The Roll Technique for Deadlift

The Roll Technique for Deadlift

Justin will be competing at the 2019 USS Kansas Strongest Man in two weeks, and his deadlift is coming together at the right time for the Wessel rules deadlift event that will be part of the competition! As can be seen (CLICK HERE), Justin uses a roll technique, and we’ve been focusing the last month or so on cleaning up his transition from the roll to pull. Justin’s issue previously is that he would try to meet the bar halfway, resulting in a forward weight bias and typically a pattern of his hips shooting up and having to almost stiff leg deadlift it at times. The two videos above are just 2 weeks apart, with 540lbs. on the left versus 550lbs. on the right. The main difference that can be seen is how on the right he leverages against the bar better with an initial bias back with the hips as he initiates the roll, as well as he has a faster roll so that when his shins meet the bar it lines up directly over his midfoot (2nd video is a slo-mo comparison to make this easier to see).

Justin does a fairly extreme version of a roll, but for another idea of how this can be implemented I included a 3rd video of Patrick as well (CLICK HERE) to show his mini roll technique. I’ll start off by saying I typically would not recommend using a roll technique, as its hard to master and is a more advanced technique (and definitely a conventional only technique). But the benefit comes from the natural tightness it creates in the lats. Because these lifters are basically doing a mini lat pullover with the bar, it is cueing them to depress their shoulders and leverage against the bar to create tension off the floor, creating almost an eccentric like action. You’ll commonly see heavier weight class lifters performing the roll technique as it can help to achieve a better lumbar position when girth is limiting hip flexion range of motion, which is why it tends to be fairly popular in Strongman. Timing is everything though, and Justin was able to make that 10lb. jump and move that weight faster than before because the timing of his roll position his optimally to create force immediately through the floor.

Head Position In The Sumo Deadlift

Head Position In The Sumo Deadlift

Where the head leads the body will follow, and this may be most apparent in the sumo deadlift. Unless someone can show me an example otherwise, I honestly don’t know if there is a single highly proficient sumo deadlifter that doesn’t at minimum have their head and gaze at eye level, with most having a slight upward gaze. With conventional deadlift, you’ll see more variation with where someone looks, with some having a slight downward gaze. But with sumo deadlift head position is fairly consistent across the board and this is for good reason.

Maybe even more so than with conventional, sumo deadlift really relies on keeping very strict positions to help transfer force efficiently. Rounded lower backs, tucked pelvis, and hip shoot movement deficiencies are going to have a greater negative impact on a sumo pull than a conventional pull. Sumo tends to require more leverage into the bar where we are using are hip extensors to counter balance that forward weight bias of the bar being in front of us. So if lifters are not leading their torso with their head, they tend to get stuck out over the bar.

You can see in the videos (CLICK HERE) how Lorenzo and Abbee use their heads to create tightness and the feeling of extension in their upper backs to leverage themselves against the bar. While their backs aren’t actually pulling into extension, I’ll use this term and feeling to cue lifters to try to use their head position to try to pull their thoracic spine into extension. With the weight of the bar trying to pull you into thoracic flexion though, what occurs is more so a neutral back position, which is exactly what we want. The other key here is that their head position rises as they tension and bring their hips down. Too often lifters pull into to position and then raise their head, which defeats a lot of the purpose. When you wait until the last second to raise the head position, you are missing out on the extension based tension you want to create during the setup.

In the 2nd video (CLICK HERE), you can see the one week difference in Joe’s sumo deadlift. I simply had him put a chalk mark on the rack in front of him at just above eye level and told him to look directly at that the whole time. Without any other cues, he completely changed how his sumo deadlift looked. The head is a powerful tool and as I first mentioned, where the head leads the body follows, and this is very apparent in the change in Joe’s deadlift.

Brace After The Start Command

Brace After The Start Command

As competitive powerlifters, we hear time and time again about the downfalls of messing up the commands on meet day. We practice them in training, we reiterate them in the warm up room, and then we execute them on the platform. But what we tend to not practice as much is the execution around the start command. Too often the start command is taken to literal, meaning powerlifters take it as a command to start right then. But the command is rather letting us know that we can start now as we please, and there is no rush to immediately descend on the squat or bench press once the command is given.

The video here (CLICK HERE) shows Nik with an issue we ran into on his opener at his meet a couple weeks back. He got white lights so it was a good lift, but notice how he braces, creates soft knees, and then you can hear me in the background yelling “knees” in regards to locking them as he wasn’t receiving the start command. This was on me as a coach. I should have informed Nik prior to wait until the start command before he actually started his setup to brace. With the way I coach bracing and pre-descent tensioning, as well as many other coaches, it tends to slightly unlock the knees at times. I want a lifter to find tension in their quads, hamstrings, adductors, and glutes as they brace, and that is very difficult when the knee is fully locked or even hyperextended. So just a slight, slight break can help bring context to the tension they are trying to find. But, this needs to be done after the start command. We must fulfill the obligated standards to receive the start command, and then afterwards initiate our bracing setup. This serves a second purpose too, in that we do not want to sit there holding our breath any longer than is needed. If we inhale before the start command, a lifter very well might sit there for 4-5 seconds before actually descending which could result in light headedness. This all sounds very simple and obvious, but I also bet most people reading this haven’t actually thought deeply into their exact start command ritual, and especially do not practice it.

