Above all else, strength development depends on your ability to identify and build upon your weaknesses. While it’s obviously more fun to focus on the things you’re already good at, if you don’t spend time bringing up your weak points you’ll never achieve your maximum strength potential. In the words of Louie Simmons, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

In this series I’m going to present you with an arsenal of information to help identify your weaknesses and develop an action plan to build them into strengths. In addition to addressing common technique and programming related errors, I’ll outline proven methods designed to increase your strength in the bench Press, chin-up, squat, and deadlift.

This week we’ll examine the deadlift: The deadlift is the ultimate test of strength. In all of its glorious simplicity, you either pick the weight up…or you don’t. You’re strong enough…or you aren’t.

Simple as that.

To build a strong deadlift the first thing we need to do is identify the most commonly made errors. Afterward, I’ll expand upon these errors and outline several methods to improve deadlift performance.

3 Common Deadlift Errors

1. Grip Width: Too Wide or Too Close

Placing your hands too close together will increase the lifts total range of motion (ROM) and make it difficult to control the bar. Conversely, placing your hands too far apart will amplify the strain placed on the upper back which may put you at a mechanical disadvantage. To fix this, grip the bar with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart. While the “best” hand placement varies from person to person, shoulder-width is a good starting point to progress from and see what works best for you.

2. Starting with the Chest Parallel to the Ground

Many trainees make the error of trying to initiate the Deadlift with the chest [nearly] parallel to the ground. Doing so, however, places the back in a vulnerable position and negatively affects lifting mechanics. As such, when initiating the pull, focus on keeping your chest tall and try to force your shoulders behind the bar.* As an added visual, any words written on your shirt should be clearly legible to a person standing in front of you.

*Most people cannot literally force their shoulders behind the bar. However, actively trying to do so will put you in the most advantageous position.

3. Bouncing the Weight Off the Ground

Following the eccentric (i.e. lowering) phase of the deadlift, trainees often bounce the weight off the ground and immediately begin a subsequent repetition. While most lifters do this because it allows them to handle heavier loads, it actually reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and makes the lift easier to complete. To get the best training results, allow the bar to come to a complete stop between each repetition. Doing so will aid in the development of starting and explosive strength while simultaneously facilitating the use of proper technique.

3 Methods to Improve Deadlift Performance

1. Squeeze Your Abs

Prior to initiating the deadlift take a deep breath, fill your belly with air, and squeeze your abs as tight as humanly possible. Doing so will increase what is known as intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and protect your spine from undue stress. Additionally, creating more tension by squeezing your abs may contribute to increased force production and consequently a stronger deadlift. Squeeze your abs and squeeze ‘em hard!

2. Pull the Bar into Yourself

The further the bar travels from your body the more difficult (and dangerous) the lift is going to be. You don’t try to pick up heavy grocery bags from far away, do you? Of course not; you get as close to the bags as possible and then pick them up. The same rule applies to the deadlift. To effectively pull the bar into you, it’s essential to squeeze your lats as hard as you can. Doing so will make it easier to control the bar and maintain proper lifting mechanics.

3. Pull the Slack Out of the Bar

Prior to initiating the deadlift, use the bar as a counter balance to pull yourself down and into the appropriate position. As you do this, you should feel the slack come out of the bar and tension increase throughout your entire body. Once you’re positioned correctly and feel that you can no longer pull without the bar coming off of the ground, drive through your heels as hard and fast as possible all the way to lockout. Done correctly, this method will improve the overall efficiency of the lift and limit the stress placed on your lower back.