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8 Proven Ways to Increase Your Deadlift

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8 Proven Ways to Increase Your Deadlift

The Deadlift is one of the most powerful physique-building exercises, and here are 8 ways to continue safely adding weight to the bar.

 

The Deadlift is one of the all-around best you can do. It’s vital for building a big, thick, strong back, and it trains just about every major and minor muscle group in the body.

It’s also one of the toughest exercises, and one that many people get stuck on. It requires extraordinary effort to perform correctly and as you get stronger, technique matters more and more both in terms of preventing injury and continuing to make progress.

In this article, I want to share with you 8 proven ways to increase your Deadlift while preventing injury. Let’s get started.

Tip #1 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Check Your Technique

As you get stronger, form becomes more and more important for preventing injury and continuing to add weight to the bar. As Dave Tate says, one inch can make all the difference in the world.

This is why it’s smart to do a “form check” now and then by having someone record you performing a set of deadlifts (don’t try to use mirrors to check while lifting as it will throw you off).

Here’s how a perfect Deadlift looks:

The Deadlift Set Up

1. Position your feet so they’re slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.

2. Place the bar somewhere between against your shins and at the middle of your foot.

The key here is that your shoulders are in line with the bar, or even slightly behind it, which allows for maximum leverage as you pull the bar up and back. For taller or skinnier lifters, this will probably place the bar against their shins. For shorter or thicker lifters, this will place it somewhere around the middle of the feet.

If the bar is too close to your body and your shoulders are too far in front of it, you’ll have to move the bar forward on the way up to get it over your knees. If it’s too far from your body, you’ll feel like you’re going to fall forward and won’t be able to drive upward through your heels.

3. Stand up tall with your chest out and take a deep breath of air into your diaphragm (not your lungs), bracing your abs as if you were about to get punched in the stomach. 

4. Move down toward the bar by pushing your hips back, not by squatting straight down. Arch your lower back and keep your shoulders down.

Don’t make the newbie mistake of bringing your hips too low with the intention of “squatting” the weight up. The lower your hips are below optimal, the more they will have to rise before you’re able to lift the weight off the floor when you pull, which is just wasted movement.

Instead, you should feel tightness in your hamstrings and hips as you wedge yourself into what’s essentially a “half-Squat” position, and as soon as your hips rise, you want your shoulders to follow and the weight to start coming off the floor.

5. Place your hands on the bar, with either a double-overhand or and over-underhand grip, just outside your shins and squeeze it as hard as you can. Keep your shoulders back and down and engage your lats.

6. Don’t look up at the ceiling or down at the ground–keep your head in a neutral position.

Here’s a good video that shows the above points:

The Deadlift Pull

7. Drive your body upward and slightly back as quickly as you can by pushing through your heels, and keep your elbows locked in place and your lower back slightly arched (no rounding!).

Ensure that your hips and shoulders move up simultaneously–don’t shoot your hips up without also raising your shoulders.

8. As you approach the top (the lock-out), squeeze your glutes to push the hips through the final phase of the movement.

The Deadlift Descent

9. Many people break the lockout with their knees, and this is incorrect. Instead, you want to break with the hips, sitting back just as you did when you were setting up. The bar should slide down your thighs.

10. Maintain a stiff arch in the lower back and keep the shoulders down and back.

It’s also worth noting that you should make sure each rep is separate. Don’t try to bounce the bar off the ground to propel you into progressively sloppier and sloppier reps. It’s called the deadlift for a reason–you’re supposed to be picking up dead weight, not using the momentum of a bounce.

So, once the bar is back on the ground, adjust your setup position if necessary (suck in air, tense your abs, ensure your spinal position is good, puff your chest out, “pack” your shoulder in a down position, and so forth), and hit the next rep hard.

Tip #2 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Increase Your Grip Strength

Grip weakness doesn’t just make the bar harder to hold, it actually makes the entire lift feel significantly harder. And if you don’t ensure your grip is continually improving, your deadlift will stall.

Fortunately, improving grip strength is very easy when you go about it correctly. Check out my article on how to increase grip strength to learn more.

