Exercise Spotlight: Paused Deadlifts

Fix Your Weak Pulls with the Paused Deadlift 

Many lifters have the compulsion to get the strongest possible deadlift they can, but struggle to achieve solid form – especially beyond a certain point.  For the longest time, I’ve preached that before adding a ton of weight to the bar, a lifter should be able to demonstrate that he’s got complete mastery over lighter loads – and that doesn’t come from only being able to lift it in a conventional fashion.

Applying pauses to exercises within the reps themselves can be a game-changer for just what kind of training effect you can derive from the lift. And it’s a good way to make your perceived exertion levels match that of a heavier lift.  In the case of deadlifts, pausing provides benefits that transcend “difficulty”.

By the way – I’m not talking about the typical pause between reps on the floor. That’s a different training directive that I like to call “deadstops”. As you can see in the video below, this kind of paused rep makes the lifter freeze with the bar when it’s off the ground, partway up the leg.

Too often, conventional deadlifts enter lumbar flexion – where the spine is rounded and the lifter looks like a dog about to do his business in the park.  It’s an unsafe pulling position (as you probably already know), especially since the spine changes shape in the presence of this load; it often isn’t set up in that configuration to start.

The classic turtleback, ladies and gentlemen.

Exercises like back extensions, reverse hyperextensions and their variations can help, but this modification is more direct and allows you to practice the lift in question with one distinct change. Pausing in mid-range forces the spine to remain neutral, and really guards against the hips from shooting up first. This allows the quads and glutes to contribute their fair share to the lift, and allows the lower back a chance to get the support it needs, rather than be left hanging out to dry.

One more thing that paused deadlifts can do is help with balance. On heavy pulls, I’ve found that lifters can tend to get “pulled forward” as the movement reaches the top, so the pressure is off their heels, and they’re not able to fully extend their hips. In the case of barbell deadlifts, we have to remember that the weight distribution is oriented in front of the body – not evenly surrounding the body the way it would be when holding a trap bar. The body should assume a very slight backward slant to counter this at the top of the rep, through a pulling emphasis that reflects the same vector. If you watch the video of some regular deadlifts closely, you’ll notice this emphasis during my pulls, in order for the bar to travel in a straight line, and in order to avoid the body lurching forward to throw off my force curve.

The Paused Deadlift: Coaching Cues

  • Set up the same way you normally would for a conventional deadlift. I recommend using a double overhand grip rather than a mixed grip.
  • Lift raw. A belt is OK if you need to wear one – but no straps.
  • Get tight, and pull until the bar is no more than 6 inches off the ground. Abruptly pause for a full 1 to 2 second count. That’s more than a “blip”. All momentum should notably stop.
  • Continue the rep by standing all the way up, while using good form.
  • Lower the weight to the bottom position. Dead stop on the floor, reset, and repeat.
  • Focus on sets of 3-5 paused reps, using your conventional 6 rep max or lighter. Rest at least 2 minutes between rounds.

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