition to making sure that you don’t die, is that a good spotter will help you lift more. Strength is a very psychological thing, if you don’t feel confident then a number of reflexes kick which often work against you but with a spotter you trust you’ll get a good hand off, your positioning will be better and you’ll be able to focus better on moving the weight.

Create A Really Strong Base To Bench Press From

I don’t know where I first heard the saying, ‘You can’t fire a canon from a canoe’ but it’s a great phrase that really applies to bench pressing. When you want to move a decent amount of weight you need a good base of support, this is a recurring theme in all strength exercises, it’s the same reason you don’t squat in running shoes. When you have a good base of support you will be able to move more weight with the same amount of force because the force is applied more efficiently.

When you set up to bench press you want to start with a wrestler’s bridge, generating as much tension in your back muscles and glutes, then lower your legs whilst maintaining the tension. Screw your feet into the ground and push into the floor to generate some tension in your hamstrings. By now you should be pretty uncomfortable but very solid. Pinch your shoulder blades together hard, bring your chest up and Imagine pulling your elbows together through your body, a lot of these cues make no literal sense whatsoever but help to create the tension needed for better performance. Now you’re ready to bench!

Those with a good understanding of physics will also realise that it’s not just you that needs to be stable, the bench needs to be good too. The bench will need some padding to be tolerable but ideally it shouldn’t ever feel shaky or less than secure. A good, non-adjustable, flat bench is often the best option for heavy bench pressing.

Line Up Your Joints For A Bigger Bench Press

If the bar is not aligned with the force driving it upwards then force will be lost, in the bench press there are a couple of points where this happens quite commonly, at the wrist joint and at the elbow joint.

Grip the bar low in your palm near the wrist and turn your hand inwards slightly, this lines up the bar perfectly with your forearm for the best force transfer possible.

Don’t over-tuck your elbows, many people have taken advice from the powerlifting world and begun tucking their elbows but this isn’t ideal if taken too far (as quite often happens) this powerlifting tip is aimed at equipped powerlifters not those performing the regular bench press, thus the confusion. The bar should start and end over your shoulder joint, it makes contact with your body somewhere between your mid-chest and upper abdomen which causes some correct tucking of the elbows but not a great deal. The elbows and wrists must stay in line for efficient force transfer.

How To Perform The Bench Press

The Setup

Lie back on the bench, grip the bar just outside shoulder width and create a strong base in the way described above. Your eyes should be directly under the bar as you prepare to unrack the bar.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together, squeeze the bar hard and with the help of a spotter lift the bar over your body.

The Lift

Take a deep breath and lower the bar to your chest and pause for around a second before driving the bar back up. Hold your breath and all of the muscular tension during the pause. Initiate the press by pressing your feet into the floor and your back into the bench, think of ‘pressing with your elbows. Once the bar is around halfway back up you can flare (or un-tuck) your elbows to bring the bar back over your shoulders as you finish the movement.

Equipment

Wrist wraps

Bench pressing can put a lot of stress on the wrists, if you work in an office or with computers, theres a good chance that your wrists give you trouble from time to time anyway, so wrist wraps can be a great idea for reducing discomfort that can occur with heavier weights. You will have reduced most of the stress to the joint by lining up your joints properly but you’ll probably want to get yourself a pair if you intend to do any low-bar squatting too, they’re good to have around.

Assistance Exercises for the Bench Press

Unsurprisingly, most of the best bench press assistance exercises are presses. These movements train similar muscles and similar movement patterns but with a different emphasis to bring up weak points of the movement.

Incline Bench Press

This exercise is fantastic for building upper chest mass and strengthening the chest and delts. It can be used well with lower reps for strength or higher reps for mass.

Pause Bench Presses

For raw bench pressers, the weakest point is almost universally at the chest or a few centimetres above. By including a 2-3 second pause at the weakest point of your bench press you can develop the weakest part of the motion resulting in a stronger, smoother movement.

