Deadlift Setup – The Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is much more than a conventional deadlift with a wide stance. When setup properly you may find that the sumo deadlift allows you to get more leg drive into your pulls, and reduces tension on your lower back given the more upright starting position. Sumo deadlifts also can favor certain body mechanics (longer femurs, shorter arms) and strengths (dominant hip strength).

To leverage the sumo’s advantages, you need to set up properly for your sumo pull.

Lift Setup

  • Foot Position:
    • You are going to take a very wide stance for sumo deadlifts. Although there are not set starting points for sumo as for conventional pulls, try starting with your shins at the rings on the bar and move in or out from there, depending on the length of your legs.
    • Point your toes outward sharply. As your knees should track in the direction of your toes, with a wide stance you want your toes pointed out.
    • Keep the bar very close, within an inch of your shins.
    • Create a solid base. When the lift is completed, your legs angled outward form the base of a solid pyramid.

Notice the base created by the leg angle

    • Since you do have a wide stance and there can be significant lateral force on your feet, you will want to make sure that you perform sumo deadlifts on a non-skid surface, and that your shoes are clean and free of any materials that may make them slip.
  • Hand Position:
    • In most cases your sumo hand position should be identical to your conventional hand position. Your arms should hang straight down to the bar giving you the maximum distance between your shoulders to the bar. This creates an advantageous starting position by further reducing the the lift’s range of motion (ROM). It also reduces non-productive lateral forces created by taking a wider than shoulder width grip.
  • Grip: Your grip will be the same for sumo deadlifts as for conventional deadlifts
    • Double overhand grip – Grip the bar with both hands pronated (overhand). This is the toughest way to grip the bar. As the bar weight increases, the bar will begin to roll out of your hands. It can, however, further lengthen your arm span shortening the deadlift ROM.
    • Alternating over/under grip – Grip the bar with one hand pronated (overhand) and one hand supinated (underhand). Which hand you use is your preference, but generally speaking it’s more effective gripping with your dominant hand pronated. Using the over-under grip prevents the bar from rolling out of your grip.
    • Hook grip – Grip the bar with both hands pronated. Instead of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, lie them along the bar and wrap your fingers around your thumbs. This is a very effective grip, locking the bar in and preventing it from rolling or slipping out of your grip, but it can be exceptionally painful.

  • Setting up for the pull: I promote a three step setup for sumo deadlifts, as I do for conventional deadlifts. This allows you to tighten up before the pull and create muscle tension that will help with your pulls.
    • Hinge at the hips to reach down and grab the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades downward to tighten your back. Think about tucking them into your back pockets. Take a deep breath into your lungs and abdomen, and force it downward to create a very tight and stable core.
    • Bring your hips down and chest up. Drive your knees out so you can push your hips forward toward the bar – try and drop your sack on the bar [a reference I stole from Dave Tate]. When you are set for the pull, your torso should be more erect than for a conventional pull, allowing you to drive straight up.
      • Notice from the videos below that you will drop your hips much lower than you do for conventional deadlifts.
    • Drive the bar straight up to lock out. Shove your knees out, and push against the outside edge of your shoes.
    • Sumo deadlifts are notorious for coming off the floor very slowly. Don’t get discouraged and quit on the lift if it is stubborn off the floor. Keep pulling and you’ll find the lockouts to be stronger.

Wrap up

The deadlift is a technical lift whether you pull conventional or sumo. To be successful pay as much attention to your setup as you do to your weight, sets, and reps. Simple corrections to your setup and technique can add a lot of additional lbs to the bar.

For a full review of the sumo deadlift, check out Brute Force Strength Book of Techniques:  Sumo Deadlift.


Squats, Corrupted by BodyPump

– authored by Katja Lariola

So I happened to say the magic words “What in my opinion makes women squat with a bad form is BodyPump” to my coach and that led me to write about the very topic… Be careful with what you say around him, people! But let me introduce myself before I get all excited and start saying things I will later regret. That tends to happen when I get excited – this article itself is a proof of that, haha. I’m kidding. I enjoy writing and I was very honored to be asked to write for Brute Force Strength! Though I really did not see it coming when I said what I said…

Who Am I?

In addition to being Ken’s Finnish trainee with nothing to say and a sense of humor of high quality (haha), I work as a Personal Trainer in a commercial gym chain. Being a powerlifter and a commercial gym PT is not the most typical combo, at least not in Finland, but I like teaching the main lifts to “ordinary” people, help them with their goals, and make their training effective, simple and safe. And I help them get stronger if that’s what they want, of course.

Of all the lifts, I love squats the most. It’s maybe not my best lift in kgs (or lbs) but it’s what I enjoy the most. Squatting makes me feel strong and empowered! If I were asked to choose one thing to do at the gym, it would be squats. Consequently, as a PT, I make almost everybody squat… Wanna build muscles? Let’s squat! Wanna lose weight? Let’s squat! Wanna get stronger? Let’s squat! Wanna improve your mobility? Let’s squat! Wanna do functional training? Let’s squat! Wanna improve your overall health? I’m sure you can guess the answer to that…  Ok, Ok, I have had clients who have wanted, for example, to bench press with me. We haven’t squatted… And the type, intensity and volume of the exercise vary, too, of course.

