Fix Your Deadlift

For good reason, the Deadlift is beloved by coaches everywhere. It is an excellent way to develop pure, total body strength as well as reinforce good posture and proper mechanics that relate to many other movements. Unfortunately, though, it is also a movement where strength can trump form – it’s too easy to do it the wrong way. You can execute a heavy rep with egregiously poor technique and we see this far too often with high school athletes who want to move big weight. The result can range from inefficiency to a legitimate risk of injury.

While the deadlift appears to be a relatively simple lift, proper execution often proves far more difficult. Here, we identify just a few of the major coaching points that we use when teaching to any of our athletes. We are constantly looking to perfect technique in order to maximize gains, while simultaneously minimizing risk.

  1. Perfect the Set-Up Position: Often, athletes have failed the lift before they’ve even begun. Improper set up for the deadlift can result in a host of technical errors during execution. One of the most common issues we see is incorrect hip and shoulder positioning. Some athletes set up with super low hip level, much like a squat – others do the opposite, treating it more like an RDL. We want to find the middle ground. With the bar just in front of vertical shins, the athlete’s hips should be above the knee (from a profile view), the shoulders above the hips (and in front of the bar) and gaze towards the ground (neck in a neutral alignment – no “eyes to the sky” here!). Correct alignment will help ensure athletes’ maintain proper back position and allow them to generate the most force into the ground.
  2. Teach it as a “Push”: While the deadlift is most often referred to as a pulling movement, we actually prefer to associate it with a “push” when teaching new athletes. Hearing “Pull” often leads to movement deficits – hip & shoulder disassociation during the initial ascent phase, loss of lumbar curve, etc. To combat these issues, we instead tell the athlete to focus on pushing the ground away with their legs. This helps to keep the hips and shoulders rising at the same time with a tight core.
  3. Work the Return: Even athletes with impeccable deadlift form off of the floor often have a tough time with the eccentric portion of the deadlift, or the “return”. When working consecutive reps within a given set, this half of the movement becomes vital to proper execution. Essentially we want to mirror the concentric half of the lift in reverse. First the athletes should push the hips back and “look out over the cliff” until the bar reaches the knee. Only then should the athlete re-bend the knee. Early knee bend is a fault we see frequently, and leads to both inefficiency moving weight and potential injury.


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Improve Your Clean: 3 Part Drill

The clean, and all of its variations, is an incredible tool for athletic development, as well as general fitness. When executed properly, this one movement can help an athlete improve in all of these areas.

  1. Overall Strength & Power
  2. Coordination/Full-Body Proprioception
  3. Balance
  4. Mobility

That being said, many coaches and athletes ignore the highly technical nature of the Clean. In order to reap ALL of the potential benefits, one must continually focus on proper technique and positioning. For example, an early pull (lack of patience to the jumping position, or bending the arms before hip extension) will drastically limit the athlete’s ability to exert and develop maximum power. On the other hand, a sloppy catch (low elbows or a wide “Starfish” position) will hinder strength gains and reinforce poor mobility and body control.

In order to ensure proper execution, we must continually practice movement and positioning before adding load. One way to do this is with the drill demonstrated in the video above. With a PVC, training bar, or empty barbell, the athlete will perform 9 different Cleans. First the athlete first finds position 1: a shoulder width stance, slight dip of the hips, arms long and loose, with a vertical torso. The athlete will then jump explosively, making the bar weightless, and meet the bar with a good front rack position in a quarter squat (or power position). The athlete then stands tall and resets at position 1. The next rep will be caught the same way, then the athlete will descend below parallel and complete a full squat. Resetting again, the athlete will finish by performing a full squat clean.

The athlete will perform the same 3 clean catch variations at each of our 3 positions (1=high hang, 2=hang just above the knee, 3=mid-shin or “from the floor”). This progression will drill all 3 positions, how to move efficiently between them, and reinforce proper catch technique for any load.

Add this drill into your warm-up anytime the workout calls for use of the Clean, and your athletes and their gains will benefit greatly!


