How To Break Bench Records

by Andy Bolton and Elliot Newman

First Published at T-nation on April 11th 2011

Andy Bolton has pulled over 900 pounds in more than 30 competitions. Pulling over 900 is something only 13 other men have ever been able to do, and only one of them exceeded 950.

Most impressively, however, is Bolton’s title as the first man to break the 1,000-pound deadlift barrier. He initially broke it with a lift of 1,003 and eventually topped his own record with a beastly 1,008-pound pull.

Bolton’s also built his squat to over 1,200 pounds and he recently set the British bench press record at 754. Up until recently, his bench was his weakest lift.

This article describes how he fixed it and set the new record.

On Saturday 26th, March 2011, I bench pressed 754 lbs. in a powerlifting meet in Ireland.

Whilst this bench press still lags someway behind my squat and deadlift, it represents extremely rapid progress for me.

To be exact, I have gone from 692 lbs. to 754 lbs. in around 6 months. This equates to more than an 8% improvement and this represents fairly special progress (for an athlete of my standard) in that timeframe, especially when you consider that I’d been stuck at (or in reality, below) my previous PR of 692 lbs. for several years.

It’s this progress that has prompted me to write this article and show you exactly how I trained so you can use the ideas to help your own bench press training.

Before I get to the meat of the technical improvements and programming that have accounted for my recent bench press success, I just want to reiterate that it is not for the want of trying that my press numbers stayed stagnant for so long.

I tried many many things over the years. I had help from coaches (of the highest calibre) from all over the world. I tried benching more, benching less, using accommodating resistance, benching once a week, benching twice a week, lots of assistance, little assistance…. You name it, I tried it.

But nothing worked. I was stuck.

Luckily, my mind was strong and I knew that if at first you don’t succeed, you just keep tweaking your strategy until you do. Bill Crawford, of Metal Militia fame, is the man who finally helped me improve my bench in a significant way, and I know the ideas will work for you, too.

So, pay very special attention and you too might see your bench go through the roof.

Technical Improvements

bench-press-competition

I thought I had good form on the bench and never imagined that a few technical tweaks could make such a difference. Bill Crawford made me see reality.

The major change I made was to my stance. I used to bench up on the balls of my feet and with my feet very close to the bench. The outcome of this was that when I un-racked the bar, I was about as stable as a canoe with a cannon in it!

Bill had me stay up on the balls of my feet, yet place my feet as wide as I could get them. This instantly improved my balance and stability and gave me a much more stable base to press from.

I will not bore you with every tweak we made to my technique because there were many. However, I will list below some key points you should practice each and every time you bench, regardless of whether you are a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or athlete competing in another sport.

The reason I say this is because with improved technique, you will not only be stronger, but less likely to injure yourself!

5 Things You MUST Do Every Time You Bench Press (If You Want To Press BIG!)

1. Force Your Shoulders Back and Down

To approximate this feeling, hold a mini band at arm’s length in front of you and pull the band apart. The feeling as you pull the band apart will be one of tightness in your upper back. This is the feeling you want to re-create when you set up for the bench press. Maintain this position throughout your set.

2. Squeeze Your Glutes Tight

Ths is pretty self-explanatory, but some people struggle with this. If you have dormant glutes that need waking up, then try a couple of sets of glute bridges before you bench. When these become easy, switch to a single leg variation.

3. Get Your Feet Wide

Whether you bench flat footed or up on the balls of your feet, a wide stance will give you stability and balance that supersedes what you can achieve with a narrow stance. Think of how a pyramid is built and you will soon understand.

4. Grip the Bar as Hard As You Can

The harder you grip the bar, the harder your triceps will flex. To supercharge this technique, “break the bar apart” as you bench. Try to feel like you are bending the bar (your left hand will try to rotate counter-clockwise and your right hand will try to rotate clockwise).

