Deadlift Road to 400

August 3rd, 2014 by Laura

Sunday, August 3rd 2014: I lifted 400lbs for the first time.

I’ve used this page to record my notes on the way to a 400 pound deadlift. Here is the work that I did in the months leading up to it:

January 2014: First time locking out 400 (reverse bands)
In my last competition, my deadlift max was 375lbs.

Today, I had a really grindy 400 out of reverse bands. Lockout is usually a challenge for me since I pull rounded, but I will be working hard on my butt for a better finish.


February: 400 Reverse Bands – 8 seconds down to 4
One month later. This was my retake with the same setup from last month. Down from an 8 second pull to 4.

I’d been working on loosening a tight hip and bringing up speed in the glutes for a smoother finish.

I thought 390 might move sans bands, but 400 might be just out of reach. I think I need to get the bar to move past the knee very quickly, like almost as fast as it does with reverse bands. Floor speed and positioning will be the focus for this month.
March (Competition): 390

I got a stomach bug just before my meet and everything over 300 on that day was shaking like a leaf. I did get my final attempt of 390. The bar moved SLOW at the knee but I didn’t get dragged down as I predicted. I think the slowness was a result of being sick so I am not too worried about it. My 380 2nd attempt actually looked worse than this, and a 315 warmup was just as bad!

I was surprised that my max didn’t have a disproportionately slow lockout as I do normally… the whole thing was slow. I was wiped out.

This confirms that I do want to stick to competing with high bar squats. It carries over well to my deadlift and leaves my hips healthy enough to pull. If low bar is going to rough me up too much to pull or leave me to tired to pull at the end of a meet, it doesn’t make sense to keep trying to bring it in. Deadlift is where I can get the most on my total.

I also think it is time to bring in more heavy conventional work. I’ve noticed at a few meets that I have a ‘wake up call’ lift, usually my 2nd attempt. This is a lift that I will just barely make if my technique is off, and usually it is. I just think it might be time for a little more practice with heavies. I still love speed work and consider it to be one of the most important parts of my deadlift training. But there are things you can get away with at light weights that won’t work near a max.

I saw this in this month’s Power magazine:

This is the current national rank for my weight class. I am at #5 in the deadlift. Maybe #4 because it looks like one lady pulled a deadlift so awesome that it got ranked twice in the same day :). It feels amazing to be so close in numbers with some top ranked lifters.
August 3: My First 400lb Deadlift
I rarely set arbitrary numeric goals, but I had been dreaming of a 400 pull since I took up powerlifting. This was the best day ever. The only thing now is to make it official in a meet.
August 17: Pulled 400 Again, Ironed the Lockout
2 weeks after my first 400 attempt, I convinced myself that 400 was not an actual max, and I had another go with it. I did a full mock meet, spacing out my lifts throughout the day like an actual meet. I wanted to make sure that a jump from 370 (opener) to 400 (2nd attempt) would not be too much. I also wanted to smooth out my lockout and see how 400 would feel at the end of a long day. It felt easier than the first time. I was much happier with the mechanics of this one.


October 23, 2015 (Competition) – 400 in the Books
Finally made it to a competition and was very excited about trying 400 in a meet setting. My SI joint had not cooperating for some time (which is why it had been so long since my last competition) and conventionals were off the table. I went for 400 in my opposite stance and though it was hideous, the lift got 2 greens. 400@132 is now official.

Flat and Round Back Deadlifts

February 4th, 2014 by Laura

My positioning through the deadlift is pretty good in the sense that I stay behind the bar and do not drift. On max pulls, I allow for some rounding of the upper back. It makes for a shorter pull but it can turn into a real grind at the top. It looks like this:

(Grinder at :58. Fail at :11.)

Even when the lift gets locked out successfully, a friend pointed out that it might read as being hitchy and suggested some drills for a tighter position off the ground.


Here were the results:

Before: Empty Bar

After: Empty Bar

There was a notable difference with the empty/65lb bar.

Before: Blocks

After: Blocks

It eliminated the hitch off the blocks. The weight in the ‘before’ video was 370 and only 300 in the ‘after’, however the hitchy pattern was present even in lighter sets prior to this fix.

