Dial The Deadlift
How To Maintain Position Off The Floor & Improve Your Lockout
"To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first."
How many times have you seen someone fail at the top of a deadlift and come away vowing to ‘work on their lockout’? They then spend the next 6 months doing loads of rack pulls and end up getting worse. How can this be? This logical disconnect stems from a failure to understand the chain of events leading to this failed lift.
The Weak Point Is Not Where You Think It Is
When someone fails at the top (above the knees) in a deadlift it’s almost always because they've sacrificed being in an optimal position in order to get the weight moving. The bar won’t break off the floor so they let their hips rise and lower back round (see below). This gets the weight moving but means that once the bar passes the knees they’re in such a bad position that locking out is almost impossible.
Getting the bar to or past the knees gives the unenlightened lifter the impression that they were nearly there and just need to focus on that lockout.
It’s rare for someone to be in an optimal position as the bar passes the knees and not have the strength to drive the hips through to lockout. A lot of elite lifters will fail below the knee, they know that there’s no point sacrificing position so if they can’t pass the knee with the right form they stop pulling. The weight is just too heavy for them, nothing wrong with that.
How Do We Fix It?
If the lifter then goes away and spends even less time working from the floor what do you think is going to happen? That’s right, even worse form loss from the floor and a lower 1RM.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not talking about a perfectly flat backed deadlift (as you get with the Clean from the floor) some rounding (especially in the thoracic region) is likely to happen, especially at maximal loads. What we want to do is minimise this rounding and not sacrifice getting the weight moving for complete loss of position.
We need the lifter to work on getting into position at the start of the pull and holding that position whilst developing force against the bar and through the ground.
The way I like to teach this is to get the lifter to think of the deadlift as a movement which happens over two phases which blend into one. Imagine a dial going from 0 to 200kg (or whatever the weight on the bar is). You don’t want to go from 0 to 200 in one fast explosive pull, you’ll jerk out of position (hips shoot up) and eventually you’ll get hurt.
What you want to do is grip the bar, set the hip height, pull the shoulders back and down and put pressure into the bar, think of this as gradually turning the dial up to 100, putting 100kg of force into the floor through your heels. As you reach this imaginary point on the dial you then flow into the next phase and drive the floor away from you with your legs and this is where the dial gets quickly turned from 100 to 200.
It’s not like 2 switches where the first switch is 0-100 and the second switch is 100-200. This implementation results in a jerky two part pull. It’s a constant turn of a dial, the first part of the turn (0-100) is slow and then the speed of the turn increase for the second part (100-200).
The Final Word
What we’re looking for is isometric strength in that initial tightness and then making the bar move whilst holding that position. By only going from 100-200 we’re trying to eliminate that sudden jerk on the body and hopefully keeps the hips from rising too quickly.
There are other tools/variations which will help with maintaining the form off the floor, paused deadlifts being one of the main ones but I think the principle of the ‘dial’ is so useful because you can utilise it with almost any deadlift variation for any sets or reps. The more you use it the more natural it will become.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lifters, Barry Pigott of Ireland, demonstrating a beautiful example of holding form and driving through to lockout.
Owner of Super Training Gym UK
Head Coach British Powerlifting