Tip #3 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Pump Yourself Up

If you an experienced weightlifter, you know the importance of being mentally prepared for heavy lifts. You can psych yourself out or up and hit or miss a lift accordingly.

You’ve undoubtedly seen powerlifters go through what sometimes looks like a ridiculous, satanic ritual before attempting a lift, but did you know that pumping yourself up like that has been scientifically proven to work?

study conducted by researchers at AUT University with elite rugby players found that when they pumped themselves up for a Bench Press set, force production increased by 8%. Researchers also found that distraction significantly decreased force production–there was a 12% difference in force production between the pumped-up and distracted lifters.

The takeaway here is pump yourself up your for heavy lifts and concentrate on each rep as your perform it–no talking, being talked to, or mental wandering.

I don’t stomp around the gym like a madman to get pumped up. I find that the right workout songs helps dramatically for getting pumped up, and before I grab the bar, I like to take 10 to 15 seconds to focus on the lift I’m about to perform and visualize myself performing it successfully. Sounds silly? Research has shown that visualizing a successful lift before performing it can increase strength.

Tip #4 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Focus on Heavy Lifting

The subject of “ideal” rep ranges is complex, so I won’t dive into it in this article. (I do talk a bit about it on my article on hypertrophy, though.)

Instead, I’ll keep this short and sweet:

If you’re new to weightlifting (you’ve been lifting for less than a year), you should be doing all deadlifting in the 4 to 6 rep range (guys) or 8 to 10 rep range (girls).

That means you use a weight that you can do at least 4 by not more than 6 reps with, and once you hit 6 reps, you add weight for the next set. If you want to see how this fits into an actual workout, check out my article on the ultimate back workout.

If you’re an experienced weightlifter, you can benefit from working in different rep ranges, or periodizing your training. 

I will be discussing periodization in more detail in my next book, Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger (which will be out in a month or two), and will be sharing a full periodized program for advanced lifters, but here’s a simply way to go about it for your deadlifting:

Week 1’s Deadlifts: 2 sets of 2 to 3 reps (~90% of 1RM) + 1 sets of 4 to 6 reps (~80% of 1 RM)

Week 2’s Deadlifts: 2 sets of 2 to 3 reps + 2 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Week 3’s Deadlifts: 2 sets of 2 to 3 reps + 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Week 4’s Deadlifts: 3 sets of 2 to 3 reps + 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Week 5’s Deadlifts: 4 sets of 2 to 3 reps + 2 sets of 4 to 6 reps

As you can see, the above program has you deadlifting once per week (per 5 to 7 days), and involves working in the 2 to 3 range, which provides maximal overload, and the 4 to 6 rep work is the “sweet spot” for myofibrillar muscle growth.

Once you’ve finished the 5-week cycle, you should deload for a week (or take a week off the weights), after which you can start again from week 1.

Tip #5 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Work On Your Lower-Body Mobility

Chances are you’re like most of us and you sit in a chair all day staring at a screen. This often causes tight hips, hamstrings, and glutes, which in turn impairs our ability to Deadlift.

The fix is easy: implement a weekly lower-body mobility routine to limber up and you can dramatically improve your Deadlift.

Tip #6 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Give Your Deadlift Priority in Your Workouts

If you want to keep progressing on your Deadlift, you should begin your workouts with it.

The reason for this is simple: studies such as this and this have shown that the order in which you do your exercises has a significant impact on your strength and overall performance capacity on each. 

This is why my Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger workouts always begin with big, compound lifts like the Bench Press, Deadlift, Military Press, and Squat, and then move on to more isolation-type exercises like Dips, Dumbbell Rows, Side Lateral Raises, and Lunges.

Start your back (or pull) workouts with the Deadlift and you’ll be most likely to make progress.

Want a workout program and flexible diet plan that will help you build muscle and get strong? Download my free no-BS “crash course” now and learn exactly how to build the body of your dreams.

Tip #7 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Utilize Rest-Pause Training

As you probably know, I’m not a fan of fancy set schemes like supersets, drop sets, and giant sets, nor am I a fan of nontraditional training protocols like super-slow training, super-fast training, negatives, and the like.