5. Bring the Bar to Your Lower Chest/Nipple Line

Nothing will chew up your shoulders faster than benching to your upper chest with your elbows flared. This is a horrible position. Instead, tuck your elbows on the descent and aim to touch the bar to your lower chest on each and every rep. Just remember to keep your forearms perpendicular to the floor at all times.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of points that make up perfect bench press technique. However, it is a good starting point. I have just finished a full and very detailed manual on how to achieve great bench press technique. You can read more about that at the end of this article.

The Training Program

bolton-bench-press

For the past few months I have benched on Monday and only Monday. That’s right, just once per week. Each session has lasted 2 hours and has included 4 pressing exercises and some light rear delt work at the end of the session.

My lat and upper back work is done separately on a Thursday and usually consists of pull-downs, rows, and shrugs. I have totally eliminated triceps extensions of any kind. They beat up my elbows but did not help my bench.

Remember, every athlete has a limited ability to recover. If you exceed this limit you will enter the realm of over-training and your progress will stop.

In essences, my new bench program got rid of what I found to be useless (extensions) and added in more of what I was trying to get good at – bench pressing.

I think Bruce Lee sums up my approach to training perfectly:

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

Trying to add more bench pressing without removing something else would not have worked as I would simply have exceeded my ability to recover.

I currently use 4 pressing exercises:

  1. Raw bench press: pinky on the ring
  2. Shirted bench press: competition grip, max legal width
  3. Three, four, or five board bench press
  4. Reverse band bench press

The purpose of each exercise is as follows:

1. Raw Bench Press

This is really a warm up. Depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll start at 95 or 135 lbs. and jump up 20 lbs. a set until I hit around 405 lbs. for a single.

This is to get me ready for putting my shirt on. (Wearing the shirt from the start of the session is not an option because it doesn’t allow me to touch until there’s way over 600 lbs. on the bar.)

Tip: don’t burn yourself out with light weights. I rarely do more than 5 reps on my warm up sets, even with 95 lbs.

2. Shirted Bench Press

This is how I compete, so it makes perfect sense to practice this exercise every time I train. I used to do a lot of board work but Bill got me touching the chest every session. This made a huge difference come meet day.

3. Three, Four, or Five Board Bench Press

This movement is to strengthen the triceps. Working off 4 and 5 boards allows you to just concentrate on the top few inches of the movement. This is great for both raw and equipped bench pressers.

It allows the raw guys to feel heavier weight in their hands than they could handle through a full range of motion, and therefore get the central nervous system accustomed to handling heavier weights.

On the other hand, board presses allow equipped benchers to strengthen their lockout. A strong lockout is vitally important because the shirt helps most off the chest and gives virtually no aid on the last inch or two near lockout.

Ever wonder why you rarely see a raw bench missed near lockout but you see lots of shirted benches miss an inch away? Wonder no more, now you know why: weak triceps.

4. Reverse Band Bench Press

band-setup

This is another great movement to strengthen the lockout. The bands are set up from the top of a power rack. The bar is then placed in the bands and the bands de-load the bar on the way down (as they stretch) and re-load the bar on the way up (as they contract).

Christian Thibaudeau is correct when he says that reverse band benching is the least taxing form of accommodating resistance. While some guys’ shoulders really suffer against bands, reverse band benching is easier on the shoulders than straight weight.

This movement also teaches violent starting strength and acceleration because the bar is getting heavier every inch you press it towards lockout. You do not have to think “be quick” when using this movement. Your brain will automatically start making you perform the movement faster once you have done a set or two.