The typical member I meet at the gym is a woman, 30-50 years old, no experience at the gym but loves group fitness classes. Oh boy they love their classes! Not that there’s anything wrong with that but typically they think that they don’t need resistance training for anything because of them. Yes, they have almost all done strength training when I ask them (I believe everybody needs some strength training and you can learn Finnish and read an article I wrote about it recently in my own blog – Life Worth Lifting)… They have taken BodyPump classes.

These women I work with have learned to squat in BodyPump classes, too. Or should I say they have not learned to squat in the BodyPump classes? Many of them say they have experienced knee pain. When I see them squat, their technique is bad. However, I believe Ken is working on an article about knee pain, so I won’t go there more profoundly. But I would go as far as to say that it’s because of BodyPump that their squats look terrible. They have taught themselves a wrong way to do it there.

Before going any further, I should probably explain what BodyPump is. Many of you have probably heard the term and have a general idea but to make sure we’re talking about the same thing, I will tell you about the concept. When we get to the critique part, and we will get there, you will notice that most of it could be said about any type of group fitness class and about any technical lift, or about just not having squatted ever. The problems are not unique to squat or to Bodypump. But BodyPump has been what I have come across the most.

Before continuing, I also want to add that I don’t intend to bash BodyPump. I will question some things they say about BodyPump’s benefits but I do think it can be fun (if you like that sort of things, I don’t) and it’s a way to get people moving – and that’s a huge thing nowadays when the rate of obesity and other health problems is alarming! For that I’m grateful.

What Is BodyPump?

According to the Les Mills site (, BodyPump is a weight-based group-fitness program. Classes are 60 minutes long and contain eight separate muscle-group specific songs or tracks: warm up, squats, chest, back, triceps, biceps, lunges, shoulders, core and cool down. BodyPump classes use both compound and isolation-based exercises and in addition to squats, deadlifts and presses are used. Participants choose their weights based on the exercise and their personal goals but they are performed using plates, barbells, dumbbells and an aerobic step. The classes are exactly the same all over the world, wherever you go the program is the same and not modified by the instructor. The focus is on muscle endurance using several repetitions.

And what are the claims I mentioned they make on their site? I know, this might seem like I’m getting sidetracked and more about BodyPump itself than squats and BodyPump. However, this is an article about BodyPump, too, and I do want to say a few words about that. I’m sure you BodyPumpers out there think when reading this that maybe I won’t learn to squat but I will get the other benefits… Nope, you won’t. So let me tell you what the claims are and how they are not working.

“Build strength, get lean & toned, work all major muscles. Get lifting with BODYPUMP™ and you’ll tone and shape your entire body, without adding bulky muscles.  This full-body workout will burn calories, increase core strength and improve bone health. This program is based on THE REP EFFECT. THE REP EFFECT throws traditional thinking about lifting heavy weights on its head. It is a proven formula that exhausts muscles using light weights, while performing high repetitions – this is the secret to developing lean, athletic muscle. Choreography in each area is specifically targeted so you’ll burn fat, burn more calories and achieve more meaningful fat loss and muscle fatigue to build strength without building bulk. In a typical BODYPUMP™ class you’ll perform 800 reps in a single group workout. That’s more than four times the amount a person can achieve when training alone.”

I did promise to question them, didn’t I? Yes, you will burn calories and work all your muscles, that is true. But lifting heavy weights with proper technique would be more effective for building strength! Or have you heard of a strength athlete using only the rep effect? As they said, focus is on muscle endurance. And that is probably why I don’t find it fun – with my attention span SO MANY REPS is boring… But fortunately we are all different! Lifting heavy weights is more effective for shaping your body, increasing core strength and improving bone health (I won’t go there now, otherwise this will become too long of an article, but as I said before: you can learn Finnish and read about in my own blog – it’s all in the Why Everybody Needs Strength article).

Getting lean, on the other hand, is mainly about your diet. If you want to lose fat, you need to pay attention to what you put in your mouth. It’s as simple as that, although finding the best diet for you might not be a simple task. Develop lean, athletic muscles and not adding bulky muscles? Let’s get this straight: all muscles are lean. That’s what they are: muscle, not fat. If you look bulky, however, it’s often about fat on top of the muscles, not the muscles themselves, or about your how you see yourself. Unfortunately it is not uncommon to have a distorted body image.

The shape of your muscles is genetically determined, too. They have a certain origin and a certain insertion. You might be able to affect their length a bit but you can’t change those facts or grow longer bones. So you can’t get significantly longer muscles with a certain type of exercise. Not Yoga, not BodyPump. Furthermore, quantity does not override quality. Doing 800 reps or four times the amount you can do on your own is somewhat pointless in my opinion. Do quality workouts aimed at your goal, and if training alone is a problem, get yourself a good trainer.

Why Does BodyPump Make Women Squat with a Bad Form?

What a squat SHOULD look like

As I said in the beginning, the problems are not BodyPump-specific or exercise-specific and they are not gender-specific, either. It just reflects my experiences: I have met many women who have done BodyPump classes and do not know how to squat.

The main problem is that there are so many people in the class. If you have 50 people doing the class and the squat song lasts 5 minutes, you cannot possibly teach everyone how to squat or go correct their form. The instructor is supposed to show the participants what to do, too, and as far as I know, getting off the stage is limited in the BodyPump concept. So basically what you can do is try to get an eye contact and tell the participant to keep their heels on the ground (or whatever it is you want to tell them). All the instructors do not have enough knowledge to correct people, either, but that can be said about trainers and coaches, too. And there are good instructors, too!

