In Powerlifting

April 13, 2011

PDF Article

Mark Bell takes a closer look at the deadlift to help you blow through your sticking points.

Deadlifts are considered by many to the ultimate test of brute strength. The deadlift is simple, right? Just bend down and pick the damn thing up.

If only it were that easy.

In powerlifting, a lot of hours are spent refining form and developing efficiency. Powerlifting, unfortunately, has become a game of inches (and I’m not talking “Internet inches, guys”). How you set up will determine how you finish—or if you have a good chance to finish—the lift. Improving the deadlift is very difficult. Even the big pullers have a hard time.

There are many reasons for stalled deadlifts. Let’s examine how to troubleshoot your sticking points.

Mark Bell will be presenting a CrossFit Powerlifting Seminar May 28-29 at CrossFit Brea in California. For more info, visit the Specialty Courses page.



19 Comments on “Every Man Dies, but Not Every Man Really Deadlifts”


wrote …

Great information.


wrote …

i actually didn't think this article was so great. i got the impression that a high deadlift max is better than good form.
"At the start of the lift, get tight and
throw your head back hard, like you’re trying to flick
a hat off your head. Throughout the lift, continue to
throw your head back"
i dont agree with that at all. anyone who trains to deadlift heavy with longevity becomes good through good mechanics. a max attempt is gonna obviously compromise good mechanics, i felt this article was instructing compromised mechanics right off the bat.


wrote …


that is not really the impression i got from the article. His starting point seemed to be " ok i understand you are crossfitters, you have decent form and at least you are deadlifting"

from there he offered a few tweaks on how to improve your deadlift to set PRs and lift some heavy weight. No where did he say that you should deadlift twice your bodyweight at all costs. Should you deadlift heavy everyday? no. He even recommends deadlifting only 2-3 times a month.

I agree the throw your head back thing might need a video to explain what he is talking about that sounds wacky.


wrote …


i know what he means by throwing your head back. throwing back the head works in that where the head goes the body usually follows and maybe allows more muscle recruitment, but i always understood pulling the head back and up put a huge load on the neck and spine. he also mentioned that its okay for great deadlifters and lifters with longer arms to round their upper back a bit, not sure i agree with that completely. in addition, he suggests invoking aggressive feelings. these things in conjunction set off warning lights to me.
again, i think the gist of this article is to okay compromised mechanics for the sake of a high number. to me that sounds like powerlifting and not crossfit.


wrote …

Great article. Glad to see some explanation of how to pick assistance exercises. Keep it coming.


wrote …

I find Mark Rippetoe's deadlift section to be much more accurate and helpful.


wrote …

Actually, I was just going to say that Jake is likely WAAAYYYYY too influenced by Rippetoe and his presumed great mechanics for the deadlift.

What Mark is advocating in the article is all very sound advice. Lifting your head isn't going to cause harm to anything, geezzz...

A point I think should be clarified. When training, even on maximum attempts, the lifter should avoid getting overly psyched-up. Excessive emotional arousal can aid the lift, but also makes overtraining much more of a danger especially if it is practiced regularly.

Overall a great article I hope many CrossFitters will take to heart.


wrote …

Great article, thanks for giving us some of your aquired knowledge. I hope you will continue to write many more articles for the Crossfit Journal.


Jake Di Vita wrote …

Legit dude. Those tips about setup are fantastic. "You finish how you start." Ya.


wrote …

Heard about the fall back technique from one of the top lifters in my gym that uses it. I do think a lot of newbies let their shoulders get too far in front of the bar on set up if left unattended. It can be just inches but the load shifting from the legs to lower back is a huge thing. Something I'm guilty of at tiimes too. His cues for shoulder position and hips set up are in line with what some of the best lifters at my gym do so there's something to take away there!


wrote …

A quick note on form. A lot of times I see shit form on people that have shit strength. Many times I'll see some sick form and sure enough it's the strongest guy in the group....What came first? Most often the strength comes first and the form is refined and cultivated over years of training. If you were to watch an 80 year old women get off a couch and you noticed her knees came way in and she got really far foward on her knees as she came up out of the hole. Would you throw her back down on the couch and say look bitch you better throw your knees out and start arching hard or i'm gonna take your Ensure away? Would you force the old bag to try to use "perfect form"? You may find out that no matter how many times you went over it and told her about Louie Simmons she would simply not be able to improve her positioning. This is because she is WEAK! Granny get your ass in the gym and start training other wise you'll end up with an angry gnome in your knee and a K-Starr Lacrosse ball in your ass everyday. Get this chick stronger and work on her form as you go and you'll see her squatting side by side with AJ Roberts.