Varied Grip Bench Presses

Generally, the chest and delts are what get you through the first half of the press and the triceps finish the movement, using varied grips allows you to target different parts of the movement. Close grip bench press is great for the triceps and a wider grip is great for the chest. There is carryover from both however, using a variety of grips in your bench press training gives your body a changing stimulus and helps you work through plateaus.

Overhead Press

The overhead press adds some balance to the shoulders while still strengthening many of the muscles involved in the bench press. If you bench press, you should overhead press too.

Y-T-Ws

This exercise for strengthening the muscles of the shoulders and rotator cuff, should be a part of every serious bench presser’s programme. A few minutes spent on these after each session strengthens the rotator cuff and keeps the shoulders healthy.

How To Deadlift

The Deadlift. Some consider it the only test of true strength, others think it is a back-crunching, injury causing exercise that should have been left behind decades ago. Here’s the truth..

Deadlifts are tough. Doing them properly will test your body and make it stronger, doing them incorrectly poses a risk to your back. I personally feel that most people (the vast majority) will benefit from the deadlift. Here are some benefits you can expect from performing the deadlift regularly:

Why Deadlift?

There are several brilliant reasons to incorporate the deadlift into your training programme

  • Deadlifts teach great movement patterns
  • Deadlifts make you more athletic
  • Deadlifts stimulate a huge amount of muscle
  • Deadlifts can help those with a bad back

Most people don’t pick up their injuries from the gym; there are plenty of opportunities in day-to-day life to mess your back up but if you are stronger and lift with proper technique then you are far less likely to hurt yourself when moving house or rearranging the furniture. This is real strength, the type that carries over into all aspects of your life. It might sound like a minor benefit but the when you consider that over 100 million work days are lost to lower back pain in the UK alone(1), you’ll be glad to have mastered this seemingly basic skill.

As already mentioned, the deadlift has a great level of carryover to other tasks, the improvements aren’t limited to simply lifting things however. Studies have shown that deadlifts can help you to run faster, jump higher(2) and perform better in just about all movements that rely on hip extension.

When you reach a certain point in training, and in life, effective training can become a bit of a juggling act. Being able to get in the gym, have a decent session and get out again within 60 minutes becomes difficult for the time-pressed lifter. Deadlifts are valuable because they can quickly provide an effective training stimulus for strength, muscle mass and performance benefits for a whole myriad of sports.

In training, there is always a stress and an adaptation to stress; when the body is able to recover, it tends to get stronger. There are definitely people who should exercise caution or in rare cases avoid deadlifting but with careful progression, deadlifts can do amazing things for those who are suffering with a bad back(3).

Keys To A Good Deadlift

There are a few simple things that will help your deadlift in a big way.

Keep Your Back Straight

Keeping your back straight is probably the most important advice for safety in the deadlift. The back can be injured when the back is flexed and twisted haphazardly, the back provides a small amount of extension in the deadlift but it is mostly static. The deadlift is amount transferring the power generated by your legs and hips through your back to allow you to stand up with the bar in your hands. You can keep your back straight by keeping your chest up at all times.

Line The Bar Up With Your Shoulder Blades, Not Your Shoulder

Most people lose a fair bit of energy from their deadlifts and consequently lift less weight because they set up wrong. It is logical to think that the bar should be directly below the shoulder when the lift begins, after all arms are attached to bodies by the shoulder right? Well… sort of.

The shoulder blade, not the glenohumeral joint (what we all call our shoulder joint), is the point we need to line up with the bar as this is the what provides a strong connection to the body and the best leverage for the movement. If you set up with the bar over your shoulder joint, when you begin pulling you will almost immediately find your shoulder blades rising, your upper back rounding and the bar feeling a whole lot heavier than it should. Setting up with your shoulder blades directly over the bar keeps your shoulder blades in the correct position allowing you to pick up the same weight far more easily

Don’t Lower Your Hips Too Much

Many start with their hips too low thinking that it protects their lower back, what most don’t notice is that those who do this will naturally raise their hips up before lifting as there’s no other way to move the weight.

Don’t lower your hips, squeeze your chest up. When you do this, your hips will lower if they need to as long as your legs are not locked out (which they should not be at the start of a deadlift). The resulting starting position should have your back muscles tight with the natural arch remaining.

