This week I address the important cues and form considerations for an effective, safe and pain free deadlift. Implement these to ensure that you keep your form in line and most importantly avoid costly injuries to your spine.
Feet Shoulder Width Apart
Now obviously you can use different deadlift alternatives such as the sumo deadlift. However, for the sake of argument, I will be explaining cues for a conventional double overhand deadlift. With that being said, lining your feet up shoulder width apart is the recommended position for the conventional deadlift.
“Screw Feet Into The Floor”
I would have to post videos, detail a full program with appropriate progressions and write multiple articles to explain how to get your spine neutral when deadlifting (HINT: This might be coming soon). Anyway, one of the truest ways to help maintain a neutral spine is to develop proper torque with your lower body and externally rotate your hips.
Bar 1-2 Inches From Your Shins
Tracking the bar close to your shins is another way to ensure proper torque creation and the ability to maintain a neutral spine or “flat back.” By doing so, you allow the shoulders to be externally rotated instead of rounded forward, and the lats can also be engaged.
Double Overhand Grip
For non-power lifters and beginners a double overhand grip is perfectly acceptable. This will ensure that you develop proper grip strength early on. As you progress and work towards higher weights a transition to a mixed grip in which one hand is pronated (palm up) and one hand is supinated (palm down), can be considered.
“Pull The Slack Out Of The Bar”
Earlier in the article I mentioned torque. Well, these next two cue help create proper torque and a neutral spine. Pulling the slack out of the bar simply means to get in your proper deadlifting position and literally pull the bar as hard as possible without moving it from the floor. Doing so allows you to set your shoulders and back properly and makes for a safer and much more efficient lift.
Engage Your Lats
Again, here we have a cue to help keep your spine neutral and back flat. Act as if you are performing a lat pull down and contract your lats. This will help keep your back in proper positioning while you go through the full range of motion.
Cuing an athlete, or even instructing yourself to keep your chest up can also significantly help with positioning and posture throughout the lift. Doing so can help you avoid a rounding of the upper back and a rolling of the shoulders forward, which is essential to a safe and pain-free deadlift.
Pinch Glutes At Lockout, Do Not Hyperextend
One of the main mistakes I see with the deadlift is a misconception of what is actually done at the lockout. Many lifters will hyperextend at the lower back and place far too much stress on the lumbar spine. However, the proper technique calls on glute strength and action. This is why it is so important to work glute hamstring raises and hip thrusts into your program as strong and developed glutes are pivotal at the top of the motion. Essentially, pretend you are doing a hip thrust or glute bridge at the top of the motion to properly perform a lockout and remember to squeeze those glutes to finish off your deadlift!
“Leg Press The Bar Back To The Floor”
Lastly, it is essential to return the bar to the floor in a safe and effective manner. Often times many lifters will not bend at the knee appropriately and instead perform more of a stiff leg or Romanian deadlift. To combat this, once the bar makes its way back to the thighs, act as if you are performing a leg press and slightly bend at the knee as you move the weight past your lower thighs and down past your knee to the floor.
Last Thursday I addressed the topic of deloading for the inaugural issue of #AskChallengerStrength. After explaining what a deload is and how to properly perform one, I also briefly discussed what to do before your first workout coming off a deload and how you can properly reactivate your Central Nervous System following a week designed to let it rest and recoup. Well, in light of that, today I will give you my three favorite Nervous System activating exercises that can not only be useful following a deload week, but can also be implemented as finishers to both your warm-up and training session. As a Certified Physical Preparation Specialist who comes from the training schooling of Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith, I will briefly explain their definition of what a CNS activating exercise entails. Basically Joe and Jim classify any jump, sprint, throw, or power intensive activity as one that will kick the CNS into high gear and properly activate it to allow for peak performance throughout your training or sporting event. So, here are my three favorite exercises!
Partner Tire Pushes
This is a great tire variation that can be used for partner and group training. Basically, you stand the tire up on its side and have one person on one side and one on the other. The two then proceed to push the tire back and forth as powerfully and quickly as possible hoping that they can drive the other off balance and essentially “win” the exercise. The short bursts and power intensive nature of the exercise make it a great way to fire up the CNS and prepare an athlete for their training. Also, it is a great way to capitalize on competitive nature to increase performance!
Overhead Medicine Ball Slams
I like this variation of a medicine ball throw because I feel that it not only activates the CNS but it also targets the core. Activating the core is also extremely important prior to a workout. In addition to this, this type of slam requires proper bracing (which is great to practice) and also does a nice job of working on the transfer of power throughout the body. You are loading upwards and then exploding back down in the opposite direction.
Box jumps are a great plyometric exercise to fire the CNS and also prepare for a lower body workout. There are a variety of ways to perform box jumps and they all focus on specific aspects of training. Start the exercise on your knees to make it more reactive (this is great for athletes), perform a depth jump prior to the box jump to help develop eccentric strength and acclimate the CNS to proper shock absorption, or add a weighted vest to make things even more challenging.
So, in the most cut and dry way for me to explain this, these exercises or jumps, sprints and throws in particular are great to implement in a number of situations. Following a deload week they are almost mandatory to do prior to a training session. Also, they are great to use at the end of any warm up prior to either training or sports specific activity. Furthermore, you can also utilize these movements as “finishers” or the ending to your workouts and training sessions.
Now, go ignite your nervous systems and reap the benefits in your training sessions!