As a frame of reference, jump stretch bands have the following general effect:

  • Strong bands will de-load the bar around 135 lbs. at the chest
  • Average bands will de-load the bar around 95 lbs. at the chest

What a Typical Workout Looks Like:

bench-press-board

  1. Raw Bench – work up to a moderate single (80 to 90%)
  2. Shirted Bench – work up to a hard triple, double or single
  3. Four-Board Bench – work up to a hard triple
  4. Reverse Band Bench – work up to a hard triple

12-Week Competition Cycle (Four 3-Week Waves):

Week 1 of each wave – set a mark (this should be challenging but not all out)
Week 2 of each wave – beat that mark
Week 3 of each wave – push to the limit (try not to fail, though as this eats into your recovery ability)

Weeks 12 to 10 (weeks out from competition) Reps
1 Raw Bench work up to a 3RM
2 3-Board Bench work up to a 3RM
3 Reverse Strong Band Bench Press work up to a 3RM
4 Shirted Bench work up to a 3RM
(try to touch the chest on every rep)
Weeks 9 to 7 Reps
1 Raw Bench work up to a 3RM
2 4-Board Bench work up to a 3RM
3 Shirted Bench work up to a 3RM
(try to touch the chest on every rep)
4 Reverse Strong Band Bench Press work up to a 3RM
Weeks 6 to 4 Reps
1 Raw Bench work up to a 3RM
2 Shirted Bench work up to a 3RM
(try to touch the chest on every rep)
3 5-Board Bench work up to a 3RM
4 Reverse Strong Band Bench Press work up to a 3RM
Weeks 3 to 1 Reps
1 Raw Bench work up to 85 to 90% for an easy single
2 Shirted Bench work up to a 1RM or double
(try to touch the chest on every rep)
3 5-Board Bench work up to a 3RM
4 Reverse Strong Band Bench Press work up to a 3RM

Note: End every session with rear delt work, Halbert raises, and rotator cuff work.

And that’s how I set the British Bench Press record of 342.5kg.

Conclusion

andy-bolton

Regardless of whether you bench raw or equipped, or even if your focus is another lift entirely, there is much to learn from what you have read here. And I’m sure you realize that so I’ll keep this conclusion short and leave you to ponder 2 things.

The first is a question that you should ask yourself whenever you write a training program:

Can I justify why I am placing this exercise in the training program?

If the answer is yes, then fine, go ahead and use the movement. However, if the answer is no, start over and make sure you are doing what is necessary to achieve your goals and not a bunch of worthless exercises that do nothing but eat into your recovery ability.

The second thing to consider is S.A.I.D., or…

Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands

Ivan Abadjiev, the greatest Weightlifting Coach of all time, took this principle to the extreme. By the time he had finished with the Bulgarian weightlifting team of the 1970′s and 1980′s, they used just 5 exercises in preparation but won 9 Olympic Gold Medals and countless medals in the World and European Championships.

To say they were successful is an understatement.

What they realized was that if you want to get good at something, do that something. And do it A LOT.

They did it with weightlifting and produced magical results, and I’ve done it with my bench and gained in a way that I didn’t think was possible. Consider S.A.I.D the next time you write a training program.

Grip Training For The Deadlift

by Andy Bolton and Elliot Newman

First Published on 17th December 2009 at T-nation.com
Ever grasp the bar with such might that you swear you heard it scream?

Okay, maybe, just maybe, that was a daydream about strangling one of those “deadlifts are the devil” yahoos who found themselves on the wrong side of the stacks.

But whether you’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or an athlete from another sport, a cast-iron grip is the connection between you and a massive deadlift.

Get a Grip

Whilst the grip training methods we’ll describe are predominately performed to improve deadlift performance, they’ll help every single exercise you do in the gym. The Law of Irradiation states that: “A muscle working hard recruits the neighborhood muscles, and if they are already a part of the action, it amplifies their strength!”(1)

The bench press is a great example; the harder you can squeeze the bar, the harder you’ll be able to activate your triceps and the stronger your bench will be.

Also, with a stronger grip, we’ve found that deadlifts can be pulled faster from the floor because you aren’t worrying about your hands coming open and missing the lift. Therefore, we can conclude that huge grip strength is essential to reaching your potential in terms of explosive power and absolute strength.

Still Need Convincing?

Between the historic 1003-pound and 1008-pound competition deadlifts, Andy Bolton missed pulls of 1000-plus pounds five times. The reason was the same every time: He couldn’t hold onto the bar. In the approximately 30 months between these two pulls, the only thing that was dramatically changed in his training was his grip work.

