Among the greatest raw powerlifters of all-time, Dan “BOSS” Green continues to push the strength envelope and raise the bar higher for 220 and 242 lb lifters.
Also among the niche sport’s most recognizable faces, Dan’s popularity is also helping to draw attention and new interest to powerlifting--motivating many young mainstream athletes, bodybuilders and gym rats to test their mettle on the platform.
Beyond being a gifted and hard-training powerlifter, Dan is also extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the mechanics and physics of lifting. Operating his own powerlifting gym and training facility (Boss Barbell Club in Mountain View, CA) Dan works as a personal trainer to Silicon Valley’s elite, all the while coaching an enthusiastic and dedicated team of serious raw powerlifters.
The big thing for deadlifting is that even though it’s the most primal test of strength, it’s also a lift that can be built around flawless technique. When those two things come together, the result is a monster deadlift and everybody loves that.
Building this lift requires tremendous dedication to hard training to gain strength throughout the body, as well as diligence to mastering and fine-tuning efficient technique. But what does technique really mean when it comes to deadlifting?
Deadlifting Like Dan
First it’s important to remember that the deadlift is a test of overall body strength, but it’s first a test of lower back strength.
The lift starts with stabilization of the lower spine. The best way to do this is by holding your breath and bracing all the muscle in your stomach and obliques as though you are about to be punched in the stomach. Locking in the torso and stabilizing the spine will allow you to generate maximum power through the body—the drive from the lower body and the pull of the upper body will transfer through the midsection with no loss of power.
Second, it’s important to consider the position of your shoulders. Your shoulders should NOT be retracted or shrugged, but hanging down as much as possible. This happens with a slight curve in the upper back. Try standing tall with your chest up and shoulders pinched back.
Now, by just tucking your chin in and letting your chest cave, slide your hands down as far as they’ll reach. They should be able to reach 3-4” lower just by changing your upper body posture.
This is what we want to take advantage of because the further down our arms reach, the less we have to “squat” down with our legs. This means the legs can produce more power. By allowing the upper back to stretch as we pull we also allow the upper back to gain tremendous amounts of strength and muscle.
Now, the deadlift should be initiated with the back pulling against the bar to gain tension through the body. Powerlifters describe this as “pulling the slack out of the bar”.
There’s a certain amount of pressure that the body must build up before the bar will be able to break away from the floor, and what we want to do is build that pressure up as much as possible and quickly, before the bar is lifted, so that when the lifter begins, they will overcome the inertia of the bar’s “dead weight” as quickly as possible.
As the upper body builds tension and the slack is pulled out of the bar, the lifter must initiate the deadlift by driving the legs. For many it helps to think about driving the legs “through” the floor. If you imaging pushing your feet 6” through the floor, it causes your body to stabilize over the bar much more efficiently, allowing you to generate maximum leg drive.
The leg drive is what gets the bar up to the knees. The tension that was built up in the torso before the lift must be maintained as isometric strength.
In other words the back should not be extending while the weight is below the knees, but stabilizing rather. If your legs are weak, then your hips will tend to rise out of position to gain leverage for the quads.
Once the lifter has pulled the bar up to the base of the knees, the leverages change and the lifter may now pull with the back instead of just bracing the torso. It’s at this point that the lifter should focus on pulling the chest up toward the ceiling.
As the bar is passing the knees the lifter should also focus on finishing the leg drive by forcefully locking the knees—This is much more critical to sumo deadlifters as locking the knees early and hard maximizes acceleration, gets the bar closer to the final height, stabilizes the hips and reduces the dragging of the arms across the legs.
For conventional pullers I still recommend finishing the leg drive and locking the knees before the hips and back finish to maximize leg drive, although for conventional there isn’t really a hip stability or as bad of a drag issue on the lockout, so for some if the back is the workhorse it can be beneficial to pull back more on the lockout instead of just pulling up.
But again: as the bar is passing the knees start pulling the chest up to engage all the erectors and focus on finishing the leg drive. Sometimes that moment where the weight feels like it’s going to stall, if you panic and try to pull back you kill your leg drive. If you don’t try to pull your chest up then you are not taking advantage of all your erectors. That’ll never maximize your pull.
A Word On Grip Width
Start with a shoulder width grip. Given the thickness of your lats, where do your arms naturally hang down? That’s where you should grip. If you grip wider you’ll effectively have shorter arms and the start position will be much harder.
For some, a tiny bit wider than shoulder-width will really help with the lockout, as it will be much easier to engage the upper back in pulling the shoulders back. If your grip is too narrow you will not be able to pull your shoulders back to a proper lockout and will likely have your balance thrown off at the top, or find that you are losing your grip.
Now, if you are much weaker off the floor, especially sumo, a slightly narrower grip will give you an advantage off the floor but at the tradeoff of a harder lockout.
Now, get out there and pull. There are a million exercises that you can add to your training to target your weak points, but you must train the deadlift itself very hard if you ever want to have the power and physique that a big deadlift gets you.