Have you finally met your match with a certain deadlift load? Can you just not find that last bit of strength to for the deadlift lockout?
If so, we have the solution that can make your deadlift lockout stronger and smoother with much lower injury risk.
I remember working with a client who had absolutely no back development. For this reason, he could never finalize the deadlift lockout.
So we went back to the drawing board and put together an intervention that could work on the deadlift lockout movement pattern and back muscle development. After approximately 7 weeks, my client went from a 44 lbs empty bar to an impressive fully loaded 225 lbs.
THAT’S OVER 500% IN DEADLIFT STRENGTH!!!
What Is the Deadlift Lockout?
So, when we break down the deadlift, there are around 6 movement actions. Without diving into too much detail, the final 4th, 5th, and 6th movements are a part of the deadlift lockout (1).
What exactly are these movements? These are extension of the lower back (straighten), retraction of the scapula (pinning the shoulder blades backwards), and vertical extension of the upper arm (pull arm backwards).
Read more about Reasons for Deadlift Shoulder Pain and How to Fix It
What Causes Failure to Lockout?
In fact, there are two variables that can make someone’s deadlift lockout weak. Both of these variables go hand in hand. I have covered these below.
1. Weak Muscles
The muscles that come into action (1) during the deadlift lockout include;
- Lower back/core
- Trapezius (upper back)
- Rear deltoids (back of the shoulder)
- Lats (outer back).
It only makes sense that if these muscles are weak, they will not be able to move against much resistance (1). This would mean that it would be difficult to lockout during the “heavy” deadlift.
2. Weak Movement Pattern
For those of you who do not know, let’s explain a movement pattern. A movement pattern is a set of mind to muscle movements that come together in a pattern.
In our case, the movement pattern for the deadlift lockout is the extension of the lower back, retraction of the scapula, and vertical extension of the upper arm (1).
Even with strong muscles, when these lockout movements do not work well together in a chain, there is a huge possibility that you would fail the lift.
Think about shooting hoops. You may have the muscles to make the movements, but the movement pattern to hit the target would probably not come together without a degree of practice.
8 Ways to Improve Your Deadlift Lockout
We now understand why people fail the deadlift lockout. We can overcome these hurdles by working on the lockout muscles and movement pattern. The 6 exercises that we have discussed below can work on these variables.
1. Barbell Rack Pulls for Deadlift Lockout
My all time favorite exercise for building lockout strength is the barbell rack pulls. To Perform the rack pull you would set a loaded bar and lift it from the lockout range. To do so you could set some pins in a squat rack just above the hip height.
This exercise emphasizes and concentrates all of your lifting efforts on the deadlift lock out muscles and movement pattern.
Over a period of time of regular use may translate into your deadlift and help you lift through any plateaus.
Learn about What’s The Difference Between a Rack Pull vs Deadlift
Personally, I like to work within an intensity of 80-90% and a rep range of 3-5 to really bring out that lockout strength. I like to lift in sets of 3-4.
2. Banded Barbell Deadlift
Next on our list we have the banded barbell deadlift. This movement is identical to a deadlift. The difference is that you would apply resistance bands underneath the bar and attach them to another object i.e., lifting rack.
This would increase the resistance of the deadlift, but even more so as the band stretches. Can you tell me where the band stretches the most? That is right! At the top of the movement where you would lockout (2).
The resistance bands would also force a lifter to apply more velocity, possibly recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibers (power muscle) (2). Therefore, training the body to use more momentum.
All in all, this could strengthen the deadlift while emphasizing the lockout motion and muscle groups. Over the long halt, regular use of this exercise can help you bust through the lockout sticking point.
Generally, I would suggest working at ~70% intensity at reps to failure and 3-4 sets.
3. Pause Deadlift & Deadlift Lockout
Pausing just before the deadlift lockout for around 3 seconds may recruit the core stability muscles to a greater extent. This could improve balance and spinal stability, if that is a major issue that is affecting your lift.
Secondly, pausing will eliminate any energy and momentum that was built up from the lower body movements. This can force the lockout muscles to work harder and get stronger over time.
4. Isometric Deadlift
The isometric deadlift is where you would pull a bar maximally against some rack safety pins. There is no change in muscle length during this contractions.
When done correctly, this could recruit a maximal amount of muscle fibers in a specific deadlift range (3).
Ideally you would apply the rack pins to the exact lockout position where you struggle the most.
In terms of load, I recommend using the 25cm olympic style 11 lb plates to optimize the deadlift starting position. The load is not our main priority and the tension is built from pulling against the rack pins.
Read this Ultimate Guide to Isometric Deadlift
5. Bent Over Barbell Row
Essentially, you are rowing a loaded bar multiple times from a bent over position. This exercise could strengthen and build the muscles of the upper back and back of the shoulders.
These muscles are crucial while pinning the shoulder blades backwards to finish the lockout. Without a doubt, this exercise will contribute towards a more effective deadlift lockout.
The intensity I typically go for is 70-80%. This puts me in a rep range of 6-12. Performing back rows in this manner helps to build mass back and shoulders. It may also help improve fatigue resistance.
6. Pendlay Row
The Pendlay Row is a variation of the bent over barbell row. The difference is that it would be lifted from the ground with a slight lower back extension. You may also be able to lift a little extra load at a similar rep range.
This is great because it strengthens the lower back. As you are well aware, the lower back is crucial for the first part of the deadlift lockout.
7. Good Mornings
The good morning exercise is quite squat esc. This is because a barbell is held on the upper back in a standing position. The difference is that you do not really make any movements in the lower body. The only movement is at the hip joint, tilting the trunk forwards and backwards.
This movement is great for conditions of the lower back, as well as the glutes. As you have learnt, lower back extension is crucial for parts of the lockout phase.
8. Single Arm Dumbbell Rows & Deadlift Lockout
Some of you might be thinking,”what has single arm dumbbell rows got to do with the deadlift lock out?” Let me tell you, the movement itself plays a vital role. Remember that you are pulling the upper arm back just before finalizing by pinning the shoulder blades together.
So by using “heavy” single arm rows, you could improve the upper arm movements and build the lower lat muscles.
All in all, a deadlift lockout is the final and most satisfying part of the movement.
Weak muscles and movement patterns that drive the lockout can cause failure and even injury like muscle pulls.
Nevertheless, you can overcome this problem by using the 8 exercises that we have discussed. These exercises focus on muscle strength/conditioning and a more fluent lockout movement.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, please leave a comment or query, if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! The sumo deadlift is just a variation that works the lower body in a slightly different manner.
YES! It recruits muscles and not completing the lockout fails the lift.
Straighten the lower back, pull the upper arm and shoulder blades backwards.
- Martin-Fuentez, I., Oliver-Lozano, J.M, Muyer, J.M. ‘Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review’ pLoS One. 2020; 15(2): e0229507
- Heelas, T., Theis, N., Hughes, J.D. “Muscle activation patterns during variable resistance deadlift training with and without elastic bands” Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2021; 35 (11): 3006–3011
- Beakom, G.K., Sato, K., Santana, H., et al. “Effect of Body Position on Force Production During the Isometric Midthigh Pull” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2018; 32 (1): 48–56