Keep in mind that imperfect ("im" or "in"? anyway it's talked about in Supertraining) lifting can make you stronger as well. Infact I think using a weight that fucks your form up just a bit works great for strength training.

When I was in pro wrestling we had a saying "who'd you ever beat" this was a joking way of saying I don't care what you know or how good you are at something your reputation is measured by who you beat. In this case we are talking about lifting heavy shit. So ask yourself who coaches who and who lifts what? What other CF coach squats 1025, benches over 850 and deadlifts 760? I'm sorry if that rubs people the wronmg way but guess what? I'm pretty sure that matches up pretty well with the other coaches that do certifications for Crossfit. I have coached at least 20 lifters to an over 600 pound pull about 10 over 700 and one who pulled over 800 without a belt. I even coached my fat little self to pull a very easy and fast 760 in my last meet. All though I'm not known for my deadlift I have won USPF Worlds with my deadlift and won the 2009 Fit Expo by finishing the day with a pull that allowed me to beat everyone else in the meet.......

Anyway enough about me this about you. So ok the flicking the head back thing is tough to explain. Think about Bulling your kneck back like they teach when your going to make a hit in football. Still don't get it? Just try making the biggest and worst looking double chin in the world and you'll have it. I'm sure K-Star can give us the medical info on what the hell that is called. You basically are looking for a somewhat nutral head position but as you go to pull you want to try to throw your head back. Some say just look up.....I'm not a fan but that is an option.

Jesse Burdick who does Power Certs with me has just pulled 733 @ 220 in the same meet I pulled 760 in. We have both made a lot of improvements by using many of the methods laid out in the article. If you'd like to see your deadlift go up 25-50 pounds try the methods in this article.

Sorry for the shit grammer and spelling, we all have our weak points!


wrote …


wrote …

Mark, I read your credentials, I know you're a beastman. I have no doubt this routine would make anyone's deadlift go up. I trained as a powerlifter before I started crossfit. I havent used a sumo stance in years, no belts or straps or wraps, and it works for me. I weigh 160 and hit a new deadlift max at 420 a few weeks ago. I know that's not record status, but my point is that my deadlift has gone up as I continuously nail down mechanics. I could've pulled a bit more, but it would've been ugly and that compromise is not worth it to me. I agree with you about people needing to discover what brute strength is and that most deadlifters with good form got there by brute strength, which came first. My main concern is longevity, I hardly even use supine grip. I do definitely subscribe to Starting Strength and if I thump it like a bible it's because it's worked well.


wrote …

Jake, your 420 lbs pull at 160 lbs body weight is SS working well? You trained as a powerlifter before CF? I don't think said training worked very well. Perhaps you might consider listening to someone that knows a lot more about strength than the SS fellow? What was his best pull again?

Supine grip? Do you mean mixed grip of one hand pronated and the other supinated?

There is nothing Mark recommended that will mitigate your longevity with barbells.

Look, I'm just getting on you a bit because you are exemplifying the all too common trait of I read one book and think I know everything about strength training. You don't. Open your mind, try some new things and keep what works best.


wrote …

Chris, Mark Rippetoe and his Starting Strength Program are well respected by some of the top Olympic lifting and Powerlifting coaches in the world. I am not trying to take away anything from Mark Bell whatsoever, but it seems rather bold to insult Rippetoe's coaching techniques and his lifts. The man has built a reputation through world class coaching, not world class lifting.

If Jake isn't seeing gains from SS, hes either: a) been lifting too long for the STARTING Strength program to be effective, or b) he's not doing the program exactly as prescribed. A 420 deadlift after training in power lifting and starting strength is not impressive- no offense intended, merely trying to be constructive.

Hundreds of people have seen some amazing results from SS, and Rip's opinion on strength training and conditioning should not be taken lightly. He himself has been trained by some of the best. Maybe it wasn't your intention to sound like you were being condescending towards Rip- I apologize if this was the case.

On that note, I agree with Chris that an open mind can always helpful in terms of any fitness training, as long as you tread cautiously and understand the reasoning for what it is you're doing. After all, crossfit may have never exploded into the fitness community as it did without the open minded individuals who tried it originally!


wrote …


First, I really don't care too much what most US O-lifting coaches have to say (I am sure there are a few good ones) because we suck. We used to rule the O-lifting world. There was a time when Hoffman et. al were some of the very best in the WORLD. No longer, but we ARE still among the VERY best in powerlifting. Think about that. What do you think that may be?

