Tag Archives: Deadlifts

Secrets of Strength Volume 3: Pause Reps

Sorry for the post hiatus, school has been hitting hard as I near the end of the last academic semester in my DPT program.  I am five months from graduation and couldn’t be more excited. But enough about me ~ let us get to the next edition of The Secrets of Strength!


When it comes to strength training it seems to be common practice for everyone to attempt PR’s everyday.  Week in and week out, people pile the weight on the bars and lift as heavy as they can until they plateau, form breaks or injury occurs.  I myself have fallen into this trap. As a young lad I would lift heavy every day, play sports and consistently over train.  The result was moderate strength and being injury plagued throughout high school and part of college. I have strained muscles, sprained my MCL, herniated a disc in my back, and broken bones. The list goes on and on.  As I gained knowledge in training and program design I learned that you do not need to lift over 90% of your 1RM every single session to get strong.  I am stronger now than I was when I was always lifting near maximal, and I have not had as many injuries or pain as compared to 4 or 5 years ago.  The sooner you can come to understand this, I guarantee you will not only be stronger than ever, but also be injury free.

Why to use Pause Reps to get strong and back off your 1 RM


I have dabbled here and there with pause reps, but never fully incorporated them into my own programming.  That is about to change.  Once I finish the Simple and Sinister program by Pavel (which I will be writing about in the future), I will be adding pause reps into my program to aid in my strength goals.

The reason I want to add pause presses into my program, aside from using them to monitor my overall workout intensity, is to master my technique, assist me at key points of the exercise and use more muscle mass.

Mastery of Technique

Pausing at the bottom of a lift and maintaining tension is a self-limiting task.  If you use a weight too heavy and try pausing, your technique will break and you will not be able to complete the lift.  By pausing under moderate weight, you make sure your biomechanics are correct every time. This helps drive better technique.  Even though you will be lifting a percentage of the weight you normally lift, it will still kick your ass.

For example, I tend to struggle with the transition between the eccentric and concentric phases of my squat.  I will sometimes side bend or lean forward as I try to drive out of the hole.  Pause reps will help me with this problem and allow me to hit some PR’s.

Use of More Muscle Mass

When it comes to lifting, we have an eccentric and concentric portion of the lift.  As we complete the eccentric phase of an exercise, energy is stored.  This energy is stored in the passive structures, (i.e. the tendons and ligaments) and assist us in the concentric portion by releasing that energy (think of pulling on a rubber band and letting go).  When we pause in our lifts, we take these passive structures out of the equation.  We require the muscles to actively hold us, and produce enough force to move a weight.  This is the reason pause reps will still give you such a great workout.  Think about holding a weight in the hole of the squat for 2-5 seconds before having to explode out of it… I am cringing at the thought of it.  But no one said the process of gains is always fun!

Arnold Bench

How to use Pause Reps

Without thoroughly using pause reps, I am not going to prescribe percentages, reps or situations in which to incorporate them… at least not yet.  If the “why to use them” (the reasons why I will be using pause reps) intrigues you, I will refer you to an article on T-Nation by Christian Thibaudeau.  He goes into depth on how to use this methodology to help make you stronger.  You can check that out here.

Secrets of Strength Volume 1: Tips to a Bigger Deadlift

heavy-deadliftWhen it comes to dead lifting there are a few common mistakes that many people make.  By fixing these mistakes, you can instantly add weight to the bar and continue to get stronger while maintaining healthy joints.

1) Breathing – When it comes to life, breathing is essential.  When it comes to deadlifting… breathing is essential.  The ability to take a deep breath that fills your stomach and not your chest is vital to protecting your lower back in the deadlift.  If you need more information on breathing refer to this blog post here.

This breath causes an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn builds tension (tip 3) and keeps the spine from moving during the lift.  You can imagine that this pressure built is similar to the effects of a weight belt; it helps to support your lower back.  Why not just wear a weight belt? Because it does the work for your body and the core will never get stronger.  If you are going super heavy, 2x your body weight or more, you can add a weight belt, but you still need to have proper breathing.  If you are lifting anything less than that, you should not use a weight belt, let your core learn to protect your spine, it’s not like you can wear a weight belt every day can you?
Diaphragmatic Breathing2) Lats – The lats are the biggest players in the deadlift.  It is what connects your lower body and your upper body during the movement and keeps your back from folding like a cheap tent.  If you learn how to keep your lats tight, you will be able to increase your tension (tip #3) and lift more weight safely.  This adds to your core strength and again protects the spine.  The ability for your core to fire better, and for you to build tension is key for the success at deadlifts.

3) Tension – Here is where everyone goes wrong.  Someone can learn to breath perfect, set his or her lats tight, but when the start the deadlift, all that tension is lost.  Most commonly you see people do “the dip”.  This is where the person sets up, and brings their body closer to the floor before trying to ascend with the weight.  THIS IS AN INSTANT FAIL.  You will never be able to pull big weights that way. The second you drop all your tension is lost and you instantly become weaker.

