5 Tips on How To Improve Your Deadlifts

Deadlifts. Great exercises for back and leg strength...when done well. When done poorly, they can cause some serious back injures. Repetitive deadlifts under load and fatigue can be a recipe for disaster so heed these tips for a safe, quick, injury-free CrossFit Open.

1. Keep you back and neck straight

  • This is easily one of the best ways to stay efficient for as long as possible.
  • When you stand up straight, you have good postural alignment with your head and back straight and in line
  • When most people deadlift, they "break" at the neck and look at a point straight ahead - there are good reasons for this if you know how to do this right but for most people, this will make them weaker
  • Having said that, the Open is likely to be deadlifts at a relatively light weight so most people will get away with focusing on one spot and going for it.
  • If you have back or neck pain, take your time and keep your back and neck straight. An easy way to do this is the 3 points of contact with a broomstick - tailbone, mid back and back of head. If you do this right, you should be able to deadlift without losing contact with the broomstick.

2. Hook Grip it!

  • The Open workouts with deadlifts are likely to be high reps so you don't want to burn your grip strength up
  • A hook grip will help you preserve your grip for harder exercises on your grip like pull-ups
  • If you start practicing now, you will be able have thumbs that are ready for the challenge!

3. Get to standing straight - don't lean back too far!

  • Leaning back excessively will activate your abdominals too much and tire your back out. This will lead to flexion in your back and you will become inefficient
  • Practice meeting the standard without leaning back too far - leave the leaning back for your 1RM when you will do anything to get the weight up just once 😉

4. Keep a holding that bar for as long as possible

  • Just like the clean and jerk for reps, you need to keep a hold of that bar as long as possible or it will cost you precious seconds

5. Take smart rests

  • Back injuries and strains occur when athletes are tired and their back muscles fatigue letting their back flex. When you do that, especially with a load in your hands, you put extra pressure on your low back discs and muscles.
  • If you back is "burning" or you can't maintain a straight back, it is time to drop the bar and take a smart rest. It is better you preserve you back and be able to keep training than to hurt your back and risk 6 weeks off training or even worse (surgery, sciatica, pain, meds, costly treatment etc etc).

Please be smart about your deadlifts!!


Tips Common to All Movements 

Basically similar to my blog on preparing for the Open...

1. Practice your technique NOW

  • Feel comfortable in practice with competition technique and Range of Motion (ROM) and it will feel comfortable in competition.
  • Good technique is the most efficient way to complete the reps. For most movements, keep your back straight for crying out aloud!!
  • Motor patterns are strengthened with perfect practice - the more reps you do perfectly, the more likely you will do them

2. Continue your strengthening program (or start NOW!)

  • There are still 7 weeks before the Open starts and 11 weeks until it ends - there is time to make gains!
  • If you just get one more rep out because you are just a little bit stronger or you get a PB because you improved enough to achieve it, there is no better feeling in the Open. Last year, I got a 135lbs snatch 4 times - I got my first the day before I did 13.1. I also got my first CTB pullup during the Open. Strength helps!
  • If you are a Regionals athlete, the Open should just be a speed bump in your training program.
  • I have never heard anyone say "If I was only a bit weaker for that workout, I would have done better"!

3. Get your Coach to help identify and rectify your weaknesses

  • Most coaches are happy to tell you what to work on and will give you accessory (additional) exercises to do after your workouts.
  • Most coaches will have some form of one-on-one coaching sessions they can do with you - these are worth it for beginners and experienced athletes alike
  • If you do ask your coach for help and you DO NOT do what they say, then please DO NOT ask them for more help until you have done what they told you to do already!! Nothing is more frustrating to a coach than someone who asks for help but then doesn't do it.
  • If you have done everything you are told to do and your coach doesn't want to help you, ask yourself if you are in the right box or asking the right person...this should be extremely rare...in general and basically every box I have been to (over 20) and coaches I know (well over 50) have had coaches that are willing to help the athletes and care about their safety.

4. Sort your niggles out

  • One of the most common comments I hear is "If I had known how much better I would feel, I would have come sooner"
  • 'Nuff said!

5. Don't push to failure

  • Rich Froning rarely fails a rep. Don't waste your energy on failed reps. Rest and just concentrate on making good reps. Pushing to failure is a waste of time and energy and significantly increases your risk of injury...

6. Lose the "sins of Christmas" - get that body fat% down!

  • This one is for my friend John Z - all the bodyweight movements in the Open will get better if you are carrying less fat.

I am always keen to hear tips from other athletes, coaches and health professionals. Leave your comments below!

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