“Brace your abs like someone is about to punch you in the stomach.”
I don’t know where or who I first heard this cue from but it’s catchy, right? (One might say “punchy,” if one were prone to punning, and if you are, we’re friends already.)
As a trainer, this is one of my favorite cues for holding a plank, and hitting the top position of a kettlebell swing. (Which is also, fittingly, like being in a plank except standing.) Bracing for a pretend punch neatly takes care of the risk for saggy hips and too much lumbar extension for those particular movements. It’s a cue that has an immediate and appropriate response for the movement being executed.
And that’s what we like: punchy cues that get the job done quickly, especially for big compound lifts like the deadlift. The deadlift offers so much in terms of payoff for your strength and physique—well, hello there stacked posterior chain— but that’s in exchange for the deadlift being a lift that requires a certain amount of nuance to be done safely and efficiently.
Here are three more catchy cues for the conventional and sumo deadlift that go far beyond your usual “keep a neutral spine.” Each will have an immediate impact on your lifting success.
Get Freshly Squeezed
The best cues, I’ve found, can also be the somewhat crude.
For instance, fellow Movement Minneapolis coach Jen Sinkler has a cue for the kettlebell swing, the hip-hinging ballistic cousin of the deadlift, that’s works extremely well at preventing the kettlebell from swinging too low and wreaking havoc on your low back. “Shove your hands way into your crotch,” she says
That clearly paints the picture, right?
In that same vein, trainer Tony Gentilcore has a tip that’s on point for your conventional deadlift set-up. The biggest clues that you’re lacking tension in your set-up is when your upper back rounds and your hips pop up before the bar even leaves the floor.
Getting tight before you deadlift will allow you to pull more weight with less risk to your back. To improve spinal stability from start to finish, Tony advises to “Pretend like you’re squeezing an orange in your armpit during the entire rep and you’re trying to make orange juice.”
Armpit orange juice, yum yum! Check exactly what I’m talking about here in this video from the Unapologetically Powerful Exercise Video Library:
Bring It On…I Mean In
Trainer and five-time world recording setting powerlifter Jordan Syatt has a hint for happier hips for raw lifters looking to up their sumo deadlift game: “Start with a narrow stance and work your way out until you find what’s most comfortable.
This runs counter towards a more familiar cue, which is to take as wide of a stance a possible. A super-wide stance is more advantageous for a geared lifter (a geared lifter wears extra-tight compression gear such as squat briefs or a bench shirt to help them lift more weight) but most likely, that’s not you. A very wide stance can also lead to discomfort in your hips and create the potential for your knees to track inward.
Play with foot position with a very lightly loaded bar to find the stance that’s most comfortable for you. Here’s Sinker in another video from the Unapologetically Powerful Exercise Video Library to demonstrate:
Become a Human Canister
The final cue has application to not only the deadlift, but to any movement where your torso is required to bear load, like barbell back squats or bent-over row.
This one comes from powerlifter, coach, and owner of Elite Performance Center, Chris Duffin, and it’s all about improving your thoracic stabilization to protect your spine from injury.
Sometimes I will see a lifter set up for the deadlift and they will have a large, scooping sway in their low back; their butts are poppin’ out and their lower abs are hanging loose. Not the most ideal position from which to pull, because the lack of stabilization around the spine will leave the lifter vulnerable to injury.
In the video below I talk about how to best position your thoracic spine (read: your trunk) so that your abs are braced and you’ve increased your intra-abdominal pressure without the addition of a lifting belt. Specifically, in this video I talk about using this tip for the barbell back squat, but, as I also mention in the vid, the tip has immediate application to many movements, especially the deadlift.
Watch it here:
Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake’s leggings might be pink but her weights aren’t. A personal trainer at The Movement Minneapolis she is a powerlifting coach and competitor with a passion for helping her clients discover and grow their strength, inside and out. She’s here to spread the good word that strong is empowering and because of that, really, really fun.
Unapologetically Powerful is here!
Are you ready to become Unapologetically Powerful? If you’re even just a little bit interested in improving your back squat, bench press, and deadlift, and building lean, beautiful muscle, you’re going to love digging into this program.
Unapologetically Powerful is your go-to resource to learn all about the “big three” lifts, and removes any intimidation from training for and competing, should you decide to, in the sport of powerlifting.
Trainers Jen Sinkler and JVB have teamed up to provide you the answers to all of your powerlifting questions—and get you radically and unapologetically strong. Here’s what’s in the program:
- A comprehensive training manual that includes Beginner and Early Intermediate 12-week powerlifting programs with a detailed introduction to biofeedback training.
- An extensive guide on how to compete for first-time powerlifters who want to step onto the platform.
- A complete exercise glossary with clear-cut written coaching cues and images.
- A MASSIVE video library of more than 140 exercise demonstration videos. Every movement in the program is in the video library, with detailed coaching cues to walk you through each exercise step by step.
- A revamped version of Lift Weights Faster geared specifically toward powerlifters.