Deadlifting 101

The deadlift is by far one of the easiest compound exercises to learn, in my opinion. Then again, there are technicalities to it that cannot be avoided, and if done improperly, deadlifts can leave you in a lot of pain due to strain or injury.

So while it’s not a difficult lift in theory (pick up the weight, put it down again), there are right ways and wrong ways to do it.

I’m going to break it down in points, and hopefully you can note an issue that you may be having as well and how you can fix it. This post will be covering conventional deadlifting.

THE SET-UP

Everyone has a certain stance that suits them best. I have seen some people pull with feet no more than an inch apart, and I have also seen people pull in a semi-sumo stance, with their arms still on the outside of their knees. The key here is finding a stance that works for YOU. If you do not know exactly what that is, a good starting point is having your feet hip-width apart, or a little bit narrower.

If you are a slow puller off the floor (i.e. harder for you to lift the weight the first 2-3 inches rather than locking out), you should aim to have your feet a little straighter in front of you, at least while in training. Doing so will help you be a little faster off the floor. Pointing your toes out slightly will make it a little easier to engage your hamstrings and get your hips through at the top, which will support your lockout if you have the opposite problem (weak lockout, strong off the floor.)

After you have gotten your foot width decided, the next step is to see where the bar is relative to your feet. You want the bar right over the middle of your foot. You do NOT want to start with the bar already at your shins.

Next is your hand placement. Place your hands just outside your knees. I find that the closer my arms are to my legs, the tighter everything feels. I also use a mixed grip, which means one hand under and one hand over. It’s much easier to lift heavier weights with this grip rather than double-over-hand. Especially if your grip is weaker and you are still building it up.

Some people prefer to bring their hips down and hold that position for a few seconds before pulling. In my opinion and in my own experience, this is very inefficient. I like to make use of a bit of stretch reflex at the bottom before I begin pulling, since it helps me engage everything and make sure that my muscles are tensed and ready to go rather than relaxed. So after I set my feet, I always set my hands, and then I do not dip down until I am ready to pull. I find that waiting in the pulling position before you begin limits the amount you will pull, because your muscles are not as tense and there is no “bounce” in a way.

SO. Set your hands first, and bring your hips down to pull only right before you start to make sure that you are engaging everything properly with no muscles relaxed.

THE PULL

A big problem some people have that can result in bad injury is retracting their shoulder blades before they begin the pull. This is an absolute NO, and should never be done. When you stand up your shoulders are going to come back anyway. Retracting your scapula before pulling will only lead to injury.

Now that everything in the set-up is correct and you have your hands in place, bring your hips down just low enough so that your shins touch the bar. This is where you should be pulling from.

However, there are those of us who are a little bit at a disadvantage due to leverages, and sometimes you get what is known as a “high hip puller”. I am one of them. Even bringing my hips down until they touch the bar is not always enough sometimes. What I suggest in this situation is a little bit of a “dip” at the bottom.

What I mean by dipping, is to bring your hips down a little lower than you would normally pull from, and then “bounce” them up to the correct height. The second you feel that your hips have met the appropriate height, begin your pull.

Here is an older video of myself as an example:

And for those of you who are even higher hip pullers, a larger dip may be more appropriate at your discretion. Here is another example from my friend Robert Trettin:

Again, this is what I do because I have a short torso and long legs, so it works well for my leverages. If you have great deadlifting leverages and can pull without having to dip down, then that’s awesome. If your hips are too high at the start, try dipping down like I suggested. It makes a world of a difference.

Remember to keep your chest up and out. Take a deep breath and hold it. Arch your back. Your head should be in a neutral position. Fix your gaze on a spot in front of you and/or slightly down. Slightly up is fine, and I find that looking up as I’m locking out can help sometimes. Never look straight down on the floor when you pull because you will throw yourself off, and of course, never look in the mirror.

