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3 Coaching Cues for Strength and Conditioning Programs – Deadlift Technique Edition

Posted Nov 08 2012 8:46am
Today marks the third installment of a series that looks at the coaching cues we use to optimize training technique at Cressey Performance. Today, we'll focus specifically on deadlift technique coaching cues.  Additionally, if you really want to learn how to deadlift from scratch, I'd encourage you to subscribe to my free newsletter, as you'll receive a video deadlift technique tutorial when you do so.

1. Touch your butt to an imaginary wall a foot behind you.

"Hips back" is a cue that works great for many people when it comes to coaching deadlift variations, box squats, toe touch progressions, and a host of other exercises requiring a good hip hinge.  For those with less-than-stellar "movement awareness," I prefer to give a slightly different reference point.

You see, "hips back" is an internal focus coaching cue; it focuses on the athlete moving part of his/her body.  The imaginary wall, on the other hand, is an external focus cue; it's just an inanimate object that serves as a reference point for the athlete.  With the "touch your butt to an imaginary wall a foot behind you" cue, you give an athlete both internal and external focus options, so it's more likely that one of them will register.  Plus, "butt" may register a bit more with folks who can't don't understand how to dissociate the hips from the lower back.

2. Show me the logo on your shirt.

Also on the deadlifting front, many individuals simply don't grasp the concept of "chest up" when they're in the bottom position of a deadlift and want to go hunchback on you.  However, I haven't met a lifter yet who doesn't understand what I mean when I stand in front of them and say, "Show me the logo on your shirt."  Again, "me" is an external cue that helps to fix things up.

Take note of the New Balance logo on the front of my shirt during this deadlift; is there ever a point during the lift that you don't see it?

This isn't just for singles, either.  You'll see the logo on Tony's shirt on every rep on this set of eight reps.

Now, let's compare two heavier lifts - one that was awful on this front, and two that were significantly better.  This first one was taken in August of 2007.  Notice how the logo disappears, and my spine looks like it's going to explode?

Now, compare that to the deadlifts (1:40 mark through the end) in my mock/impromptu powerlifting meet two weeks ago.  You'll notice that you never lose sight of the logo on my shirt.

3. Don't just lift; put force into the ground.

I've found that folks often get so caught up in the moment when they approach heavy weights on the deadlift that they will simply do anything it takes to get the bar up (reference my ugly August 2007 deadlift from above).  However, what they fail to realize is that they'll be stronger if they put themselves in the most biomechanically correct position possible.

In the context of the deadlift, this means not allowing the bar to get too far away from the body.  If you do, it's like sitting on a seesaw opposite someone, but letting them move further away from the center point; you've made them feel heavier without actually changing the weight.  In other words, crushing big weights on the deadlift is about keeping the bar close to the primary axis of movement: the hips.  It's why most lifters will be slightly stronger on a trap bar deadlift than a conventional deadlift; the weight is positioned closer to the hips. And, it's also why folks with long femurs usually can lift more weight with sumo deadlifts (and do so more safely).

Regardless of the deadlift variation in question, I've found that more advanced lifters can really benefit from thinking more about just putting force into the ground. This doesn't mean you have to stomp your heels down (I actually used to do that, but don't any longer), but rather just engaging your posterior chain to take tension out of the bar and ensure that the bar starts out in the right path: close to you.  Some cues that go hand-in-hand with this are #2 from above (show logo) and "pull back, not up."

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