Home Blog How to Deadlift When You Can’t Pull from the Floor with Good Form

How to Deadlift When You Can’t Pull from the Floor with Good Form

Written on September 9, 2012 at 10:44 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that I’m a big fan of deadlift variations, as they’re among the most “big-bang” exercises you can do to get a ton of return on your training “investment.”  That said, not everyone can conventional deadlift safely from the floor because of mobility restrictions or the way they’re built.  With that in mind, I thought I’d outline some solutions to this common deadlift technique problem in today’s blog.  This post is actually modified from the Show and Go main guide, which features a comprehensive exercise modifications chapter for those with limitations along these lines.

The solution to this dilemma is actually a multi-faceted one. First, if you aren’t deadlifting barefoot or in flat-soled sneakers, start; it’ll make a big difference in your ability to get down to the bar. 

For those looking for a specific recommendation, I’m a big fan of the New Balance Minimus for those who can’t go barefoot in the gym.

Second, if you’re basing your frustrations on your conventional deadlift mobility, try sumo deadlifts to see if things improve. I’ve found that many individuals with longer femurs can sumo deadlift without a problem, but conventional deadlifts give them fits. Effectively, with a sumo deadlift, you pull between your legs instead of over the top/outside of them.

In reality, for these folks, we use rack pull, trap bar, and sumo deadlift variations – but rarely (if ever) conventional deadlifting from the floor.  They need to work on deadlift technique a lot before they get to this final progression.

Third, if moving to a different deadlift variation doesn’t help, simply elevate the bar on risers or plates to the point where you can position yourself in the bottom position without a rounded back.

Work on building up your strength from this position and attack your mobility warm-ups with consistency, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to work your way down to the floor eventually.

Also, one more important note I should make is that just being able to get down to the floor with good posture does not mean that you actually have good deadlift technique.  It takes time to integrate this mobility as part of a proper deadlift – and this is done with submaximal loading, not just jumping to 500 pounds.  So, start with lighter weights and gradually work your way up.  I really like speed work in the 40-60% of 1RM zone as a teaching tool for “aspiring” conventional deadlifters.  Do 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps.

Give these tips a try and you’ll be deadlifting in one form or another safely for the long haul!  And, don’t forget to check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, a great resource for those looking to clean up their deadlift technique and start moving some bigger weights.

 

 

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  • Rozin

    Eric,

    What about people who can conventional deadlift perfectly during speed reps (I go up to 70% ) but some spine buckling occurs as the weights get heavy (>85%)? I’ve noticed that if I DL like Bob Peoples (plenty of thoracic rounding) that it keeps my lumbar neutral and allows me to move more weight when I go heavier. As a side note, I powerlift, so my goal is to move maximal weight.

  • Michael M

    Eric, any advice for a 47 year old life time lifter that has a diagnosed degenerative L4 and L5? I have tried and tried to do deadlifts and squats consistantly and everytime I start making progress, my lower back gives out and I have to take 2 weeks off and repeat the insane process over. Ever trained older folks with degenerated lower discs? The thought of a life of “machines” and stretchy bands makes me want to puke. thanks for any help in advance.

  • Tim

    Great straightforward, practical cues, Eric. Thanks.

  • Michael,

    We’ve seen good results with folks who roll with single-leg work, barbell supine bridges, and sled work. Ever case is unique, though, so it’s important to get your individual movement flaws assessed and then corrected.

  • Rozin,

    Most of the time, working above 90% isn’t going to be completely perfect. Just make sure that your training reps at lower percentages are solid technique-wise and then let the heavy stuff take care of itself.

  • Kristian

    Eric, is there an order in which dead lift variations are closer to conventional DL’s? As in, is it preferential to DL from plates rather than sumo or vice versa in aiming to move towards conventional.
    Thanks

  • Kristian,

    I’d go from trap bar, to sumo, to rack pull, to conventional.

  • Sam

    Hi Eric,
    How do you suggest fitting deadlifts into an upper body/ lower body split. My upper back gets sore from deadlifting which interferes with my pullups and rows the next day

  • Sam,

    I’d deadlift on your lower body days as either the first or second day. You might want to try a MoTuThSa schedule where MoTh are your lower body days, and you do your deadlifting on Th; that extra day will help you out on the recovery side of things. Additionally, you may need to work on some technique stuff to put more of the stress on your lower body. My upper back really doesn’t get sore much at all after deadlifting – even when pulling over 600 pounds.


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