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Starting Strength in the Real World

Another Look at Halting Deadlifts

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC | July 19, 2022

lifter at the top of a halting deadlift

When you go from doing deadlifts as the main pulling movement in your program to a partial range of motion exercise like rack pulls, you intentionally overload a part of the full range of motion of the parent exercise. Depending on the situation, doing so can reduce overall stress in your program while still allowing you to pull a very heavy weight. Halting deadlifts are the complement to rack pulls since they cover the bottom half of the deadlift ROM. The usual recommendation is to alternate rack pulls and halting deadlifts on a heavy pulling day, but in practice this is rarely done as people can make quite a bit of progress using rack pulls exclusively as the heavy pull for a long time before adding in any other variations.

But there’s another benefit to halting deadlifts that’s often overlooked and that can carry over into all of your pulls off the floor, including the snatch and the clean. The 5 Step Deadlift Setup, when followed correctly, puts you in the best position to pull the bar off the floor regardless of the length of your limbs and body segments. If you are careful with following the steps consistently, you will have set yourself up for a mechanically efficient pull every single time. But even though you’ve set yourself up for a good pull, you are still able to mess up the pulling mechanics on the way up in terms of how your joints move as the bar comes up off the floor by trying to get too upright too quickly and forgetting to “push the floor.”

As a review, even though your hips and knees are opening simultaneously in a deadlift and your back angle is becoming more vertical as soon as the bar breaks off the floor, you should be thinking about pushing the floor as if you were leg pressing the floor away from you. Doing this results in proper timing of the hips and knees extending to the lockout. In a lighter pull – a deadlift that isn’t truly heavy, for example – you can accomplish the task of getting to the lockout with the bar in your hands using a whole bunch of hip extension with the knees lagging, but with any appreciable weight on the bar, this turns into a hitch or into a pull that never breaks off the floor since you aren’t using your quads effectively and the bar has to travel around your knees on the way up.

The problem is that when you first learn how to deadlift you are not using extremely heavy weights, so this movement pattern issue has potential to become ingrained. You can avoid or correct the problem in short order using halting deadlifts when it would otherwise be neglected or masked in a program that only uses rack pulls. In a halting deadlift, you will focus only on the “pushing” part of the deadlift. Other than the bar coming up above the patella, the other indicator that it’s time to put the bar down is that you feel like you have to get upright to keep going any higher. Your job is take full advantage of the lats in controlling the bar and the quads in pushing the floor while maintaining low back extension and a relatively horizontal back angle. If you treat the halting deadlift like a heavy pull rather than an assistance exercise, you’ll immediately expose and be able to correct any issues with your pulling mechanics off the floor and any deficiencies in lat tightness at the start of the pull.

This has immediate carryover into not only your deadlift, but into your Olympic lifts as well since the acceleration that carries the bar up to the shoulders or overhead is dependent on how much force you can efficiently put into the bar during the first part of the pull. This requires maintaining a more horizontal back angle (or leaning out over the bar) and a whole bunch of force being applied to the bar by pushing the floor – exactly what you’ll be doing in the halting deadlift. When you do halting deadlifts, you are also overloading the first pull of your Olympic lifts. Outside of the grip width changes in the deadlift vs the clean and snatch, the mechanics and positioning are nearly identical, but you get to do it with a really heavy weight.

So learn from my mistakes, folks. I neglected the halting deadlift for a long time in my lifting and in my clients’ programming. They suck and they’re really damn hard to do. But if you do them right and you do them heavy, your pulls will get better as you learn to get comfortable with this rather uncomfortable lift.  

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