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Default Overcoming Deadlift Sticking Points
by BendtheBar 10-01-2011, 11:26 PM

Overcoming Deadlift Sticking Points
by Peter Vuono (1981)


Although overloading and power rack training can be quite effective for some lifters, others require usage of a full range of motion which is unassisted to overcome sticking points. Two fine methods of overcoming one’s sticking points without overloading or power rack training include first - make the deadlift more difficult to perform by the addition of a device or the changing of the angle to make the execution of the lift more difficult and yet similar to the actual lift.

An excellent example of this method is to execute the front squat rather than the full back squat as the angle change eliminates help from the back in the ascent. Another example would be to do a close-grip bench press rather than using the normal grip as this helps to eliminate shoulder and pectoral strength.

The same method can be used with the deadlift in several ways, instead of training on the deadlift itself, so that when the trainee returns to the deadlift after several months or working it from a harder position, his poundages may increase markedly after regaining familiarity with the regular deadlift.

The second method of overcoming one’s sticking points without overloading or using the power rack is to determine which muscle group or groups are causing a sticking point, and then strengthening them by using exercises which isolate those muscle groups. For example, a two-arm chin works latissimus, biceps and forearms. If someone wanted to isolate the bicep alone, he would specialize by doing a curling exercise which works the biceps more and the other muscle groups less. Isolation on one’s weak muscle group can be done with a myriad of exercises which isolate those muscle groups. For example, a two-arm chin works latissimus, biceps and forearms. If someone wanted to isolate the bicep alone, he would specialize by doing a curling exercise which works the biceps more and the other muscle groups less. Isolation on one’s weak muscle group can be done with a myriad of exercises. Now, the above-mentioned routines will be explained separately.


A.) Making the Deadlift More Difficult to Perform

It sounds logical that if an Olympic lifter can clean or power clean 300 pounds, then their deadlift should be considerably higher, since the distance of the pull is much shorter. There is a school of thought in powerlifting which feels that if the lifter works the pulling muscles involved by pulling the bar a great deal higher, then when the regular deadlift is contested it will have increased greatly. Many American and world record holders vouch for this technique and it could prove to be a valuable method for the reader as well.

The first group of exercises which make the deadlift more difficult to perform adhere to the above-mentioned theory. They are the quick, explosive pulling movements given to powerlifters from Olympic lifters. The trainee may perform power cleans, or clean-grip or snatch-grip pulls once per week without performing the deadlift and still work the pulling muscles involved. The power clean and the clean pull make the lift much more difficult by forcing the lifter to bring the bar a great deal higher than in normal deadlifting. If the reader decided to do the power clean and the clean pull, do them once per week each and three days apart from one another. For a lifter who can power clean 225 once, a sample routine would be 135x5, 155x5, 175x1, 195x5 or whatever one’s strength that day dictates.

The trainee may arrange the repetitions in the same manner for the clean pull. Train with these exercises for several months and go back to the normal deadlift one or two months before the contest.

When executing the power clean the lifter may or may not use straps. The bar should be pulled up from the floor to the shoulders IN ONE MOVEMENT WITHOUT DIPPING UNDERNEATH WITH A KNEE BEND. This will serve to work the pulling muscles more thoroughly and decrease the possibility of an injury due to knee or ankle twisting.


The second type of exercises which make the deadlift more difficult to perform are those which force the lifter to stoop down lower to grasp the bar, rather than forcing the lifter to pull it higher. They are similar to the first set of exercises in that they work the same muscles used in deadlifting and greatly increase the distance of the pull.

The first of these exercises is the snatch-grip deadlift. This is simply a deadlift performed on an Olympic bar with one’s hands just inside the interior collars. The wide grip automatically forces the lifter to descend or squat lower thus creating a higher, longer-range pull. A sample routine for someone who can perform 300 for one rep in this manner could be 135x10, 225x5, 250x1, 25x3-5 reps, depending on the lifter’s strength that day.

