How To Deadlift

7 03 2013
Look at that mustache and tell me deadlifting isn't awesome.

Look at that mustache and tell me deadlifting isn’t awesome.

Ah deadlifting. My favourite exercise in the world. I’ve often argued that it is best pure indicator of strength, because it’s so elegantly simple: either you can pick it up, or you can’t. Grip it, and rip it. I can’t really argue with those who prefer the squat, but I’m a naturally gifted deadlifter and have always struggled with squatting (relatively).

The thing about deadlifting is that it’s gotten a bad rep as a “dangerous” exercise. Frankly, anything can be dangerous if done improperly. The trick to tackling the deadlift is to be properly warmed-up and to stay within your means. Due to the nature of the exercise though, the margin for error (between a successful lift and an injured back) is relatively slim.

Do I condone deadlifting? Absolutely. I think everyone should do squats and deadlifts. These exercises use the whole body and have a place in almost any program, whether your goal is to get strong, lose fat, or improve your health. Eric Cressey gives a ton of valuable information about deadlifting in this article (and Cressey knows his stuff). Here is my personal guide on how to incorporate deadlifting into your life.

Good choice.

Good choice.

1) Proper footwear: When deadlifting, you want your feet flat on the ground, literally. Best-case scenario- you lift without shoes. Some gyms don’t allow this, but if you can get away with it, make it happen. Otherwise, choose footwear that has a hard, flat sole. Old school Converse All-Stars are a good choice. I currently lift with Adidas Sambas and they are amazing. I’ve also lifted with Adidas Adipure (“toe shoes”), and I found them to be very good as well (just make sure they are snug!). DO NOT wear shoes with bulky/soft soles. Most running shoes are a bad choice. Shoes like the Nike Shox and Reebox Zig are horrible choices.

Bad choice.

Bad choice.

2) Proper form: It is paramount that you stay tight, keep your back arched and your chest out, and control the movement while deadlifting. Being slack and allowing the bar to move you is a recipe for injury. The starting position for a deadlift isn’t all that different from the bottom position in a squat. Again, I would recommend mastering this before beginning to deadlift- if you can do this, you’ll be able to get into a nice starting position for deadlifting. Key points:

– Feet roughly shoulder width apart

– Toes pointing straight ahead or slightly out

– Knees bent with the bar tucked against your shins

– Hands gripping the bar roughly shoulder width apart

– Weight back on your heels (not the balls of your feet)

– Back arched

– Chest out

Remember that this is primarily a leg exercise, not a back exercise- your legs will move during the lift, but you want your back to stay in a strong, static arch. Your hips will be a bit higher than when in the bottom of a squat, and your arms are not to be bent- they are extended to the bar and braced for weight. Breathe deep, stand up, breathe out, lower the weight. Repeat. Here is a guide to proper deadlifting form, along with some videos and a ton of extra information the that casual gym-goer should ignore.

This is how you injure yourself badly. Do NOT attempt this, even jokingly :

3) Start with trap bar deadlifts: A trap bar looks like this:


If your gym has one of these, make sure you start deadlifting with it. A trap bar takes some of the “danger” out of the deadlift because it enables you to get into a proper starting position without having to worry about the bar being in front of your legs- you stand inside the trap bar, so you are perfectly centered and can execute the lift without being forced out of position by the bar.  Before touching a barbell you can also strengthen your posterior chain (hamstrings/glutes/back) by doing some dumbbell deadlifts.



4) Grip: Once you have moved to the barbell, you will almost surely start with a double overhand grip. Once you are comfortable with the exercise and start adding weight, you’ll notice that grip becomes an issue. At this point (and this may sound silly), just concentrate on really gripping the bar as hard as you can; if you concentrate on doing this, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to lift the weight. Eventually the weight will be too much for a double overhand grip and you’ll have to adjust by using a switch grip (one overhand, one underhand) and/or by using chalk and/or by using straps. Some gyms don’t allow chalk; I say do whatever you want, just be respectful with your use (don’t be excessive and make a mess everywhere, just use what you need). If you have to use straps, I recommend you start working on your grip strength, because it is clearly lagging behind the rest of your strength.

Those are the main pointers that I would give. Everyone has different levers,  so everybody’s deadlift will look different. Don’t spend time watching professional deadlifters; they’ve been doing it so long that they can aggressively rip the bar off the ground and get away with some pretty questionable form. If you mimic these deadlifting techniques, you’ll likely wind up hurt. Use your head, keep the movement controlled, and stay within your means; the gains will come a lot faster if you’re doing things right.

Again, this exercise is a great strength-builder, but also a great fat-burner. Use the power wisely. For more information on deadlifts, don’t hesitate to send me a message!

Happy pulling!



How To Squat

5 03 2013

A few weeks ago I wrote a little piece on Why Everyone Should Be Doing Squats. This is a reminder.

To encourage you, I am going to include some pieces that will help you learn proper form. Before getting started however, I would like to stress something: do not start squatting with a bar on your back unless you can comfortably perform several body weight squats. This entails heels on the ground, sitting back, ass below parallel, chest out. You are not on the balls of your feet. Your back is not hunched over. Your squat is below parallel. Please take notice:

This is what your body weight squat looks like before putting the bar on your back.

This is what your body weight squat looks like before putting the bar on your back.

Once you have conquered this position, please start with this video from MobilityWod.

Now that you actually know how to squat, please read this article. Once you have advanced to an intermediate stage, please consult this article.  There are thousands of squatting resources on the internet, but these give you the information you need; the rest is up to you.

If you have any specific questions on squatting, or how to incorporate squats into your life, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Happy squatting/getting jacked/burning fat!


Overhead Pressing: Why I love it and how to improve it

31 01 2013

I just got home from a massage, something I finally decided to get done after years of on and off pain with my left shoulder. I’ve had the issue looked at by several different professionals (MDs, chiropractors, physiotherapists, etc.) but nobody has ever found a reason for the discomfort.  A few months ago I removed bench pressing from my workout routine and the pain subsided. A few weeks ago I started to mix bench back in, and again the pain presented itself. I think I’ve found the culprit.  I’m going to keep playing around with my upper body pressing to try to pinpoint exactly what the issue is, but if it is indeed bench pressing, it only serves to reinforce my love for a superior upper body pressing movement: the overhead press.

Like a boss.

Like a boss.

The overhead press can be done seated or standing, with dumbbells or barbells, and with or without leg drive. I favour the standing press with a barbell- both strict (military press) and with leg drive (push-press)- because it’s more of a full body lift as compared to seated or bench pressing.  Most guys are obsessed with bench pressing because when they look in the mirror the first thing they see are their pecs. I’m not saying that the bench press is a useless exercise (it is a staple upper body pressing movement), but I don’t think overhead pressing gets the press it deserves. When was the last time you heard someone ask: “Hey man you’re jacked, how much can you military press?”, no, it’s always: “How much do you bench?”.  I’m not sure when benching became the ultimate measure of total body strength, but whoever started that trend wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer- but hey, I bet he had nice pecs.

Long story short, I think more people need to start incorporating this movement into their training programs.  Jim Wendler over at EliteFTS is on my team and he wrote up this little dandy on how to improve your overhead pressing technique. It’s great stuff.

I overhead press once per week, with varying degrees of volume and intensity, and love what it does for my shoulders, back and arms- not to mention the fat-burning benefits of an overhead, full-body exercise. As I’ve recently found out, it looks like my shoulder can only handle one upper body pressing movement per week, but if I have to choose, overhead pressing will be the winner.

For more information on overhead pressing and how to incorporate the lift into your programming, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!

Happy pressing!