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Starting Strength in the Real World


Hitching the Deadlift

by Mark Rippetoe | January 29, 2019

deadlift hitch

If your heavy deadlifts move up your thighs in a series of "jumps," you are performing what is called "hitching the bar." Hitches are illegal in powerlifting competition, but they are also a bad idea in general. Here's why.

A hitch is a serially interrupted pull above the knees. It is essentially a slow, desperate double knee bend done for the wrong reasons. Typically, the bar slows to a stop as your pulling mechanics fall apart in a limit deadlift, and this is associated with a loss of lumbar extension and its accompanying loss of hamstring tension. The hamstrings function isometrically in a pull to support the back angle as a slight knee extension starts the bar upward off the floor. The back angle becomes more vertical all the way up, but it doesn't become fully vertical until the top of the pull, where the knees and hips lock out with the low back still tight in extension.

When you hitch, the low back loses extension (low back extension tightens the hamstrings proximally), and the flexing lumbar spine allows the knees to slide forward, pulling the hips forward and the back angle more vertical, further removing the hamstrings from their role in the pull. With the hips in extension and the back vertical, the posterior chain is now out of the pulling business.

So the quads get into the pushing business. As the knees go forward and the back becomes more vertical, the thighs become more horizontal – they become a good place to rest the bar. The bar goes back down a little, the weight rests on the thigh, the knee angle closes a little, and then the quads restart the upward movement of the bar by extending the knees. This jumps the bar up a little, maybe an inch at a time, permitting the hip angle to open a little more each time even though the hamstrings are not really participating, leaving the glutes by themselves to readjust the hip angle as the bar jumps up. Once again, we've succeeded in taking the hamstrings out of an exercise it belongs in.

This is essentially a form issue that is the result of not really understanding the pull. We don't see it too often, since our people know how to pull correctly, and their lumbar erectors and hamstrings are strong enough to stay in the pull as a result of having trained the deadlift and the squat correctly. Our recent USSF Nationals was conducted without a single hitched deadlift. If you start the deadlift from a bar position over the mid-foot with hips high enough and low back set hard in extension, and train it that way, you will not hitch the deadlift.

But if you bounce your deadlift reps in training, or start with the bar too far forward, and thus fail to train the hard part of the pull – the start from the floor – you're leaving the low back and hamstrings out of the part of the ROM that makes them strong. Laziness in the deadlift will show up down the road, and a hitched deadlift is a sure sign that corners are being cut.


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