Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

The Primary Start Position Error in the Deadlift

by Mark Rippetoe | June 16, 2020

hamstring tension at the start of the deadlift

… is, without doubt, hips too low/knees too forward/bar forward of the mid-foot. Because this is the easy version of the position, and the correct, hard version must be learned. 

We know that the bar is pulled off the floor most efficiently when it stays in an essentially vertical line over the middle of the foot with the shoulders just in front of the bar, for a bunch of reasons which are discussed in detail in Starting Strength 3rd edition. I'll assume you've read them, and that you understand why it's worth the trouble to get into a position that generates this vertical bar path over mid-foot. 

But trouble it is, and I understand. If the back is locked into both lumbar and thoracic extension, then the pelvis shows an anterior tilt, which tightens the hamstrings proximally. And if the shins are positioned so that the bar can come off the floor over the mid-foot, then the knee angle is open enough that the hamstrings are tightened distally. There is a lot of tension on the hamstrings in this correct position. 

Most people don't like the way hamstring tension feels. I don't either – it reminds me of that time back in the 80s when everybody thought they had to do a bunch of stretches in front of the Stretching Poster every gym was obligated to have on the wall. As it turned out, stretching made a few people a lot of money and the rest of us just sore. We learned over time that it just hurts, it doesn't help anything, and it kills about 20 minutes. Just set up your deadlifts correctly, and you're stretching. 

When you 1.) place your feet so that the bar is directly over the mid-foot, 2.) take your grip on the bar, 3.) move your shins forward to touch the bar without rolling it forward, 4.) squeeze your chest up, and 5.) start the pull by pushing the floor away from the bar from this efficient position, your hamstrings will have that uncomfortable “stretched” feeling. 

You don't like that feeling, so you drop your ass as you squeeze your chest up. Since this is the part of the setup that stretches the hamstrings, most people slack the hamstrings by dropping their hips. Hips are connected to knees, so knees drop forward, and shins drop forward. This closes the knee angle and thus releases distal tension on the hamstrings. It immediately feels more comfortable, but it also immediately pushes the bar forward of the mid-foot – where you can't pull it from if it's heavy. 

About 5 minutes on YouTube is all that's necessary to see that all heavy pulls are pulled over the mid-foot, whether they start there or not. You'll be helping yourself out if you make up your mind to pull the most efficient way possible, which means that the bar is pulled vertically off the floor from the start, and doesn't have to come back into vertical over mid-foot with a curved bar path after you start it too far forward. Horizontal movement does not make the bar go up, and it's a waste of force production. 

The correct position features tight hamstrings. They are not to be avoided, but rather used to identify a correct start position. Resist the temptation to take the tension off the hamstrings before you start the pull. That tension anchors the hips and allows the quads to help make the bar go up, and the loss of that tension comes at the expense of the bar forward of mid-foot.

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