As the lifts are performed to music, some reps are really fast. When you squat to every beat (fortunately you don’t do that throughout the whole song), the movement might not be controlled anymore. You are just going up and down and sweating and hoping for the track to end. Technique is not what you have in mind anymore and quite likely your core will get loose, too.

Furthermore, when a trainer/coach works with people and sees them lift, they can spot weaknesses that need to be addressed. It might be related to muscle strength and they might have to work on posterior chain or core (although squatting is a good cure for that, too: you can get better at squatting by squatting). In BodyPump classes it is not possible because of the concept: the instructor is not allowed to change anything. In group fitness classes in general it is not possible because of the amount of people. You cannot address one person’s individual issues while the 49 remaining participants have different needs.

Sometimes the attitude is also a bit towards “thank god these weights are so light that participants won’t really hurt themselves”. And in a class like this, where you can’t teach and correct, the weights do need to be light and in that sense I think the rep effect is a good one to use. Though bad form even with light weights can lead to injuries or at least to back or knee pain. In addition to that, once you learn to do something, it is difficult to change the pattern. So trying out heavier weights at the gym with that form might lead to an injury even if it doesn’t happen in the class. This can be said about anyone who doesn’t know what they are doing, though, whether they have taken any group fitness classes in their life or not.

What Are the Most Common Problems I Have Encountered?

And to finish this short and compact article off, I’ll summarize briefly (yeah right) the most common squat problems I have encountered. However, this is not a comprehensive list; it doesn’t cover all the problems and certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. It doesn’t give definite answers, either. They are not the only ways to start correcting. So even though I will name a few things I often do with my clients, it’s not all we do. It always depends on the person and their problems and weaknesses, and they are often more complicated. We probably need to fix more than just one thing. And I won’t even go to muscular weaknesses or mobility issues! So this is just a quick overview and I will only talk about basic technical aspects.

First, when we get to squatting with a barbell, I need to teach people how to unrack and rack. That’s not where we usually start, though; many of them cannot handle the 20kg bar yet, so we use lighter bars/ kettlebells/ dumbbells or do bodyweight or assisted squats. But when we get there, if I let them just try it out without showing them first, they quite often lift the bar from the rack with their hands, press it up and then put it down to their shoulders. Similarly, racking starts with a version of a behind the neck press. That’s what they have done in BodyPump classes with those light weights. There are no racks or squat cages there. However, it can get dangerous with heavier weights! And as legs are stronger than arms, especially when it comes to women, you cannot even use a heavy enough weight for really working your legs if you need to press it up first. But that is a more advanced problem, when the squatting technique is good enough for adding more weight. Myself I cannot press overhead even half of the weight I can squat.

The second problem is the placement of the bar. It is often on their neck, pressing the spine and vertebrae. Maybe that wasn’t a problem with lighter weights, but having heavy weights on your spine will hurt you for sure. The next issue is that people believe the right stance is a narrow one, toes pointed directly forward. While it may work for some, many of the people I have squatted with have not had the mobility for that. So when I tell them to widen their stance a bit and turn their toes a bit outwards, I hear the ‘this is not how they told us to do it in the BodyPump classes!’ comment. The surprise is even bigger when I tell them to push their knees out. However, when I ask them ‘Did it hurt your knees now?’, the answer is usually ‘No’. And that is a surprised ‘No’, too!

It is also common to lift heels up from the floor and lean forward, or to be afraid of going low, even if strength and mobility would allow that. The range of motion is very short. What I have found effective is doing front squats and box squats. Front squats are kind of self-corrective and prevent leaning to a certain extent. It is easier to find the pattern with front than back squats. When people shift their weight forward, box squats help, too, as people need to hit the box behind them. If it is about a mental block, about being afraid of falling down onto the floor, or about not finding the depth, box squats are beneficial again. The box is there to catch you, though it’s rarely needed, and tell you the correct depth. These are not the only reasons to use box squats or front squats, so if you see people doing them, don’t expect they have above mentioned problems. They are effective exercises on their own, too.


So, in a nutshell, what I wanted to say with this article is that if you don’t know how to squat but squat anyways, you won’t get the benefits and may injure yourself. While BodyPump can get you up from the couch, it is not the best way to strength train, tone, get leaner or build muscle. And it is definitely not the best place to learn to lift! Quite the opposite, if you do it wrong, the instructor cannot really correct you. They cannot help you to address your weaknesses. You will quite likely learn it wrong. That is why in my opinion BodyPump makes women squat with a bad form.

It’s like the old question ‘How many times a week should I train?’ If your way of training is bad, the less you do it the better. Learn to lift and definitely learn to squat but do it with a good PT or coach! Then, when you know what you are doing, you can do BodyPump every now and then if you want to work on endurance.

 In addition to being a Personal Trainer, Katja is an up and coming Elite Raw Powerlifter in Finland. She holds regional records and has won the Southern Finland Regional Championships. She has placed 4th in Finnish National Championships. 

Squatting with Bands – Building Explosive Power

Why use resistance bands with your squats?