Another series of important exercises which force the lifter to bend lower thus creating a longer pull is the bent-legged or stiff-legged deadlift done while standing on a 4-inch, 6-inch block or small platform, or on a bench. Standing on a 4” riser when regular deadlifting causes the lifter’s insteps to be approximately 2” from the bar. A 6” block allows for the lifter’s insteps to approximately touch the bar, again providing more distance to the pull. Placing the bar up on a bench and standing atop it immediately behind the bar forces the lifter to bend all the way down to the toes to grasp the bar, making the lifter pull the bar approximately 8” fuller than normal.

One step ahead of this would be to perform this style with legs bent at only a 10 to 20-degree angle, which eliminates a lot of the leg strength. If the trainee does decide to use the “stiff-legged” variety of this exercise he should be sure to stretch both the hamstrings and back, and start utilizing the movement very gradually but progressively.

The height of the block, or whether to utilize bent legs or nearly-straight should be left up to the lifter. Experiment and use whatever works best for you. This may vary over time. This author’s personal routine has been to use straight legs with a 10-degree bend at the knees while standing on 4” high blocks. My routine is as follows: 135x10, 225x5, 385x2, 485x1, 505x1. The final set should be heavy but never maximum so as not to cause staleness or a premature peak. The lifter may or may not use lifting straps.


B.) Developing the Muscles

The second method of overcoming one’s sticking points without the use of the power rack or overloading is to determine which muscle group is causing a problem, and isolate it with an exercise which works those muscles in a different angle, or serves to exclude other assisting muscle groups, of works the deadlift muscles from the point of sticking.

The bottom, middle and top position of the deadlift will be analyzed and the muscles which are dominant in each phase will be discussed. Finally, suggested exercises for assistance will be recommended for each phase of the deadlift.

Before going over each phase it is important to point out that the quick Olympic-style lifts will be listed in each phase (bottom, middle, top). There are several reasons for this and they will be illustrated with the power clean. Since, in the power clean, the lift is started from the floor and is pulled slightly faster than the deadlift, the lifter must concentrate on an explosive start. This concentration helps develop good starting power and thus the bottom position of the deadlift.

Since momentum is created in the middle of the power clean and speed accelerated, the lift can serve to break a middle sticking point in the deadlift. Also, the final shrug at the top of any quick lift helps to break a deadlift sticking point at the top where so many powerlifters are caught short.

Finally, since Olympic-style movements are fast, they serve to develop fast twitch muscle fibers which are those fibers utilized when an athlete executes a fast movement in sports. These fibers are left undeveloped from simply deadlifting and could serve to increase one’s deadlift if they have been trained conjunctively with slow twitch fibers. Therefore, the quick, Olympic-style lifts will be listed under each of the three positions.


Bottom Position

According to Gray’s Anatomy, the primary muscles for maintaining the spine in the erect posture and to bend the trunk backward when it is required to counterbalance the influence of any weight at the front of the body are the erector spinae muscles. They are responsible for most of the action of the deadlift and along with a slight assist from bent quadriceps are responsible for the bottom position of the deadlift. Assistance movements which can help to isolate a weak bottom area are as follows:

a. stiff leg deadlift.
b. stiff leg deadlift, lifter standing on 4” platform.
c. stiff leg deadlift, lifter standing on 6” platform.
d. stiff leg deadlifts with bar on bench, lifter standing on bench.
e. bent leg deadlift, lifter standing on 4” platform, 6” platform, or on bench.
f. snatch-grip deadlift.
g. snatch-grip deadlift, lifter standing on 4” platform, 6” platform, or on bench.
h. isometric deadlift in power rack with empty bar set at low position.
i. isometric/isotonic deadlift on power rack with loaded bar set at low position.
j. good morning exercise.
k. power clean.
l. clean pull.
m. snatch pull.
p. power snatch.
o. hyperextension with or without weight.