Concentrating on the new cues had me thinking a lot, killed my enthusiasm and drive off the floor and I had some false starts. This is new and still in a ‘thinking’ stage so that is to be expected.

Later, I failed a 350 dead on the floor; it didn’t budge. That was a weight I have been able to pull pretty easily for over a year. After that happened, I scrapped the whole flat back idea and retried the lift, reverting to the rounded style. 350 flew like an opener. Minutes later, I was also able to pull 400.

(Side view at :20)

If I round, I’ll have an easy time off the floor and tough lockout. If I keep a flat back, the lockout will be easier – if I can break the floor. Which I cant. I’m failing 50 pounds under my max with a flat back. I’m scrapping the idea of using a flat back on a max for now.

Since this was something new, I expected to have a little struggle and regression before building back up. But I am not convinced that a flat back pull could be the best option for my build. My strengths in the deadlift are speed and leverage as opposed to the brute strength of being able to maintain this back positioning. This style kills my floor speed and the more upright posture puts my hips even farther back than my long femurs had them in the rounded position. I feel like my current pull style has more potential.

That said, I’ve realized that I can cheat a lot of exercises just by dipping my shoulders forward a bit. I’ll do it in movements like lunging, and in post-surgery therapy exercises. That little rounding of the upper back lets me do a LOT more – at the expense of neglecting what I am actually trying to accomplish with the exercise.

I will not be changing my competition pull style, but I will be doing a lot more flat back training.

Pelvic Tilt Correction During the Deadlift

October 4th, 2013 by Laura

Prior to this fix, my deadlift technique was 2 separate movements of driving heels through the floor, then bringing hips into the bar. Fails with this had my hips out far behind the bar at lockout time with me trying to reel them forward horizontally. At the same time, the weight is pulling me down in front so in addition to bringing hips closer, my shoulders need to retract back to get to lockout position.

This video is on a deficit and against bands, but it shows the 2 distinct movements clearly, and how I even plan for it just before the lift. I am also drooping my shoulders over the bar on the way up which really kills my lockout when combined with the hips too far back:

Here is a failure with hips far back at a meet:

Pelvic Tilt Correction Video
This video helped me out quite a bit. Tilting sooner than I naturally wanted to and thinking of it the tilt early in the lift lessened the amount of work I was doing and got me an easy PR.

Methods for enforcing this included just drilling it in with speedy reps and speed pulls against heavier bands. The bands force me to tilt sooner and highlight if I am dragging my hips in from way out behind me again.

Pelvic tilt timing might have had such a dramatic effect on me because like many women, I am constantly struggling to correct my excessive anterior tilt. But whatever the reason, this got my deadlift moving again.

Here was my 375 pull where I was very happy with the timing of the tilt:

Speed Deadlift Notes

January 29th, 2013 by Laura

These are my notes on speed deadlift stuff that has worked well for me.


  • A single every 30 seconds. With lighter weight, sometimes just a 10-15 second rest is fine. When working at a higher percentage, wait 45 seconds to 1 minute between pulls.
  • Always step away from the bar and approach like each pull as a single.
  • Percentages, Sets & Reps

  • 50-75% range is optimal. I have gone up over that and it’s been fine. The important thing to me is that the weight moves quickly and I can do the lift perfectly.
  • Cycles begin with 12-15 singles and taper off to 5-8 singles.
  • Weight increase can be 5-10% per session.
  • Mindset

  • Every lift is a max. The worst thing is to expect light weight and treat it as such.
  • This is my final meet attempt, the only lift that matters
  • Technique
    Speed pulls have been great for instilling technique upgrades. when I’m looking to make a change, set up a little a slower than normal. Go through the same list of cues for each pull to an even count. (Ex: 1. Big breath, 2. Set grip, etc.). Go through the count faster each time until it starts to becomes speedy, smooth and automatic.

    Use straight weight, singles across. Go light (50-65%) but add in a moderate rep or two before or after each session as a checkpoint. Some things can sneak by with light weight that won’t hold up under heavies.

    If my tech is less than 80% of where I want it to be or something just isn’t sinking in, I forget about trying to bring in speed and just go back to cueing to a smooth count until I’m ready. It is frustrating to have your head swimming with (potentially forgotten) cues. Speed comes with confidence and confidence comes from being sure of what you are doing.

