Why Your Deadlift isn’t Moving Up

The deadlift is either someone’s favorite lift or something they despise. Lets face it, when it comes to powerlifting there are certain levers and physics that help people lift more weight than others. It’s not to take away from the hard work of individuals, but I have met many a person that can pull over 2.5x bodyweight with minimal training on the deadlift, but struggle to squat 1.5x bw.  The guy with arms dragging on the floor while standing tall loves deadlifting and hates bench. Though levers can play a big role in the deadlift, there are numerous things that most people don’t pay attention to while trying training the deadlift. There are so many factors to consider while completing this simple lift, but here are just a couple of points among many to pay attention to.


Fully engaging the lats is one of the most important aspects of the deadlift, but many people think engaging the lats means squeezing the shoulder blades together. This is exactly what you DON’T want to do while deadlifting. When you squeeze or retract the shoulder blades together, you engage the rhomboid muscles. The primary focus of the rhomboids is to serve as scapular stabilizers. They are not meant to hold a 500lb deadlift. When you squeeze the shoulder blades together you put all the stress on these smaller muscles, and you will make the weight heavier than it needs to be.

Shoulders and upper back in the deadlift

Instead of squeezing, think about protracting or spreading the scapula apart, this doesn’t mean rounding your upper back.  Then,engage the lats by thinking about pulling your scapula into your back pockets. The lats are some of the biggest and strongest muscles in the body. They have an attachment point on your upper arm, and another at your hips. When you can get them to engage you can “connect” your upper and lower torsos so that your legs and hips drive the movement. There needs to be a big focus on wedging your body into the bar.

Watch the video below for a cool drill that will give you some feedback on your lats.


I know that people call the deadlift a “pull”, but pulling the weight can usually start engaging the lower back and hamstrings to do all the work. Once your lats are locked in, your hips need to be in the optimal position so your legs and glutes can help  drive the lift. When you start pushing the ground away you will feel your quads become part of the movement. The deadlift should still be a hinge and not a squat, but some people start the movement with their hips too high which makes driving with the legs nearly impossible. In order for leg drive to work hips need to be in the correct position, and the body must be wedged into the bar with lats locked.


This piggy backs off the last point. Many times lifters get everything else right. They have a great set up, lock the lats in and right as they start the lift the bar doesn’t want to break the ground immediately. This happens when the weights become heavier. Many lifters immediately   abort the mission of leg drive and wedging and  shoot the hips up in the air and start pulling with the back the moment they think about lifting. Lots of people can get relatively strong doing this…..until it gets heavy. Eventually they hit a wall and feel like their deadlift has been flatlined for months…. or years. It is so important that once the set up and wedging is dialed in and the push starts, that  pushing the ground away rather than trying the get the bar to move, continues to be the driving force.


Neutral neck at the bottom is crucial, eyes can be looking out or up, but keeping a straiter neck is important. Many people will hyperextend the neck at the bottom and this cause undo stress on the neck and make you weaker. At the bottom of the deadlift, you are in knee and hip flexion, and pulling the neck into hyper extension at the bottom doesn’t work. As the movement starts the eyes can look up(not down), but the neck should remain neutral. As the  bar passes the knees extending the neck slightly may help. Next time  you deadlift pay attention to eye position and looking up and see if it helps  your lockout and bar speed.

Optimal head position on the Deadlift


Don’t lift the bar gingerly. Once the bar breaks the ground, continue to accelerate the bar and drive your hips into the bar. As the weight gets heavier, this concept will help get through “sticking points”. Practice this on warm up sets, not just your heavy sets. Acceleration doesn’t mean reckless and fast lifting. It means you follow all the concepts of leg drive and finishing with the hips with speed. Don’t turn the deadlift into a shit show to practice this principle by just lifting fast.

Here is a video of Paul Carter working with me on my deadlifts a few years ago. I thought I was lifting with some speed, I guess I was wrong:-)

If you are looking for hands on instruction on these principles as well as many others RSVP for our upcoming deadlifting workshop at Tucson Strength and Tucson Barbell Club or inquire about our other coaching options.

We will cover

  • Individualized set up and foot position
  • Breathing
  • How to engage the lats
  • We will cover the fundamentals of Standard and Sumo deadlift and how to choose
  • Assistance Work. There are dozens of different exercises we will teach a few that offer the most bang for the buck
  • Programming: understanding higher volume vs. high intensity programs and how they fit in with an overall powerlifting program


July 14th from 10am-1:15pm.


$99…. RSVP BY June 21sth and its only $89…

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