Accommodating resistance with bands or chains can help you make considerable strength gains. As you complete the concentric portion of your lift (come back up), your leverage improves making the lift easier. Your body’s mechanically advantage allows you to handle more weight at the top of the lift than you can in the hole. Both chains and bands increase in resistance as you near the top where you hit the stronger region of your lift. Although chains add a considerable cool factor – they look cool, they sound cool, and they are just all around cool – band tension increases at a considerably faster rate as you pass the sticking point and approach lockout. Chains increase in weight linearly as more chain is lifted from the floor.


Bands add a great deal of instability to the bar. Controlling the weight takes considerably more effort than walking out a regular squat bar. The effort required to control the weight forces you to strengthen your stabilizing muscles and will help develop greater core stability.

Who should do banded squats?

The more appropriate question is who should not do banded squats? Banded lifts are not for beginners. You should have a solid strength foundation, good control of the weight throughout the full range of motion, and sound technique before attempting banded squats. If you don’t have great technique and control, adding the instability created by the bands can increase your probability of injury. Until you have mastered them, stick with the basic lifts.

Banded squats, a quick walkthrough

  • Setting up your bands:
    • Best case, you have a squat rack with pegs built for bands. You can adjust the amount of tension created by the bands by adjusting the length of the bands you use in the setup.

  • If you don’t have band pegs on your squat rack, using dumbbells is an easy way to set up your bands, although adjusting the band length used in the setup isn’t quite as simple. A couple pointers for using dumbbells: make sure the weight of your dumbbells is greater than the tension the bands create at the top of the lift; set a small weight plate in front of and behind the dumbbells to keep them from rolling.

  • Squat Setup:Setting up for the squat is much like setting up for a normal squat with two major differences.
    • As soon as the bar comes out of the rack, the bands are going to pull you backwards. Instead of unracking with both feet directly under the bar, start with one foot slightly back so you can brace yourself and keep the bands from pulling you back (see video) below.


  • It is critical to set up so the bar is directly in line with the point the bands are anchored. If you set up ahead of or behind the anchor point, the bands will pull you forward or back, out of your groove. A trick I just picked up is to draw a chalk line on the floor aligned with your band anchor to help you position yourself correctly.

Follow the steps for a proper squat setup. Because of the instability created by bands, a solid setup is even more important when squatting with them.

  • Squatting with bands
    • The eccentric portion for banded squats is technically no different than a normal squat. It’s even more important with bands to remain very tight to prevent the bands from pulling you out of the proper bar path. If you do find the bands pulling you out of the proper path, check to make sure that you are aligned with the anchor points.
    • As the graphic above indicates, the band tension will be low at the bottom end of the squat, and will increase rapidly. It’s important to drive explosively out of the hole and build enough momentum to help you move past the sticking point and lock your squat out as band tension increases.
    • As you get to your sticking point, the bar may slow, and come to a near stop. Keep driving with all your power to overcome the tension – this will train you to grind through the tough lifts.

Whether you’re an equipped or raw lifter, whether you compete or just like being big, bad and strong, used correctly resistance bands can help you build new levels of strength.

Note: Gauging the tension added by bands is not an exact science. EliteFTS has, however, provided band calibrations you can use as a reference point.

Deadlift Mechanics: The Setup Position

A good deadlift, as with all over big lifts, starts with a good setup. There is more to the deadlift than grabbing the bar and standing up. Here are a few quick pointers to effectively find your setup position.


  • Feet should be hip width apart. Line up the outside of your feet with the outside of your hips. Your legs should be perpendicular to the floor.
  • Grip the bar just outside your hip width. If possible your arms should also be perpendicular to the floor. If you have relatively wide hips, your arms may angle out slightly.

Setup Position

When you drop into the setup position to begin your pull, here are a few markers you can use to find that good starting position for a strong pull.

  • Your shins should remain perpendicular to the floor. As you rock back into the starting position, rotation should be around your knees, bringing your hips down and your head and chest up.
  • Your shoulder blades should be directly over the bar. Keeping upward tension on the bar and your arms straight as your rock back, continue rocking back until your shoulder blades rotate back over the bar.
  • Keep your back straight and flat. You can do this by taking a deep breath into your lungs, tightening your core, and squeezing your shoulder blades tightly downward – try and tuck them into your back pockets.

Setup Hints:

Don’t waste time thinking about your setup. Once you get your grip on the bar immediately take your breath, tighten your back, and rock back into the starting position. As soon as you are in the starting position immediately begin your pull.


Overcoming Weaknesses in Your Deadlift

The problem: After early success and rapid gains on your deadlift, you’ve hit a plateau and progress has stalled. Your regular personal records (PRs) have slowed or stopped.

The solution: Identify and overcome the weak link in your deadlift power – being able to lock out 500lbs doesn’t do you a bit of good if you can’t break it from the floor. As I have previously done with the Bench Press here I tear your deadlift down into the potential problem areas and recommend approaches to overcome them. It is possible that these strategies may overlap.

Training Maturity: To effectively eliminate weakness in your deadlift, you should be at a relatively mature level as a lifter. Before you start working on your deadlift weaknesses:

  1. Perfect your deadlift technique. You will have the greatest gains, and slightest chance of hurting yourself if you first focus on deadlifting properly. The deadlift is one of the most effective exercises on the books, but performed incorrectly it can have the greatest potential for injury.
  2. Build a solid foundation of strength. Before correcting weaknesses, develop the sufficient level of pulling strength. Work on your fundamental deadlift strength until you are at least an intermediate level on the deadlift with proper technique. You can find a good Strength Standards for Deadlift at

Deadlift Demonstration

The two common deadlift weak points:

Now that your technique is fundamentally sound, and you have a solid strength base, let’s look at where your weak points may lie and how to improve them.