From Football to Physical Education: Training Together

At St. Paul High School in Nebraska, a smaller school comprised of just a few hundred kids, Rusty Fuller serves as the Physical Education director for grades 7th through 12th, and is the Head Football Coach. Like many schools across the country, St. Paul has recently initiated a school-wide approach to fitness and physical training. The goal was to bring all students together, allowing them to work side-by-side, while still allowing for personalization and varying goals.

To accomplish this, Rusty initially utilized the Bigger Faster Stronger computer software, ‘Beat The Computer’. Having used it with his Football team, he did his level best to modify the program for kids with various levels of training experience. However, this was not without its challenges.

“Running a successful class training session with 30 kids of varying ability is hard. You’re trying to adapt things on the fly for different kids while also teach and instruct on proper form and mechanics.”

When online strength and conditioning programs started cropping up a couple of years ago, Rusty turned to them in hopes of streamlining this process. He wanted something that offered instructional content to every student, programs for students and athletes alike, and allowed him to track a host of different data. Ultimately, Rusty went with PLT4M, first leveraging its athletic development programs for his football team both during the off-season, and while they competed in the fall. He recognized the value straight away.

“What’s great about PLT4M is that every kid has access to their personalized program – right on their phone. They have all the instructional videos and guidance they need. This frees me up to work with the kids who need the most help.”

As is the case with many small schools, a lot of the kids at St. Paul are multi-sport athletes. Rusty and his principal saw the value in PLT4M’s holistic, multi-sport training approach and worked to bring the entire student body on board. This allowed Rusty to place students on certain programs dictated by competitive seasons, as well as teach fitness to students not engaged in athletics.

St. Paul has established a comprehensive, yet flexible Physical Education curriculum that caters to each student’s individual needs. 7th and 8th graders start with PLT4M’s Fit 4 Life program, which establishes proper movement mechanics and a foundation of holistic fitness. They then graduate to ‘Introduction to Weight Training’ – a great bridge into barbell oriented resistance training.

With the curriculum set and programs in place, Rusty allows the PLT4M system to collect the training data. Kids logged their workouts and results each day, and at the end of a semester, Rusty can run a progress report with a few clicks. He then submits that report to his administrators, and uses it to grade kids with hard data. Not only has that been a game changer for him, but he says the kids love seeing their progress.

“The ability for students and athletes to have access to not just the training programs and videos, but also their training data – that is huge!”

With the recent release of a new PE weight training curriculum – Advanced Weight Training – Rusty has yet another arrow in his quiver. “PLT4M has come a long way in the three years since I signed up. It just keeps getting better with every new year,” Rusty notes. And isn’t that the goal – to constantly strive for improvement? Whether you are a coach, teacher, student or software company, we certainly believe it should be.


Want a peek at how we can help you bring a school-wide approach to your school? Request a Demo Here!

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What is the Power Clean?

The olympic lifts are excellent tools for athletic development. That being said, they are also amongst the trickiest to teach. The first problem is a lack of understanding and adherence to clear and specific terminology. We recognize that many coaches and trainers use slightly different verbiage when teaching lifting technique, specifically with the olympic lifts. This often leads to heated debate for almost no reason – but we do still need to establish a baseline of common language regarding the movements themselves when training athletes. Your athletes should know exactly what you require of them on every single rep.

By no means are we trying to say that what follows is the hard and fast rule when it comes to talking movement and technique, but it is the way we approach it here at PLT4M, and we think it works pretty well.

Let’s use the Clean as a starting point in our discussion. The clean (as part of the clean and jerk) is one of only 2 “Olympic” lifts. For reference, the squat, bench press, and deadlift are considered “Power Lifts”. As an olympic lift, the clean has a few different pieces, as well as multiple variations. In order to discuss and prescribe the clean in our workouts, we need our athletes to understand all of the relevant terminology.

As defined by the IWF’s rules for competition, a clean is when a barbell is “pulled in a single movement from the platform to the shoulders, while either splitting or bending the legs.” Simply put, a clean is a lift that moves a barbell from the floor to a front rack position at the shoulders.

This is often misunderstood right from the get-go. For example, too often we have coaches or athletes saying “Power Clean” as a direct counter-point to the Hang Clean (to refer to cleaning from the floor as opposed to an established hang position). In fact, any clean is from the floor unless denoted otherwise, the power actually refers to the catch position. While this may not be detrimental in the sense of harming the program or athlete, it does make for confusion that can lead to inefficiency or improper loading. So first we must establish a concrete understanding of the starting position. Here are the three most basic.

