5 Simple Cues for a Better Deadlift

Written by Ivy Knight

Some of these you may have heard but don’t really know what they mean. Some of these might be brand new because, to be honest, I made them up but they helped me. If you know me, you know that deadlifts have notoriously been my least favorite lift since I started powerlifting a million years ago but last year changed a lot! I made it my goal to be a good deadlifter and it paid off. I finally pulled 300 lbs in November! I know that there are so many other lifters that can out pull me by hundreds of pounds, and most are repping 300 lbs but I couldn’t get passed 275lbs for years… and that’s not an exaggeration- it was literally years! But I finally did it and these are the cues to help me get there.



The deadlifts is a push and a pull. I always forgot the push part. We shouldn’t even start pulling until our whole foot is pushing through the ground. And yes, it should be the whole foot. Not just the heel and certainly not just the toes (you will tip forward). You should be forcing energy down through your feet. 


This is a fairly common one that I’ve head for years but what does it mean? Protect your pits is a cue to remind you to engage your lats. When you engage your lates it feels like you’re squeezing your arms closed (i.e. protecting your arm pits).

By engaging the lats more, you can extend the shoulder a bit, letting your shoulders move slightly forward relative to the bar. This also lets your hips move slightly forward, decreasing the hip extension. It positions the shoulder joint itself a shade further down your torso, bringing it closer to the hips. 


If you’ve successfully done all the cues, I mentioned than this one is easy. Pulling the slack out of the bar is that last little attempt at getting super duper tight. If you’re feet, glutes, quads, and lats are all engaged take one second to get extra tight and you’ll the bar *ting* against the plates. Now there’s no space between the bar and the plates, which means you’re as tight as tight can be and there’s no space for the weight on the bar to move your forward. It’s time to start pushing.


THIS ONE IS HUGE FOR ME!!! And I made this cue up but it’s the one that changed the game. As in all lifts in powerlifting, the deadlift is a full body movement. It’s not just a leg/lower body movement. It requires your upper body too, specifically your upper back. If you find yourself rounding, it could be that your upper back isn’t helping the lift. My cue to help that is to start the pull from the top. It’s more of a mental cue. I literally think about my shoulders and traps and start pulling. It’s mind/body connection. It sounds weird but give it a try.


As a sumo puller, your chest should be as high as possible at the starting position. You should also have a neutral spine, which includes your neck. So if your chest is high than so are your shoulders and your head.  Ideally, at the beginning of the pull you should be able to make eye contact with the had judge (insert wink emoji)


Put all of these together, with some solid accessory work and you should have a beautiful pull. Keep in mind these are cues that helped me and they may not work for you. Cues are an interesting thing because it’s just language so what makes sense to one person may not make sense for someone else but give them a try anyway.


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