by Robby Sparango

Are you stalled out on your deadlift? Does the following describe what your last 1RM attempt felt like?

Your hips shoot up first, legs stiffen and your back rounds, then as the bar passes your knees you scoop under it with your thighs as you then drag it up to lockout.

Seem familiar? Your body just ran a relay race and it went something like this.

The quads took one step and immediately passed the baton to your hamstrings, who took 5 steps and passed the baton to your back, which then ran a marathon before finally passing the baton down to your glutes, where your ass had to crawl to the finish line trying to lockout.

Too many imbalances, this will not do.

The front squat is the remedy. It addresses all of the areas in which your deadlift is breaking down (Grip excluded. If that’s you, lets fix that). With a deeper ROM than back squats, front squats hammer the glutes and quads for big “off the floor” power. They command the posterior and anterior chains to work in unison to maintain a rigid bracing, imperative for strong deadlifting architecture. The real gems are that the front squat autocorrects your breathing and balance. Properly executed front squats not only require, but teach you how to brace and track over your center of gravity, for a sound structure and efficient linear pull on your deadlift.

Stay sub-max on your deadlifts for a while. Up your front squat frequency during this time and perform them with intention, the slower the better. Sets of heavy doubles, triples, and pauses below parallel (but not rock bottom) are all on the menu.

Pull-ups

Most pull-ups are performed with a hard first pull and strung together with a rebound pull out of the drop, especially when using bands. Slow those pull-ups down and watch the ROM decrease dramatically. What happened? Weaknesses have been masked by speed. Deficiencies are revealed through tempo. Consider your pull-ups for a moment, are they springy? Or controlled?

Imagine a pull-up as a street, you’re a car and your strength is represented as your tire traction. No matter your direction or speed, or if you stop, you are in control from start to finish. Now imagine you’re an airplane. You’re strong on takeoff and landing but once airborne there’s no strength, only momentum and the illusion of control. If you decelerate or stop then that’s all she wrote. Instead of “driving through” a range of motion with control, you’re “flying over” it as an (unconscious) attempt to bypass your weak spots. Hence why you just can’t quite get that last rep no matter how hard you try, because fatigue landed you in the “no-fly zone”, that you always shoot past instead of training correctly.

Enter stiff arm dips, the pull that looks like a press. These are an excellent way to train your lats to pull through those sticking points you are unable to target while hanging from the bar. They are performed exactly as you’ve already imagined. If you’ve ever been in upward facing dog, your lats got you there. You thought you were pressing yourself up through your hands, but it was your lats lifting your trunk up between your arms, like raising a volleyball net up between its poles.This is where you want your shoulder girdle to be during pull-ups, down and tight in your trunk, not up and disconnected from your body.

Depending on your strength level, these can be practiced virtually anywhere. Seated between two bumper plates on the ground would suffice for beginners, dipping station or parallettes for intermediate folks and rings or weighted for advanced. From that top end position lower yourself under control with your traps, this reverse shrug is fantastic work for them. Allow your trunk to slide down between your arms. At the bottom, flex your armpits and use your lats to hoist your trunk back up, reaching the crown of your skull towards the sky. Practice often with intention, and slowly so as to concentrate on the actions you’re performing. Try to think about moving through positions, not just moving to positions.

Robby Sparango is a kettlebell coach and USAW coach at Performance360 in San Diego.

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