3 Tips to Help You Set a Deadlift PR

Coaching the deadlift is one of my favorite things to do (behind coaching the clean and jerk). Deadlifting is about speed, power, and mental toughness. Plus, it’s just COOL to deadlift. As I’ve said before, I really like that CrossFit introduces strength training to women (REAL strength training, not 5lb. dumbbell strength training) and deadlifting is really empowering for the chicas.

Last night I coached three classes where the WOD was to find a 1RM on the deadlift (sumo or conventional). Out of 37 people, 24 of them PR’d. I know you might be thinking that they were all new and therefore, any number would have been a PR. Out of those 24 people, 18 of them were experienced CrossFitters with previous numbers to beat and the 6 who were new drastically exceeded expectations. 

Some examples of PR’s: 
-110lbs. female member: going from 118lbs to 165lbs deadlift
-new member in her 50’s who never lifted weights before: pulled 213lbs
-female member with a goal of 200lbs (already a 10# PR) but then continuing to 225lbs
-a three-year CF veteran setting a 30lb+ PR…and then later his wife set a 35lb PR
-two experienced CrossFitters setting 70lb PR’s (380lbs and 475lbs respectively)

Looking back through workouts, the last time a 1RM deadlift came up was three months ago on 5/23/12 in a CrossFit total workout. 

There are some tips that are common for deadlift technique: Flat back, weight in the heels, externally rotate the legs (knees out), take the slack out of the bar, etc. I won’t go over those here, but I will talk about three tips that I gave members last night:

1. GET PSYCHED UP!
Some days you got it and some days you don’t. But on deadlift day, you better have it. And if you don’t, then fake it. No one PRs on their deadlift in a blah mood. You have to get pumped up and either get excited, angry, or both. Think of something that either made you really happy or something that made you really mad. Yeah, pull an Adam Sandler and go to that happy place. Now go lift the bar. 
For people that have their form down, I’ll have them jump up and down like a boxer before a match. Either tuck jumps, little hops, or slapping their thighs, I think this primes their body to explode out of the bottom of the deadlift. Like I said, I only do this with people who have good form b/c I don’t need them jumping up and down and then quickly getting on the bar in a hunchback.
Once they are on the bar and ready to go, I kneel down to the side and YELL at (sometimes with) them. Usually it’s something like “Let’s go!” or “Speed!” (see #2, or “Commit to it!” (see #3) but I generally find yelling helps get that athlete’s adrenaline pumping. 99% of the time when I’m coaching, I don’t yell, but on 1RM deadlift day, I do. 


2. SPEED OFF THE GROUND
Rudy Nielsen of Outlaw CrossFit once had his members do an experiment. Instead of conventional deadlift programming, he had his members do heavy cleans. Then he tested their deadlift. Almost every single person PR’d. Why? Because they were so used to coming off the floor with the speed necessary for the clean that when it came to deadlifts, they used that same speed to set PR’s. 
Last night I told folks to go FAST off the ground, even in light sets. When you watch someone deadlift at or near a PR weight, they move slowly. But you better believe that their EFFORT is fast and furious; it’s the tremendous weight that’s slowing them down. So many members technically got a “PR” last night, but were moving so fast that I told them to slap on 10’s, 15’s, etc. They looked at me like I had two heads, but the fact is that they were not anywhere near their TRUE 1RM.
The oh-so-important caveat is that you need to still have proper form coming off the ground. Going fast off the ground only to have your back round or jerk the bar erratically is not going to help your cause. There’s a difference between a professional drag racer and a teenage kid looking to impress his girlfriend at a stop sign. Newbies, stick with honing your form for now. 

3. COMMIT TO THE LIFT
If newbs should ignore #1, then they should pay attention to #2: Commit to the lift. This means STICK WITH IT and don’t give up easily. This happens a lot with coming off the floor in a deadlift. Too many times I see people grab the bar for 0.2 seconds and then give up. They haven’t even tried! If you tell yourself to commit to the lift and keep pulling for four or five seconds, you just might surprise yourself. I’ve had deadlifts that look like their going nowhere, and then just like a long train getting started, the barbell suddenly clears the ground and picks up steam on the way to a PR. 
This might also happen if you stall at thigh-level and are trying to lock out with open hips. As long as your back isn’t compromised, stick with it and see where the lift goes. If the going gets tough…well, you better keep going!

I think an underlying theme here is also the mental aspect of deadlifting, especially committing to the lift and getting psyched up. Believing in yourself and going for that PR is no easy task, especially when you just did a heavy single (or set a PR already). But if you can get psyched up, focus on speed from the floor, and commit to the lift, you’re on your way to a PR. 

What tips do you have for setting a Deadlift PR? 
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