Check Your Grip

Lots of people grip the bar as best as they can in the middle of their palm thinking that this offers the best grip. What often results are nasty, torn-open callouses and missed lifts.

You should grip the bar in your lower palm, near your fingers. Unfortunately heavy weights, being heavy, are going to roll down to the lowest part of your palm anyway. The only control you have over the situation is whether you give the weight some initial momentum and a patch of your skin.

Avoid Loose Clothing

Loose clothing is awful for deadlifting. If the bar catches on your clothing is will slow down the bar’s ascent and often in an unbalanced fashion. Wear thin, reasonably tight clothing and the bar will slide up to lockout as it should.

How To Perform The Deadlift

The deadlift can be performed with a variety of grips, stances and heights but there are two main deadlift variations: conventional deadlift and sumo deadlift. Both work the same muscles but the conventional deadlift places a greater emphasis on the calves and lower back and the sumo deadlift is more taxing on the quadriceps muscles. Most have a favourite that they choose as their deadlift form and many people think that those with certain builds should do a particular type. The reality is that mechanics is only one of several factors and that the serious lifter should learn both and then make their own decision for their own reasons.

This article will be covering the conventional deadlift, you can read about pulling sumo in How To Deadlift Sumo.

The Setup

Stand with your feet a little narrower than shoulder-width. Some experimentation may be needed to find your strongest position, The bar should be over the middle of your foot, just over your laces.

Tip: A trick often used is to get ready to jump as high as you can and just before you jump, look down at your feet. Normally you’ll assume a position you feel strong in to jump high, the idea is that this will also be a good deadlifting stance.

Grip the bar just outside of your knees. Your arms will likely be more or less vertical.

I feel that the positioning of the hips and chest immediately prior to lifting are an active part of the execution, so I’ll cover that below.

The Lift

From your current position with a comfortable stance and hands gripping the bar just outside your legs, pull the slack out of the bar by raising your chest and pushing your feet into the ground. You are not trying to lift the bar yet; you are preparing to pull it. Squeezing your chest up should set your shoulder blades over the bar prior to lifting.

Always, always, always lift with your arms straight. This goes for all deadlifts, cleans and snatches too. Lifting with your arms bent doesn’t transfer force effectively and it poses a real risk to your biceps tendon.

With your weight on your heels, grip the bar hard and push your feet into the ground forcefully. Pull the bar up and towards the front of your thighs. When you are standing with your legs straight and your shoulders back, you have finished the lift.

When you lower the bar to return it to the floor, you should push your hips back first and then lower the bar under control. Do not attempt to lower the weight slowly on weights that are heavy relative to your max, doing so causes a lot of unnecessary stress to the lower back.

Equipment

The deadlift is a lift that you can begin with very little equipment; you need a barbell and some plates and you’re ready to go. But f you want to develop a huge deadlift, along with a powerful and injury-free physique, you will want to invest in some kit to help you along the way.

Belt

The weight belt is something that every lifter adopts once they reach a certain level. A good belt provides stability throughout the torso which lessens injury risk and increases strength on whole body movements such as the squat and deadlift. Some think that those who use a belt do so because their core is weak and that using a belt will make for weak abdominal and lower back muscles but this isn’t the case at all. Using a belt does increase intra-abdominal pressure and blood pressure however, so it may pose a risk to those with cardiovascular disease.

There are lots of weight belts on the market but luckily choosing a good one isn’t too difficult. Opt for a 10-13mm belt (thickness) that will fit your waist measurements. If you wish to compete in a powerlifting competition however, you may find that certain brands are approved and others are not; a quick enquiry to your federation should tell you everything you need to know. A general rule for belt tightness is to find the tightest notch you can reach, then loosen it by one. This should be tight enough to support you but not so tight that discomfort and excess pressure interferes with your lift.

Shoes

Choosing the right shoes is important for optimal performance in the deadlift. The sole is of most importance for the deadlift, it must be:

  • Flat
  • Thin
  • Able to grip well

The barbell is sitting on the ground, every millimetre added by the height of your soles is extra distance that you’ll have to pull the bar; for this reason, weightlifting shoes make deadlifting far harder and should only be used if you are a weightlifter using the deadlift as an accessory exercise.

