Demystifying the Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the most fundamental movement patterns in training to get stronger. I would love to tell you all the science behind why the deadlift is such a great movement, but the truth is that there are many articles on the internet that do this far better than I can. The real reason that I love the deadlift and work to get all my clients to the stage that they can deadlift properly is due to the fact that we live in a time where men and women are throwing their backs out picking up their kids or keys.

The deadlift, when performed correctly of course, is the most efficient way to pick something up off the ground. As such I tell all my clients that the movement patterns that they learn in the gym should apply to all of the movement they do outside of it. There is no difference in how I pick up my keys after dropping them and how I pick up 200kg. One is just substantially slower than the other.

So, the aim of this article is to highlight some of my pet hates in the deadlift and see if we can get your deadlift looking as sexy as it possibly can!

It’s and deadlift, not a squat! – 

During the eternal search for a braced and neutral spine, the most common fault that I see is people dropping their hips so low that they in essence drop in a squat whilst holding on to the bar. While your back may be flat, and yes you may be holding on tot he bar to deadlift. the fact is that you my friend are not doing anything that resembles a deadlift. The deadlift is a hinge movement, the squat is a squat. So many people seem get lost when I explain to them that they need to think of the deadlift as a hinge movement rather than a squat, which is understandable considering that both movements are very hip dominant in their mechanics. However, what I try to convey to my clients that the whereas the squat is an up and down movement, the deadlift is a push into the floor with the feet and a pull backwards with the upper back. The hips are just the hinge.

Start the deadlift in about a half-squat position with your shoulder blades over the barbell. If you start too low, the barbell will end up too far in front of your body, which causes you to literally hang out on the meat of your lower back,compromising your leverage. Thus leaving you in a much weaker position.

On the left we have a squat. On the right we have a deadlift.

On the left we have a squat start. On the right we have a deadlift start – Know the difference

Not fixing your base! – 

Foot position and stance is the most important part of the deadlift. As with building a house, you need to start with a firm foundation. The deadlift is no different.

Unless you are pulling sumo then start with a hip width stance and adjust as required. Very rarely do I see anyone whose stance is too narrow, but more often than not I see a base that is too wide. Not taking time to set your stance will affect not just the quality of your pull but also the positioning of your levers, putting you at a mechanical disadvantage.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Shruggin’ and Tuggin’ – 

Ok, so while I have referred to the deadlift as a pull through pretty much the entirety of this blog, that doesn’t mean that you doing anything with your arms other than holding the bar in place. Too many people engage the arms and their traps while pulling, and this leads to a really messed up pull.

The reason for this is that for muscles to engage and move, other muscles have to shut off. By shrugging the weight you are simply decreasing the positional stability and tightness of your entire body, which can lead to really bad injuries. Bear in mine that the most common major injury associated with the deadlift is a bicep tear. Don’t be the guy or girl who tries to shrug and curl 140kg. It will end badly.

Don't be the guy on the left

Don’t be the guy on the left

Too fast. Too furious – 

Ok, this one is well and truly my biggest pet hates. Don’t jerk the bar off the floor! Attempting to rip the weight off the floor is more often than not is a recipe for disaster, and the last thing I want is for you to feel the ‘aster’.

Now, there are special individuals who can, and do, rip the weight off the floor at incredible speed, but these guys and girls are freaks, and chances are you cant do it. Honestly though, don’t worry cause neither can I. Check out Dan Green putting the ‘rip’ in ripping weight off the floor.

You need to think of the initial pull like going through the gears on a car. No one would jump straight from first to fifth gear, and the deadlift is no different. Try pulling all the slack out of the bar by building power from the floor and prioritising position. Dan Green is one of the most dynamic pullers in the game, but what he does is so far removed from what most normal humans can do that to try and copy him is pointless. Yes be fast, but only as fast as you can maintain position.

If you have read this and recognised any of these as mistakes that you are making, then scale back, take your time and remember – deadlifting right can save your life!

If you feel your deadlift needs a little more hands on attention then get in touch via the link below to book your free deadlift clinic >>>>>>>>>

Train Strong.

Live Strong.

Be Stronger

The coach’s responsibility

I feel like I need to get something out in the open, I am sick of hearing about ‘movement mechanics training’ or ‘sports specific training’ when it comes to athletes because more often than not, these terms are misunderstood and misused by strength coaches at large. Sports Mechanics is a very unique field and should be left to specialists. The simple fact is that while I am very much in support of making each and every athlete better at their sport, that is not the job of the strength coach. That is the job of their sports coach, so do your job and make them better athletes!


We are in the business of making athletes strong!

