A lot of deadlift attempts meet their end at the knees or slightly above. What started off as a hellacious whirl of speed and fury ends in disappointment and a camelback. Next thing you know there’s money missing off your dresser and your daughter’s knocked up. I’ve seen it a hundred times (rest in peace Mr. Farley).
So, what’s the issue?
It could be that your lacking core stability. It’s also possible that your hamstrings are desparately lacking (a lot like my intern Wes’s dance skills), or you just might be a purse wearing Nancy!
Most likely, it’s a combination of all of them (minus the Nancy thing). Also, you probably aren’t maintaining your speed and tension throughout the pull. Speed deadlifts are great for training for speed, but you’re already great off of the floor and your problems don’t start until the weight gets really heavy. A lot of coaches will tell you that pulling for speed is all that you need for correcting the deadlift death at the knees (how poetic was that shit?), but I think this is a situation where some heavy partial range of motion work is warranted. That’s if it is done properly!
4 Weeks to Top End Speed
I’m going to level with you, I’ve been the camel back man before. Even though I have the strongest red beard in history (they call me the viking) and I am balding at an alarming rate, I’m not perfect. The good news is, since I’ve been there I can help you out with your struggle.
Like we talked about above, sometimes it takes more than just full-range speed work to increase speed and keep tension during the top half of the deadlift. Speed deads just don’t provide enough tension to train for when the weight gets heavy. While you could set up the pins in the squat rack just below your knee and hit some partial range pulls, you wouldn’t come close to the possible training effect you could elicit by adding a few alterations.
Here is a 4 week Partial ROM deadlift cycle that has helped me with the top end of my pull:
Week 1- Reverse Band Deadlift- 7 x 1 (working up to a max)
Week 2- Rack Pulls (below knee)- 5 x 2-3
Week 3- Rack Pulls vs. Double Mini Bands (below knee)- 4 x 3, 2 x 1
Week 4- Reverse Band Deadlift- 4 x 1 (working up to a max)
Why is this cycle so awesome? Because it is about speed and you can still use heavy loads! That’s a win-win in my book (or a good-good if you will). Another thing that makes this cycle awesome is that it starts with an assisted lift, transitions to straight bar weight then to accomodating resistance and finally finishes up with an assisted lift. This is a powerful way to train for greater bar speed and still use weights heavy enough to push your limit strength because you are progressively over-loading resistance and then reaping the adaptation on the fourth week. Our #1 rule for this program is pulling as fast as possible at all times. If you don’t want to follow the rules then you can just get the heck out!
If you want to test your max after a cycle like this, give your self a week off from deadlifting (or do light speed work on Week 5) and then test out on Week 6.
Assistance work for this cycle would be solely dependent on your weaknesses, but I’m going to go ahead and guess yours are your glutes and hamstrings. So, hit RDLs, glute ham raises and good mornings like its your J-O-B. Also, make sure your brace is solid enough. Here is a bracing checklist to follow:
- Tight lats (shoulder blades back and down)
- Tight abs with rib cage “locked” in place
- Packed neck (yes, it does work)
- Pull with your glutes
- And since these are max effort lifts, take in your air and hold it!
It would also be a great idea to compliment this partial range cycle with some light, full range pulls on another training day during the week. This will help with continual form practice and patterning as you push your limit strength and top end power. But since you’re already pulling heavy, keep the volume relatively low on the speed work.
If you don’t have bands or a squat rack conducive to using this training cycle you might want to seriously reconsider how you prioritize your life! Go to elitefts.com or performbetter.com and order you some bands!
Try this cycle with your own assistance program added in and let me know how you make out.