What follows is the method that contributed to a weakness becoming a strength. If you watch videos of the 1008-pounder, you’ll see that it’s held at lockout for a few seconds with no problem.

Weak grip no more, or, as Pavel would say, “Grip power to you.”

Frequency of Grip Training

We train four times per week. The deadlift is trained on Wednesday, and grip work is performed on Saturday. We advise you to do something similar by keeping 72 hours between your deadlift and grip training. This keeps the hands fresh for both activities and allows you to maximize strength gains. Make no mistake, the grip training we’ll describe involves total body exercises that are physically and mentally demanding.

We’ve tried performing these exercises after specific deadlift training on Wednesday and found it too taxing to do all in one session.

Methodology Behind Grip Training

For powerlifting, various set and rep schemes can be highly effective when training grip. To make continuous physical progress and prevent boredom the hands must be subjected to a variety of stimuli. This means that neither one exercise, nor one set and rep scheme will work forever.

With that in mind, for grip training, the following methods are highly effective:

• Timed holds (short duration, medium duration, and long duration)
• Multiple low rep sets (3′s and 5′s)
• A few high rep sets (3 sets of 10)
• A mixture of the above (eg: work up to a hard set of 3, then drop the weight by 30% and hold for max time)

A powerlifting competition requires three attempts on the deadlift, and possibly a fourth if you’re attempting a world record. Each attempt lasts only a few seconds. For this reason, out of the methods listed above, we’ve found that time holds for a short duration (10 seconds) and multiple low rep sets, produce the best gains for increasing grip strength on the deadlift.

If you compete in a different sport, such as strongman, which requires you to perform events that rely on strength endurance, then timed holds for longer durations (such as one minute) and higher rep sets can be very useful.

Grip Training Exercises for Hands of Steel

Two-Inch Fat Bar Partial Deadlifts

The obvious prerequisite for performing this exercise is a fat bar! If you don’t have a fat bar, we highly recommend buying a pair of FatGripz. These will enable you to make a regular Olympic bar much thicker. They are also very easy to use, durable, and cheap.

Set the bar up on blocks or on power rack pins so that you’re pulling from just below knee height. Then simply perform the movement as you would a conventional deadlift. The only difference being that you’ll take a double overhand grip on all reps.

You can use any of the aforementioned set and rep schemes for this exercise. You can also perform it with or without chalk, the latter being far harder. For even more variety you can wrap a t-shirt or foam around the bar to make it thicker. This ramps up the difficulty even more.

Two-Handed Pinch Grip Deadlift

To set up this exercise take an Olympic bar and rest one end on a bench. There must be a small weight plate on this end to prevent the bar from falling over the bench when you deadlift it (see picture for set up).

On the other end of the bar, place two Olympic plates with the smooth side facing outwards. Don’t get it the other way around as it totally defeats the purpose of the exercise! You’ll need a collar to stop the plates from moving.

People with a fairly strong grip may be able to start with two 45-pound plates, but we recommend that the average person starts with 35 pounders.

To add weight, use a 10-pound plate first. Then add whatever you want on top of that. This setup is essential for lifters with large hands. You’ll realize why when you try the exercise.

To perform the movement, take a semi-sumo stance (feet just outside the plates). Set up as you would normally for your deadlift: arched lower back, relaxed upper back, and perform your desired number of reps and sets/timed holds.

Getting the Most from These Exercises

On both grip exercises, it’s imperative that you squeeze the bar/plates as hard as possible throughout each and every rep. We’ve found that most people don’t do this, and it actually helps if they get verbal cues to do so. Over the weeks, this skill becomes more instinctive, and when you come back to a regular bar, it’ll feel like a toy.

We also like to alternate between fat bar partial deadlifts and two-handed pinch grip deadlifts on a weekly basis. This prevents boredom and keeps the hands fresh. We also change the set and rep scheme each week. This allows us to break records on a weekly basis.

