Deadlift: The Ultimate Test of Strength

Uncategorized Jun 14, 2021

The deadlift is a skill that comes with a mixed reputation. Some folks think all deadlifts will immediately hurt their back, while others (who know the truth) see it as one of the most diverse lifts out there.


Many athletes prefer this lift over others (like the back squat) because you can build tons of strength without adding a ton of muscle. It's optimal for folks who compete in weight classes or are endurance athletes. That may sound like a surprise to you! But having runners execute 10 heavy (3-5RM) lifts per week will bring only positive benefits to their running game.


If you're looking for hypertrophy (muscle gain), lighter intensities of deadlift variants may be your best bet. Things like good mornings, RDLs and single leg deadlifts can help build more muscle at the proper rep ranges.


Executing it properly is a must. Here's a brief look at the different ways you can set up your deadlift and things to keep in mind.


Before stepping up to the bar, we like to make sure that our students have mastered the kettlebell goblet squat, and 1 or 2 kettlebell deadlift.


Depending on your body type and specific strengths, you may find the conventional stance or sumo stance to be a stronger position for you. Either way, we think it's best for all lifters to learn the sumo stance first. If you cannot maintain a neutral spine during a conventional deadlift, you should only lift sumo style.


The sumo deadlift has a variety of stances in width, but the main differentiator is that the arms are inside the legs during the setup.


A super helpful acronym we like to recite is FLAG. This way your setup is always the same and you can repeat perfect reps set after set. FLAG comes from Dr. Hartle in the StrongFirst Lifter manual.


F- Feet

L- Lats

A- Abs

G- Grip


If you can remember to engage these four parts of the body before each rep, you will have a much stronger lift and gain strength faster than all of your peers.


The conventional deadlift traditionally means that the hands are gripping the bar outside of the shins during setup. Don't stand too wide so that your arms get in the way of your legs. Narrow feet (even more narrow than you might think) is a much more powerful position for the conventional setup.


For either setup, you want to make sure your shoulders and hips move together as you stand up. Envisioning the word "drive" instead of pull can be extremely effective. Try to get away from thinking you need to pull the weight off of the ground with your arms. Instead, you're trying to push the floor away from you with your feet and legs and pulling is just a by-product of standing up.


There are two common grips we like to use during the deadlift as well. Many people gravitate towards a mixed grip as the weight gets heavy. This means one hand has an underhand grip and the other hand has an overhand grip. You may feel strong here because it reduces the chance of missing the lift due to your hands. However, if you don't practice switching sides with your mixed grip, you can end up increasing imbalances within the body.


A few years ago we personally switched over to a double overhand hook grip. This means that the fingers wrap over the thumbs around the bar. The bar cannot come loose easily because your thumb is extremely secure with the bar driving it harder and harder into your fingers. It takes some getting used to, but we've found this grip to be much stronger if you are working towards improving a max deadlift.


Now that you've refreshed the basics, make sure you have a plan! There's tons of ways to train the deadlift. Stick to at least 6-12 weeks of training it in one system before you evaluate if that program was successful or not.


Patrick hit a personal best of 501# during the Tactical Strength Challenge this year and Rachel also hit a personal best of 325#. We were only deadlifting once a week for about 10 weeks before leading up to the challenge. Strength can stick around for a long time if you continue to give it the minimum effective dose. Conquer the deadlift and everything else seems easy in comparison!


If you found this helpful, share it will a friend. If you have a question, shoot us an email. We reply to every single one.


Stay strong out there!

-Rachel & Patrick




Fill out the info below and we'll send the Kettlebell Skills Guide straight to your inbox!

You've got 6 skills, 20 drills, and 30 videos headed your way!