  1. Weak off the floor
  2. Difficulty locking out

Weak off the Floor:

Breaking the bar slowly off the floor does not necessarily indicate significant weakness. However, more explosive power off the floor inevitably leads to bigger pulls.

Key Technique Points: To improve your power off the floor, perfect your setup technique.

    • Don’t waste time setting up. Once your hands are on the bar you should be dropping your hips to the starting position then pulling without hesitation. I see far too many people pause at the bottom thinking about the lift before pulling (far too many = almost all). Nothing good can happen here:
      • By thinking about the pull you are talking yourself out of it.
      • You cannot fully fill your lungs with air with you core compressed at the bottom of the lift.
    • Fill your lungs fully with air before dropping into the starting position. Big air in your lungs will provide intra-abdominal pressure protecting your spine, and giving you great stability.

Demonstration of Big Air

  • Tighten your upper back. Squeeze your shoulder blades tightly and drive them downward. Think about tucking them down into your back pockets.
  • There is no stretch reflex in your first deadlift repetition. Work on creating a stretch reflex by dropping your hips quickly into the starting position, and immediately pulling explosively back up.
  • Don’t squat to the bar (characterized by your knees coming forward as you drop your hips down), this leaves you loose at the bottom. Grab the bar and rock back bringing your hips down and your chest up. This allows you to stay tight and keep upward tension on the bar as you set up for the pull.
  • Drive your hips forward hard to engage you quads in the initial pull off the floor.

Strength Improvements and Training: Improving your strength in certain areas can help you build more power off the floor.

  • Quad strength: If you’ve properly built a solid foundation of strength this is likely not your primary issue but it bears mentioning. If your quads are weak initiating the pull off the floor may be more difficult.
  • Stretch reflex: Train every rep without the advantage of the stretch reflex; start every rep in training from a dead stop. I use a technique I call the 3 count setup.
  • Deficit deadlifts: Training your deadlifts from a low platform, or standing on 1 or 2 plates, can help you build low end power.
  • Pause deadlifts with a low pause: Pause deadlifts with a low end pause can help build low end power in your deadlift.
  • Pause squats and box squats: Building low end strength in your squats with pause and box squats can carry over to power off the floor in your deadlift.

Explosive Training: Improving the explosiveness in your lower body will help you to condition your body and central nervous system to engage all of your muscle fibers at once giving you a powerful initial pull. Concentrate on an explosive pull off the floor without ‘snatching’ or jerking the weight by pulling all the slack out between you and the bar and maintaining upward tension on the bar until you begin the pull.

  • Speed Deadlift: Include speed, or dynamic, work in your training program with some type of deadlift variety. The weight should be light enough so that you can drive the bar up explosively while maintaining perfect deadlift form. Condition yourself to start your pull off the floor with 100% of your muscle mass regardless of the actual weight you are pulling. For example if you are deadlifting 50% of your 1 rep max (1RM) the bar should move twice as fast as when you pull your 1RM.
  • Vertical Jumping: Vertical jumping varieties can help you generate the instantaneous explosive power you need to initiate a heavy pull. Jumping higher requires more power, so your goal over time is to increase the height of your vertical jumps. Some effective jumping exercises include:
    • Box Jumps
    • Depth Jumps
    • Box Squat Jumps
  • Accommodated Resistance: Using bands and chains in your deadlift training can help you build more power off the floor. Since the weight is lighter at the floor, you should concentrate on starting the pull off the floor with as much speed as possible, using this momentum to complete the lift as the weight increases.

Locking out at the top:

Let’s start with the proper definition of a deadlift lockout: standing fully upright, chest up and shoulders back, hips and knees fully extended (locked out). A strong lockout requires a strong posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back), and powerful grip.

Key Technique Points: Lockout technique in the deadlift requires you to be able to keep your chest up and drive your hips forward once the bar passes your knees.

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly and keep your head and chest up.
  • Engage your glutes at the end of the pull to lock your hips and knees out to finish the pull powerfully.
  • Grip: Once your grip begins to slip, your body will tendency to stop pulling even if you had the strength to complete the lift. Here are a couple of techniques to improve your grip on the bar.
      • Alternating over/under grip: Over-Under Grip: Grip the bar with one hand pronated (overhand) and one hand supinated (underhand). Which hand you use is your preference, but generally speaking it’s more effective gripping with your dominant hand pronated. Using the over-under grip prevents the bar from rolling out of your grip.
      • Hook grip: Grip the bar with both hands pronated. Instead of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, lie them along the bar and wrap your fingers around your thumbs. This is a very effective grip, locking the bar in and preventing it from rolling or slipping out of your grip, but it can be exceptionally painful.

    Hook Grip Demonstration

    • Chalk: Be generous with the chalk, its usefulness cannot be underestimated. Every surface of your hand that touches the bar should be coated with chalk (and preferably only the surfaces of your hand, not the bench, the floor, the mirror…). Once you’ve chalked your hand nothing touches your hands except the bar! If your gym does not allow chalk, try liquid chalk.
    • Gloves: The bar slides relatively easily across the surface of your pretty gloves. It does not slide easily across the surface of a well chalked hand (without taking chalk, skin and calluses along with it).
    • Wrist straps: No

Strength Improvements and Training: The muscles in your posterior chain are the primary movers to lock out your deadlift. With proper training you’ll find your deadlift actually accelerating once the bar crosses your knees.