8 Week Grip Program

Week 1: Fat bar partial deadlift; work up to 5RM

Week 2: Two-handed pinch grip deadlift; work up to max 10-second hold

Week 3: Fat bar partial deadlift with no chalk; work up to hard set of 3, then drop down and do one set of 8

Week 4: Two-handed pinch grip deadlift; work up to a max single, then drop the weight and do two 10-second holds

Week 5: Fat bar partial deadlift with t-shirt around the bar; 3 x 8

Week 6: Two-handed pinch grip deadlift; 3 x 6, then one max hold for time

Week 7: No grip work

Week 8: Fat bar partial deadlift; work up to max single, then 20RM

As you can see, with a little imagination you can make and break many personal records on these two exercises.

For variety, don’t be afraid to occasionally use grippers, hang from a pull-up bar, or perform any other grip work you like, such as high-rep dumbbell rows or high-rep shrugs. Oh, and of course, the odd week off from grip training may be called for from time to time to allow your hands to recover. Just make sure you use fat bar partial deadlifts and two- handed pinch grip deadlifts most of the time.

Summary

There are many ways to get a strong grip. However, the two exercises highlighted in this article are the ones that have enabled a dream like a 1008-pound deadlift to become a reality.

They’ve also been used by the entire team at Rall’s Gym in Leeds, England, where our powerlifting team trains. This team comprises one 1008-pound deadlifter, one 800-pound deadlifter, and over ten athletes who have deadlifted between 600 and 799 pounds in competition.

According to Professor Verkhoshansky, “Special physical preparation must…have similarity to the competition exercises.” (2) And what better way to get specific strength for the deadlift than by performing a deadlift movement with a far harder object to hold than a regular deadlift or Olympic bar.

References

1. Tsatsouline, P. 2000. Power to the People: Russian Strength Training Secrets for every American. Dragon Door Publications

2. Tsatsouline, P. 2009. Power to the People Professional: How to Add 100s of Pounds to your Squat, Bench and Deadlift with Advanced Russian Techniques. Dragon Door Publications

How To Pull 1008lbs And Make It Look Easy

by Andy Bolton and Elliot Newman

First Published at T-nation.com on October 19th 2009
If you wanted to build huge biceps, you’d probably check out what Lee Priest or Arnold had to say, right? If you were after the old “barn-door lats,” you’d want to listen to Yates or Big Ron.

When it comes to building a seriously impressive deadlift — one of the most basic measures of total body strength and an indicator of sure-to-be-there size — only one person’s word literally carries more weight than practically anyone else’s: Andy Bolton.

Bolton has pulled over 900 pounds in more than 30 competitions. Pulling over 900 is something only 13 other men have ever been able to do, and only one of them exceeded 950.

Most impressively, however, is Bolton’s title as the first man to break the 1,000-pound deadlift barrier. He initially broke it with a lift of 1,003 and eventually broke his own record with a beastly 1,008-pound pull.

To be clear, this is no one-trick pony. Bolton’s also built his squat to over 1,200 pounds and he benches nearly 700. Calling him a “strong lifter” is like calling Jay Cutler “sorta big.” Bolton keeps an Usain Bolt-like gap between himself and the nearest competitor, and at this point, it looks like his name will stay next to the deadlift records for a long time.

When this human forklift talks about how to improve your deadlift, it’s best to sit back, pay attention, and prepare to pull big.

First, The Accessories: Shoes, Belts, and Chalk

Before you even approach the bar, the issue of what to wear must be addressed. Deadlift slippers or flat-soled shoes, such as Converse, should be worn. If you don’t have either of those two, you should train barefoot (if your gym owner allows it, and if he doesn’t, you should change gyms).

I always wear a weightlifting belt when I train around 400 pounds or heavier. Bear in mind, this is only about 40% of my max lift. Every powerlifter needs to learn to use a belt, as it should add pounds to the bar and help prevent a back injury. I suggest that bodybuilders and non-powerlifters wear a belt if going over 80% of their one-rep max (1RM).

