What can I do to improve my speed off the floor in my deadlift?

There are two-parts to the answer: the set-up, and implementing the right training to build the strength necessary for the correct set-up

The Set-Up

The lack of speed off the floor starts with the set-up. During the set up, you want to take advantage of the most efficient bar path and build up kinetic energy to help explode that weight off the floor (like winding up a spring). In my recent training cycles I have noticed that my set-up has me in a bad starting position. I have not been staying tight, and the bar has been drifting forward. When this happens, the execution of the lift is compromised, and I‘m unable to get the necessary leg drive to rip the bar off the floor.

During this training cycle I’ve spent some time getting back to basics and working on my technique. Part of my problem is the age factor; my knees and back are stiff, and my body does not want to move in the same historical pattern of movement. I have found that I’m starting with the bar too far out from my shins. To correct this problem I’ve been pulling the bar tight when my hips are still high at mid foot position. Based on the way the bar bends I can tell that if I’m within my center of gravity or not. I then pre- load the movement by pulling up on the bar as I lower my hips into position. Getting tight….winding up the spring…building kinetic energy. I make sure to pull my shoulders back and keep my shins perpendicular. At the start of my movement, I push my legs through the floor maintaining isometric upper back tension. If I can maintain my back position as the bar passes the top of my knees, it’s just a matter of holding on and extending the hips to complete the movement.

I have missed very few deadlifts in competition. In 2009, I attempted 400 kg (881 lbs.) for the first time in Ostrava, Czech Republic. I got a little too psyched up during the set up and pushed the bar out in front of me away from my center of gravity. I lost some speed off the floor along with upper back tension. At the top of the lift, I was in a bad lock-out position. I could not pull my shoulders back far enough and the lift was turned down 2-1.

Evaluate Your Training

Pulling max deadlifts in training on occasion is a great indicator of where you need to focus your training. Weak areas will be identified by a failed lift.  Speed off the floor comes from identifying your weak areas and implementing the training to strengthen those areas.

Strong quads, hamstrings, lats, upper back, and glutes along with almost every other muscle are critical. As a powerlifter, your normal back squat training builds leg drive, but back squatting alone is not enough. Assistance squat/leg work should include different forms of squatting like box squats, high bar squats, front squats, rack squats and leg press. I have found that adding in some additional leg press at the end of my deadlift training also helps with my speed off the floor.

The upper back and lats also need training attention. Lats help you to build up enough back tension to get the bar started and keep the bar close to your body. Isometric tension in your upper back is necessary to keep your back from rounding over. Lat and upper back strength can come from a variety of rowing movements. Personally, I like to train bent over rows, seated rows and one-arm rows, as these lifts not only help improve back strength but are also great for building grip strength. Front squats completed in the rack position will also train the upper back. Finishing up a workout with some heavy farmers walks will hit all of these areas.

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Stay Strong!



Hall of Fame Powerlifter Brad Gillingham

Brad Gillingham

Brad Gillingham is a Hall of Fame Powerlifter who is a 6-time IPF World Powerlifting Champion and has more than 30 IPF World Championship medals under his belt.  Brad is the co-owner of Jackals Gym where he coaches a variety of athletes.  Brad is also strength and conditioning coach for wrestling and volleyball at Southwest Minnesota State University.


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