Middle Position

The erector spinae muscles are still in the process of hoisting the weight but other muscles come into play and assist. The trainee will note that during the process of deadlifting the upper arm or humerus is drawn back slightly as the bar is pulled upward. This movement is primarily executed by the latissimus dorsi and teres major which are both attached to the humerus. Therefore, since these middle back muscles are attached to the humerus and serve to pull it back slightly when deadlifting, they could be the cause of a middle sticking point. Exercises to eradicate a middle sticking point are as follows:

a. wide grip chins with or without weight.
b. medium grip chins with or without weight.
c. close grip chins with or without weight.
d. lat machine pulldowns with wide or medium grip.
e. seated cable rows.
f. bentover barbell row, pronated grip.
g. bentover barbell row, supinated grip.
h. one dumbbell bentover row.
i. two dumbbell bentover row.
j. good morning exercise.
k. power clean.
l. clean pull.
m. snatch pull.
n. power snatch.
o. isometric deadlift done with empty bar at middle position.
p. isometric/isotonic deadlift done with loaded bar at middle position.
q. lockout deadlift done from the middle position of the power rack or off blocks.
r. lockout deadlift done from the middle position of the power rack or off blocks using the “touch” method.


Top Position

According to Gray’s Anatomy the trapezius muscle reacts retracts the scapula and braces back the shoulder; if the head is fixed, the upper part of the trapezius will elevate the point of the shoulders as in supporting weights. Thus, both the trapezii together draw the head of the shoulder directly backward.

This is the action of the final shrug which plagues so many powerlifters. Assistance movements which will improve one’s top position are as follows:

a. shrugs done with bar in front of the body.
b. shrugs done with bar behind body.
c. shrugs with dumbbells.
d. power shrugs, done in cheating style, pulling the bar from just above knees using trapezii and back conjunctively.
e. lockout deadlifts from top position on power rack.
f. isometric deadlift with empty bar at top position.
g. isometric/isotonic deadlift with loaded bar at top position.
h. upright row.
i. upright row done in cheating manner, pulling the bar from the floor to the sternum with various grips.
j. power clean.
k. clean or snatch pull.
m. power snatch.
n. hang power clean.
o. hang pull with various grip widths.
p. hang snatch.
q. hang power snatch.

A wide variety of exercises have been listed in hopes that the reader will be able to choose an exercise or exercises that will cater to his current individual needs. A general rule would be to first ascertain one’s sticking point, choose one isolation exercise and perform it once weekly. It is permissible to exclude the deadlift entirely if the trainee uses an assistance movement or movements which fully develop the same muscles involved in the deadlift. For example, if the trainee did the stiff-legged deadlift on blocks once per week, it would be fine to exclude the deadlift as the important muscles are already worked.

If an assistance move is used in addition to the deadlift, perform it once weekly, three days before or after the deadlift and with higher repetitions than the deadlift so to focus power on the deadlift and not on the assistance movement.
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Old 10-10-2011, 07:46 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BendtheBar View Post
Overcoming Deadlift Sticking Points
by Peter Vuono (1981)


Although overloading and power rack training can be quite effective for some lifters, others require usage of a full range of motion which is unassisted to overcome sticking points. Two fine methods of overcoming one’s sticking points without overloading or power rack training include first - make the deadlift more difficult to perform by the addition of a device or the changing of the angle to make the execution of the lift more difficult and yet similar to the actual lift.

An excellent example of this method is to execute the front squat rather than the full back squat as the angle change eliminates help from the back in the ascent. Another example would be to do a close-grip bench press rather than using the normal grip as this helps to eliminate shoulder and pectoral strength.

The same method can be used with the deadlift in several ways, instead of training on the deadlift itself, so that when the trainee returns to the deadlift after several months or working it from a harder position, his poundages may increase markedly after regaining familiarity with the regular deadlift.