    I like that bands teach to accelerate and highlight if you don’t. My natural approach is to rip the floor and then kind of rest a bit as it clears the knee quickly. My timing through the hips could be a little delayed. Then I’ll slow it to a grind from there even when the weight isn’t heavy enough to warrant being that slow. With bands, if I am off at the top, they will pull me down from the front before I lock out, highlighting the horrible position I’ve put myself in. I’ve been removing band tension (if using) and use straight weight getting closer to the meet.

    I have done almost all of my speed cycles on a 3″ deficit. I love the power and confidence I get off the ground and walking up to the bar on meet day feeling like it is already halfway up. I stay open to the idea that I might need to make some tech adjustments in the final weeks incase anything odd creeped in from the deficit, but it has been more than fine so far.

    On meet week, if I have spent my entire cycle on the deficit, I move to the floor. No specified % in mind. The idea is just to feel the pull from the floor iron out any kinks that might have crept in on the deficit (there usually aren’t any) and get in the mood for a big pull. This might not be enough time on the floor for some; for me it works.

    If I feel that I need to take a dozen or so shots at it, I can but I try to do the minimum I can get away with. Last time, I did one pull with 135. It felt like it was an inch long and I instantly felt a rush of excitement about the meet. So I cut it there and was very excited knowing I was going to have a great pull later that week (and I did). On this day, my body doesn’t even care that less than 1/3 of my max is on the bar, it just knows that they weight flew, it was perfect, and at that point, confidence takes me farther than anything on meet day.

    I’ve run speed pull cycles alongside demanding squat programs leading to a meet. It sharpens my deadlift technique without cutting into recovery, and I end up feeling energetic and excited at the meet. During off-seasons, I don’t find as much use for speed and rely on other work to get stronger.

    They also helped my deadlift stay on track during a year that I was recovering from surgery and not able to pull heavy very often.

    When trying to re-wire a pattern or improve tech, I think it is helpful to take a max or near-max pull for diagnostics, and even open up to the possibility of a fail (an honorable fail, not a sit-on-the-floor soul crusher) prior to starting the speed cycle. After analyzing what went wrong, the needed changes can be easily spotted, addressed and instilled with the speed work.

    Deadlift Cues

    January 2nd, 2013 by Laura

    These are the cues I use to pull. Luckily, this lift never takes a vacation on me, but I like to keep some notes just incase I do need to refer to them at some point.

    1. Crushed Can
      Take the slack out of myself before grabbing the barbell by pushing all joints down into each other. Bend knees a bit, it should feel like I just shrank a couple of inches and puts me closer to the bar. Contract everything hard lats, triceps, core, glutes, hams. Get all weight in heels and drive them through the ground. Raise toes if needed to help dig heels in deeper.
    2. Align and Visualize
      Look at the bar and line up in the position I would be in when locked out. Make sure hand positioning is correct. Keep condensing everything down by tensing. Go through a strong and speedy lift one time in my head and feel the lockout.
    3. Stake in the ground
      Drive down on heels and move as little as possible to get to the bar. Grab the barbell and remove slack, and barbell doesn’t move, I dig myself in under it and closer to it. Alternate cues for this are:
      – Heels To China (Dan John)
      – Unearthing Trees (pulling out trees by the root)
      – Teeter-totter / See-saw
    4. Tilt
      I am willing my hips closer to the bar throughout the lift. But on passing the knee, I’ve had to train myself to tilt harder and quicker than I naturally feel the need to. More on Pelvic Tilt
      Alternate: Stand up straight.
    5. By the time I am ready to take a max, I shouldn’t even have to think (or overthink) about anything; all the speed training seems to take care of that. I dive bomb and it looks like I just swoop in and grab the bar, but in my head I already grabbed it, before I grab it. Start with legs a bit bent and contract everything in them. Try to push myself into the ground like a spring to come up, and take the slack out of myself before I even touch the bar. Look at the bar and set my grip in my head, and drive heels into the ground as much as possible before gripping the bar.

      Before the pull, take the slack out of the bar. It happens very quickly, but the movement is strong and efficient. Kind of like hammering a stake into the ground. You take that first whack to get the thing centered and stuck in there, then start hammering in deeper.