  • Posterior Chain: The posterior chain is greatly overlooked aspect of your training plan – yes, yourtraining plan. Your glutes and hamstrings should get just as much attention as your pecs and your quads (they don’t, do they?). My rule of thumb for glute and ham training volume is 8-12 sets per week depending, of course, on where I’m at in my training cycle. The most effective posterior chain lifts I’ve found are:

You don’t need a GHR bench to incorporate this effective exercise

  • Hip thrusters
  • Pull-throughs
  • Grip Strength: Have you ever shaken a great deadlifter’s hand? Chances are they crushed your mortal hand. If you want a strong deadlift, you need a strong grip.
    • Deadlifts: Use double overhand grip as you warm up until you cannot hold the bar any longer. Then use alternating grip without chalk until you absolutely need the chalk.
    • Farmer walks: In addition to some great conditioning, farmers walks can do wonders for building your grip.
    • Wrist straps: No

There are other implements aimed at helping you build your grip strength, but my preference is grabbing a bar and holding on to it as you work through your training.

  • Upper Back Strength: Although your upper back is not actively involved in the pull, statically it needs to be strong enough to support the weight. As with your posterior chain, your back should get as much attention as your pecs in your weekly training plan. I also like to balance my training volume in the frontal or vertical plane (ie pull-ups) with volume in the sagittal or horizontal plane (ie barbell rows).
    • Pull-ups: If you can complete more than 5-7 pull-ups, do them weighted.
    • Lat Pull-downs: One of the few machines regularly in my training plan.
    • Barbell rows
    • Dumbbell rows

For more on back training, check out my Back Workout of the Week.

  • Lockout specific strength: You may want to include lifts in your program that directly train your lockout strength:
  • Accommodated Resistance: Using bands and chains in your deadlift training can help you overload your deadlift lockout. Since the weight is lighter at the floor, you can lift weights that are heavier at lockout than you would normally be capable of.
  • Rest: You will find that deadlifts work your entire body. You, therefore, use your entire body when deadlifting. If you are not allowing yourself sufficient recovery, and not promoting proper recovery (ie rest, diet, supplementation), your deadlift strength will suffer. If you find yourself struggling with a rep weight, back off, recover, and come back stronger.

Take action: Assess where you have the greatest potential for improvement. Rework your training program with a strategy to eliminate weak links in your pulls, and get your deadlift progress back on track.

A Perfect Setup Leads to a Bigger Squat

A perfect squat setup can be the difference between a successful lift and a failed lift. As a powerlifter, I train to make this portion of the squat as efficient as possible. These powerlifting techniques can help any strength trainer not just powerlifters, take advantage of them.

Don’t rush it. There is no excuse for your setup to not be perfect on every set you do from your first warm-up to your last working set. You have more control over the setup than you do over the actual lift. You have time to think about what you are doing every step of the way. Take advantage of this fact, and make it perfect every time.

  • Hand placement: Hand placement is of course somewhat dependent upon your flexibility, but the closer you bring your hands in, the tighter you will be able to keep your upper back, providing more support to the bar.
  • Bar placement: Bar placement can be affected by a number of factors (muscles targeted, individual body proportions, upper body flexibility). Generally speaking, however, placing it across the back of the delts versus on top of the traps allows you to generate the greater power.
  • Foot placement: Place your feet under the bar in a standard conventional deadlift stance (approximately hip width apart, toes pointed forward); this will give you the most stability as you lift the bar out of the rack.
  • Breathing: Take a deep breath and tighten your core before unracking the bar (Squat Breathing Technique). This creates a very solid, stable core and allows you to support the weight of the bar. Continue to hold your breath until you have walked the bar out.
  • Rotate your hips under the bar: Keeping your back flat, shift your hips forward by rotating at the bar and your shoulders – do not flex your lumbar spine to push your hips forward.

Rotate at the shoulders to shift your hips forward

    • Unrack the bar: Lift the bar straight up using your legs, primarily your quads; if you have not properly rotated your hips under the bar, this looks like a good morning, making the bar feel much heavier.
  • Walk the bar out:
    • After unracking, pause briefly allowing the bar to settle briefly before stepping back.
    • Watch your feet as you walk out so that you can place them exactly where you want them.
    • Your first step should be straight back. This will allow you to clear the rack so that you don’t bump it on the way out. It should be a short step, your toe should not move much farther back than the heel of your other foot.
    • Move your other foot back into your squatting position.
    • Shift your first foot straight out into your squatting position.
    • Practice this walkout to minimize shifting and shuffling once you’ve walked out.
    • Let the bar settle briefly again, begin breathing again and your are ready to squat.

Practice these steps from your very first warm-ups, and make them automatic. Done right, the correct setup can make the weight feel much lighter, giving you greater confidence in your lift!

The Conventional Deadlift – Breaking Down the Technique

The deadlift is a simple exercise, right? Just grab a heavy bar and stand up. To advance from a good deadlifter, to a great deadlifter, you really have to understand all the mechanics of the lift, which actually are somewhat complex. I’ve broken the deadlift into 21 separate steps to help you master every nuance of the lift.