The second method of overcoming one’s sticking points without overloading or using the power rack is to determine which muscle group or groups are causing a sticking point, and then strengthening them by using exercises which isolate those muscle groups. For example, a two-arm chin works latissimus, biceps and forearms. If someone wanted to isolate the bicep alone, he would specialize by doing a curling exercise which works the biceps more and the other muscle groups less. Isolation on one’s weak muscle group can be done with a myriad of exercises which isolate those muscle groups. For example, a two-arm chin works latissimus, biceps and forearms. If someone wanted to isolate the bicep alone, he would specialize by doing a curling exercise which works the biceps more and the other muscle groups less. Isolation on one’s weak muscle group can be done with a myriad of exercises. Now, the above-mentioned routines will be explained separately.


A.) Making the Deadlift More Difficult to Perform

It sounds logical that if an Olympic lifter can clean or power clean 300 pounds, then their deadlift should be considerably higher, since the distance of the pull is much shorter. There is a school of thought in powerlifting which feels that if the lifter works the pulling muscles involved by pulling the bar a great deal higher, then when the regular deadlift is contested it will have increased greatly. Many American and world record holders vouch for this technique and it could prove to be a valuable method for the reader as well.

The first group of exercises which make the deadlift more difficult to perform adhere to the above-mentioned theory. They are the quick, explosive pulling movements given to powerlifters from Olympic lifters. The trainee may perform power cleans, or clean-grip or snatch-grip pulls once per week without performing the deadlift and still work the pulling muscles involved. The power clean and the clean pull make the lift much more difficult by forcing the lifter to bring the bar a great deal higher than in normal deadlifting. If the reader decided to do the power clean and the clean pull, do them once per week each and three days apart from one another. For a lifter who can power clean 225 once, a sample routine would be 135x5, 155x5, 175x1, 195x5 or whatever one’s strength that day dictates.

The trainee may arrange the repetitions in the same manner for the clean pull. Train with these exercises for several months and go back to the normal deadlift one or two months before the contest.

When executing the power clean the lifter may or may not use straps. The bar should be pulled up from the floor to the shoulders IN ONE MOVEMENT WITHOUT DIPPING UNDERNEATH WITH A KNEE BEND. This will serve to work the pulling muscles more thoroughly and decrease the possibility of an injury due to knee or ankle twisting.


The second type of exercises which make the deadlift more difficult to perform are those which force the lifter to stoop down lower to grasp the bar, rather than forcing the lifter to pull it higher. They are similar to the first set of exercises in that they work the same muscles used in deadlifting and greatly increase the distance of the pull.

The first of these exercises is the snatch-grip deadlift. This is simply a deadlift performed on an Olympic bar with one’s hands just inside the interior collars. The wide grip automatically forces the lifter to descend or squat lower thus creating a higher, longer-range pull. A sample routine for someone who can perform 300 for one rep in this manner could be 135x10, 225x5, 250x1, 25x3-5 reps, depending on the lifter’s strength that day.

Another series of important exercises which force the lifter to bend lower thus creating a longer pull is the bent-legged or stiff-legged deadlift done while standing on a 4-inch, 6-inch block or small platform, or on a bench. Standing on a 4” riser when regular deadlifting causes the lifter’s insteps to be approximately 2” from the bar. A 6” block allows for the lifter’s insteps to approximately touch the bar, again providing more distance to the pull. Placing the bar up on a bench and standing atop it immediately behind the bar forces the lifter to bend all the way down to the toes to grasp the bar, making the lifter pull the bar approximately 8” fuller than normal.

One step ahead of this would be to perform this style with legs bent at only a 10 to 20-degree angle, which eliminates a lot of the leg strength. If the trainee does decide to use the “stiff-legged” variety of this exercise he should be sure to stretch both the hamstrings and back, and start utilizing the movement very gradually but progressively.

The height of the block, or whether to utilize bent legs or nearly-straight should be left up to the lifter. Experiment and use whatever works best for you. This may vary over time. This author’s personal routine has been to use straight legs with a 10-degree bend at the knees while standing on 4” high blocks. My routine is as follows: 135x10, 225x5, 385x2, 485x1, 505x1. The final set should be heavy but never maximum so as not to cause staleness or a premature peak. The lifter may or may not use lifting straps.