The soles of your shoes must also be firm, which is why I strongly recommend against deadlifting (or any other kind of lifting) in trainers or running shoes. Soft, padded shoes are designed to lessen impact and disperse force for added comfort; you want to transmit as much force as possible through the floor in the deadlift so the firmer the soles of your shoes, the better!

A strong grip on your shoes is important for stability, and reducing injury risk in the deadlift. The need for a good grip is far greater in the sumo deadlift. If you are looking to lift the most weight in the safest manner possible, I’d suggest plimsolls, wrestling shoes or deadlift slippers which all fit the criteria for great deadlifting shoes.

Socks

A good deadlift stays close to the body at all times to optimise leverage, this can lead to scraped shins and bald patches as you pull your skin and your hair up with the bar. Long socks are used by powerlifters to reduce friction and provide a layer between you and the bar. If you choose to wear long trousers, thus negating the need for long socks, make sure that they are thin and not loose.

Chalk

Chalk is a massive help on deadlifts. During training it is normal for your palms to become sweaty, this may not have a noticeable effect when you are performing lighter work but it will limit your strength on the deadlift significantly; a dusting of chalk on your hands will keep your hands dry and many report that it reduces callous formation too. Chalk is available as block chalk (messy), chalk balls (less messy) and liquid chalk (not messy), so you should be able to reap the benefits of chalk regardless of your gym’s stance on it.

Straps

Straps can be a great benefit or a great crutch when it comes to deadlift training. As a rule, I’d suggest that you avoid straps where possible in your low-rep sets, as grip strength is an important quality that the deadlift strengthens — but not if you always use straps! Straps allow an advantage when it comes to high-rep or high-volume work as our hands are often the limiting factor; using straps allows you to perform more repetitions and develop more muscle mass than you would be able to had you been forced to stop 4 reps ago. You can still use them if you plan to compete but do not become dependent on them however as you will not have them in competition!

Psychology Of The Deadlift

The deadlift is a very psychological lift, more so than most others. You need to approach heavy weights with aggression but the controlled kind, as being too reckless can cause an injury that takes weeks or even months to heal.

Many people have commented about the rituals of powerlifters before big deadlifts. Some shout and yell, others grunt, some sniff smelling salts or breathe rapidly; very few people approach the bar without a degree of psychological arousal.

It is normal for lifters to get ‘psyched up’ for big lifts regardless of the exercise, the deadlift is a little different from most exercises because it starts at a dead stop. This means that if you don’t approach the bar with a bit of aggression, there’s a good chance that weights over 90% of your 1RM won’t budge at all.

Programming The Deadlift

How you use the deadlift in your strength training programme depends on what you’re training for. Here are some common applications of the deadlift.

In Powerlifting

The deadlift is one of the competitive lifts in powerlifting as such the deadlift and several variations of it are frequently performed in a lower rep range along with other accessory movements. The conventional and sumo deadlift are both practiced lifts in competition.

The majority of deadlifting in a powerlifter’s programme in performed in the 1-5 rep range, but for hypertrophy and grip work, some use sets with as many as 20 reps per set. Variations such as block pulls, deficit deadlifts and deadlifts with differing stances and grips are used to target weak points within a lifter’s deadlift.

In Bodybuilding

Bodybuilders love the deadlift nearly as much as powerlifters do; the deadlift is renowned for developing full body strength and adding thickness to the back. The deadlift is normally used in a remarkably similar way for both powerlifters and bodybuilders; bodybuilders often use heavy reps to develop strength and higher rep sets of romanian deadlifts to develop the hamstrings.

In Olympic Lifting

There’s huge variation in olympic lifting approaches which makes it hard to generalise, but a fairly standard olympic lifting programme might have deadlifts around once per week as a heavy accessory exercise. Olympic lifters tend to have strong deadlifts even if they do not deadlift very often due to their frequent practice of the snatch and clean exercises.