As you begin the pull, you want to keep the bar as close to your body as possible and try as much as you can not to let the bar drift in front. Ever see those guys with bloody shins after a deadlift? That’s how close the bar needs to be to your body. Keep it in at all times.

QUICK TIP

What I like to imagine, is that I am not pulling the bar off the floor, but rather I am pushing myself into the ground. This automatically tenses your glutes and hamstrings, engaging them in the movement. If you concentrate of pulling the bar off the floor a lot of the tension tends to shift to your upper back, taking your legs out of the picture. Your legs play a big role in deadlifting, so make sure that everything is fired properly.

Also, when you feel like you’ve been grinding it for an hour, it’s probably been closer to a couple of seconds. Next time you feel like failing it when you’re almost there, just give it a couple extra seconds (provided your form is at least passable). It may be all you need to lock out the weight. :D

FINAL NOTES:

Everyone has different pulling styles, and it takes time to find your own groove. The best thing to do is play around with different widths, hand placements, etc. and find which one suits you best.

Most basics have been covered in this post, and pretty much anyone can benefit from at least starting with this form, and from there tweaking it to match their own bodies perfectly.

Never be one of those people that trains AROUND their weak points. If you have lagging body parts, build them. If you don’t have good flexibility to get your hips lower, then stretch. Don’t be one of those guys (or girls) that says “Oh, I’m not flexible enough for that, I’ll just do it this way” or “My hamstrings are weak, so I have to pull more with my back”, etc. All I hear is a bunch of lame excuses for your ineffective training. Admitting to your weaknesses is one thing, so long as you make a constant effort to improve upon them. Admitting to them and then doing nothing to strengthen them is what’s the wrong thing to do.

Hope this helps. Happy deadlifting!

This I Know For Sure…

I don’t know who you are, but I know that you struggle.

I know there is pain behind your eyes that won’t seem to ease. I know there are times you feel completely inadequate, and like nothing you do seems to matter. I know that when you think in the grand scheme of things, sometimes everything feels completely pointless. One step forward in your life is another step closer to the grave. Every breath you take is getting closer to your last. Every second you live is just biding time.

But you have a heart. That beats continually, and has been beating for years. You have an amazing body, regardless of the shape or size. There are people who love you, even though you may not know or see it. There are those who would take a bullet for you, and those who are just wishing they could see you smile.

Your laugh lights up another person’s world.

If you could take one moment to stop and look around you, and take everything in, you would be amazed. There is so much to love, and so much to wonder about. There is so much to look forward to.

The great mystery of life is what time is your time to go. You never can tell. There is no forewarning, and no indication. It could be today, tomorrow, an hour from now. And every minute you waste on feeling hopeless is a minute that you can never get back.

You deserve to know how amazing you are. You owe it to your body and your mind to stay healthy, and appreciate what you’ve been given. You may be one person in a sea of others, but you are remarkable in your own way. I don’t have to know you to know you deserve a chance at a good life. That you deserve happiness.

You and I have more in common than you would think. You and the rest of the world have more in common than you think. We all have struggles. Some struggles greater than others, but we all suffer in different ways. We all have our ups and downs. We have all cried ourselves to sleep at night. We have all looked in the mirror and seen something that we didn’t want to see. We have all had our hearts broken. We have all been beat down, degraded, insulted, and walked upon.

And each and every one of us deserves a shot at happiness. Your life is worth more than you make it out to be. The life you live now is the only one you’ve got, so remember every day how great it is to be you. To have a roof over your head, a place to sleep, food to eat, and time that can and should be spent doing what you love. Never underestimate your potential, because you never know its extent until you test your boundaries. You have it in you to hang on, and to keep fighting for the life that you have.  Above all, please never give up hope.

I don’t know who you are, but I know that you are beautiful.

(R.I.P.)

Baby Got Back: All You Need To Build Yourself a Proper Ass

41" glutes. Built with steak and squats.

My 41" glutes. Built with steak and squats.

Glutes.

There’s just something magical about them.

