Reasons Your Deadlift is Not Improving
Who out there does not want to walk up to a loaded barbell, take a big breath, and rip it off the floor? This procedure undoubtedly boosts self-confidence and more times than not, attracts a lot of attention in the gym.
However, many people chip away at the deadlift week in and week out only to discover limited progress and frustrating results. Many people want to continuously get stronger and improve their deadlift numbers, but not everybody knows how to go about accomplishing such a feat. The fault does not lie within the individual, but rather, with lack of knowledge; here’s why:
1. You’re Not Focusing on Form
Ask any seasoned lifter about the deadlift and they will tell you that proper form is one of the most important aspects of the lift. Watch any inexperienced lifter perform the deadlift and you will notice that they jerk the weight off the floor and finish the lift with their lower back. When you do not properly set up for a certain exercise, you are putting your body into a mechanical disadvantage. You are also increasing your risk of injury. In order to properly execute the deadlift, one needs to analyze their initial set up prior to even grasping the bar.
Walk up to the loaded barbell and place your feet within shoulder width apart, and slightly externally rotate your toes. The barbell should be directly over the middle of your foot. Take a big breath and sit backwards, rather than bending down to the bar. Your knees should remain neutral while descending; do not let them pass over your toes. Grasp the bar with a mixed grip (one overhand, one underhand) and pull the bar so that you hear a click. This click signifies that you have removed the slack from the bar and there is now an appropriate amount of tension being placed upon it.
Prior to pulling, tuck your chin and focus on an object directly in front of you. This chin tuck puts the spine in alignment and will eliminate cervical extension. Begin to stand up with the weight while keeping your chest tall, and engaging your lats, hamstrings, and glutes as this will reduce the risk of your hips shooting upwards before the rest of your body and will maintain a good amount of tension. When approaching the lockout portion of the lift, finish by thrusting your hips forward into the bar, rather than hyper-extending your lower back. Pull your shoulders back and down and fully expose your chest at the top of the lift. After fully locking out, return the bar to the floor. From the floor, you can perform another repetition, or walk away if performing a one-rep maximum.
Walk up to the loaded barbell and spread your legs to the outer notches of the barbell (or as wide as you can be comfortably). Your feet should be angled outward and your shins should be against the bar. Sit backwards and grip the bar while feeling tension in the inner part of your legs, groin, and your hamstrings. Follow the same procedure as the conventional deadlift to complete the exercise.
2. You are Not Periodizing Workouts Effectively
You will experience a stall in progress or possibly even a decrease if you continue to go to the gym and perform the same set/rep scheme for deadlifting each week. Workouts need to be varied and the set/rep schemes need to be manipulated in order to continually elicit new stimuli from the body.
For example, let’s say you want to go for a new max in the deadlift in a month. An effective program would utilize heavy weights for low reps on one day and sub-maximal loads for speed on a separate day. This type of programming would appear as follows:
|4||Monday||Deadlift||1 Rep Max||100%|
*Each deadlift will be a variation, which will be addressed next. Mondays are meant to be heavy, strenuous sessions and Fridays are focused on speed development i.e. how fast you can get the bar moving.
**The Monday of the fourth week will be your max effort session where you attempt a new PR. That Friday is meant to be a de-load session to give your body, as well as your CNS, a break.
3. You Lack Variation
It is necessary to perform deadlifts repeatedly if you wish to improve your numbers. However, your results will stall if you continue to perform the same exact movement every time you train.
If you pull conventional, it’s time to learn sumo. If you pull sumo, learn conventional. Restricting yourself to only one deadlift variation will undoubtedly prolong your quest for big numbers.
Once you know how to pull both sumo and conventional, it’s time to really experiment. When programming your deadlift sessions, try to incorporate the following:
- Band/Chain Resisted Pulls
- Deficit Pulls
- 2-4’’ Plate-Raised Pulls
- Band Assisted Pulls
- Rack Pulls
The above variations can be applied to both your heavy work and speed days. Try to save rack pulls for heavy days as you can focus more on the movement rather than speed. These variations will place a new stimulus upon your body, which will play a huge role allowing you to lift more weight.
4. You Neglect Supplemental Work
This is a major factor that comes in to play when progress stalls on the deadlift.
Direct posterior chain work will pay huge dividends when trying to increase the deadlift. Exercises such as glute bridges, GHR’s, cable pull-throughs, kettlebell swings, and RDL’s can be the deciding factor in a new PR. Without adding these exercises to your arsenal you are restricting yourself. These are the types of exercises that build the deadlift, not the deadlift itself.
You need to focus on increasing your hamstring and glutei recruitment during your deadlift, so you need to develop them through supplemental exercises. Programming these exercises into your training is paramount to a big deadlift. These exercises are best performed with moderate-high repetitions with heavy weight and should follow a deadlift variation.
Using our example program from earlier, programming supplemental exercises should look something like this:
|1. Heavy Deadlift Variation*|
2. Barbell RDL’s- 3x12
3. Barbell Glute Bridges- 4x8
4. Core Work
|1. Kettlebell Swings- 3x12-15
2. Speed Deadlift Variation*
3. GHR’s- 3x10
4. Cable Pull-Throughs- 4x12
5. Core Work
*Use previously stated training numbers and percentages
5. Your Diet Doesn’t Support Your Goals
This may seem like common knowledge, but if you are not eating enough food, you’ll be doing nothing more than spinning your wheels in the gym. Not to mention the inevitable fatigue that will ensue after such rigorous training.
It has been said time and time again that diet is more important than exercise. You still need to put in the work at the gym, but you need to put in even more work in the kitchen.
If you are trying to drop weight for a competition, do it slowly and try not to restrict yourself too much. If your body is not getting an acceptable supply of calories and macronutrients, it will be functioning at a much less than optimal capacity than if you were to drop calories slowly each week. Unless you’re doing a water cut, which is a completely different matter entirely and would require it’s own article.
However, if weight is not a concern, eat as much as you can. Emphasize protein consumption, but carbs and fats are fair game. Eat in abundance and watch your numbers skyrocket. You will gain some weight, but you will also get stronger, especially if you are consuming meats with saturated fat, which has been known to increase testosterone.
At each meal, pick a protein and carbohydrate source, and fill the entire plate. When you finish that plate, it’s time for seconds. Eat until you can’t, then wait until you can and repeat the process. I don’t recommend doing this all the time, but it is a great tool if you are shooting for a new PR in the gym (plus it’s delicious). If you notice that your body doesn’t process carbohydrates too well, try to avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates prior to a training session as the rapid spike in insulin could make you feel tired during the workout.
If you wish to pull record-breaking numbers, you have to commit yourself to the goal. You need to give an all-out effort in both the gym and kitchen, and you must be smart about the methods you use. The above information should serve as a good guide to increase your deadlift numbers. Now go do some glute bridges.