In Other Sports

From track and field to mixed martial arts, the deadlift is a weapon in every smart coach’s arsenal. Deadlifts in lower rep ranges have led to improvement in sprint times, and endurance running times and any martial artist will tell you that their power comes from a strong core. Of course high-rep deadlifts can be used with beneficial effects too!

Assistance Exercises For The Deadlift

There are many variation of deadlift that focus on different muscles and parts of the movement. It’s generally beneficial to learn and practice a number of these variations, even if you only compete in one style, as each provides variation in the training stimulus and compliments other variations within a programme.

Romanian Deadlift

The romanian deadlift is a favourite of many for its ability to add muscle to the hamstrings, drive up the deadlift and improve performance in a number of other movements.

The romanian deadlift uses a lighter weight relative to your 1RM and involves very little movement at the knee joint. The legs are almost straight but the knees are not locked. From the bottom position, the bar is squeezed off the ground and the hips are brought forward to until the hips are extended and the movement is complete.

Clean grip Deadlift

The clean grip deadlift is not massively different to the regular double-overhand deadlift; the only difference is a moderate widening of the grip. The clean grip is outside of shoulder-width; sometimes only just, sometimes up to 2 hand-widths out. The clean deadlift is more difficult than the regular deadlift but easier than the snatch deadlift.

Snatch grip Deadlift

The snatch-grip deadlift involves a grip that is wider still. The correct width can be found by holding the bar at the right width to have the bar resting against the crease of your hip when standing with straight arms; this will be towards the edges of the bar for taller lifters.

Deficit Deadlifts

Deficit deadlift s are deadlifts performed from a modest height; this makes the movement longer, the exercise harder and builds strength off the floor. In my experience there’s no benefit from using a height of more than the width of a couple of 20kg plates.

Pause Deadlifts

Pauses are used by all top athletes in barbell sports; powerlifters use them in the squat, bench and deadlift and olympic lifters use them in the clean and jerk and snatch. The reason? Pauses teach excellent technique and control throughout the range of movement.

Rack Pull

The rack pull, or block pull (even better), is a deadlift where the barbell is already elevated on the bar of a power rack or blocks, respectively. Rack pulls allow greater weight to be used and the range is generally a bit easier on the lower back making them a great exercise for building muscle and strengthening the grip.

Good Morning

Good mornings are a great assistance exercise for deadlift because the movement pattern is so similar; the biggest difference is that the bar is now across your back, hanging from your arms.

Glute-Ham Raise

This exercise is considered to be the best assistance exercise for the deadlift by a number of good coaches. While I couldn’t say that it is definitely the best, it is an exercise that will undoubtedly bring up your deadlift over time. If you don’t have a dedicated glute-ham machine (we never did) you’ll have to find a way to anchor your feet, then you can place padding beneath your knees and begin training this highly effective exercise.

Kettlebell Swing

In my experience, few exercises teach the hip hinge as well as kettlebell swings, that alone makes me think that these are a brilliant assistance exercise for beginners. I also believe them to be good for training more advanced athletes also; when you compete with a barbell, it’s easy to forget that other tools exist. Variation is a great way to keep yourself getting stronger.

Leg Curl

The leg curl is primarily used for building mass. A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle and this exercise is good at making your hamstrings bigger. It does have some carryover to the deadlift but not as much as the more similar compound exercises.

Ab Wheel Rollout

This is a great accessory in all big movements but I would be doing anyone reading this a disservice by not mentioning ab wheel rollouts. Rollouts build immense core strength which often a limiting factor in big lifts. Try these for yourself and you’ll see why I recommend them; you can guarantee that anyone who can do a full wheel rollout will have an impressive deadlift relative to their bodyweight.

References

  1. Priority Diseases and Reason for Their Inclusion: Low Back Pain. World Health Organisation. [online][accessed 22nd February 2017]
  2.  Thompson, Brennan J., et al. “Barbell deadlift training increases the rate of torque development and vertical jump performance in novices.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29.1 (2015): 1-10.
  3. Berglund, Lars, et al. “Which patients with low back pain benefit from deadlift training?.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29.7 (2015): 1803-1811.