“How do I get a nicer butt?” is my most frequently received fitness-related question to date. It seems most women these days are having troubles with it. Too small, too wide, too flabby, too saggy, you name it.

First of all, let me set something straight: There are certain genetic advantages when it comes to having a nice derriere, but that does not mean that it’s impossible for you to fix yours. Even if it does look like it was run over by a freight train.

So what are the two components of a lifted, round, well-shaped behind?

  1. Body fat.
  2. Muscle.

Don’t make excuses for your lack of glutes, and don’t make excuses for other peoples’ glorious asses by saying “It’s just photoshop!” or, “She probably had plastic surgery!”

Believe it or not, some women work HARD to get a nice rump. So don’t be so quick to judge just because yours isn’t quite there yet. It only makes you appear insecure.

However, admiration is permitted.

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TRAINING YOUR GLUTES

The way I’ll do this, is I’ll go over my favorite exercises for glutes (in no particular order of importance), and give you videos and specifics on how they should be done.

Make sure to do ALL your hip flexor mobility work and glute activation as a warm-up before you begin your exercises.

Exercise #1: Barbell Back Squats

Yeah, everyone knows this one. But not everyone does it properly. If you’re one of the people who stops at parallel, or even just an inch below…you may want to consider switching it up.

With a back squat, stopping at parallel or just barely below puts most of the emphasis on your quads, and your glutes are not as engaged as they could be. Squatting until you are below parallel (the lower the better!) will put the emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings.

The more narrow your stance is, the more focus is put on your quads. Keep your legs shoulder width apart, with your toes pointed OUT (so you can get your hips through better).

Exercise #2: Straight-Leg Deadlifts

These need to be on EVERYONE’S agenda when they’re training legs. In my opinion, SLDL’s are the ultimate hamstring exercise.  These can be done unilaterally, or with both legs.

To do these properly and take the focus off your lower back, you NEED to push your hips back as far as you can until you get a very large stretch. I prefer a close stance, but you can make them sumo to switch things up. You need to keep the bar as close as you can to your legs, and keep your back straight.

Go down as low as you can while feeling a big stretch, and then come back up. Do not let your lower back round.

If you are short like me, you may need to use smaller plates to get a better stretch.

Exercise #3: Glute-Ham Raises

Don’t give me excuses for this one.

Yes, they hurt. And they are very difficult. But they’re also excellent.

I don’t believe in using bands or other assistance for GHR’s. I think that with enough practice, you will get them down. Keep the negative portion (descent) as SLOW as you can possibly manage. This is done by keeping your arms to your sides, and squeezing your glutes and hamstrings very hard on the way down.

Once you feel like you are losing tension, catch yourself with your hands and use a light push to get back up to the start.

When you’ve mastered these, you’ll be able to do them with no push-off. By then you know your hamstring strength has increased dramatically. My record of handless GHR’s was 3, and that was with a 5+ second descent.

Exercise #4: Bulgarian Split Squats

I’m not the biggest fan of these, only because they annoy me to no end. However, I know they work, so I do them.

The further you place your leg in front of you, the more emphasis is going to be on the glutes. The closer in, the more it targets your quads. Go down as FAR as you can go.

Exercise #5: Box Jumps

High box jumps. Start with lower boxes and build up. If you want to mix it up, try doing these while holding a 10-45 lb. plate.

Yes, occasionally you might miss the box and bruise your leg.

Actually I’m not even gonna lie, if you miss the box with these it’s one of the WORST training pains you’ll ever experience, aside from actually breaking/tearing something. But, it fades quickly and you just get a  bruise/bleeding leg. Sexy.

Anyway..

Moving away from the gory aspects of it, this is an excellent conditioning exercise. It’s amazing for building explosiveness in your legs, and it DOES help with glute development as well, especially as your box gets higher. I would do these on a day separate from your leg training. If you fatigue your legs before by doing box jumps, your other exercises will suffer. If you fatigue your legs with weights and try to box jump…well…you’ll end up face-planting unless it’s a very low box.

