Out of all of the major compound lifts, the deadlift is the only one that does not require an eccentric (lowering) phase to initiate the movement. Because of this, the concentric (lifting) portion is hands down the most important aspect to be trained. But, what if I told you that focusing on how you return the bar to the floor could greatly help you increase the quality and strength of your pull?
We’ve all seen it, someone sets up for a set of deadlifts, lifts it with great form and control, only to be followed by an uncontrolled limp-body descent. If you watch closely, there’s a good chance that you’ll notice each of the following reps become less sound and less technical than the one before. Whether you’re a powerlifter training for a competition, or someone simply looking to improve strength, the goal should always be to make every repetition an exact representation of the one before.
Now, I completely understand that holding a bar in your hands loaded with heavy weight for any period of time can be uncomfortable. The last thing that anyone wants is to feel the knurling of a bar trying to pull the skin off of their hands. But if you’re going to take the time to perform a lift every single week for months and years on end, why not take the time to get the most out of it possible, right?
So, if the deadlift is a concentric only lift, then what’s the point of worrying about how we lower it? Well, let’s look at the squat and the bench press. As you lower the bar, you’re gaining feedback from your body on what muscles are firing and how to keep them tense and engaged. This then allows you to be in a stronger position for the concentric portion. So even if the squat and bench press started from the bottom up, by practicing this technique we would sill get stronger. The more practice we have doing this and the better that we get, the more efficient we can be. Over time, this adds up into many technically sound lifts, which allows us to also get stronger.
So how do we apply this to the deadlift? The easiest way is to try to make your pull and your return look like a mirror image. If you were to watch the entire lift on film, it should look the exact same when played forward or backwards. While you’re doing this, be sure to start light and take your time. Understand that at first this may affect how much you can lift overall, but it will drastically improve your strength over time. Start with around 60-70% of your max and try to take around 3 seconds to return the bar to the floor. During that time, focus on recognizing which muscles are working, and what needs to be done in order to keep them engaged. Do not lose that tension once the bar returns to the floor. Even in between reps, keep tension, stay engaged, and in the exact position that you want to perform the next rep. This will then help you know exactly what to do when you begin your first pull, even without being able to perform the eccentric phase. Over time, as you learn how to build and keep tension throughout your body, you can start applying this to heavier weights, and you will begin to see your strength and technique improve tremendously.
If you see me in the gym, don’t hesitate to grab me and ask for help. If you follow me on Instagram, don’t hesitate to send me your videos. I’m glad to help any way I can. Stay strong, my friends!