Deadlift Tips From World's Strongest Man Brian Shaw

What’s the best posture and back position for deadlifts?

You want to try to get as much of your body behind the bar as you can. So if you just walk up, lean over, and go to pull to it… And I’ve got my entire shoulder girdle over the bar, my heads over the bear, it’s gonna create terrible leverage for this pull. Terrible, right? So, everything is going to go on your lower back.

I had a really great coach when I first started pulling and I was very, very strong, at that time but my back looked like a fishing pole. And he told me Brian, you have two choices. He said you can either take some weight off and you can learn how to do this correctly and you can have a long career and I guaranty you can pull a ton of weight. Or you can continue doing what you’re doing and you can have back surgery in a few years. So, with that in mind, when you’re deadlifting, you can definitely get hurt while you’re doing it. So you definitely have to treat it with respect.

But when it comes to the form, really where you want to watch mainly is your mid to lower back. Because that’s where a lot of problems are going to arise. So when you’re dead lifting you want to have your back pretty much flat, or as close as you can.

There are some people out there who have done some articles about your upper back being rounded. I don’t really believe in that because I believe that as you open your upper back, it eventually will lead to you opening your lower back and rounding more. So, unless your upper back was ridiculously strong, then maybe. But I would also question it because there have been a few guys that have been really ridiculously good at deadlift, who deadlifted with a somewhat rounded upper back and they’re no longer deadlifting.

So you put a lot of stress on your back and if you create leverage and use your entire body to deadlift, that’s really the best way to go. And I’ll be honest with you, when I did deadlift like that, my back did hurt. But when I did learn how to deadlift correctly, I feel the deadlift a lot more in my legs and really my back and my arms. I just lock into position and then I pull from there. So If you’re walking away from the deadlift training session and your lower back is screaming at you, that’s probably a bad thing. You’re probably doing something wrong and you may be pushing it too far.

How often should you max out?

And with regard to pushing it too far, and this goes for any big, major, multi-joint exercise, you shouldn’t be maxing out very often. That’s another thing that’s a very valuable tool. In a deadlift training cycle, for example, I pulled at the Arnold classic this year (2016), I pulled 1021 pounds, um, from a standard height. I maxed out one time. I trained for that contest for about 16 weeks and I went to where I actually maxed out and even then I would say that I probably left it at 90 to 93%. I didn’t go to absolute failure and I did not miss one deadlift in that training cycle. So I don’t miss. If you miss deadlifts, what happens mentally is that you hit that wall of how much can I lift. So if you think of that, your mind is a very powerful tool. So, if I don’t miss a deadlift and I walk into a contest and I haven’t missed, I don’t know how strong I am. They can put as much weight on the bar as they want and I’m going to lift it cause I have not found my max yet. But if I had failed in training, I walk into the contest saying, I can only pull 1010 and mentally I’m saying I failed at that in training now I’m not sure how much I can go. But I was very confident.

But actually to be fair with that contest I left quite a bit away, I could have pulled more, could have gone clean straight through. So you know when you’re training that’s a very valuable tool. Because mentally you want your mind as strong as possible with this type of thing.

Do you ever mix your grip?

I very much prefer to pull double over hand. So typically what I’ll do is pull double overhand until I need to put straps on and then I’ll put straps on. For us, in most of our major contests at Strong Man, you’re able to wear straps.

I would only say with something like that, if you’re gonna have to pull mixed grip in power lifting or something like that, be sure you’re flipping back and forth. A lot of people have trouble with this. I would do that because a long time ago when I didn’t do that, I started to notice my back was developing differently. And I was starting to turn and rotate to get to the bar.

So I would say that if you can, probably train double overhand as much as you can just to get the development the same and then into a contest, maybe use that. Of course that would depend on how strong your grip is as well. If you have a grip problem you may need to train a little more than somebody else that has no problem.

Do you train grip independently?

Grip is such a huge part of Strong Man. So for us, I’m doing so much training outside of the deadlift, like Farmer’s Walk and different things that you do in the actual contest. For me my grip gets taxed. I’m wearing these because my for arms get beat up constantly because they’re always grabbing and pulling and holding onto things.

Grip is a different animal completely. But if you don’t have good grip then you have to train it. Definitely have to train it.

Why do you roll the bar towards yourself as you lift?

So, what I’m trying to do here, when I roll the bar, I’m trying to pull my hips back and get into a good pulling position. And for me if I just go straight down to the bar and I try to drop, I have a very hard time getting my hips low enough.

The other thing is I want to engage my back and lock my back in correctly. So what I found is as I roll the bar in, I sit my hips back, pull as much of my body behind the bar as I can, and lock into position. It helps me drive the bar off the floor better.

I think that, especially as you learn how to pull, it’s very important to try to get into that position. I found when I’m teaching somebody new how to deadlift, it’s much, much easier to do that and most of the time they end up really liking it and it becomes a habit.

For me, my set up is very routine. I like doing the same things, again, again, and again. Sometimes I train in my gym at I have 25 kilo plates or 55 lbs, so it’s 110 lbs at a pop. You know, but obviously, you can see how I do if I do that set, after set, after set, once you get up to 800 plus pounds, that a lot of sets of dead lifting, right? So, for me, it’s all relative, if I take a 100 pound jump, or say even a 140, you did a 45 and 25, something like that on the bar, that’s not a huge percentage for me. Whereas, maybe doing a 50 pound jump for somebody else would be the same weight. So if I’m capable of pulling 1000 lbs, 400 pounds is not, it’s all relative. This is very small weight compared to that.

Do you lift with a belt?

Another thing that I really believe in is not using a belt. Just t-shirt and no belt for as long as you can. I think a lot of people go to the belt way to early in training and you never build up your core strength just to be able to be strong. So, for me, when I train, I’ll so some deadlift session where I never put the belt on. Even 700, 800 pounds, no belt, no problem. I’ve built myself up to that.

But if you put the belt on to early, it becomes a crutch instead of a help. So you rely on the belt and you don’t feel strong unless you have the belt on. But if you don’t wear the belt and then you put one on, then you feel like Superman. It’s pretty awesome. It’s definitely a better way to go about it.

How many reps and sets do you do in a session?

I will vary that around. Normally if I’m doing effort training, it’s 1-5 reps, and I’ll go up as high as I can on that day until my form breaks down and then I’m done. So, I’ll take jumps up to there. If it’s a speed day, which I typically will alternate a speed day with an effort day, every other week. Speed day is typically 8 sets of 2 or 6 sets of 3.

I would normally do a speed day at probably about 45-55% of my maximum bar weight. So for me it would be 500 to 600 pounds for speed reps and then I would go up higher based on if it was 1 rep max effort day or a 5 rep max effort day.

If I pull very heavy and do a true max effort day, I typically need 10 to 14 days. So I’ll go every 14 days with the heavy effort. I just train myself. I used to be able to push those closer together but I think as I get to the absolute strength limit, I just need a little bit more recovery because my strength level is just higher right now.