So…do these on days off, or on conditioning days.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Wide-Stance Leg Presses, Wide-Stance Box Squats, and Good-Mornings.

Box squats: also great for the glutes and hammies.

Box squats: also great for the glutes and hammies.

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STRETCHING

Never neglect your stretching after training. Here are some good stretches for the glutes and hamstrings:

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CARDIO:

My favorite “glute cardio” is Tabata squats, uphill sprints (NOT on the treadmill), and kettlebell stuff. Keep cardio to 2x per week, and high intensity.

15-20 minutes of all-out, balls-to-the-walls, please-just-give-me-a-second-to-gasp-for-air work will be plenty.

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THAT’S IT.

Seriously.

Nothing fancy. It’s what my glutes were built off of, and what yours can be built with as well.

I’m sorry if you came here expecting me to prescribe you a pill, magical exercise, special food combination, or special rep/set scheme for your training. Building glutes has nothing to do with that. However, it has EVERYTHING to do with consistency and HEAVY weights.

I prefer to stick with the basics when it comes to training. People think they need ten different exercises in order to fashion a fine pair of cheeks, but that’s really not what it takes. What it takes is dedication, and REALLY pushing yourself. If you stop every time it gets hard or whenever it burns, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Your glutes are some of the most used muscles in your entire body. In order to get them to respond in the way you want,  you have to overload them, and train them very hard and dilligently.

REPS:

These exercises are best when done in the 5-8 rep range. One exception being GHR’s…you do those for as many as you can get without dying.

The other exception is the box jumps. Working in sets of 2-3 is my preference, sometimes going up to 5.

Now when I say “5-8 reps” that means your MAX for the given amount of reps. Not 5 reps with a weight that you could probably do for another 15. I mean…using a weight that you will ONLY be able to grind out a set of 5 with.

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DIET AND YOUR GLUTES

Now that you have training covered, let’s go onto the diet aspect.

Depending on your genetics, you may or may not store fat pleasantly in that area. If you are someone who just has a very small butt, it will come down to eating more (yes) and training with the above exercises. If you are someone with a very large ass already but it’s not well-shaped, you need to focus on losing body fat while doing these exercises. Once down to a lower level, you can then start slowly putting on weight again to give your body raw material to build the muscle with.

Sorry vegans, but cows are the ultimate glute food.

Sorry vegans, but cows are the ultimate glute food.

Really all it comes down to is growing some muscle. Even when I was very lean, I had a well-shaped rear because even though the fat wasn’t all there, the muscle was. You need to build the glute muscles, otherwise they will continue to stay flat, or misshapen due to the excess body fat and lack of lean muscle tissue.

Yes, I have a fair amount of body fat on my glutes. But because I have a great muscle base underneath the fluff, when I gained weight it went on very evenly. Thus, despite me gaining a lot of weight, it is not misshapen.

So in short:

  • Lose excess body fat (if you need to), and then focus on very slowly raising your calories until they are about 200 above maintenance, and train HARD with the exercises suggested.
  • If you have no body fat to lose and you are small, do the same thing, but just skipping the dieting aspect.
  • If you have saggy glutes, the same thing applies. You NEED to build up the muscle so that the skin and fat evens out.

In your ass-gaining endeavors, I would prescribe you a diet of LOTS of lean protein (don’t be scared of red meat), plenty of veggies, some fruit, and healthy fats. Keep starchy carbs post-workout.

This is the glorious 1/2 lb. of steak that I had post-workout.

This is the glorious 1/2 lb. of steak that I had post-workout.

Above all, have fun with it. Building a great set of glutes is a process, just like anything else. But when you’ve found your groove and done the work, the results will speak for themselves.

Now go out there and build yourself an ass. :D

Property of my boyfriend.

Property of my boyfriend.

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Glute-related questions? Leave me a comment!