Many of these techniques have been scientifically proven to be no more effective than traditional set schemes and rep rhythms, and my experience is in line with the research (I used to do all kinds of fancy stuff and made poor progress with it).

That said, there is one “special” type of training that has both anecdotal and scientific evidence on its side, and that’s the Rest-Pause Set. This is an old school powerlifting method for breaking through plateaus, and researchers from the University of Western Sydney recently studied it. They found it to be an effective way to increase strength via greater muscle fiber recruitment.

The Rest-Pause Set is very simple. You perform an exercise to failure (the point where you can’t get another rep without help) and then rest for a short period before performing the exercise to failure again, followed by a short rest, and another set to failure, and so forth.

When incorporating this into your deadlifting routine, I recommend you do Rest-Pause sets in the 2 to 3 or 4 to 6 rep ranges, and that you limit it to 3 to 4 Rest-Pause Sets per workout.

If you’re doing Rest-Pause sets with ~90% of your 1RM (2 to 3 rep range), rest 45 to 60 seconds in between set. If you’re doing them with ~80% of your 1RM (4 to 6 rep range), rest 20 to 30 seconds in between each set.

Tip #8 to Increase Your Deadlift:
Make Sure You’re Not Under- or Over-Training

Like “ideal” rep ranges, optimal training frequency is a hotly debated subject. The bottom line is it boils down to workout intensity and volume.

The lighter the weights and fewer the sets per workout, the more often you can train the muscle group. And, as a corollary, the heavier the weights and greater the sets per workout, the less often you can train the muscle group.

I’ve tried many different splits and frequency schemes, and what I’ve found works best is in line with an extensive review on the subject conducted by researchers at Goteborg University:

When training with the proper intensity (focusing on lifting heavy weights), optimal frequency seems to be about 40 – 60 reps performed every 5 – 7 days.

While training each muscle group 2 to 3 times per week is trendy right now, and while it’s workable (if volume is programmed correctly), it’s not necessarily more effective than training each muscle group once per 5 to 7 days, at the right volume.

The bottom line is when it comes to muscle and strength gains, research shows that proper workout volume appears to be more important than frequency.

If you do less than the optimal volume, as given above, you will be leaving some gains on the table. If you do more, you’ll probably end up overtraining.

 

What did you think about these tips on how to increase your Deadlift? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Ben McEntarffer

    Excellent article Mike! Say, the gym we use only has the multi flat sided plates, like an exaggerated stop sign. They work wonderfully for every exercise except the deadlift.

    They’re horrible! The barbell bearings spin during the ascend/descend which causes the weights to land awkward usuallyfoff axis from the starting position. It causes a mandatory setup for each rep which is frustrating.

    Does anyone make a round adapter to slap on or what might you suggest? Thanks, week 6 of 8, phase 1 of BLS 1YC.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Ben! Ah yeah those types of plates are shit for deads. That’s really annoying. I don’t know of any easy fix though, arg.

      Awesome man keep me posted!

    • Royston Crasto

      Don’t the clips help to keep them stable? I would try tighter clamps and see if that helps. All the best. 🙂

      • Michael Matthews

        Maybe. I haven’t messed with them in a while…

      • Gary

        I used to put a mat, not to thick but just enough to help keep the plates from rolling to much, under each side. That way they kind of just settled in.

  • davidrchen

    Asking for my wife… Should women always target 8-10 reps or only for deadlift?

    • Michael Matthews

      8 to 10 is a good rep range for women until they build enough strength to make good use of heavier weights, which usually takes 6 – 10 months.

      • Amber Bustanoby

        What should the target be after 6-10 months?

        • Michael Matthews

          Then you can work in some 4 to 6 rep work on your big compound lifts like the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, and Military Press.

          • Alice

            Interesting… I’ve been having this debate a lot with people. I’m on your programme and have just finished week 8. Since I’ve been talking to people though, a lot have been saying to me to try things like 5×5 to build both strength and aesthetic. I’m still working in the 3×8-10 range and think I will atleast for another 8 weeks. Am I correct in doing so? I can lift more when only lifting for 5 reps…

          • Michael Matthews

            There’s nothing wrong with girls lifting heavier weights but the reason I don’t recommend it off the bat is most girls need at least 6 months to build enough strength to really benefit from it.