Too many of us in the coaching field are trying to be more than we are by attempting to move our knowledge in to fields that we are not qualified to speak on. If I take on a rugby player as a client, I am not going to start putting them into sports specific positional drills. Those muscles are already being worked in training and I sure as hell can’t teach them better than a qualified rugby coach. All your doing is exacerbating the issue at hand and not fulfilling your job description. Sure, your working towards making sure that the player snaps the ball marginally faster, but can they run faster, jump higher and change direction quicker? If not, then no one is going to care how fast he or she can offload the ball because the monster at the other end of the field is already closing in on them with a torpedo like pace.



We need to look at each individual sports requirements and make sure that we are tailoring what ever strength and conditioning that we are putting our athletes through directly corresponds to the demands of that sports. If your sport requires rotational force such as golf, make sure you stabilize the midline and work on the capability of the body to generate rotational force. If you’re a thrower, take it ones step further than work on the ability of the body to rotate and extend during the production of power.

Does your sport require agility and power, great! Lets work on the physical attributes that allow you to have agility and power, but lets make sure that we are doing this in a well thought out and methodical way. The aforementioned issue that I have with the way in which some strength coaches are training their athletes is that it is inappropriate not just in terms of the coaches primary function, namely as a strength coach, but also because its working on the top end of the ‘athletes pyramid’ model that I have discussed in previous works before.

To recap, if we think about ultimate athletic potential as a pyramid, we want to build the tallest, broadest pyramid possible and to do that we need to bare in mind that a pyramid can only be as tall as its base is wide. If we break down the pyramid into three sections we have general physical preparedness (GPP), special physical preparedness (SPP), and sports specific physical preparedness (SSPP).

General physical preparedness would be maximal strength, conditioning and bodily composition of the athlete. Special physical preparedness would be applying the athletes GPP within the context of either the time demands of the sport, the context of a movement pattern, or a set physical attribute that the sport requires. For example, max back squat for a wrestler would be GPP. Zercher squats, sand bag carries, or farmers walks would be SPP. Finally, the act of wrestling would be the SSPP, and this relies on the expertise of the wrestling coach, not you.

Zach Even-Esh has made a career taking kids who know how to wrestle, and making them wrestlers!

Zach Even-Esh has made a career taking kids who know how to wrestle, and making them wrestlers!

The long and short of this article is that you need to remember what your priority is when dealing with athletes. It is your job to make sure that your athletes become harder, better, faster, stronger, not to make them better at there specific sports skills. If you are doing your job right then everyone of their physical attributes that you develop will carry over to their abilities within their actual sports. Don’t try and teach a rugby player how to tackle, make them tackle harder. Don’t teach a runner how to run, make sure that they can physically withstand the mileage of their endurance training.

We as coaches have a duty of care, by not fulfilling our job description we are not just endangering our athletes but our reputations.

To find out how you can get strong and realise your inner athlete just click the link below.

Train Strong.

Live Strong.

Be Strong.


Ever heard someone talk about any of the following things:

Blood Lactic?
Lactic threshold?

If so, where you left dumbfounded, did you feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights of bullshit? If so, don’t worry; it’s not your fault! It’s the Internet’s. However, I digress. With the ease with which people can put down their opinions on everything under the sun on the Internet, it becomes very hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. As such, I will be providing you with a basic, introduction to the various energy systems of the body, and all that this entails. I have taken all of this knowledge from various textbooks, so this should be up to date correct.

anaelacticphospho what now?!

Ok, so here we go! Right, so, the body is like a car, it requires fuel or its not going anywhere. This fuel is the food we eat, which in essence is broken down into the macronutrients of Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. Each energy source is metabolized differently to generate useable energy. The only energy unit however, that is useable by the body is adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the bodies’ energy currency, and is used in one of the three bodily energy systems, which are the phosphocreatine system, the aerobic system, and the lactic system. We’ll get onto these later.

First things first, we get energy from foods, but all these foods are metabolized in different ways.
Carbs! Yes, fruit and veggies are carbs, get over it!

So, carbs have 4 kcal per gram. The NHS nutritional guidlines state that 60-65% of your caloric intake should be carbohydrate however, this prescription is based on an out dated understanding of how foods are metabolised and is slowly being stamped out in the minds of the public and our health officials thank God. All carbs are in essence sugar waiting to happen; besides the molecular structure the only thing that separates a gummy baby from a sweet potato is the time it takes the body to break down these foods into usable sugar, i.e. glucose.

Carbs are not easily stored within the body, with small amounts being stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which can be reverted into glucose when needed. Glycogen stored in the muscles can only be used in the muscles and cannot be released in the blood for use elsewhere. Carbs should be taken pre and post work out and limited the rest of the day, with the amounts of carbs varying depending on your goals… that’s right, I am saying you should limit carbs!

