How you move Matters: 3 Checkpoints You Won’t Want to Skip
By Dave Terry, O2X Strength and Conditioning Specialist
So you want to deadlift a firetruck? Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and luckily for us, neither were you. Whatever stage you’re currently in, where weight-lifting or tactical performance training is concerned, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’ve got the basics mastered.
With that said, the key to barbell strength is being strong in positions. Once you develop barbell strength, if you also strengthen the proper positions, it will directly impact both performance and power output.
The overall goal of training with a load (barbell, dumbbell, kettle bell, vest, sandbag, chains, your friends, whatever you use) is to challenge posture and position to increase your ability to perform. So how you move matters if you’re trying to move heavy weights—but also for tactical performance!
First off, let me define strength in this context: the ability to produce a stable and high level of force in a given joint angle. When I look at a deadlift, I’m looking at three main positions that I would like to be strong. From there, the transitions should be smooth, going from strong position to strong position. Each portion of the movement has distinct “check points” and positions that you need to complete in order to optimize force.
- Initial “Pull”: When starting a deadlift, your initial pull from the floor should be stable and have the ability to produce force. The execution of lifting the bar from the floor should usually resemble a squat type motion and push the bar away from the ground without having any movement along the spine.
- Second Pull: The next position we need to strengthen is right below the knee (think the bottom of your RDL). I usually have TAs pause right below the knee when initially pulling from the floor. Hitting this position strong is key to finishing your deadlift aggressively and safely. If the knee angle is too positive, you’re going to have rounding in your lumbar spine (shout-out to all my folks with herniated disks). Instead, you should hit it with a fairly vertical shin angle, neutral and natural to the curvature of the spine (from the skull to the pelvis), with the bar tight to your center of gravity.
- Finishing the Movement: Lastly, in the second and final pull, fire those glutes and get the pelvis under the spine; the lift is now complete. (Please stop hyper-extending your low back on the top of the deadlift. This just causes pain— to both you the lifter and to me, watching.)
Like the deadlift, every movement has similar key performance indicators. You need to train to be strong in each of these KPIs before putting the movements together. From there, we can focus on adding heavy weight and moving safely, effectively, and efficiently. Some movements can be cut into partials to enhance the safety of the movement while training. You can slowly increase the range of motion as stability and mobility increase around the joint. Again, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take your time as you increase range of motion in each movement. There’s no sense in doing a poorly executed deadlift if you only have the ability to properly do an RDL.
Don’t Stop Lifting
Before you dismiss this article as a typical, “Stop lifting heavy weights, and just do functional body weight training,” type of article. Pause and reflect on the overall message, take the right steps, and focus on your movement. Get as strong as you possibly can: heavy loads develop great bone density, reinforce mobility (if done with full range of motion), increase your body’s ability to absorb force, and in general, “Strength is Never a Weakness.”
Simply put—How you move matters. Your warm up weight and your heaviest set should look the same. Same range of motion, same joint angles, and same intent on force production.