Next, I don't personally know ONE top level powerlifter (and I know most of the US top guys) who is going to say that Ripp's methods are much of anything or that Ripp is a great coach.

I also think linear progression is a road to nowhere.

So, that about sums up my thoughts on your Ripp promotion.

Oh, and yes, I think O-lifting is neat. I have no problem with it and hope that the US can come back to prominence. I hope CF's promoting of O-lifting can help that.



wrote …

I liked the author's writing style, and it's hard to argue with his success.

Chris M - 420 at 160 would make many a fellow happy with their progress and there's only one person who's really in position to judge what worked or didn't, that's the owner of the body in question.

The best training method conceivable is only helpful to someone who's looking for it. Because there are many, many effective training methods out there, many folks move from one to the other without ever staying with one long enough, or with enough fidelity to the method, to know "what works." In other words, my guess is there are at least as many folks who would benefit from picking a less than perfect method, and sticking with it until they are truly stalled, as there are folks who would benefit from picking yet another 'best' training method. IOW, the person this article is "for" is a person who's taken their dead as far as they can using a method, and is now fertile for new tools to evaluate. Jake's not that guy and as far as I can tell, for good reason.

In line with the pareto principle, the biggest part of the generalist's battle is getting folks, anyone who walks into your gym, doing heavy deadlifts with confidence (heavy relative to their starting point). For those that want to take deadlifting beyond getting much, much stronger and into the arena of beastliness, it's awesome that we have access to info like that presented by the author.


wrote …

I did a workshop locally yesterday and a few Crossfit people were shocked at the approach used by Jesse Burdick and myslef when it comes to form. What people forget is that you can not teach everyone to lift the same, also it's ok for someone to lean towards there strengths during a lift. One guy I was working with said his coaches are on him because his back rounds when he deadlifts heavy.....Think about that for a second. You got a coach yelling at you about keeping your best form with your biggest weights....Is that possible? For some maybe, for powerlifters in powerlifting gear maybe, But it is most likely not possible for a person who has only been doing strength training for a year or 2. Anyway 10 minutes later I had this guy nail a 20 pound deadlift pr without any problem and guess what his back was somewhat rounded.....What if Michael Jordan said I shouldn't dunk from the free throw line because i'm kinda pigeon toed and I may bust my knee up because that's not the "right" way to jump. If Jordan didn't do that we all be screwed, we wouldn't have that cool ass Jordan Logo on shorts, T-shirts and Sneakers and so on. What about it Brett Farve took a sack everytime he threw off his back foot? If he didn't take chances and make things happen whatever way he could he wouldn't be great. If you stop training or stop pushing weights anytime there is a hiccup you will always suck. Anyway when you take big risks in life or the weight room it won't always be pretty.

A violent attack today is better then a well planned attack tomorrow!


Dale Saran wrote …

I have to say - I'm a longtime CF'er, have done legal work for Ripp, and big defender of CF - BUT, I'm also a stalled deadlifter. People should not be so wedded to any one method that they simply can't accept anything that contradicts their own personal "conventional wisdom." Mark B. pulls a f*ckload of weight and coaches others to lift a f*ckload of weight. He may not draw nice diagrams or have authored books (and I'm not taking a shot at Rip - I've got signed copies of all of his books), but Mark's numbers - and those of his lifters - speak for themselves. We in the CF world think of ourselves as "strong" - but we have to remember that relative to "real" strength guys (powerlifters), we're kittens. And the same applies to our oly lifts (for the most part) when compared to the big boys. And ditto to our run times to no-shit runners. (Our strength is our general, broad-based fitness - if it makes anyone feel better, I'll bet Mark concedes that most of us here can whip his ass in Angie, and a lot of other exercises/activities out of his wheelhouse...)

Bottom line is that Mark and Chris and people who specialize in lifting heavy shit may have some tips that can be applied to your training if you want to add a little bit more. I know that I am dying for a 500 lb DL and feel like I should be able to with a 425 back squat, but I've been doing the same thing over and over and over and getting nowhere. So, I for one am going to try some of this stuff - and try to do it safely, of course - as being injured sucks (especially at 41).

Anyway, thanks for the info and comments, Mark and Chris. (Chris, I really appreciate how often you come on here and add to the discussion). Good luck in your training, fellas!

Leave a comment

Comments (You may use HTML tags for style)