Today’s article marks the beginning of a new era in the Challenger Strength Blog Series. From now on, Thursday’s articles will be focused on #AskChallengerStrength. Basically, you guys ask me questions and I will take one question and turn it into a blog post every Thursday. Today’s question is from Gary Wong. Gary is a power lifter and had a few questions regarding deloads and how to effectively incorporate them into a program. So, in light of this, today I will shed light on why deloading is important, how you can properly perform a deload week and alter either your weights, sets, and repetitions, and finally, when you should schedule your deload weeks.
Why The Deload is Important
So, before I explain why deloading is important, I will give a brief run through on what a deload actually is. As I have mentioned time and time again, the central nervous system plays a pivotal role strength training, fitness and athletic performance. After days and weeks of repeated bouts of high intensity activity you can overwork your central nervous system immensely. An overworked nervous system can limit your performance, hamper your energy and lead to possible injury. This type of scenario is especially prevalent when lifting for relative strength and strength gains where you are pushing weights upward of 95% of your one rep max. After several weeks of activity you may begin to call on your CNS and place demands on it that it cannot handle. Here is where the deload week comes in. A deload week is crucial to include in your periodization to allow your CNS to reset, and revamp for optimal future performance.
How To Properly Perform a Deload
Now that you have a better understanding of why a deload week is important to begin with, I can better explain how to use certain deloading strategies. Deloading is crucial because while you are lessening your loads and performing less taxing work on your nervous system you are also not completely shutting yourself down and are still performing your scheduled workout. So, with this being said, how do you deload properly? Well, I like to think of this in two ways. One option is to drop the weight you would normally use to about roughly half and still perform the same number of sets and repetitions that are mapped out in your program. Another option is to use the same weight and cut your repetitions in half. An easy way to determine the best option is to just look at the number of repetitions and sets you are currently performing. A rule of thumb I like to use would be that if your repetitions are under six already, cut the weight in half and perform your regular repetitions. If you are performing a higher number of repetitions you can use the same weight and simply perform half of the repetitions.
When To Schedule a Deload Week
Scheduling a deload week can be both cut and dry, or planned based on more of a performance analysis approach. For example, if a client usually performs 135 pounds with the barbell bench press for 8 repetitions, but on the fifth week of their program they are struggling to do more than 5, it could be a good indication that their CNS is beginning to become overtaxed. So, if you had their deload planned after 6 weeks into their program and whatever type of cycle or phase you had them on, it might be a good idea to make an adjustment and have a deload week a week earlier. However, to be more cut and dry and specific, I usually recommend deload weeks after completion of a phase or cycle, which I recommend to last 3-6 weeks. Even if you are not using linear programming that has you performing specific cycles aimed at strength, hypertrophy, or even muscular endurance and you use more of a conjugate style approach where you attacking different goals every week, I still recommend that training cycles be broken into 3-6 week blocks. Lastly, after a week of deloading you will undoubtedly need to “reboot,” your CNS. So, before your first workout after a deload week perform a CNS intensive exercise prior to your weight training in order to jump-start it. This can include any variation of a jump, sprint or throw.
Please check back in next Tuesday for a new article and post any questions you have and maybe next week you will be able to #AskChallengerStrength. Have a great weekend!
I have to say that every time someone comes to me for advice or even coaching their goals usually go something like this: “Yeah, I just want to get into better shape. Ya know? Like I want to lose fat but not any of my muscle. Actually, I want to put on more muscle and still lose fat.” I hear it all the time, and not many people actually really know the best way to achieve this. It’s crazy that for such a common goal people really have no understanding on how to go about accomplishing it. Well, here I am to guide you and have you on your way to shredding fat and gaining lean muscle.
I see and hear it every day. Want to cut fat? Well, you must do hours upon hours of cardio. Walking, slow and long distance jogs, every cardio machine you can imagine. Here is the first mistake. Yes, long bouts of cardio can be great for burning high numbers of calories. But, contrary to popular belief, steady state cardio does not elevate your heart rate to ideal levels for fat burning. In addition to this, long bouts of cardio that are performed in a lactic state (think of the burn you get when you run) are extremely detrimental to your secondary (well, actually other primary goal) of building lean muscle. Here is why. When you push yourself into cardio that does not allow glycogen stores to be replenished (glycogen is the main source of muscle energy during workouts, your body becomes catabolic (the opposite of anabolic which is ideal for muscle growth) and feeds off lean muscle for energy. So, while you “feel the burn,” and sweat a lot, you are
Now that you know this common cardio misconception, I can get into the nuts and bolts of fat loss for muscle retention. Firstly, interval based bouts of cardio are ideal. Secondly, sprint work and power intensive cardio can build muscle in areas such as the upper back, shoulders, and the obvious glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Why? Well, this musculature is in high demand during sprint and power related movements. So, to start, change up from your traditional cardio. Next, incorporate intervals into your training. You can achieve the ideal fat burning heart rate with your weight training by implementing interval work with your strength training. Super sets or even giant sets can be used to help turn a traditional strength training session into a dual purpose workout and help you torch unwanted fat
Essentially, the two biggest keys to losing fat and retaining muscle are proper cardio and interval training. One may even argue that if you are strapped for time you can kill two birds with one stone and perform your weight training in intervals and this alone will be enough. Regardless, stick to these basic tips and you will find yourself with the tools you need to achieve the most desired goal in fitness and strength training.
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.