HOW TO USE PAUSED DEADLIFTS TO IMPROVE FORM, LOW-BACK STABILITY AND STRENGTH OFF THE FLOOR

Good body positioning, lumbar bracing and strength are the three most important skills for great deadlifting…and basically every human movement. Deadlifting, aka picking stuff up off the ground, is just a very human thing to do.

To improve these skills - to improve our deadlift, is to improve the way we move through the world. The paused deadlift is an excellent tool for accomplishing this.

I’ll explain how the paused deadlift works and how we can include them in our training.

What is the Paused Deadlift?

The paused deadlift is a deadlift (sumo or conventional) with an added pause. You can add the pause wherever you like, but I recommend 2-4 inches off the ground, during the concentric (upward) contraction. Pausing for a 2 count, “one alligator, two alligator”, works for me.

I try to finish the lift explosively, squeezing everything through lockout. I lower the bar with minimal effort, basically dropping it without letting go.

There are many variations to this movement: Pausing on the way down, at a different height, or for a longer duration. You could even pause twice if you want. But, the style I explained seems to have the greatest strength and technique carryover.

Bar Path and Balance

The first day I tried paused deadlifts was also the first day I began scrapping my shins with the barbell. I had been deadlifting for years and this hadn’t happened. This shows how effective pausing is for bringing the bar back into center of mass, right up against the body.

Lifting the bar straight up our center-of-mass or mid-foot is the most important thing when deadlifting. Any forward bar movement shifts our center of mass and increases the length of the moment arm. The moment arm is the distance between our pivot point (hips) and the center of mass.

 Stolen from "Starting Strength"

Stolen from "Starting Strength"

Beginners tend to have bar paths that swing in front of the mid-foot and are unaware this makes everything harder. We either start with the bar in front of the mid-foot (wrong), or it faults forward 2-4 inches off the ground (also wrong). We pull right through the error like an Asian driver cutting people off on the 405.

Forward bar travel is unsustainable during a pause, when we are correctly balanced over our mid-foot. The bar might swing forward, but after 2 alligators it will have swung back, hopefully into tender-thin, shin skin. During forward bar movement, the tendency is to shift weight forward onto our toes to compensate for the shift in center of mass. Don’t do that. Keep equal weight on heels and balls of feet.

Form Check

Have a friend film you directly from the side. If you have no powerlifting friends (like me) use one of these. Playing back the video: does the bar travel straight up or is there forward bar movement? Does your weight shift forward onto your toes to compensate for shifting center of mass?

I use the Iron Path app to check my bar path and make corrections. Its a neat tool and helps a lot.

 Bar Path check / still shot from above video

Bar Path check / still shot from above video

Footwear

Wear flat, non-padded shoes when deadlifting for fuck sake. If your shoe has squishy cushioning, its difficult to tell where you’re placing your load in your foot. You’re also leaking power through that cushion and if the shoe has a heel, you’ve changed all your joint angles. You want to be firmly planted onto the ground. I prefer wrestling shoes or a grippy form fitting minimal athletic shoe. Even casual shoes will work if they’re minimal and flat. Barefoot is also great, but some gyms wont allow it.

Lumbar Bracing Enhanced

Flexing your abs before someone punches you in the gut is bracing. Bracing for a big deadlift is a technical skill which requires a lot of coordination and strength. Bracing creates intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize your spine, so you don’t round over like a turtle and start breaking shit. The more intra-abdominal pressure you can create, the more weight you can lift you can lift safely and the stronger and bigger you can get.

Pausing 2 inches off the floor, in the most difficult spot, requires turbo bracing. The muscles of the thoracic and lumbar spine fire like crazy and the pressure builds quickly. Holding this position, in “The Pain Cave”, builds our bracing ability better than anything I’ve experienced.

Screaming “Activate your core, get tight!” means nothing to a newb who has no idea what it feels like to brace under load. But pausing requires so much bracing that sometimes its all we can feel. Pausing “teaches” us what it feels like to activate our abs, thoracic and lumbar regions.

Strength Builder – Time Under Tension

Time Under Tension (TUT) is the duration a muscle remains under strain. TUT drives strength and size. Entire strength programs are designed around increasing TUT.

Pausing at the hardest part of a deadlift is…well…fucking hard. The harder a lift is, the more muscular activation it requires. The more muscle activation we achieve, the stronger and bigger we become. It’s not rocket science.

Performing normal reps, we pull right past that most difficult spot, 2 inches off the floor, in a fraction of a second. Let’s call that spot “The Pain Cave”. In a full deadlift session, we might only spend a couple seconds doing actual work in The Pain Cave. Our time under tension there is low.  

By adding pauses, we amplify our work spent in that fucked up spot. It’s brutal, but it works. 

How to Program Paused Deadlifts into your Routine

On Deadlift Day: Once Per Week

I do a few slightly heavy pauses during warm up, before going for my heavy working sets. These prime my body for good positioning and bracing, before laying down the hammer. These reps are more for activating my lumbar and thoracic muscles and locking in a correct movement pattern. These aren’t for building strength.

After my heavy working sets I might do a few sets of triples (3 sets of 3 reps) at a “slightly heavy” weight. These reps are for building strength in good positioning, right off the floor and for improving my bracing strength.

Example Deadlift Session:

Warm up – 135x8; 185x5; 225x3(1 paused); 265x3; 305x2(1 paused); 345x1; 385x1 (paused); 425x1; 465x1

Working Sets – 495x5 (3 sets)

Paused Deadlifts – 405x3 (3 sets)

Speed/hypertrophy Sets – 295x10 (2 sets)

I don’t always included pauses with my deadlift training, but every several months I’ll work them in for several weeks at a time.

I hope this article encourages you to add paused deadlifts to your training. I guarantee your strength will increase and your form will tighten up.

Do you do paused deadlifts? If so, how do you program them?

Thanks for reading and have a good day.

Gabe

For coaching inquiries: gabe@ancientgains.com