There is no reason your setup should not be perfect every single rep of every single step. You are able to stop and think about every step in the setup as you are doing it. Setting up properly can make a significant difference in how much iron you can pull.

  • Select the right bar
    • Pick a bar that is not bent; if you cannot find a bar in your gym that is not bent (uh, terribly sorry about that…) make sure the bend is positioned upward so the bar does not roll as you lift it
    • Choose a bar with most pronounced knurling, it should be somewhat sharp; yes, this will tear your hands up, but you will hold onto the bar.
  • Foot placement
    • Feet should be at hip-width (inside shoulder width)
    • Point your toes forward
  • Bend at the waist, rotating at your hips, to grab the bar
  • Hand Placement
    • Grip the bar at shoulder width
    • Hands should be outside your thighs so they don’t slide across your legs during the pull, as this can cause your grip to loosen
    • Arms should hang straight down from your shoulders, close to the thighs
  • Get a good grip on the bar
    • Use an over/under grip to prevent the bar from rolling during the pull
    • Try to keep both hands on the knurling
    • For heavier sets, chalk up your hands to prevent the bar from sliding away from you
  • Pull the bar close to your body
    • Bar should be within an inch of your shins before you start the pull
    • Center the bar over the arches of your feet

Basic Deadlift Technique

Try and master the basic deadlift technique before starting to add more advanced techniques to your pulls. This will give you a great foundation, and very solid deadlifts.

  • Pull the ‘slack’ out between your body and the bar
    • Pull upward slightly on the bar so there is no slack between your arms and the bar, or between the bar and the plates
  • Rock backwards dropping your hips down, and bringing your chest up
    • Rotate around your knees bringing your hips downward
    • Keep your arms straight and your back tight, and maintain upward tension on the bar as you rock back
  • Drive through your heels as you start your pull; use your legs to break the bar from the floor
  • Continue pulling until you are standing fully erect with your knees locked, your hips forward, and your shoulders back
  • Lower the bar back to the floor and reset for your next repetition

Advanced Deadlift Technique

Once you have the basic deadlift technique mastered, and the steps are automatic, begin working on the advanced techniques that will take your pulls to the next level.

  • Once you are set up for your pull, and have removed the slack from the bar, tighten your back
    • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down to keep your back tight
    • Activate your lats to keep the bar tight against your shins
  • Take a deep breath into your lungs and tighten your abs to create intra-abdominal pressure and a solid core just before dropping your hips to the starting position
    • Hold the air in your lungs until the bar passes your knees
    • Exhale slowly as you lock the bar out
  •  As you rock backward, continue bringing your hips down until your knees and shoulders are behind the bar
  • Concentrate on tightening your glutes and hamstrings as you bring your hips down
  • Begin pulling as soon as your hips drop to the starting position
    • Remaining too long at the bottom of the lift will allow your glutes and hamstrings to loosen, and let your head talk your body out of the lift
  • Keep the bar close to your body, the bar should ride up your shins as you pull
  • Concentrate on completing your pull with one smooth motion
    • Your shoulders, hips and the bar should rise at the same rate
    • Your hips should not come up first, leading to your knees to lock out before your upper body is fully erect
  • As the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward by squeezing your glutes
  • Do not shrug the bar or lean back excessively at the end of the lift, instead complete the lift by popping your chest up
  • Do not let the bar rest on your thighs (hitching) at any point during the lift, continue pulling steadily even if the bar slows and stops; if you cannot complete the lift without hitching, set it down and try again another time!

Although a seemingly simple lift, there are many nuances to the deadlift that may be difficult to learn all at once. By breaking the deadlift down into separate phases, you can master each portion of the technique and build solid foundational skills before attempting more difficult and complex steps. Just as Brute Force Rule #4: Expect Steady Progression – following this approach, you may apply this rule to your deadlift as well.

You may download a deadlift technique checklist and take it with you to the gym: Lifting Checklist – Deadlift


Post Workout Quickie – Deadlift Grip

Last week in my Deadlift Setup article I touched on two deadlift setup approaches, the two count deadlift and the three count deadlift. In watching a new lifter last night, I captured one of the difficulties with the two count deadlift.

Notice in the picture to the right that the lifter’s left hand is at least a half an inch wider than his right hand. This is a problem I see frequently with novice lifters. When squatting down to the bar to set up, it’s difficult to watch your hands to ensure proper hand position. Improper hand position will lead to inferior pulls:

  • When your hands are off-center like this, the bar will be off-balance, making the pull more difficult
  • If your hands are too wide, it shortens your reach, forcing you to squat down farther to get to the bar; you then have to start lower and pull the bar farther
  • If your hands are too close, they will drag across your legs, increasing friction, and impacting your grip on the bar

Quick pointers on hand and foot position for the deadlift:

  • Feet should be ‘inside the shoulders’, this is a relatively close stance
  • Hands should be right on the outside of your hips and legs; your arms should hang straight down from your shoulders, but not drag across your legs
  • I like to keep my hands right on the edge of the knurling, so that I have a very easy time finding the correct placement; this is dependent, of course, on the width of your build and the bar that you use
This is one reason I like bending at the waist to grab the bar, versus squatting, before dropping my hips into the starting position (three count deadlift). I can quickly and easily see exactly where I’m placing my hands before tightening up in that position.
As with all lifts – a cleaner setup leads to a cleaner and more powerful pull!