B.) Developing the Muscles

The second method of overcoming one’s sticking points without the use of the power rack or overloading is to determine which muscle group is causing a problem, and isolate it with an exercise which works those muscles in a different angle, or serves to exclude other assisting muscle groups, of works the deadlift muscles from the point of sticking.

The bottom, middle and top position of the deadlift will be analyzed and the muscles which are dominant in each phase will be discussed. Finally, suggested exercises for assistance will be recommended for each phase of the deadlift.

Before going over each phase it is important to point out that the quick Olympic-style lifts will be listed in each phase (bottom, middle, top). There are several reasons for this and they will be illustrated with the power clean. Since, in the power clean, the lift is started from the floor and is pulled slightly faster than the deadlift, the lifter must concentrate on an explosive start. This concentration helps develop good starting power and thus the bottom position of the deadlift.

Since momentum is created in the middle of the power clean and speed accelerated, the lift can serve to break a middle sticking point in the deadlift. Also, the final shrug at the top of any quick lift helps to break a deadlift sticking point at the top where so many powerlifters are caught short.

Finally, since Olympic-style movements are fast, they serve to develop fast twitch muscle fibers which are those fibers utilized when an athlete executes a fast movement in sports. These fibers are left undeveloped from simply deadlifting and could serve to increase one’s deadlift if they have been trained conjunctively with slow twitch fibers. Therefore, the quick, Olympic-style lifts will be listed under each of the three positions.


Bottom Position

According to Gray’s Anatomy, the primary muscles for maintaining the spine in the erect posture and to bend the trunk backward when it is required to counterbalance the influence of any weight at the front of the body are the erector spinae muscles. They are responsible for most of the action of the deadlift and along with a slight assist from bent quadriceps are responsible for the bottom position of the deadlift. Assistance movements which can help to isolate a weak bottom area are as follows:

a. stiff leg deadlift.
b. stiff leg deadlift, lifter standing on 4” platform.
c. stiff leg deadlift, lifter standing on 6” platform.
d. stiff leg deadlifts with bar on bench, lifter standing on bench.
e. bent leg deadlift, lifter standing on 4” platform, 6” platform, or on bench.
f. snatch-grip deadlift.
g. snatch-grip deadlift, lifter standing on 4” platform, 6” platform, or on bench.
h. isometric deadlift in power rack with empty bar set at low position.
i. isometric/isotonic deadlift on power rack with loaded bar set at low position.
j. good morning exercise.
k. power clean.
l. clean pull.
m. snatch pull.
p. power snatch.
o. hyperextension with or without weight.


Middle Position

The erector spinae muscles are still in the process of hoisting the weight but other muscles come into play and assist. The trainee will note that during the process of deadlifting the upper arm or humerus is drawn back slightly as the bar is pulled upward. This movement is primarily executed by the latissimus dorsi and teres major which are both attached to the humerus. Therefore, since these middle back muscles are attached to the humerus and serve to pull it back slightly when deadlifting, they could be the cause of a middle sticking point. Exercises to eradicate a middle sticking point are as follows:

a. wide grip chins with or without weight.
b. medium grip chins with or without weight.
c. close grip chins with or without weight.
d. lat machine pulldowns with wide or medium grip.
e. seated cable rows.
f. bentover barbell row, pronated grip.
g. bentover barbell row, supinated grip.
h. one dumbbell bentover row.
i. two dumbbell bentover row.
j. good morning exercise.
k. power clean.
l. clean pull.
m. snatch pull.
n. power snatch.
o. isometric deadlift done with empty bar at middle position.
p. isometric/isotonic deadlift done with loaded bar at middle position.
q. lockout deadlift done from the middle position of the power rack or off blocks.
r. lockout deadlift done from the middle position of the power rack or off blocks using the “touch” method.