  • Clean = From the floor
  • Hang Clean = From an established hang anywhere above the knees
  • High Hang Clean = From the pockets, or jumping position

Next up is the receiving position. It must be acknowledged that there is some discrepancy amongst coaches and trainers as to what constitutes a clean rep, regardless of starting position. Many coaches claim that a full clean requires a full squat. Some coaches simply abide by the IWF definition and believe that depth of the catch does not matter (even a split catch, like on a split jerk, is accepted in competition but is rarely used). Crossfit has popularized specifying the full movement in detail to be completely clear on any rep. A squat clean requires a catch with hips below parallel, while a power clean requires hips above. If the clean is labeled by neither, the athlete is allowed to perform the movement with either catch (often determined by the load).

Here at PLT4M, this is also the stance we’ve taken for clarity of movement prescription. We’d much prefer the load determine an athlete’s depth. Thus, a light warm up set of cleans would likely only require a small power catch, while our heavy 3×1’s will often result in a full squat. The beauty of teaching the power position catch is that it naturally allows for the athlete to continue dropping into a fuller squat without changing anything.

To summarize – here at PLT4M, we ascribe to a terminology model that works in 3 pieces. Let’s use the Hang Power Clean as an example.

  1. Hang (Initial Position of the Barbell, in this instance above the knee, or position “2”)
  2. Power (Catch Position, in this case in a quarter squat, or anything above parallel)
  3. Clean (The base movement at hand, to be modified by the 2 words, or lack thereof, before it)

This model allows for very specific instruction when so desired. It also allows for the opposite. If all we say is “Clean,” we mean for the bar to be taken from the floor (because that is the definition of a standard clean), and intentionally do not specify a catch position. This allows the athlete to catch in whatever way they need to at the given load. If we do want to specify a catch position, we simply add it. This gives us the ability to be very specific when prescribing our workouts.

We are sure some coaches have strong feelings about the terminology they use, and we are by no means saying that you are doing it wrong. We are simply providing a cohesive approach you may use teaching and informing your athletes when using the olympic lifts. We’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

Speed and agility

The Agility Ladder: Misconceptions and the Truth

One of the most widely used – and misunderstood – athletic training tools is the agility ladder. For years, we have seen athletes of every sport attack the ladder every day in a vain attempt to get faster and more agile. Problem is, that’s not really what the ladder does. Performing ladder drills won’t improve your speed or agility in the most traditional sense. But, does that mean it’s useless? Of course not. Let’s take a quick look at what the agility ladder actually is, and how it can help athletes.

The problem lies primarily in the name. “Agility Ladder” is a complete misnomer. Agility is an athlete’s ability to stop and start, the culmination of acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction or movement. Now, imagine the average ladder drill – speed and direction are both constant. Worse, we often see athletes approaching ladder routines like a tap dancer – super high hip level, minimal knee bend, and rapid foot movement only. It can look impressive at times, but clearly this has little effect on speed and agility in a way that is relevant to athletics.

That being said, if used correctly, the ladder can still be a useful tool in athletic development. The focus, instead of agility, is really on proprioception – or body control & coordination. Your awareness of your body in space and the ability to control your limbs with precision is not purely a god-given talent. It is a result of neurological connections made between your brain and the muscles in your body over time through practice. For example, a soccer player doesn’t just wake up one day with the ability to juggle a soccer ball, it takes thousands of hits and misses recorded by the brain to establish a firm, confident connection that allows for complete control.

By working through progressively difficult foot patterns on the ladder, increasing speed as you go, you cement those neurological connections between the brain and your feet. Every great rep, as well as every mistake, brings you closer to supreme control. When you can control EXACTLY where your foot will land, with how much force, for how long and in what direction it will move next, you have drastically improved your potential for economy of movement.

Economy of movement means a lack of wasted energy and motion. The less time you take to complete a task, the “faster” you are at it. In this sense, you can absolutely use the ladder to improve your competitive speed and quickness, by becoming smoother and more economical in all of your movement. So, how can you actually develop that speed and agility? By working in the gym! Read our previous article on that here.