The reason for this being that Glycogen has a relatively large chemical structure, as it is made of many glucose molecules. When activity levels start to increase, or are anticipated to increase, adrenaline, and glucagon (a fuel mobilizing hormone) send messages for the enzymes within the muscles cells to work to break the glycogen apart, via a process called glycogenolysis.

Fats. Yummy yummy fats!

Fat provides the greatest amount of energy per gram at 9kcal per gram. Fat is stored in the body both underneath the skin and around the organs. The same hormones that stimulate the break down of glycogen into glucose stimulates that breakdown of fat in the adipose tissue into fatty acids to be used for energy production. This is known as lipolysis. Now, the funny thing about fats is this, not only are these vital for hormone production, testosterone levels, the fitter an individual, the more efficient they are at extracting energy from fat. Fat needs a great deal of oxygen to be metabolized effectively. The cardiovascular adaptations that occur with regular cardio vascular training improves the abilities of an individual to take up oxygen and deliver it to the working muscles making it easier for the body to use fat as fuel even at higher intensities. This is a useful survival mechanism, because which carbs run out quickly, there is an abundant supply of fat to fuel ongoing activity. A fit individual can spare the carbs until it is really needed and maintained activity, using fat as the main fuel. Some carbs are still needed to aid the metabolism of fat as it acts as a metabolic primer.

Meat is Murder! Tasty, tasty murder!

Protein, the building blocks of life and the key to you becoming the a more optimally functional human being. I am not going to do this section to death, as everyone seems to know a fair bit about protein. It provides 4kcal of energy per gram. Protein is stored in the body as muscle and is only used for energy production when carb stores are deleted. Proteins need to be broken down into amino acids and converted into glucose by the liver if they are to be used for energy production. This process is known as gluconeogeneis.

This is where magic happens!

Ok so, those are the fuel sources. Muscle glycogen is stored to fuel muscular activity, such as weightlifting, and muscle glycogen is stored for use by the brain. If there is no glucose remaining in blood and the liver glycogen store is running low, carbs must be ingested or it must start to be made internally. Amino acids are used for this through the break down or protein.

The demand of ATP synthesis varies depending on the intensity of the activity. The more ATP is required the quicker it needs to be synthesized. If it cannot be synthesized quick enough, then intensity of activity must lower, even at its fastest, it takes a minimum of 10 seconds to synthesize enough ATP. The body will use a mix of fat in the form of fatty acids and carbohydrates in the form of glucose to synthesis ATP. Fat can only be used in the presence of oxygen. Without oxygen, only carbohydrate can be used. As already mentioned, there are plenty of fat stores, but fat takes a relatively long time to metabolise.


The only source of energy that can be used directly by the body is ATP. It is made of one adenosine molecule and three phosphates, which are attached through high-energy bonds. Energy is produced when the bond between the second and third phosphate is broken. The by products of this are Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphate. ATP is really unstable and cannot be stored in the muscle. ADP and phosphate are stable. To maintain energy supplies ATP must be constantly re-synthesized, meaning energy is needed from somewhere else to reattach the phosphate that has broken away and allow the cycle to continue. There are three energy systems that perform this function.

The energy systems used to re-synthesized ATP will be depend on:

The intensity of the exercise / activity
Duration of the exercise
The type of exercise / activity

Phosphocreatine –

Muscle glycogen provides the initial fuel for movement when exercise starts. Straight away the body starts to metabolize fat and increase the flow of blood to the muscles being used, in order to provide the fat and oxygen required if activity is to continue. This process takes a minimum of 20 seconds, by which time the small amounts of glycogen held within the muscles has been completely used up in approximately 1-2 seconds.

Maximal intensity exercises have a huge glycogen demand

Within the muscle there is a store of creatine phosphate. Although this cannot be used directly, it can be converted very quickly when catalysed by the anaerobic enzyme creatine kinase. Only one chemical process is required to separate the phosophate from the creatine, so that phospate is added to the ADP to create more ATP.

Creatine phosphate is generated in the liver, but is also sourced from the meat that we eat. When muscle demands it, either more is synthesized in the liver, or more is taken from within the bloodstream. At best, a muscle can store no more than roughly 20 seconds worth of the stuff. The more the creatine phosphate is used, the greater the ability to sore it and the greater the amount of creatine kinase is made readily available. High intensity training involving repeated short bursts of explosive movements is likely to be the most effective way of achieving this.

