5 Reasons We Deadlift the Way We Do.

  1. Posterior Chain Engagement and Development: 
    Reach back, grab those hammys. What do you feel? Do you feel massive chunks of meat, or flabby or ropey patches of skin where your hamstrings should be? Instead of doing bodybuilding exercises specifically for hamstring development, we challenge our athletes by having them do deadlifts that specifically send the tension to the back. Aside from the Low Bar Back Squat (another controversial blog topic for another time) this is the only other common posterior chain development tool (we occasionally implement some good-mornings, but rarely). Some sprinters use their hamstrings when they run, and we partially engage them when we squat, but full engagement is a rare event and we try to maximize the exposures that our athletes have. The powerlifting deadlift is nothing more than a really low bar squat and significantly anterior (quad-dominant). 
  2. Precise and sequential setup means a precise and sequential lift.
    We want to set up in the reverse of how we want to come back up. If I set up any other way, I will move out of order: If the last thing I set in is my back, the first thing that moves is my back. Try it: Film yourself at an oblique angle setting up for and executing a deadlift. I bet if your ass is the last thing to set in, it's the first thing to go bad aka "the stripper." 
    We teach people to neutralize their spines by leveling their chin and locking it relative to their torso. We have them set their shoulders in external rotation so that they don't hunch to the bar. We set up our midlines (core for those of you outside our community) prior to going down for the bar, the likelihood of our hamstrings pulling our spines out of position is minimized. We send our hips back with our knees staying more or less over our ankles to get to the bar, we load that posterior chain from the top down; glutes first, then upper meaty hammy down to the distal ends attaching the tendons to our tib-fib. and not the other (weaker) way around. We have our athletes seek tension, not avoid it. 
  3. Grip strength:
    We highly, highly discourage the use of the mixed grip. Arguments can be made for it, but in our "sport" it's a dead-end hand placement that doesn't translate to other lifts. We teach our folks how to hook grip from the start so that they A) get used to it, as it's a literal pain to use it at the beginning and B) are able to lift much larger loads without having to worry about grip once their strength catches up with and surpasses any technique issues. Alternating the grip does not improve one's grip strength. Do you magically get stronger when your hand rotates 180 degrees? Nope. And the biomechanical difference between the two arms is significant: the hand in a supine position shortens the biceps and brings that hand forward. When stressed the biceps may tear. Additionally, the position of the hand relative to the prone hand is lateral to the body. 
  4. Biomechanics:
    When we coach our athletes to fix their spines in thoracic and lumbar extension (a really fancy way of saying flat, without them actually flattening their backs because that would not be ideal) prior to heading to the start position, we're turing their spines into a long crowbar. That crowbar when it hinges into the hip then loads the hamstrings. If we get them into a start position then try to lever them into a good spinal position A) it's always overextended=bad B) and we turn their hamstrings into the crowbar and then lever into their spine=extra bad. We have folks stand within their hip width to keep their levers long. Longer levers mean bigger loads, which is why people with short legs hate deadlifts. By keeping their feet under their hips, we can keep them as long as possible. If you happen to have long legs well then you won the deadlifting genetic lottery. Folks that sumo deadlift in order to reduce the distance traveled in the deadlift are missing the point. 
  5. Because Glutes and Hams are wonderful and beautiful things. Many a long distance runner has come to our facility and increased their deadlift by 40lbs within the first couple of months and many more people have "complained" about having to buy bigger jeans to fit their butts. Deadlifts are the most real-world applicable lifts we do. The barbell makes for a convenient handle, but if I need to lift something that's exceedingly heavy, all the practice I get with a 400+ barbell will give me the base strength I need to lift a person, a heavy rock, gear and more that doesn't have convenient handles. Plus, blowing the seat out of my jeans because my muscles are big is way cooler than blowing them out because my ass is fat. 

Michael Reynolds

CrossFit Level 1 Coach