By Andrew McGunagle
If you want a back that’s big and strong, then heavy deadlifting for multiple reps is undoubtedly the way to go. Sadly, the technique most people employ when they pull big for more than a few reps quickly causes the risks to outweigh the brawny rewards. However, this issue can be rectified with a few simple fixes.
A strict, controlled, and properly sequenced eccentric and an efficient interval between reps can make all the difference when you plan on deadlifting for more than one rep. The perfect eccentric begins with excellent bracing in the top position. The body should momentarily remain stacked in one perfect straight line, and the glutes should be pinched, the torso should be solid, the hands should be clenched, the shoulders locked back, and the chin “packed” into a double-chin position.
From this tense position, you need to perform a strict hip hinge without losing the tension you created at the top of the lift. Initiate this movement by releasing the pinch of the glutes and pushing your hips way back towards the wall behind you to create a deep thigh angle. At the same time, be sure to get your shoulders out over the top of the bar and slide the bar down the legs in close contact with the thighs, which will properly engage the muscles of the back.
During this “first phase” of the descent, you must keep your shins absolutely vertical. Dropping the knees forward from the top of the lift will slack the hamstrings, which decreases the amount of stretch and tension in your posterior chain. Think of your hamstrings like bowstrings - the more stretch and tension you get, the more “pop” and power you’ll get going into the next rep.
Once the bar passes the knees, you may drop the knees slightly forward. I designate this the “second phase” of the descent. The trick here is to drop the knees just enough to get the bar to the floor, and not so much that you drop the knees, hips, and the entire torso into a squat-like position that is too low and too upright. As you perform this slight drop and slide the bar back down to the start position on the floor, be sure to keep the bar in close contact with your shins - again, this keeps the lats “connected” and engaged. It’s useful to imagine that you’re trying to “shave your legs” with the barbell.
Both phases of the descent should be controlled. You don’t want to move so slowly that you burn up energy and cause undue fatigue, but you do want to move at a speed that allows you to maintain your positioning and your tension. I typically tell my lifters to lower with a “one-two-three” count descent, which seems to be the proper tempo for this objective.
It’s common to see lifters release their tension, relax their spinal positioning, and drop the bar quickly during the eccentric portion of their deadlifts. It’s also common to see the same lifters’ technique break down completely when they pull for multiple reps.This is because it becomes increasingly difficult to create tension as you fatigue - it’s better to “hold on” to the tension you initially created and also use the tension the barbell facilitates as you stretch the muscles out and load them up.
When the bar is back on the floor, the intervals between reps need to be tense and quick. Don’t allow the bar or your body to “slack” and relax - not even for a moment. Cycle through a speedy new “power breath” by quickly exhaling then quickly inhaling like you’re blowing out then sucking in through a straw. This enables you to re-pressurize the abdomen without deflating your torso completely. As soon as you’ve topped off your air, simultaneously drive your feet through the floor and pull on the bar like you’re “ripping the head off a lion” to powerfully initiate the next rep.
This is certainly a lot of info for just about one half of one rep. If you’re having trouble visualizing the quintessential deadlift descent, refer to the following video of my beastly little brother:
Hope this helps - thanks for reading!