          • Alice

            Oh good – atleast I have an answer for people now! I actually think I prefer the 3×8-10 as it makes the workout quicker, and I don’t forget what set I’m on mid way through. Thanks Mike! Before and after pictures to follow after another 8 weeks I think.

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay cool, keep me posted!!

  • Marco

    Nice article. Could you please give more details on breathing in tip #1? (when to inhale, when to exhale, and when to hold the breath)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I take a deep breath before I pull, pull, lower and exhale, take another deep breath, pull, lower and exhale, etc.

      • Marco

        So you lower WHILE you exhale?
        Are there other valid breathing patterns?

        • Michael Matthews

          That’s what I do. Honestly I haven’t noticed much of a difference messing with breathing. I just hold my breath and push/pull the shit out of the weights .:P

  • Sam

    Thanks for another useful article Mike. Why do we see some people do squats and deads barefoot (I think I’ve seen Arnie do it barefoot) whilst others wears shoes? Any reasons? I don’t like it without shoes.. Thx

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Sam! It’s to keep the heels down. That’s why I like to life in flat-soled shoes.

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  • Chris

    I started incorporating deadlifts in my back workout (not sure why I ever stopped doing them) and after doing 3 sets of 6, my lower significantly tightened to the point I was scared I couldn’t go on with my workout. Is that just lactic acid buildup, going to heavy too soon or something else? Any suggestions on preventing that or helping?

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm could be a form issue? You can start with higher rep work and ease into the heavier stuff as well…

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  • Brian Giffin

    Awesome article Mike, Dead lift is one of my Favorites and definitely helping me bulk up. The other day I was doing my dead lift sets, feeling strong, loading extra plates when I felt my abs pop or buckle under the pressure. I feel fine just a little sore but wondering what I did wrong. I will for sure go back and double check my form, but do you think a waist wrap or something like this would help as I go up in weight?

    PS> I’m super excited about Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger! When’s it coming out? Can’t wait to read it!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yeah it rocks.

      Not sure on the abs. That’s odd. Never had that happen.

      Thanks on BBLS! The launch will be starting very soon!

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  • Jamie

    Mike, you should really shoot your own instructional videos! your fans need them! haha

    • Michael Matthews

      I know! It’s on the list. Actually kind of hard to find a gym that will work around where I live.

    • Arafat Sultan

      Right!

  • AJ THEODAS

    Iv been doing just fine on deads lately until a few weeks ago when my grip started slipping on my last couple reps and was wandering what your thoughts were on a quick fix for grip assistance? Chalk or gloves? I cant really use the hook grip for some reason..

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah that can happen. Check this out:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/forearm-workouts-grip-strength/

      I hook grip if I have to but I’d prefer to not put my bicep in a potentially bad position.

    • Gary

      I started using powder a few months ago, even though I used it years ago, and my grip has improved a great deal. Weight that used to slip from my grip now stays put! In other lifts as well! I don’t even need my wraps or hooks any more! I don’t like gloves because I like to have that intimate feel between me and the iron.

      • Michael Matthews

        Yes chalk can help too.

  • Gary

    I AM 62 YEARS OLD AND AM TRYING TO GET MY DEADLIFT UP TO A DESCENT WEIGHT…MY GOAL IS 550LBS. I CAN PULL 700LBS IN THE RACK’S LOWEST PIN, FAIRLY EASY. I HAVE NO PROBLEM ONCE I GET THE WEIGHT PAST MY KNEES. IT’S OFF THE FLOOR WHERE I HAVE MY PROBLEM! When I set up I feel like everything shuts down! No matter what weight is on the bar. I have started working on my technique and using moderate weights (75-80%) What I’m unsure of is do I use the same weight for all sets or do I add to each set? I have been adding to each set and that may be my drawback. Today was DL day and I did the following 225×5, 275×5, 315×5, 335×5 & 315×5. I was wore out at the end. I also did 3 sets of rows and 4 sets of lat pull downs and 6 sets of biceps. Any suggestions?!? (You should see my leg day…I’m a monster on squats!)

