Deadlift Cues & The Paused Deadlift


Article written by Matt Mills
Here at LBEB, we are all about the deadlift, and with good reason:  If you want to get bigger, you have to deadlift.  Want to compete in Strongman, Powerlifting, or Crossfit?   Well you better be deadlifting, and deadlifting a lot for that matter.  When it comes to novice and even intermediate lifters, I see a lot of common mistakes, which leads to a lot of missed deadlifts.  I’m not going to go into great detail as far as stance and hip position, because I feel that differs from lifter to lifter. However I have a couple quick tips to improve your deadlift right away, along with a brutal deadlift variation to make sure your technique is spot on.  Just in case you haven’t checked out Alanna’s articles on training the deadlift, make sure you read both Part 1 and Part 2.

First, get your lats as tight as possible.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a bar get away from someone on a lift they should have locked out.  Not only do the lats keep the bar in tight to your shins, they also stabilize the spine.  The closer the bar is to you, the easier it will be, so keep it in tight!  Tightening the lats will also keep the chest up throughout the initial pull.  Now, contracting the lats does not mean retract the shoulder blades, this is another common mistake on the set up, which seems to be especially prevalent in the Crossfit community.  

Once you retract your shoulder blades, you are also making your arms shorter, and making the pull longer.  At heavier weights, the shoulder blades will detract right away, taking you out of you form and making you resemble a scared cat, that is if you even get the bar moving.  If you are unable to find your lats, try this drill with a partner: put your hands together and bend down into the position you would deadlift in.  The hands will be inside the knees as they would in a sumo deadlift.  Have your partner get behind you (I know bear with me here) and push against your hands.  When you push back you will feel your lats contract.  This is the exact tightness you are looking for on your set up.  This alone will make the initial pull off the ground much easier.  

Another big mistake is not getting tight on the bar and taking the slack out.  The arms should stay long and locked out in the set up.  Having the arms slightly bent and jerking the weight off the floor is simply losing strength, and slowing down progress.  What I generally see when this happens is the hips shoot right up, and the chest caves in.  When the hips shoot up first, the knees lock out too soon, and your lockout is far more difficult than it has to be.  We generally see the lifter get very shaky because the glutes are unable to fire, and the erectors have to pick up the slack to lock it out.  I can easily say that having the hips rise first is the most common mistake in the deadlift, and it’s something that I struggled with for some time on my conventional deadlift.  When reaching down for the bar, focus on keeping the arms straight, and as you grip the bar, squeeze as hard as possible.  When you set the hips down, use the weight of the bar to pull yourself into position, this will take the slack out of the bar. 

Another great cue that helped me a lot is to think about pushing your feet through the floor, and not just pulling the bar up.  Focusing on feet through the floor will again keep the hips and chest in line coming off the floor, as well as locking the hips and knees out together.  The knees should be slightly bent by the time the bar comes to your patella.  Having the knees in this bent position will ensure the glutes fire properly, and the lockout will be much smoother. 

The bar should roughly travel in a straight line right up your body, and the previous cues I went over will help this greatly.  To make sure the bar moves in a straight line, you want to think about falling back with the bar.  Don’t worry at heavier weights this will not happen.  The shoulders should be set in line with the bar, and even a little behind it if you are able to.  You do not want the shoulders in front of the bar.  This will again lead to the bar traveling away, and the hips shooting up leading to a very ugly lockout if you are able to get there in the first place.  You will be trying to fall back with the bar but all this will really do is ensure the bar path will be straight along your body. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Now, before we move on to my favorite way on how to enforce all of these cues, lets review:

1. Get the lats tight and keep the bar in close.
2. Take the slack out of the bar before you pull, the arms remain locked off the floor throughout the lift.
3. Think about pushing your feet through the floor.
4. The hips and chest rise at the same time.
5. The knees should be slightly bent at the halfway point.
6. Squeeze your glutes through the lockout.
7. To ensure the bar travels in a straight line up your body, get the shoulder in line with the bar or behind it if possible, and think about falling back.

Now that we have all of that out of the way, let’s move on to the paused deadlift. Aside from a bad set up and form, deadlifts are missed mostly for 3 reasons.  One is they can’t break the floor, two is a weak lockout, and three is a weak grip.  I will save being weak off the floor and grip strength for another time, but the paused deadlift will dramatically increase your lockout strength.  The technique is very simple; you will set up as normal following all of the steps I just outlined, except now you will pause anywhere from mid shin to right below your patella for 3 seconds.  Where you pause is going to be where you are weakest, but I generally have people pause right below the knees.  With this exercise you want to have impeccable form!  You do not want to pause with a heavy ass weight in this position with the knees locked and back rounded.  If you have never tried these then start with 55%-60% of your one rep max.  In the first few weeks, work on perfecting your technique and SLOWLY adding weight to the bar each week.  Make sure you are in the proper position at the pause, and do not let out your air, just like with the paused squats.  Have someone count and once they say 3 drives the hips, and squeeze the glutes hard to lock the bar out as fast as possible.  A 2 second pause is fine too, but I feel most people turn it into one second so make it 3 to be sure.

For programming purposes, I like to add these in as accessory work for deadlifting.  For example, you may be going for a heavy double on the deadlift, and then add in the paused deadlift directly after.  Who doesn’t want to do two different kinds of deadlifts in the same workout?!  Keep the sets on the lower side with only 3 working sets.  Generally in my training, I may take 10 sets to work up to my goal weight so going any more than 3 sets on paused deadlifts is overkill.  If you’re looking for a new deadlift program then make sure you pick up Matt Falk’s new LBEB Deadlift program HERE. If you have any questions drop a comment below or on the LBEB Facebook page.