Fast twitch muscle fiber’s (fast glycolytic) will use the phosphocreatine system for energy production. Their low aerobic ability means that they need to use an energy system that can provide energy without the use of oxygen (anaerobically). Their suitability to short bursts of intense activity also means that the best energy system for them to utilize is the phosphocreatine system.

The phosphocreatine system fuels short bursts of very high or maximal intensity activity. This should be reflected when one tries to improve the efficiency of the phosphocreatine system. By alternating maximal efforts with long recovery periods using interval training, this energy system can be effectively overloaded to bring about adaptation.

For example, a max effort squat would use all the muscular stores of creatine phosphate. A long recovery is then required to allow the body to refuel these stores, roughly 6 minutes. Therefore only allowing the body 3 minutes allows for a gradual depletion of the bodies creatine phosphate over a number of maximal efforts.

Lift heavy, often, with good technique.
The Lactic System

Once all available creatine phospate has been used, intensity of activity must lower, as no other system is able to re-synthesize ATP as quickly. If activity is continued then the next fastest system is the lactic system. The lactic system is also used if an activity is started at a less intense rate than required for the phosphocreatine system. The body continues to metabolize fat and increase the flow of blood to the muscles involved, to provide the fat and oxygen required if the activity is to continue. The lactic acid system is more efficient than the phosphocreatine system at generate ATP, producing a max of three ATP molecules per molecule of glycogen via a process called anaerobic glycolysis The process of anaerobic glycolysis takes longer than the phosphocreatine system, due to the more chemically complex nature of the glucose molecules, which causes a rapid depletion of the bodies glycogen stores.

Two variables limit the ability of the lactic system to continue working. Firstly that glucose stores run out pretty damn quick. The second is that the system produces more of its waste product, lactic acid… duh, than the body can handle. This leads to all those nasty cramps and vomiting that we sometimes experience when we feel the “burn”.

Why does it hurt so much to be this fast?!

The build up of lactic acid in fact prevents further ATP generation. The muscles continue to try to contract, but with each contraction less ATP is generated. Once intensity of exercise decreases, lactic acid is dispersed into the blood and taken to other muscles or the liver. The speed or recovery is related not to only the intensity of activity that is continued but also to each individuals personal abilities. Total recovery from an over load of the lactic system is approximately 30 minutes. An individual will first reach the aerobic threshold. This is the point at which energy production begins to shift in favor of anaerobic pathways, but lactic acid concentrations have not yet reached a level that will inhibit performance, which lets be honest, sucks.

The point at which lactic acid is being produced faster than it can be removed is known as anaerobic threshold. This threshold is also known as the point of onset blood lactate accumulation (OBLA). To improve the lactic system interval training is an effective method of improving the lactic acid system. By alternating work efforts that create a lactic build up with periods of recovery to remove the lactic acid by product we can begin to increase the anaerobic threshold and point of OBLA. Fartlek (speed play), cruise intervals, HIIT are all good methodologies to follow to improve the lactic acid system.

The Aerobic System

Once the lactic acid has prevented further generation of ATP, intensity of activity must be lowered. The aerobic system then takes over. Aerobic production of ATP is by far the most preferred method. As long as there is sufficient oxygen present, the body always selects the aerobic system. Not only does this utilize fat as well as carbs, leaving more carbs in the tank, but it also is able to generate more molecules of ATP. Aerobic (with oxygen) glycolysis generates up to 38 molecules of ATP for each molecule of glycogen.

Aerobic glycolysis takes place in specialized muscle cells called mitochondria. Mitochondria are essentially cell batteries and are found within muscle fibers. The point at which intensity of activity increases so much that the body is no longer able to get enough oxygen to get to the working muscles is known as the aerobic threshold. Again, to a certain extent this is genetically set. Appropriate training, in the form of interval training with peaks just about the aerobic threshold, can improve the aerobic threshold by enabling the body to transport and work with oxygen at a higher intensity.

When glucose is broken down in the presence of oxygen it is converted into pyruvate. This process is known as glycolysis. In the absence of oxygen the pyruvate becomes lactic acid and eventually inhibits further muscle contraction. As long as oxygen and carbohydrates are present the aerobic energy systems can last indefinably. The by products of aerobic production are CO2, water and heat. The body easily removes all these, so it presents no limiting factors. The aerobic energy system will at the time be using a combination of fats and carbs to produce ATP. Protein can be used when glycogen stores have been depleted. The proportion of fat and carbs used is determined by the intensity of the activity. As intensity increases a greater proportion of ATP synthesis will come from aerobic glycolysis until anaerobic threshold is reached. However, the maximal effective duration of the Aerobic system is only two hours.

So there we are boys and girls, a brief insight into the world of energy systems. I hope you enjoy.

Train Strong.

Live Strong.

Be Strong.


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