Improve Your Pull Off the Floor

Deadlift day, baby!  The best day of the week as there is no better way to start the week than by picking up something challenging and putting it back down a few times, and you know for a fact that having done it right, you will leave the gym stronger than when you entered it that day.

Quite frankly, there’s a feeling of complete awesomeness that overwhelms you when you pick something up two to three times your body weight.

If you train at Performance360 or have read any previous training articles you know I am a big fan of the deadlift for either strength, fat loss or muscle growth depending on your load and volume scheme.  I will save the gushing man love for them since I have been there, done that, but let’s just say that I believe there to be no better overall exercise when done correctly.

It’s ability to target so many specific goals makes it a very unique exercise and because it’s one of those ‘head to toe’ exercises it has efficiency written all over it.

If you are a first timer then I would recommend you preface this with the Deadlift 101 post and learn the technique as it’s a truly remarkable exercise for both strength and fat loss.  While you can certainly take your shoes off and stay a while, this is a bit more advanced post as the first six months of your deadlift career should be spent on technique and volume, getting as many reps in at 60-80% of your max as possible.

For my fellow deadlift junkies, this post is for you as I will go over some of my favorite exercises to deal with a common sticking point on the pull:

Getting it off the damn ground.

You can’t get to your lockout what you can’t move off the floor.

Pretty sure that one’s Confuscius.

It’s one of many deadlift sticking points but will be the complete focus of today’s entry as it’s a very common sticking point and one I deal with, personally.

Elevated (Deficit) Pulls

When I post an exercise or advice on how to improve your deadlift or strength, rest assured it’s been tried and proven in the trenches of P360.  I don’t post anything that hasn’t been put through the ringer and comes out the other side proven effective and this one gets the Five Star, slap on the ass endorsement.

The pull off the ground has always been my problem point.  I either get the weight right off the ground with relative ease or don’t move it an inch.  Like Keith Richards at a Screwdriver mixer, there is absolutely no in between for me which typically indicates a relative weakness in the movement and not necessarily a lack of absolute strength.

“You are only as strong as your weakest link.”

Could not be more true on a compound strength movement.

When you fail to complete a movement you treat it just like a doctor diagnoses a patient.  Where did you miss?  What did you feel?  Which muscles are responsible for this portion of the movement and why, specifically did you miss?  Was it form?  Was your ass too high and chest too low?  Were your feet too wide causing weakness in the hips on the lockout?  Did you pre-fatigue yourself by standing hands on the bar, squatted down far too long?  Did you not grab the bar fast enough to create momentum?

Assuming form checks out okay it means you those glutes and hams need to catch up with the rest of that posterior chain, after all they are the captains of the team!  While your lats and back are certainly involved, they generally don’t come into crunch time until that bar passes the shins.  From the ground, it’s all base of posterior chain.


You back it out and give those muscles some dedicated work in a compound movement atmosphere.  I’m not suggesting you go and do hamstring curls but the exercises in this post are a start.

I have used elevated pulls to some success in taking me past previous sticking points and recently, we have seen it help the following members pull some very legitimate weight in which they previously could not move it an inch.

How you do it:

  1. Set two steel plates on the ground next to each other.  You can add two more on top of that if you have the clearance between the bar and your feet.  If your gym only has bumpers than one set of 45#’s will work great.
  2. Your set up will be the exact same as a regular deadlift, only your toes should only have enough breathing room as to not smash them when gravity politely returns the weight to the floor.
  3. Pay extra attention to back and hips on set-up.  It’s naturally going to tip you over just a little bit so make sure your load is reduced from you typically pull for those reps (i.e. if you typically do 315# x 5 then drop down to 285# x 5)

Why it works:

  1. Pulling off an elevated platform with the bar remaining in it’s grounded position increases the range of motion and work on the hamstrings and glutes by approximately 2-4″.  When you incorporate these pulls for a month or so the return to the regular pull will feel much easier.

It’s not something you should do all the time but mixing it in for a month while you are trying to increase your max with a 5/3/2 rep approach has seemed to work at Performance360.

Here is a close up look of the set-up.


And yes, that small bit of elevations makes a HUUUUGE difference in difficulty!

Other “light heavyweight” exercises that help a floor sticking point are:

  • Heavy DB Lunges
  • Sumo Stance Deadlifts
  • Speed Pulls (A good one from Eric Cressey’s Maximum StrengthWhen I first started out, this got me to 350# pretty quickly.  Use light weight, think 45-60% of max and repping them in a 5×2 format for speed.  It’s almost like a plyometric deadlift version of band bench press since using bands for a deadlift is not the easiest set-up in the world.)
  • Low Box Squats with a pause at the bottom (this I learned from Mike Robertson and like it a lot.  You’ll need to go a bit lighter than you think if you are truly cutting bottom of the rep momentum.)

I refer to them as light heavyweight because they allow you to go heavy while being used as a complimentary exercise.

Here are some more hamstring-specific.

  • Glute Ham Raises – a gazillion times better than machine hamstring curls.
  • KB Swings – In my humble opinion the most underrated compliment for the deadlift (and exercise overall).  I like to go overhead with my reps as that will engage your lats more making it a good ‘start to finish’ deadlift compliment.
  • DB Split Squats

And lastly, eat more (via Tony Gentilcore).  Something I always struggle with  being in the gym 14 hours a day.

If you are stuck at your current one-rep max then I would recommend adding these to your strength program for 3-5 weeks  and I would not be surprised to see that weight no longer stick on the floor.

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