Stronger from the ground How you improve your deadlift lift-off

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As a deadlifter you probably recognize this: the feeling as if the barbell is glued to the floor when you try to lift it. Why is that and how can you make sure you get stronger in the first part of the deadlift? Read on to find out!

I’m assuming you’re not ego-lifting; if the exercise as a whole feels too heavy, not just the beginning, you are simply using a weight that is too high for your current level.


Set-up is the most important thing, with any exercise. After all, this ensures that you can properly tighten and use all (necessary) involved muscles to perform the exercise correctly and as efficiently as possible. If your set-up for the deadlift is not correct, you are already 1-0 behind when you want to start lifting.

What points should you pay attention to before deadlifting?

  1. Feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing at about 11 and 1 o’clock (with 12 o’clock directly in front of you). This will allow you to experiment a bit to find out what works best for you*;
  2. Pulling the slack out of the bar: ensure tension on the bar, that you hear a ‘click’ at the plates;
  3. Maintain tension in your hamstrings, glutes and back muscles;
  4. Take a deep breath and hold it in your stomach (make sure to put pressure around your core);
  5. Keep your upper back tight;
  6. Your shoulders are roughly in a vertical line with the bar;
  7. Lift from your legs and back; push your hips into the bar.

* In both the conventional and sumo deadlift, your knees are in line with your toes. With the sumo deadlift, your toes are pointing a little more outwards.

Your deadlift stands or falls with good technique. For a clear explanation of the conventional deadlift, watch this video by Jeff Nippard. For the sumo deadlift, check this one out.


The idea with the deadlift is that you push the floor away, as if it were a leg press, after which you come up by standing by pushing your hips forward and contracting glutes. Exercises to strengthen your leg muscles for this leg press include:

Which exercise you use depends on your overall programming and therefore you as an individual.

Strengthening your glutes is also highly recommended. Train your ass ON! For example, look at exercises like:


How do you get better in the early part of the deadlift? By making this piece extra heavy! You do this by increasing the range of motion (the range of motion, or ROM), which can be achieved with both a deficit deadlift and the snatch-grip deadlift.

By increasing the ROM, you learn to lift more from your legs. You bend your knees slightly further (towards a squat) because the distance from the floor is greater. Then when you lift the bar off the floor, you will have to use your leg muscles more to lift the weight off the floor.

Deficit deadlifts also mean that you have to hold your entire tension for an extra long time, which in turn benefits your technique. This applies to both the conventional deadlift and the sumo variant.

The snatch-grip deadlift is also a way to increase the ROM, namely because your hands are further apart. The advantage of snatch-grip deadlifts is that they increase the ROM in both the start position and the end position (the lockout). Use straps for this exercise, as grip should not be an obstacle.


The mental aspect also plays an important role in the lift-off. If you already have slight doubts about whether you will succeed, it can negatively affect your performance. To gain more confidence, cluster sets can help.

With cluster sets, you have intra-set rest, i.e. rest between each rep or cluster of reps, rather than just resting between sets.

Suppose you usually do 5 reps with 80% of your 1RM, which is for example 80 kg. If you would make this into a cluster set (5 sets of 1, with 1 minute rest between each set) you can do this set with 90% intensity, so you have done 5 reps with your 90% intensity, instead of 80% .

Yes, suppose you would do 3 sets of 5 at 80%, have you turned up more volume, but your technique will not be the same on every repetition, especially not on the last set.

So by working with cluster sets you can:

  1. pay extra attention to your technique, since you only perform 1 to a maximum of 3 repetitions per cluster;
  2. train at a higher intensity, without this being at the expense of your technique, which in turn provides more self-confidence and also experience for your body to continue to maintain your technique at that intensity level.

Because you frequently practice your deadlift lift-off in this way with high intensity, you train very specifically on your lift-off problem. Keep your set-up in mind!


Recovering or improving something is often not done in one or three training sessions, especially if it requires an increase in strength. Film yourself, find where it goes wrong, fix those weaknesses and keep repeating these steps in a well-designed 6-12 week training program to improve your lift-off. In short, give it time.

Example of a training program for someone who trains three times a week, aimed at improving the deadlift, specifically the lift-off:

* can be used with dumbbells, cables or machines
** always use straps with RDL’s. It’s about strengthening your hamstrings and buttocks, not your grip


A coach can help you by providing feedback on your technique, providing technique tips and hopefully by coaching you proficiently to achieve your goal (in this case, improve lift-off). Until after a while you can handle it on your own.


Good luck improving your deadlift! Feel free to send in your deadlift and I’ll be happy to help you with feedback!

Written by Victor Bosch, Victory Coaching.

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