I also believe in using chalk on my heaviest weights, over 80% 1RM. The exception to this is on really hot days—when my hands are extra sweaty or slippery, I may use chalk on every set.

The reason for generally not using chalk until my top weights is simply because it builds better grip strength. This is important for powerlifters and many other athletes. Believe it or not, in my early days when I trained with strongman Jamie Reeves, I’d often deadlift a bar that had no knurling at all, and I still didn’t use chalk. This made my grip very strong!

Next, The Set-up

When it’s time for the actual deadlift, the set-up is the most important part of the exercise. If you get this wrong, no amount of correction during the lift can compensate, so pay attention.

Your feet should be no wider than shoulder-width apart, with the bar nearly touching your shins. Your feet can point straight ahead or up to 45-degrees outwards. To pull the biggest weights, you’ll need to use a mixed grip with one hand pronated (palm down) and the other supinated (palm up).

Your hands should be just outside your legs. Don’t turn this into a snatch-grip deadlift by having your hands miles away from your shins because you’ll greatly reduce the amount of weight you can use. Your arms should hang straight down from your shoulders, with no bend at the elbow. Your arms will act as hooks, connecting the bar to your torso.

In the start position, your lower back should be arched and your upper back should be relaxed. This provides a safe position for the lumbar spine, while minimizing the total distance of your pull.

To understand the importance of this, think about how many average gym rats you’ve seen injure their lower back while deadlifting as little as 225 pounds. I bet you can think of quite a few, maybe even that guy you see in the mirror a few times a day.

I’ve never had a lower back injury, despite handling weights more than four-times that heavy. The difference is that I understand how to keep my lumber spine arched, while too many people let their lumbar spine round. This is a dangerous and biomechanically-weak position.

While we’re discussing posture, your head position should be neutral, neither looking up or down. For me, this means I’m looking about six feet in front of me at the start of my deadlift.

Finally, Moving the Bar

When you’re ready to get the bar up with maximum efficiency and minimum risk of injury, the flex must first be pulled out of the bar before the plates leave the ground. To do this, think of trying to make the bar bend while it’s still static.

You’re applying some force to the bar, and then applying a whole lot more to actually get the bar moving. There should be no sudden movement or jerking. Focus on keeping your arms locked out, flexing the triceps, and generating total body tension. The bar leaves the floor with huge leg drive. Think of driving your heels into the floor.

Once the bar’s moving, keep it close to your body. All good deadlifters have marks of pride on their shins. If the bar drifts out in front of you, it will put a lot of stress on the lower back. When you’re using maximal weights, that can cause you to stall or miss. Even if you’re using sub-maximal weights, the speed of the lift will be greatly reduced.

As the bar gets up to knee-height, the hips should push through to finish the lift. Again, the bar must stay close to the body. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be touching the thighs all the way up to lockout.

To transition from knee-height to lockout, really focus on driving the glutes forward and trying to get your shoulders behind the bar. The lockout position requires the legs to be straight and the shoulders back, but this doesn’t mean hyperextending the lower back, like many people do.

At this point, you’ve completed a deadlift. If you’re just pulling a single rep, take a gulp of air into your belly and drop with the bar to the floor. If you’re pulling for multiple reps, you’ll need to lower the bar more slowly so the start position for your next rep is the same as the one before.

Something else to remember: Your grip should be solid and you should squeeze the bar as tightly as possible throughout the entire lift. Some lifters think that once the bar gets to knee-height, the lift is done and they relax their grip. This is a huge mistake, and often leads to missed lifts.

Summary: The Conventional Deadlift in 8 steps:

1. Wear flat-soled shoes and a belt (for your heavy sets at least)
2. Shins an inch from the bar and take a mixed grip
3. Arch your lower back, relax your upper back and keep your arms straight
4. Take the flex out of the bar
5. Initiate the pull by driving your heels into the floor
6. As the bar comes past the knees, drive the glutes forwards
7. Try to pull your shoulders behind the bar all the way to lockout
8. Squeeze the bar hard throughout.

