Struggling to lockout? (Deadlifts)

19 Dec , 2017  

I feel that its fitting for me to write a blog on deadlifts, Why? because I’m so good at them? Not quite! 

You should all know by now that you don’t ask the guy who’s always had big shoulders, how to get big shoulders. Genetics + leverages put others ahead in certain lifts and certain body parts. The trick is to find someone who never had it and figured out how to get it. When you can make your weaknesses a strength and then stack that on your already given genetic gift, now we’re talking! We are going to explore some key fundamentals involved in developing a strong lock out and cover some common issues that may be holding you back.

Lets get into it..

So many lifters lose the ability to lock out their Deadlifts based on a loss of leverage throughout the lift. You see, if you cannot maintain stability and strength in some key areas you WILL experience breakdown.

This breakdown leads to a worse position which puts you at an further disadvantage and lack of leverage for the lift.

Where do we start? The glutes right?

Well, no. Now, don’t get me wrong.. the glutes are prime movers in the deadlifts, but without proper extension of the back, correct breathing and bracing leading to rigidity of the torso, you cannot maximally display and utilise all your glute strength. So, where do we start?

We learn how to create maximal torso rigidity.




The goal is to have a ‘neutral’ back, more specifically; have your upper back in slight extension with the surrounding muscles braced and activated, we then need to use our musculature to create stability and our breathing to lock down our torso and add the final touches to our ‘brace’. We are using the lats, rear delts, rhomboids, traps, teres major/minor, spinal erectors, and other surrounding muscles to create stability and a position you can hold throughout the lift. That position has to be strong enough to not compromise as we are using it to leverage through the glutes.

Keeping your back neutral allows you to leverage your hips through at the top of the lift.




It’s very common for beginners to find it hard getting into a healthy starting position. Due to mobility issues, muscle weakness or just technique, you often see shoulders excessively rounding forward or rounded backs. If your shoulders are rolled forward and internally rotated you are creating more resistance for yourself to stand up straight, lock the shoulders back and push your hips forward to finish the glute contraction and hip extension. If you get to the top of the deadlift with rolled shoulders, you have to unroll them and peel them back BEFORE you can lock out completely. Under maximal loads, this is not only unsafe but VERY difficult. We are trying to create maximal stability and strength throughout that upper torso, so mastering the art of upper back tightness will change your game!


Another issue I see is that many people often over extend their upper backs and shove their shoulders all the way back trying to achieve an unrealistic ‘straight’ back. They will get their friends to video them from the side and have a high five party because they think they are doing the lift correctly due to their Instagram ready ‘straight’ back.

Over extension or excessive arching of the upper back will only make your deadlifts harder by creating more ROM, an unrealistic brace and a injury waiting to happen.


Another contributing factor is bad cues. Sometimes common cues can be misused and make things worse (for example: ‘Chest up’). This cue should only be used on someone who is struggling to get into a neutral position to start with, but what you end up seeing is novice lifters applying this cue and setting up with an ‘over extended, straight back’ position which is completely unrealistic and will not withstand the force the bar creates when the lift is initiated. I’m teaching upper back tightness here, NOT over extension.

Note: There are some Elite Powerlifters out there who pull with slightly rounding upper backs. In short, they do this to minimise range of motion but they still manage to achieve an insanely tight brace in their starting position. Based on their elite ability and strength they can leverage parts of the lift differently to novice or intermediate lifters. If you are an advanced lifter this could be a technique for you to look into, otherwise I do not recommend it. 

 A good way to create more upper back tightness is through good cues. See below some common cues that may help you:

– Shoulders depressed

– Grip externally rotated to engage the lats

– Chin slightly tucked to maintain a neutral spine

There are also some more aggressive cues if you really struggle:

– Chest up

– Shoulders back

– Head up (sometimes athletes who struggle to achieve a neutral spine can benefit from an alternate head position to help open up that upper torso area.)



The deadlift is the only movement out of all 3 that has no eccentric portion to the lift prior to the

 concentric. You have to create this tightness during your set up.

In other words, in the Squat and Bench you can use the downward movement and the weight on the bar to create tension and rigidity within your setup. You cannot do this with Deadlift, so we have to spend more time getting stable, strong and rigid from our starting position before you lift the bar off the ground. This is so you can maintain that rigidity throughout the lift and into the lockout. I have drills, mobility work and certain protocols I have my athletes run when struggling to create and maintain tightness throughout the deadlift.


Lets look at some of those below:

– Learn how to breathe into your lower torso, creating 360 degrees of intra abdominal and lower back pressure. For further resource on ‘How to breathe’ see the 90/90 Hip Lift method:

– Create a mind-muscle connection with your lats. You need to feel them during your setup, if you have trouble with that (very common in the beginning) you can apply the bracing drill example below.


– Learn how to use your belt. So many athletes just crank the belt up and away they go! This is not using your belt effectively or correctly. Have the belt tight but leave enough room for you to be able to contract your abdominal wall outward into the belt, creating a ton of pressure and rigidity.

– Your SET UP. Use cues to enhance your brace. Certain cues work for some people better than others. Find what works for you. Find what helps you make a mental connection to your set up and brace. People generally have an ‘ah ha’ moment when they find cues that work well.

– If all of the above has been applied, you now need to find the weakness and hit it straight on. It’s very common for strength athletes to have a weakness throughout their posterior chain or upper back. Based on the athlete’s specific needs, a tailored program should be designed to strengthen those weaknesses. For individual coaching and help with this, please don’t hesitate contact me.


Bracing Primer Drill Example:

– Foam Roller Thoracic Static Hold/Stretch (3 x 60 seconds)

– Lat Pull Down 3X15

– Bird Dog exercise, 5 each side, hold for 5 seconds

– Seated Row 3X15

– Face Pulls 2X20

Keep the weight fairly light and work on creating that mind-muscle connection.

This is just one piece of the pie when it comes to maximising your deadlifts efficiency.

I hope this blog has been informative and helpful, please don’t hesitate to message me on Instagram @Fight4Growth with any questions, or alternatively on For those who are interested in online coaching, please head over to LETMECOACHYOU.NET for more information.

Thanks again,





Written by Brogan Williams

Edited by Hugh Ozumba

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