For bench press, this same topic would be relevant for the elbows. With many lifter’s emphasis on large arches and shoulder retraction and depression, many times this is going to start naturally unlocking the elbows. So just as with the squat, we need to first prioritize receiving the down command, and then finish our bracing setup. Sometimes bench differs a bit though, as its hard to retract once everything is settle on the bench. So typically the sequence I would recommend is to settle the feet and butt into position, and then make a concerted effort to lock the elbows, wait for the start command, brace, and then descend.

Like I said, this is a fairly simple concept. But practicing this in training and in the warm up room can be the difference between getting the start command or being told to re-rack the weight because the knees/elbows were not locked.

Low Bar Grip Width Could Be Causing Your Hip Shift

Low Bar Grip Width Could Be Causing Your Hip Shift

Ankle mobility, pelvic position, bracing and oblique control are usually the common culprits for a hip shift, but lately I’ve had a couple scenarios where the shift actually was stemming from the upper body. I’ve known Joey for a while and just recently started coaching him, and one of the first things I wanted to address was a long standing issue of having the bar crooked on his back. I also wanted to test if this was leading to the hip shift that was present, or if that shift was developed due to an injury he had sustained a couple months prior. The simple test was to have him squat a similar load on a safety bar, which takes the element of shoulder mobility out of the picture and places the bar perfectly centered on his back. You can see if you scroll to the second video (CLICK HERE) that the shift is much less pronounced and probably after some intentional practice would be non-existent. Fortunately the first attempt at a possible fix worked, which was to slightly widen his grip on low bar squats. He also tend to flare his elbows fairly high, so between that and the asymmetric bar placement on his back that seemed to be a good starting point. Almost immediately we saw the impact and just weeks later you can see in the first video (CLICK HERE) how there is little to no shift present. Joey also worked on shoulder mobility, as we don’t want to neglect the fact that he seems to be lacking in external rotation on that left side. Joey is actually in school working on his DC and as an added bonus I had him put together a video of the specific shoulder mobility exercise he’s really finding benefit with in the 3rd video! And just to notate, the lacrosse ball in the video is use to produce an irradiation effect, as you’ll squeeze the lacrosse ball with a moderate grip throughout.

I think this issue occurs primarily due to the fact that lifter’s tend to want to go as narrow as possible to create a false sense of tightness, and partially as well due to being misinformed by old lore that the narrower the grip the better. And that isn’t to say a narrow grip is bad, it very well may be optimal for a lifter, but it shouldn’t be a band-aid for upper back tightness. If you can do a lat pulldown with a wider grip and still create retraction and depression of the shoulders, you can do that with your low bar position as well. Abbee has been struggling a bit with finding her optimal grip and tightness, so the other day I had her perform an iso-metric lat pulldown hold prior to setting up on low bar during her warmups. I told her to translate that same feeling to her low bar setup. Find the grip width that allowed her to recreate that same upper back and lat tightness to create a shelf to stabilize the bar, so that her arms weren’t stabilizing it instead. She has been struggling with biceps tendinitis from stabilizing the bar too much with her arms, so we will see in the coming weeks how this translates in keeping that at bay and creating a more solid shelf with her upper back!

Why You Should Program High Bar Pause Squats

Why You Should Program High Bar Pause Squats

In another installment of variations I like, today I want to discuss High Bar Pause Squats, specifically in the scenario of programming for low bar squatters. The key here is the added pause, and I will get to why in a bit, but first let me discuss the why’s of high bar squats in general, as we have a couple main benefits for low bar squatters.

1.) If there was a primary reason I tend program a squat variations such as high bar or safety bar, it’s to get out of constantly being in a low bar position. For many, high frequency and volumes of low bar squatting are inevitably going to lead to some type of shoulder, bicep, or forearm discomfort, so being able to have a break from that position while still training a similar pattern can make things more tolerable long term.

2.) High bar tends to be more leg dominant and less strain on the lower back. Due to this we can have a bit more focus on training the quads while not taxing our lower back over and over with low bar squats and deadlifts. Most people do not have weak posterior chains in the squat, contrary to what many preach. Rather its the quads and adductors, so high bar can act as a slightly more direct way to train them.

3.) High bar squats can be a great way to train upper back strength. Due to the longer moment arm there is increased demands on the upper back, which is why many times at maximal loads you’ll see people fold over at the chest during high bar squats. This can also reinforce back position and thoracic tightness during the squat as the lifter has to fight against this tendency to fold over.

4.) This variation can be use to help re-pattern someone’s squat who tends to be too hip dominant. Due to the longer moment arm, trying to be hip dominant during a high bar squat will immediately punish the lifter, so instead it encourages forward knee travel.

To piggy back off this last point though, high bar squats can also re-pattern someone’s squat in a negative way if performed incorrectly or at the wrong times. In particular what I find is that if a lifter starts to get a bit lazy during high bar squats, the naturally tendency is to start becoming too knee flexion dominant and biasing foot pressure towards the toes. Rather than fight the increased upper back tension, they just remain upright and squat too much with the knees. This is where high bar pause squats comes in. Due to the pause, this forward bias is punished, and lifters tend to remain over their mid-foot and with the right hip to knee flexion ratio when this pause is added in. When I programmed just high bar squats, I found frequently I needed to sub them out before this re-patterning could possibly happen, but with high bar pause squats lifters tend to be able to benefit from them for a longer period of time without negative consequences to their low bar squat pattern. Add the benefits listed above for high bar squats and now add in the pause for more consistent reps, and we have a great variation to be able to supplement the low bar. With that all being said though, I currently only have 5 of my 23 low bar squatting athletes performing high bar pause squats, so it is not a one size fits all approach, but rather a possible solution for those who may have struggled with finding benefit from high bar squats in the past!