Another Option: The Sumo Deadlift

Compared to the conventional deadlift, the sumo deadlift is an interesting beast. The wider stance shortens the distance that the bar must travel from start to lockout. It’s also a more technical lift and will take longer to learn for many lifters.

In general, athletes with stronger backs tend to favor the conventional deadlift and athletes with stronger hips prefer the sumo. Whatever your body structure, it’s good to learn both styles.

If you’re very good at one and not the other, it shows that you have weaknesses. Just like with anything else in life or lifting, if you put some attention towards the style you’re not as good at, it will help to correct those weaknesses.

The Set-up

Finding your ideal set-up position for the sumo deadlift takes a bit of trial and error. Some powerlifters, like the incredible Ed Coan, use what’s sometimes called a “semi-sumo” stance.

The hands are still inside the thighs, but the foot position isn’t very wide. These lifters often lock out their legs long before the end of the lift, and rely on lower back strength to complete the movement. Their head position is usually neutral, looking about six to eight feet in front of the bar, or looking straight ahead.

In contrast, more flexible athletes and those with greater hip strength may set-up with a much wider stance. Some lifters, the Japanese in particular, will often have their feet almost touching the plates.

If you choose the aforementioned style, you’ve got to be seriously careful not to crush your toes when lowering the bar! Jarmo Virtanen, the great Finnish powerlifter, is a good example of someone who prefers this method of sumo deadlifting.

Whichever wider-than-conventional style you use, it’s extremely important to make sure that your knees track your toes throughout the lift. If your stance is too wide for your body structure or flexibility, your knees will buckle inwards during the lift, you’ll lose power and increase your risk of injury.

As far as toe position goes, you must have your feet pointed outwards, but exactly how far out depends on your body type and flexibility. Similar to the conventional deadlift, the set-up for the sumo requires that your arms are locked straight, your lower back is arched, and your upper back is relaxed.

It’s important to fill your belly with air before the bar leaves the ground. Some lifters take a big breath while standing, before bending to grip the bar. Other lifters feel better setting up first, and then taking the breath just before the bar leaves the ground. Try both ways and see which feels stronger to you.

Moving the Bar

Once you’re set-up and ready to lift, the first step is to take the flex out of the bar, exactly how you would with a conventional deadlift. One difference though: instead of feeling like you’re driving your heels into the floor, you should feel like you’re spreading the floor apart or pushing your feet out.

This will feel like the weight is on the outside of your shoes, and it’s done to keep the knees out and tracking your toes. If you’re in a sumo stance but feel like you’re pushing your heels into the floor, your knees will come in and you’ll lose some of that biomechanical advantage you took all the time to set-up for in the first place.

As the bar gets to knee-height, focus on driving the glutes forward and get the feeling of trying to get your shoulders behind the bar. The lockout position requires the legs to be straight and the shoulders back. And like before, the lower back is not hyperextended at lockout.

Summary: The Sumo Deadlift in 8 steps:

1 Wear flat soled shoes and a belt (for your heavy sets at least)
2 Stance-width and toe angle allow knees to track toes throughout the lift
3 Arch your lower back, relax your upper back and keep your arms straight
4 Take the flex out of the bar
5 Initiate the pull by forcing you feet out
6 As the bar comes past the knees, drive the glutes forwards
7 Try to pull your shoulders behind the bar all the way to lockout
8 Squeeze the bar hard throughout.

The Wrap-up

The deadlift is a primal lift that can build size and strength in the hamstrings, glutes, lats, and lower and upper back. Whether you’re deadlifting to improve your powerlifting total or just to add some meat on your bones, you should study the lifters who do it well and focus on improving your technique. With great technique, you’re laying the foundation for impressive strength, solid size, and injury prevention.

If there’s any interest, we’ll write a part two where we’ll discuss how powerlifters, bodybuilders, and other athletes can train the deadlift to maximize gains for their chosen sport.