The fix? Once you build your tension, maintain it and continue to push your feet through the floor.  Newton’s laws will take over from there.  “For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” Meaning if you push hard through the floor with your feet, you will eventually go up with that weight if you can produce enough force.

Want to learn more about the secrets of strength? Check out ironlionperformance.com.  Browse around, leave some comments, and sign up for their newsletter.  Upon doing so you will receive a great video on planks called the Secrets of Strength.

Questions, comments or concerns? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below!

The Big Five: Deadlifts

I am going to play my first round of golf this summer on today, and am praying that I can keep the ball on my own fairway this time. Golf makes me feel as uncoordinated as Charles Barkley. But all that said, it will be a great time and am hoping to shoot under a hundred.

This next series will be rather long, I am going over the big five lifts that must be in everyone’s program. I don’t care what your goals are. If you are not doing dead-lifts, squats, pushups/bench press, pull-ups and one arm snatches, you are most likely not seeing results. And if you are still getting results without these five lifts, you are not maximizing your potential. They all help you with every goal imaginable from weight loss and becoming ridiculously shredded like Ryan Renolds to getting big and jacked up like the Hulk, all the way to those who just want to move better and have no pain. These are the lifts that should be the foundation of your exercise program.

The first exercise in the Big Five series is thedead-lift. This is probably my favoritelift and it has copious amounts of benefits for you.


  1. Develop pure strength– that would allow one to take over a small nation. This is every guys dream. On the other hand, ladies this exercise willhelp you not just become strong but help you gain muscle in every area that youalways dreamed of. And I swear you willnot get big and bulky, your endocrine system does not support it.
  2. Development of the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and upperback- Now for the ladies this is the no brainer. Every woman wants a better backside, and dead-lifts will take you there faster than you could ever imagine. And in this age, with all the skinny jeans and fitted clothes, us guys better start addressing the no assatol disease that plagues the computer age (A little chemistry joke that was running in college).
  3. Improve Athletic Performance – It is common knowledge today that strength is a pivotal component in being successful in sports. After all if you are very strong you will run faster, jump higher, throw farther, swim faster and anything else you can think of. And by strong, I don’t mean you can bench press 300 pounds. That will not make you faster nor much of anything else above. I am talking about in the deadlift, where you will have strong glutes, hamstrings and lower back, all of extreme importance in every physical activity known to man. Not that having a big bench will not help you in sports; but everything works from the ground up, and that is where your dead-lifts start. Plus having a stronger more stable upper back from holding the bar, it will help increase your bench numbers as well. How is that for best bang for your buck?
  4. Injury Prevention – For those of you with low back and knee pain, or with regard any other pain. Whether or not you are rehabbing from a contact injury, or have nagging pains from over the years. Building strength throughout the glutes, hamstrings, low upper back will help keep you pain free. When these muscles are strong and activate properly they assist the lower back knee and elbows keeping you pain free and allowing you to do more.
  5. And the last reason you should do them is because it will make you more awesome. Why? Because dead-lifts bring out a recessive gene in all of us called C-5_totalawesomness. And only dead-lifts can bring that gene out of remission to make us truly awesome


When it comes to the dead-lift, it always starts from theground up. That being said, the first thing we focus on in the set up is:


Our foot is like a tripod. So we must use it as such. The foot has its three points of contact; the big toe, pinky toe and heel. When cueuing my clients, I have them put all their pressure on their big toe, and outside their heel. This drills the tripod stance into the person’s head, and keeps their foot from collapsing onto the inside of the foot.

Do not let the toes come off the floor. That means that you are not stable enough at the bottom then you will have zero chance for any big numbers. Use all three points of contact, and you will one up the rest.


The big key to the dead-lift is that we must get our butts back. We do not want our knees to be pushed forward over our toes. We want to be able to sit back so we can load up those glutes and hamstrings. This is our starting position, and is the position you must get yourself to at the bottom of every rep.


Once the butt is back, we want to be able to get the chest out and keep the lower back flat. This will allow us to keep a neutral spine. This allows just about every muscle in your body to properly work together to keep your spine healthy. Rounding out may make you a bit stronger, but it places a lot more sheer force on your spine. Something many of us do not want. Unless you are doing a very rare one rep max attempt, you should always keep this cue in mind.


This is an important cue that helps keep your core locked up tight. A big problem when people try to attempt heavy loads, or even light loads is that they do not know how to create stiffness throughout the entire body. By being able to take a full breath into your stomach and brace it, this creates inter-abdominal pressure that will help protect your spine. This will also help create a rigidity throughout the entire body (similar to a plank), that will allow you to transfer force better throughout the body. Thus, allowing one to be stronger at both sub-maximal and maximal loads.

Stay tuned for the second part of the deadlift series, where I talk more about deadlift variations and why they are useful in your program. As well as what are some of the most common flaws in many peoples techniques are.