Top Position

According to Gray’s Anatomy the trapezius muscle reacts retracts the scapula and braces back the shoulder; if the head is fixed, the upper part of the trapezius will elevate the point of the shoulders as in supporting weights. Thus, both the trapezii together draw the head of the shoulder directly backward.

This is the action of the final shrug which plagues so many powerlifters. Assistance movements which will improve one’s top position are as follows:

a. shrugs done with bar in front of the body.
b. shrugs done with bar behind body.
c. shrugs with dumbbells.
d. power shrugs, done in cheating style, pulling the bar from just above knees using trapezii and back conjunctively.
e. lockout deadlifts from top position on power rack.
f. isometric deadlift with empty bar at top position.
g. isometric/isotonic deadlift with loaded bar at top position.
h. upright row.
i. upright row done in cheating manner, pulling the bar from the floor to the sternum with various grips.
j. power clean.
k. clean or snatch pull.
m. power snatch.
n. hang power clean.
o. hang pull with various grip widths.
p. hang snatch.
q. hang power snatch.

A wide variety of exercises have been listed in hopes that the reader will be able to choose an exercise or exercises that will cater to his current individual needs. A general rule would be to first ascertain one’s sticking point, choose one isolation exercise and perform it once weekly. It is permissible to exclude the deadlift entirely if the trainee uses an assistance movement or movements which fully develop the same muscles involved in the deadlift. For example, if the trainee did the stiff-legged deadlift on blocks once per week, it would be fine to exclude the deadlift as the important muscles are already worked.

If an assistance move is used in addition to the deadlift, perform it once weekly, three days before or after the deadlift and with higher repetitions than the deadlift so to focus power on the deadlift and not on the assistance movement.

Thank you for publishing some of my old work; I didn't think that anyone remembered. Peter Vuono
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Old 10-10-2011, 07:49 PM   #3
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Excellent article Peter.
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Old 10-11-2011, 04:50 AM   #4
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Thanks so much!
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Old 10-12-2011, 06:05 PM   #5
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Thanks for this. I have a feeling I will be referring to it often in the next few months.
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Old 10-12-2011, 06:12 PM   #6
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You're very welcome! I'm most grateful to Mike Lambert for giving me the chance back in the 80's to write that material. The very best of luck to you!
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Old 10-12-2011, 06:51 PM   #7
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Subbed. Thanks for taking the time to put this together!

edit: yes it was years ago but I still appreciate the time it took

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Old 10-12-2011, 07:37 PM   #8
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Yes, Mike had published approximately 5 articles each on the squat, deadlift and bench press.They were called Bench Press Bible, Science of the Squat, and Dynamics of the Deadlift. I think they came out in the early 80's and unfortunately there was no internet back then and thus little exposure. Thanks again for reading this article. Peter V.
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Old 10-13-2011, 12:31 AM   #9
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This is interesting in that I recently realized I pull my cleans all the way to my shoulders without much knee dip. I began to realize I was short changing myself and started trying to dip a lot more aggressively with mixed success. But, coincidentally my deadlift has grown pretty surprisingly.

I have actually been working on dropping under cleans much better and deeper to work on my overall explosive power and OH lifting explosiveness because I wanted to be able to powerlift with more "power" overall.

Now, I wonder if I stumbled on a good approach simply by accident.

Thanks, Peter. At leasty this gives me something to think about. That's all you can ask of life.
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Old 10-13-2011, 05:34 AM   #10
Peter Vuono
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Peter Vuono is off to a bad start
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You're most welcome, Mike. Back in the late 60's two well known Olympic lifters- Bill Star and George Pickett entered the Junior National Powerlifting Championships and were both victorious. Pickett(who competed in the 68 Olympics) deadlifted 750! They simply converted the pulling strength that they gained from the Olympic lifts to powerlifting. I think that you fell upon the same secret. Best of luck!
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