Deadlift Setup – Creating a Powerful First Repetition

Deadlift is the easiest exercise there is, right? Bend down, grab the bar and pick it up.

Have you ever noticed how your second repetition in a heavy set of deadlifts is often easier than your first? How you set up and grab the bar can make a huge difference in powerful your first repetition is as well.

The Stretch Reflex: If a muscle is stretched rapidly, a contraction is triggered within that muscle. You use this reflex when you perform many of your exercises. During the eccentric, or lowering of the bar during the bench press for example, the pecs are stretched. This stretch, and the corresponding Stretch Reflex, assists you in driving the bar powerfully off your chest.

When deadlifting, there is no eccentric component to the first repetition. Just grab the bar and pick it up, right? On your second repetition as you lower the bar to the floor, your glutes and hamstrings are stretched, creating a stretch reflex that assists with the second and subsequent repetitions. How can you create a Stretch Reflex on your first repetition? Let’s start by walking through a typical deadlift. I refer to this as the Two Count Deadlift.

The Two Count Deadlift

  • Squat down to the bar
  • Grip the bar and pull

In trying to figure out why my own second repetitions were easier that the first, I came across a method of setting up for your deadlift that creates a pseudo eccentric component to your first repetition. I try to create the Stretch Reflex using a Three Count Deadlift.

The Three Count Deadlift

  • Rotate forward at the hips, bending to grab the bar
  • Rock back quickly, rotating at the knee to bring the hips down and chest up
  • As soon as your hips hit the bottom of the lift drive up explosively, bringing the bar,  your hips and shoulders up at the same rate







For both approaches, the concentric motion of the lift should be completed in one smooth motion.

As a competitive powerlifter, I focus on resetting after every rep using the Three Count Deadlift for all repetitions. In a competition, there is only one repetition, so I train for a powerful single repetition. However, although using the Three Count Deadlift may make your first repetition more powerful, you may find that using the Two Count Deadlift for the eccentric portion at the end of your first rep can make the rest of your reps easier. If you’re not training for competition, a hybrid approach (Three Count first rep, Two Count for subsequent reps) may allow you to pull greater weight and volume.

In the video demonstration, notice the transition to the Two Count Deadlift on the third repetition.

Try taking advantage of your body’s own reflexes for stronger pulls!

Strength Training – Breathing Technique for a Powerful Squat

Solid Core for Squatting
While training the other day I was distracted by a guy attempting to give birth…or so it appeared from the sounds he was making. I paused to check out how much weight he was squatting, it surely must have been impressive, right? Alas, the squat rack was empty! On further investigation I found that instead of Lamaze, he was bicep curling mighty 25lb dumbbells.

A week later I encountered him again, and he commented that you can’t get strong if you’re not making a lot of noise. I really didn’t have the energy to correct him – that it’s the faces you make that are important, but it does bring me to my subject. Beyond annoying the lifter’s in the gym, and drawing attention to lifts that should remain hidden in obscurity, the only thing all that noise is doing for you is reducing the amount of weight you can lift. Breathing correctly during your sets will make a significant difference in the weight you lift, and quite frankly a loaded down bar speaks for itself.

Although proper breathing technique has a positive impact on most, if not all of your lifts, I’m going to discuss the squat. Proper breathing technique helps increase your core stability which:

  • Transitions power from your legs doing the work to your upper body supporting the weight (see the figure below)
  • Reduces your chances of injury, by stabilizing your spine

The Technique

  • Take a deep breath into your lungs, allow your diaphragm to press down into your abdomen
  • Brace your core, as you would if you were about to get punched in the stomach, by simultaneously tightening your abdominals and obliques
  • Continue holding your breath through the eccentric portion of the lift (descent), and begin exhaling slowly as you pass the mid-point in the concentric (ascent) portion, complete exhaling as you lock the lift out

How Does this Add Weight to Your Bar

The bar rests on the supporting structure of your shoulder girdle, rib cage and back musculature. Your power is driven up from the floor through your legs, which consist of over 50% of the muscle mass in your body. The transition point between these stable structures is your core (abdominals, obliques, and erector spinae). The most well defined six-pack will likely not be as stable as these two opposing forces.

  • Filling your lungs with air, and bracing your abdomen creates intra-abdominal pressure which stabilizes your spine
  • A solid, stable core allows you to keep your chest up throughout the lift, preventing excessive leaning
  • Screaming for attention at the bottom of your squat releases the air from your lungs in an uncontrolled manner, loosening your core, and allowing your mid-section to crumple (no, your belt does not prevent this from happening)


There are safety considerations you need to take into account when squatting heavy.

  • As my spotters can tell you, holding your breath for an extended period of time deprives your body of oxygen (during a period of extreme exertion) and creates a risk of blacking out
  • This technique can create a significant increase in your blood pressure

In Summary

Squatting effectively is much more than stepping under the bar, bending your knees and straightening them again. Proper breathing, for example, stabilizes your core, reducing your tendency to lean or crumple at the bottom of the lift. Screaming loudly during the lift reduces your core stability.

Try lifting with good breathing technique. The plates will stack on more quickly and you will find your lifts much more stable.



Jesse Irizarry. “Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training.” Testosterone Nation. 3/2/12. 4/7/12 <>