“…easy and strong are usually opposing concepts.” – Mark Rippetoe
By now you’ve probably seen the viral video of the grandma dead-lifting 200+ lbs that has taken the Internet by a storm. If you haven’t seen it yet you can watch it here:
Pretty impressive huh? Unfortunately, I can’t help but cringe when I watch the video and see her form. I know, I’m being nitpicky, and she’s just an old lady for f#$k’s sake. But come on people. There are a number of problems with her form. Rounded back. Not going all the way up. Looking at the camera. And worst of all, she f#$king bounces at the bottom! What many people don’t realize that the very definition of dead-lifts is that they should be performed from a dead stop. You literally come to the point of nearly relaxing your grip at the end of each rep of this exercise.
Let us take a moment to review dead-lifting. The dead-lift is arguably the hardest of the compound exercises to perform due to the fact that it requires the lifter to produce force to lift the bar off the floor without the help of a negative motion or movement (like the squat). And because of this, the dead-lift builds lower back strength better than any other exercise in the world. Period. Exclamation mark. The dead-lift is first and foremost a back exercise. It can be used as a secondary leg exercise but is inferior to the squat of course and this due to the lack of depth in the dead-lift starting position.
The actual movement is pretty simple. The bar is pulled with straight arms from the dead stop position (floor) and up the path of the legs/body until the lifter is standing upright. That’s pretty much it.
Let’s quickly review the mechanics step by step here for a minute:
- Barbell starts on the floor FROM A DEAD STOP.
- Set your stance at 8-12 inches apart. (slightly narrower than the squat stance)
- Your toes should be point out at a 10-30 degree angle, based on preference.
- The bar should be directly over the middle of the entire foot and about an inch away from your shins.
- Take a grip on the bar with your grip with as narrow as possible to be just outside your legs in the right position. (Don’t make the common newbie mistake of taking a grip too wide)
- Bend over to grab the bar with a neutral spine (not rounded). This is your starting point. Don’t lower your hips any further from here. Your knees should also shove out a bit at this point to compensate.
- Now you squeeze your chest up while taking a deep breath in (Valsalva maneuver) and pull the bar up. You must keep your back straight as you pull the bar off the floor
- Pull the bar up to the lockout (fully standing) position. Try and keep the bar as close to your shins as possible (drag the bar up). The chest should lead first before the hips. Remember, the goal is to have a straight line bar path from the ground up to the top of the position (lockout). Not So Fun Fact: It is not uncommon to see professionals and/or cross fitters with bloody or bruised shins due to this practice. This is as much of a badge of honor as a testament of good form. Some people prefer to wear thick compression socks or shin guards for added protection.
- At the top of lockout, there is no need to hyper extend your lower back or shrug your shoulders. As long as you are standing up straight you are good to go.
- From the top you can lower the weight in the same straight vertical bar path down. DON’T drop the weight from the top. But you can lower it faster than it took to bring up.
- Once the bar is back to the starting position (a dead stop), relax and breath out.
- Repeat the above for reps.
Now back to the grandma…I see many people execute this exercise without bringing the bar to a full stop on the floor. When this error is repeated quickly it leads to the infamous “bounce” at the bottom of the movement. Why do they do this?
Well, they are either misinformed or lazy. Or they just want to show off how many reps they can do at a certain weight. Whatever the reason, it is wrong. Bouncing not only gives you a false sense of accomplishment, it can also lead to injury due to improper form.
“If a bounce is incorporated into all the reps of a set of deadlifts except the first one, much of the value of doing them is lost.” – Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength
Yes, I too am guilty as charged of this too back in my early lifting days as one can pull a lot more reps with the help of a gentle bounce at the bottom. A deadlift means pulling from a dead stop. Don’t cheat your gains. Come to a dead stop at the bottom before beginning your next rep. DON’T BOUNCE AT THE BOTTOM OF EACH REP! (Can you tell this is a sticking point for me?)
Another issue I have with grandma is the weight belt. But I’ll rant about that another time. (In case you are wondering, I don’t advocate the use of weight belts either and the reason is that most non-professional lifters just don’t know how to use them properly.) For now I’m done balling out this poor grandma. She does deserve some credit as she has pulled more weight than most grown men I know.
The 4 Don’ts for Dead-lifting:
- Don’t round your lower back during the movement: Many newbies are too focused on pulling as much weight as possible in a bid to look bad-ass in the gym and forget to mind the most important part which is their lower back. As with all compound lifts, if you can’t lift it with proper form you need to reduce the weight until you can.
- Don’t look at the mirror or the ceiling: Remember, as with the squat your eyes should be focused on a point that is about 12-15 feet in front of you on the ground. Resist the urge to look in the mirror
- Don’t pull with your arms or shrug with your shoulders: Make sure to keep your arms straight. Resist the desire to “pull” with your arms.
- Don’t use gloves: Grip strength is key and the alternate grip helps as the weight goes up. Chalk is important for grip a sit keeps the hands dry and tight. Unless you a professional or pulling +400lbs, you don’t need straps either.
Finally, as with the squat, I preach the “don’t think, just do” frame of mind when performing the dead-lift. Let’s not get too caught up in the mechanics now. Pull heavy and don’t bounce.