Elite Trainer Chris Duffin Shares His Best Deadlift Tips

The deadlift is one of the most important, essential exercises in any trainee’s repertoire—there’s a reason it’s been called the king of all lifts, after all—but once you get beyond the basics, the biggest challenge comes in perfecting the subtler aspects of the movement. Technique learned through thousands of reps of experience can separate the good from the great when it comes to the deadlift, so we turned to one of the best to share the top tips he’s picked up over a long and successful lifting career.

Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. visited co-founder of Kabuki Strength Chris Duffin, a.k.a. ‘The Mad Scientist of Strength,’ at the company’s HQ in Oregon for the deadlift seminar. Duffin is the first known person to squat and deadlift over 1,000 pounds for reps, so it’s safe to say he’s an expert in the field.

“We’re gonna look at the different types of deadlifts and walk through the principles that kind of overlay all of those techniques and then maximize those results,” Duffin says.

Chris Duffin’s Top Deadlift Tips

  • Ditch Your Shoes to Deadlift

    Right off the bat, Duffin advises that you lose your shoes, especially if they have any type of foam-stacked sole. This isn’t an aesthetic choice to look tougher in the weight room—instead, he says that it’s for the most advantageous position possible. “We don’t want to be kicked forward and leaning forward,” he says. “That’s gonna put our weight load in front of us and make it more challenging and it’s going to create further distance that we’re gonna have to pull from.” Even more important’y, you’ll avoid any instability created by a sole shape that wasn’t designed with the deadlift in mind. You can go barefoot, or opt for a minimal sole trainer. “The thinnest that you can for the deadlift is the best,” Duffin says.

    • Set Your Shoulders Without Retraction

      Since you’re pulling heavy loads, you need to make sure to stabilize the spine. Duffin says that you want to do that by creating tension in your lats without retracting your shoulders. Instead, flex your lats, but don’t pull your shoulders back. If you pull your shoulders back, you’ll have a longer area to pull the bar, making the lift harder to complete. “What you want to do is think about closing the space at the back of the shoulder,” he says. Avoid flaring the rib cage when you do this.

      • Try a Sumo Deadlift

        The conventional lift is great, but the sumo stance allows you to put more on your hip drive, which ultimately powers the deadlift. Give that a try to work your hip mobility and posture.

        • RNT Band Drill

          Duffin suggests trying a drill that forces you to pull the bar in toward yourself as you rep. He typically uses it to help lifters engage their lats, since the bands force you to shift your torso back. To do the drill, tether a resistance band to a low anchor and wrap the ends around both hands. Perform the lift as usual, fighting the bands to stay in the proper range of motion.

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