Re-Building a Deadlift

Q: Mike you had mentioned at a seminar a few weeks ago that I could improve my deadlift if I fixed up my core and pelvic alignment issues. Here is a side view of my posture, along with some video clips of my deadlift.

If you were training me, what would you do to fix me up and make my pull even stronger?

Thanks!

First off, congrats on the pulls! Those are some solid weights regardless of your age or weight class.

Now, looking at your posture (as well as how you pull) I think you’re definitely leaving pounds on the platform. Here are a few things to consider.

  1. You have a wicked anterior pelvic tilt. This forces you to rely heavily on your quads and lower back, regardless of the movement. If I were training you this would be a primary focus of your training program. You have other postural deviations that I’d like to fix up, but this is the one holding back your pull.
  2. When you deadlift, you’re very reliant on your lower back. Watch as you initiate the pull – your hips shoot up, and then your lower back is left to “finish” the lift. While you can get away with this early in your career, as you age (or the weights go up) this will probably lead to low back pain and/or dysfunction down the line.

To correct this, I would use a multi-pronged approach.

Start by working to loosen up the quads and lower back. Foam rolling, deep tissue massage, ART, mobility work and static stretching can all be included to help release this stiff areas.

Next, you have to re-balance the equation by working to strengthen the muscles that create a posterior tilt of the pelvis. Never stretch or mobilize one side of a joint without adding stability to the opposite side!

In other words, lots of strengthening work for the glutes, hamstrings, and external obliques are in order. I’d be focusing on big-bang exercises like RDL’s, glute-ham raises, etc. as well as direct core work that trains the anti-extension function of the core. I cover a ton of progressions in this regard in my Complete Core Fitness product.

Single-leg work will be crucial, but only if done correctly. Split-stance exercises will provide the dual benefit of lengthening the short/stiff hip flexors, while creating strength and stability in the external obliques and gluteals. The key here is maintaining an optimal pelvic alignment and cuing tight/tall throughout.

Along with the single-leg work, don’t discount a lot of work in tall and half-kneeling postures. These will expedite and reinforce what you’re doing with the single-leg work.

Finally, at some point in time you’re going to have to actually rebuild your deadlift pattern. Your quads and low back are always going to be strong, but you need to bring your weaknesses up to a point where they’re not slowing down your progress.

When pulling, I would try and get your hips a smidge lower and try to initiate with the hips and thighs. Keep the lats tight so you’re pulling the bar back into your body (keep it close!), and don’t let the hips shoot up so fast.

In other words, think about keeping your hips underneath you and then using your hips/glutes to finish the lift.

As you’re working this progression, you may not be able to pull from the floor initially. Consider using a rack pull or trap bar deadlift and really dialing the technique in before moving back to sumo or conventional pulls.

This may be a frustrating venture at first – your lifts will probably go down to some degree, depending on how weak those areas are.

However, once you address these dysfunctions you’ll be left with a pull that’s not only stronger and more efficient, but less likely to get you injured as well.

Good luck!

MR

10 Comments

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  1. Do you always recommend no forward movement of the knee in a split squat? Or were your comments within the context of advising this particular individual.

    Lance excellent spirit fingers demo in the second vid!

    • Not always – if they want/need quad development, you can let the knee drift forward a bit.

      For this guy, though, he definitely needs to go vertical tibia and focus on maintaining pelvic control on the way down.

      Great question – thanks!
      MR

  2. Mike,

    As someone who has done each (and every one) of the things you describe above, I’m not sure people can fully appreciate the information you just dispensed. I can.

    If guys simply followed your advice here, we’d see PRs set all the time.
    RS

  3. Great info Mike!

    One quick question though. You say that some/most athletes that come to you are in APT, with tight hip flexors AND tight lumbar erectors. In both single leg videos you clearly address hip flexor tightness, but what about the lumbar erectors. Do they need to be stretched? If so, what’s the best way? Or, am I missing the point and these split squat, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling variations actively address tight lumbar erectors.

  4. Mike,
    One of our trainers recently went to the CK-FMS and brought back some insights on 1/2 kneeling posture, specifically to leveling the pelvis. If the shirt was off and waistline or ASIS of each hip are clearly seen, we should see a centered belly button and level hips in a perfect 1/2 kneel posture. If we are on an airx pad in the 1/2 kneel, it seems as though we need to plantar-flex the trail foot vs. dorsi-flex and also adduct the hip slightly and tighten the lateral hip musculature (get a glute medius dimple) to achieve a level pelvis. I’ve always thought get tall and tighten the butt while keeping the ankle dorsiflexed. This position seems to hike my hip on the kneeling side, so I’ve tweaked my position as stated above while performing 1/2 kneel 1 KB shoulder presses and paloff presses. Would love to hear your thoughts.
    Kind regards,
    Mark Cibrario

  5. This article helped me in a few ways.

    1. It helped me see things from a coache’s angle (the profile view was great).
    2. It showed me how you explained the symptom of the problem to the athlete.
    3. It showed me how you intended too fix the problem.

    This is something I can take with me in my day to coaching of athletes, as well as use to improve myself.

    Thanks!

  6. Awesome post Mike. I have a higher degree of anterior pelvic tilt and always end up in a neutral spine position as I pull my deadlift. However that also means that my spine isn’t at the most stable or lockout position. I think my core is quite strong because I just came out of an 8 month bodybuilding program that trains abs like 5 days a week and I could see my 4 packs at >25% body fat. Should I refrain from pulling the heaviest deadlifts and fix the postures first?

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