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Deadlift Technique: How to Take the Tension Out of the Bar

Written on January 29, 2013 at 7:09 pm, by Eric Cressey

If you're looking to improve your deadlift technique, don't overlook this crucial set-up cue that takes place right before you initiate the pull. Some folks call it "taking the slack out of the bar," while I call it "taking the tension out of the bar" (and into your body).  Regardless, you need to do it!

You can see this technique in action on my recent 600x3 PR set; you'll notice that the bar is already bending slightly before I actually put force into the floor.

Looking for even more coaching cues for your deadlift technique?  Definitely check out The Specialization Success Guide, a new resource from Greg Robins and me. In addition to including comprehensive programs for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, it also comes with detailed video tutorials on all three of these "Big 3" lifts. And, it's on sale at the introductory $30 off price until tonight at midnight.  Check it out HERE.

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  • http://activ8pt.com/ larry

    Thanks for the information, I have been working on my CDL and its still not right. I video my CDL and SDL sessions, I need help, I have very long limbs. I just notice you did a SDL not the CDL in your demostration is that a eay lift and better lift for you. Could you talk more about this subject, because were all are build different. Could you also look a my CDL and SDL and give me some advise? Thank for sharing, with warm regards. Larry Mims

  • Drew

    Eric, Great Cue! We told our athlete’s to “pull their hips down and keep the chest up” to accomplish the same thing. I believe the external cue of “pull the tension out of the bar” will be more relevant to what they are actually trying to do. I also assume that this will aid in creating the ‘stiffness’ we are looking for in the technique of the lift.

  • Bernt

    At a strength training course I learned to only use an overhand grip and not use an alternated grip or reversed grip when deadlifting because this increases the chances for tearing your biceps. In this video you’re using an alternated grip, can you explain what your motivation for doing so is?

    Thank you!

  • Bob P

    Interesting. I didn’t know there was a “deadlift” bar before seeing this vid. Good tip, Eric.

  • Eirith Garza

    That is awesome, Eric! Will definitely do this when I hit lower body this week.

    Now what is the difference between the two bars in your video? I workout at a large health club so I am not sure I would have to worry…

  • http://www.sparkphysio.com Carlos J Berio

    An excellent demo! I just had this same conversation with one of my physical therapists about this yesterday. It always seems to work out that way, doesn’t it? I will be sure to pass this along so that she can see this perspective.
    THX

  • http://www.peaksportsandspinept.com Dan Swinscoe

    Great tips Eric. I just learned that last weekend with Mike Hartle. Using something that I learned at Cressey Performance almost every day.

  • Douglas

    Great video – this has not been on my radar. I really appreciate your calling it out.

  • Matt

    Solid as usual, buddy.

    I teach a similar technique, but refer to it as “building tension” in the body before ripping off the ground. I pull up on the bar, but visualize it as pulling (ratcheting) myself down into a tight, stable position before the liftoff. The bar really helps me establish a solid neutral arch, retracted blades, and some external rotation in the shoulders so I don’t feel like a loose pile of bones yanking the slack out of a bar when I pull.

    Thanks for your perspective. Always great to hear another coach’s thoughts.

    Matt

  • http://commercialgymtrainer.blogspot.com/ Mike A.

    EC,

    Is your deadlift specific bar a texas deadlift bar? Standard Texas Power Bars don’t seem to flex quite that well.

    Thanks

  • Dave Stashik

    Hi Eric:
    Thank you for the deadlifting tip. I have always been a poor deadlifter and am finally getting good at it. I appreciate all of your advice.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Mike,

    Yes, it’s a Texas DL bar.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Eirith,

    A regular bar doesn’t have quite as much “give” to it when the weight gets heavier. As a result, it’ll warp easier. And, the “bend” at the bottom won’t be as pronounced. A deadlift bar will have a bit more give (it’s also slightly thinner and has a bit more knurling).

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Bernt,

    Using an underhand grip can definitely predispose one to a biceps tendon injury. However, as long as you rotate the over/under hand over the course of a training career, you should be fine.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Drew,

    Good stuff. Just be careful about the “hips down” cue, as it can lead some athletes to try to squat the bar.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Larry,

    I wouldn’t say that one or the other is a better fit for me; I just picked that for the demonstration. However, sumo deadlifting is definitely more friendly for those with significant mobility restrictions.

  • Constantine

    Just want to say this queue does make a huge difference. I just broke the 400lb mark on my deadlift after 13 months of training, and this is just one of the little things that got me there. I’m particularly proud because I’m a long torso, short limb lifter so just getting into the deadlift position in good form is kind of tricky for me.

    This queue is also extremely important in olympic lifting, as not taking the tension out of the bar will lead to inconsistencies in how the bar is coming off of the floor and it will make it harder for you to catch that barbell in a stable position for an olympic lift–clean or snatch.

    I think when I started lifting I used to try to turn on my muscles reactively to a weight–i.e. start pulling a little and then ‘feel it up’. In another post Eric mentioned intent to generate force as extremely important for maximizing performance in lifts and I think to initialize a true maximal effort, you need to tense yourself up under the bar first–like winding a spring for take off–before launching yourself into the lift.

    Thanks Eric! Your tips are single-handedly improving American fitness!

  • http://www.sportscare1.com Scott Gunter

    Thanks for addressing this as it is often a difficult concept for those new to this exercise and other Olympic lifts. A common error I’ve noticed while coaching is that the athlete will sometimes start correctly with some necessary tension, but then drop down slightly (into slight elbow flexion) almost to preload the muscles before upward motion like dropping down before a box jump. However, this then causes inappropriate tension to be transferred to muscles like the biceps brachii, brachioradialis and brachialis and the bar eccentrically pulls their arms into extension before any upward momentum can occur. In addition to full body technique, this video is an excellent demonstration of the role of the upper extremities in performing this exercise.

    Eric, thanks for the helpful cues. Do you have any comments concerning slack and tension between reps in more advanced Olympic Lifts or even hang exercises?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Scott,

    Wil Fleming would be the guy to read up on for info along those lines. He’s fantastic.

  • Shawn

    Great Tip! I thought I was taking the slack out of the bar but when I videoed me breaking 400lbs in my sumo dl I noticed a slight forward movement of the bar when It broke away from the floor….I am going to have to reevaluate how I do this. I have no issue with traditional dl with this but sumo technique seems to be harder for me to do naturally. Thanks for posting the video!

  • http://www.sportscare1.com Scott Gunter

    Eric,

    Thanks for the tip. Wil’s got a wealth of knowledge on the subject and does a great job breaking down and training the individual components of each lift. Good stuff.

  • McB

    Does the same philosophy apply at all if one using a trap bar? Not exactly taking the slack out, because there’s no long bar, but at least in terms of hips down, chest up, tense lats, etc?

  • Andrew

    From thinking job experienc to thinking trainers tully info about trully exercises how save health and how be best of bests…

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Mike,

    Absolutely!

  • Chiara

    wow i never understood that’s what the term meant! thanks for this post!


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