    • Michael Matthews

      Wow I wish I could pull 550 too, haha. Honestly I’ve yet to meet a natural weightlifter that can do that though…

      You’re doing a TON of sets. I’ve never seen a program with that much deadlifting…

      • Gary

        Maybe that’s my problem?!? But if I don’t do that many I feel like I didn’t do anything. I’ll drop to 3 sets of 3 maybe?!? Should I use the same weight (other than a warm-up set or 2) in each set or add to the next set?

        • Michael Matthews

          I’m amazed you haven’t fallen apart just yet! Haha.

          If I were you I would drop to 6-8 sets performed twice per week and see how your body responds…

          In terms of weight that really depends on your goal. If you want to be strong why not follow a powerlifting routine?

  • Joe

    Thanks for the article Mike I definitely see some things I’m doing wrong which leads me to my question. In the past couple months with today being the second time I have strained my left hamstring doing deads. I’m 41 and as of about 18 months ago I’ve never worked out with weights in my life. I’m not saying that has annoying to do with it but I’m just saying I’m pretty new to working out when compared to some. I started doing dead lifts about 3 months ago and after a cpl weeks tweaked my hammy the first time. Layer off them for a cpl weeks then slowly worked them back in the it happened again today. I have a herniated L5S1 lumbar disk so I probably shouldn’t be doing them at all anyway but everything I’ve read including what you say it sounds like deadlifts are a must have in my workouts if I want to see gains especially in my legs. Is there an alternative that I can do that’s a compound exercise in its place or am I just gonna have to stop trying them altogether? Btw I was only doing 175 pounds when I hurt my hamstring today so it’s not like I was hulking out lol.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm it sounds like you should stay away from deadlifts. I would see a good sports PT before continuing to do them. We don’t want you messing up your back…

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  • Peter

    avoid shit bars like they have at all commercial gyms..

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes.

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  • 877cms

    Is it normal to scrape shins when deadlifting. Even with long pants I get deep scrapes at points. My torso is longer than my legs slightly. Should I wear long socks too or is technique off?

  • Jason Tsai

    Hi Mike,
    Have you heard of hyper-lordosis (hyper-extention/over arching)? I believe that’s what happens to me during dead lifts and squats – I would always over arch in fear of rounding my back but apparently that’s just as bad. Would you say the best way to keep a neutral spine would be to hold your breath and tighten abs? Also, I read on stronglifts that you shouldn’t pinch your shoulder blades during dead lifts, what are your thoughts?
    Thanks

    • Yeah you don’t want to arch your back a lot either. Yup on the abs and there are different schools of thought on the shoulder blades. I’ve tried both pinching and “tucking” and find both are fine…

  • Grip is definitely a weak point for me. Every time I try to hit bigger weights, my grip just gives before even getting it off the floor.

  • reggie

    thanks for your articles mike and keep up the good work. here is one for you…as i get older (53), im noticing the manboobs appearing…the real problem is the loose skin just under my armpits…how do i correct this?

  • Jay

    Hey Mike what do you think about using a thick bar for deadlifts? My gym mainly designates these for deadlifts. Often find I can go heavier with these so not sure if they’re easier

    • If they work for you, that’s fine.

      Normally, they’re a bit heavier and harder to deadlift with because of grip… If it works for you though, go ahead!

  • Frank S

    Mike, what are your thoughts on the hook grip? I tried it today for DLs and my thumb did not really enjoy it.

    • It’s good. I recommend it.

      It can be rough on the thumbs at first, but you get used to it!

      Building your grip strength will help too.

  • Dustin

    Mike,

    Every time I feel like i’ve mastered separating the traditional VS RDL form, I read a new website that explains it differently. For some reason, i’m seeing that finding the proper form and differences for these two exercises is the most difficult thing i’ve seen in bodybuilding so far. Do you have any articles or reecommended ones for proper RDL vs traditional? I keep seeing explanations mix everything together for me.

    • Hmm traditional and RDL are pretty black and white different. Main difference is RDL = slight bend in knees (legs almost straight) entire lift.

