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By: Louie Simmons
Many lifters find their sticking point or mini-max is when lifting the bar off the floor.
First, you must apply more force than the barbell’s weights. But it can be made easier if you have the proper technique in your style, either Sumo or the conventional method.
In the beginning, 90 percent to 99 percent of all powerlifters would use the conventional style. Many would use a shoulder-width with a reverse grip.
Many times you would hear the coach say to lower your hips, but this method places the bar a long way from the hip leading to poor leverage, making it even more challenging to lift the bar off the floor.
When I see a lifter with this style, it is clear that they have a weak back because they are arching the entire back, which elongates the spine, causing even more poor leverage.
You may see signs in the workplace telling you to lift with your legs only, but not when you are lifting a barbell off the floor in a meet. Also note: your back strength should exceed your leg strength while deadlifting. Do not use the style above.
A similar method is one that I used when deadlifting in the conventional style, and many top strongmen use it, too. Pull yourself, meaning having your hips as low as possible, almost touching the platform with relaxed arms. Then start standing up, first using a lot of leg drive to lift the bar off the floor. Then apply your entire back lower up to the traps to finish the lift.
This is what most strongmen competitors use. Anyone can watch online.
Use this style to bring the hips forward as the bar is traveling toward the body’s center. If you did not know, the feet should be pushing forward to some extent. This is also true in the Olympic lifts. As you push your feet forward, your hips and shoulders are pulling the barbell toward the center of mass, or your body.
Always pull the bar towards the body and not true vertical. If you pull straight up, it will be in front of the body. We have talked about conventional style, now let’s look at the Sumo deadlift.
Mike Bridges, one of the great lifters in the 70s and 80s, gave me pointers on the Sumo-style deadlift that broke down the method into manageable steps.
First, choose your stance, either wide or close, Sumo. Next, push your knees and feet out to the sides and arch your back. Pull against the bar without jerking it as you push your knees out to the sides as far as possible. The hips move forward to the bar as the shoulders pull the bar toward the body’s center. The closer your hips are to the barbell, the greater leverage you will have.
To develop this mobility, do isometrics in a Power Rack. As you pull on the bar, pull your shoulders back. While pushing the hips forward, hold for two seconds while doing 5x5 reps. This is an advantage Sumo has over conventional-style.
If you look at some of the greatest deadlifters of all time—Vince Anello 750 at 181 and 821 at 198, John Kuc 870 at 242, Brett Russell 859 at 242—they used an almost stiff-legged style where their feet were very close together with toes pointed out to the sides. They would first apply leg drive to start the bar off the floor, then the legs would straighten out, and it would look like a stiff-legged deadlift.
A doctor would have a heart attack, but the biggest no-belt conventional pull is 947 pounds by the late, great Russian Konstantine, or KK, as he was known. He was known for this style. Why? The answer is that the bar is very close to the body for improved leverage. You must remember there is a reason behind all the special methods.
I will mention one style. It is a Close-Stance Sumo by Inaba of Japan. He would start the bar with his legs close and his hands inside his legs, but at lockout, the arms would be outside his legs. This is the style I used to pull a 775 deadlift in the gym.
What starts the deadlift?
There are three points of failure in the deadlift. Not all have the same sticking point due to the force posture curve.
Let’s start on the floor. All the muscles should work throughout the lift. To maximize the start, remember to use good technique for whatever style you use.
To lift the barbell off the floor, you must first pull on the barbell with your traps and entire upper back. Then, you drive your feet into the floor while pulling slightly toward the body. Push into the floor while your upper back is pulling the barbell toward the center of your body as the hips move forward toward the bar. Do leg work for knee extensions. Flex your abs and tighten all muscles of the entire back.
At Knee Level
For the sticking point at knee level, you must concentrate on your lower back to a great extent because when the bar is at your knee level, your hips and lower back are as far from the bar as any other point, causing the poorest leverage. To improve, do special low-back exercises like back raises, Reverse Hypers, round-back Goodmornings, and side bends.
If you find the lockout to be your biggest problem, train your glutes and hips. When you miss the lift at the top, most of the time, your legs are not locked while your glutes are not contracting strong enough to straighten out completely.
If you look at Page 40 in The Science and Practice of Strength Training, it shows at the top of the lift, the force gets to diminish to some extent that, for many, would cause one to fail.
To build your lockout, work the glutes with small special exercises like Reverse Hypers, pull a heavyweight sled, and do wide box squats and ultra-wide deadlifts.
This data comes from 30, 800-pound deadlifters with four of those lifting over 900 pounds.
When your desire is to build the deadlift at any position, isometrics can play a significant role in developing your sticking point. Simply set the bar in a Power Rack at the location where you fail or have difficulty in overcoming the barbell.
Just set the bar on a lower pin and pull the bar up to a second pin at your sticking point and hold with maximum tension for two seconds. Five by five (5x5) sets work well and can help eliminate your sticking point. How does this help? You can work your sticking point for 50 seconds in one workout with the 5x5 sets and any position you desire.
Isometrics also can greatly enhance your position at any point in the lift by pulling yourself into the best possible position. Think about it. When you crawl under a bar to squat or bench, you will not excerpt force until your position is perfect.