Written by Matthew Ibrahim
The deadlift is the best pound-for-pound movement across the board for building a resilient frame equipped with full-body strength and power.
A primary staple exercise in every training program through various forms and progressions/regressions, the deadlift is a key component to human movement and athletic performance.
It’s important to prepare your body properly in the warm-up to be ready to move weight off the floor. If you’re missing a key component in the deadlift, chances are you’ve skipped it during your warm-up. A few key items need to be addressed during your warm-up routine prior to attacking the bar.
Here’s a brief list:
- If you don’t set up your spine correctly and create enough tension around it to pull the weight off the floor, you’ll be staring at an unforgiving injury. Proper set up and technique is a must for the deadlift. Create tension, use breathing as a tool, and brace your abs hard.
- The hip joints need to be able to get into certain positions prior to loading. Case in point: if you expect your hips to express power through a certain range of motion in the actual deadlift, you better be sure to work through these ranges in your warm-up first.
- Preparing the system before loading is a crucial step if you plan on pulling a ton of weight. Adding a dynamic movement piece as the last stage in your warm-up will ensure a good transition into your training.
BREATHING AND ACTIVATION
Breathing has been a hot topic over the last few years. There’s no reason to overcomplicate things here though. You need to understand how to brace your core and create as much spinal stiffness as possible before you grab the bar, which requires breathing techniques.
Deadlifting ultimately comes down to you versus bar. Your goal every single time you step up to the bar should be to break it in half. It’s impossible to do this unless you’ve built up enough central tension in and around your core to do so.
Typically, we’d like to see lower abdominal/back (diaphragmatic) breathing to create 360-degrees of tension around the mid-section. It’s also important to understand why upper chest/back (thoracic) breathing can be helpful as well.
However, athletes sometimes have a difficult time dissociating between the two. It’s important to understand the difference between them, in order to make sure you select the right inputs during your training.
By performing a simple breathing dissociation exercise in a low threshold, parasympathetic state during the warm-up, it serves as a quick reference tool for athletes for when they need it most during a high threshold, sympathetic state (think: deadlift).
Having access to both breathing techniques will be important for your pulls, which is why it works so well. Diaphragmatic breathing will help enhance your set up position and provide you with the ability to protect your spine with tension and stiffness. Thoracic breathing will give you the feedback needed to feel and create a tight upper back before you pull slack out of the bar.
Lastly, you’ll need to cover an activation exercise to get your posterior chain muscle group (specifically, the hamstrings) flexible and ready. The single leg lower warm-up exercise helps you in this department by taking care of the following items:
- Optimal pelvic positioning and alignment under the ribcage
- Core activation with proper diaphragmatic breathing patterns
- Efficient motor control of the lumbo-pelvic region
- Well-conditioned hamstring muscles via tissue tolerance
You need to be able to get your hips into certain positions under no load (body weight) before you ask them to move weight under load off the floor. It’s important to have joint integrity in the hip joints, which will help to increase your performance in the deadlift.
Any good lifter, specific to the deadlift, knows how important it is to have mobility in and around the hips. Important muscles like the gluteal and adductor groups often need soft tissue maintenance and TLC to keep them fresh. However, if you prepare these tissues properly in your warm-up routine prior to attacking the bar, chances are they won’t hate you as much.
The glutes often get neglected in the warm-up, yet are the strongest, most powerful muscles in your body. It makes no sense to ignore them during your preparation prior to lifting. The hammer nail glute mobilization exercise is a good way to target these tissues while allowing the hip joints to express some movement as well.
Hamstring and groin muscles undergo a lot of pulling forces when you deadlift. Quite often, athletes spend time on their hammies but miss the boat when it comes to their groins. A quick and easy fix to this is to have access to both within the same warm-up exercise.
Of course, there are specific recommendations between athletes warming up prior to a conventional deadlift versus a sumo stance deadlift, due to the minor difference in demands on the tissues. A conventional deadlift puts more stress on the hamstrings, while a sumo deadlift places a bit more stress on the groins (depending on foot width).
If you’re pulling conventional and only want to focus on the hamstrings, make sure to keep the toes down and point them straight ahead. For athletes who pull sumo, feel free to allow the foot to rotate and flair up – this will allow you to get more focused adductor work in.
A good warm-up transitions you perfectly into your training. Preparing for the deadlift should be no different. When it comes down to it, you essentially need to prime the system.
Once breathing, activation and mobility have been covered, it’s now time to perform dynamic movement. It comes as no surprise that the posterior chain muscles need to be grooved before you pick up the bar. You need this group of muscles to fire, so it’s imperative to warm them up correctly.
The inchworm exercise allows you to move through a dynamic component while getting some tissue flexibility and tolerance in the process. The goal here is to walk your feet closer to your hands each time, while getting a good dynamic stretch.
It makes no sense to me when I see athletes and lifters jump right into their deadlifting without running through ramp-up sets. The name of the game when it comes to the deadlift (and powerlifting, in general) is overall volume. We want a high volume of overall tonnage to increase our deadlift strength and capacity.
Grooving the hip hinge pattern you’re about to load is also a pivotal point that needs to be addressed in your warm-up. By getting a pre-stretch on the posterior chain muscles before loading some serious weight on the bar, not only are you getting more volume work in (although light), you’re also priming the system for what’s ahead.
You’ll be able to groove the hip hinge pattern, get a good posterior chain pre-stretch and add in some volume with the warm-up exercise below.