      I will be making a series of form videos next year.

  • Azouri

    Hey mike, I was wondering when you say 40-60 reps for optimal frequency is that per muscle group like chest, back, triceps, biceps, etc?

  • Timmy Atz

    Hi Mike when you say 3-4 rest pause sets per workout do u mean if I’m doing 3 working sets of dead lifts I should only do 1 rest pause for each or 3-4 for each working set im confused on how many rest pauses I should do for each of my sets thx

  • Cain09

    Hi Mike, I have long femurs so I pull sumo. Is it completely safe for my back? Because when I lift my maxs I feel like I”m rounding my back a little. So should I lift lighter weights for more reps or is it normal? Because it seems to me that even world records are broken with round-back technique. And next point. If I understand well , it is right to pull as hard as I can at the beginning of the motion? Isn’t there higher risk of spine injury?

    • Yeah sumo is safe assuming your form is good. A bit of thoracic rounding is fine but lumbar is what you want to avoid.

      Well when people are going for PRs they’re generally just doing everything they can to get the weight up but that doesn’t mean it’s good for their spines, haha.

      No, it’s not bad for your bis.

      • Cain09

        Thank you for it, so all the pressure is on the lumbar? It’s nice to hear this because I have ever been pulling with my scapulas as high as possible to protect thoracic vertebrae. And as I read in the article it’s bad because of longer trajectory of motion and who knows if I’m not risking scapula injury :). So the conlusion is that when I let my shoulders as low as possible which rounds my upper body it’s not anything unnatural, because all the pressure is on the lumbar?? Em I correct?, So only my lumbar is what I have to be carefull of ( with all the proper form of course).

        • YW.

          That’s right. Shoulders down and “packed” is the ideal position, and that usually entails slight thoracic rounding.

  • Casey Collier

    Mike, to improve deadlift form, I’ve had people suggest holding your breath during the lift. This is known as the Valsalva Maneuver. How safe is this? I have heard that it could cause issues due to intracranial blood pressure… Thoughts?

  • Bill

    Do you think deficit deadlifts can directy replace regular ones or just an assistance, and why? Assuming that you aren’t a powerlifter of course.

    • Hey Bill! Technically, they could, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

      They’re good to supplement the traditional deadlift in a strength program even if just for variation, but I wouldn’t use them to replace the traditional deadlift altogether, no.

      The traditional deadlift (along with the squat and bench press) should always be included in a strength program to some degree.

  • Guy shur

    Hello, i’m starting out with the BLS program and i have an issue with the deadlifts – i read and watch articles and videos about form all the time but it seems that past a certain weight i just cant generate enough force to drive with a neutral spine and my back rounds. I can do it with lighter weight but im concerned that i wount advance with sets of 10 reps. Should i stick to low weight deadlifts or do some hamstring iso exercises?

    • Cool you’re starting the BLS routine!

      Hmm. Sounds like you just need to stick with the heaviest weight you can work with in the 4-6 rep range while keeping proper form.

      Do that and make sure you’re dieting properly, and you will make progress.

      To help with the deadlift form, take a look at this:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/deadlifting-tips/

      If you feel the hamstrings are a weak point, feel free to incorporate RDLs and leg curls in your leg day if you want.

      Hope this helps! LMK how it goes.

      • Guy shur

        Cool, I’m already learning the RDL since it’s also part of the program. Just gotta remember to bring long pants because that barbell is a killer 🙂 Thanks alot mike!

        • Great! Yep, the barbell can take off some skin if you’re not wearing pants.

          My pleasure! Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • sean_noonan

    hey would you say using a belt devalues the lift or would you reccomend it? I upped my deadlift to 375 for 4 with good form but i was using a belt so i dont know if thats cheating or not.

    also i got the meal plan service definately look foward to getting it

  • rafael nacha

    how to get stronger in deadlift without overtraining(i have pain in my lower back but not not like i cant get up from my bed), how do i prevent the pain while i can get stronger and what is overtraining exactly

  • SolarxPvP

    I read that double overhand grips are bad from this article https://www.strongerbyscience.com/how-to-deadlift/#Gripping_the_bar

    Is that true?

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