Powerlifting is simple, right? Step one: Pick up weight. Step two: Put down weight. Grunting: optional.
But when you're approaching big-number powerlifts—particularly in the deadlift—the lift can be as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Putting all those plates on the bar sure looks cool, but hauling all that iron off the ground is a different story. And when you're going for maximum performance, any big-rock lifter will tell you that mind does matter.
That's why a smart powerlifter will combine his physical training with mental training. Deadlifts require a rigorous—or even fanatical—dedication to form, and maintaining that form is far easier when you train with mental cues. After some practice, these phrases will naturally pop into your head as you lift—and when that happens, it'll mean your brain will take some of the load off your muscles.
"Head Up at Lockout"
During barbell deadlifts, some guys tuck their chin at lockout. That's a mistake. You want to keep your head in a more "neutral" position and have it follow the angle of your torso. As your torso comes up, so should your head. Another way to say this is to think, "take your head with you." This means when you hit the lockout, you should be looking straight ahead.
"Pull Your Chest Through"
At the start, you’ll want to remember to pull your chest through your arms. This will help keep you in a good position at the start, which will give you the best potential for staying in a good position throughout the entire lift.
"Drive Your Hips Forward"
After the bar passes your knees, the only thing you should be thinking is to drive your hips forward. The powerful glute contraction will help you finish the lockout. You don’t have to over-pull the finish; just drive your hips forward until your body is in a straight line. Think to yourself: shortest distance between two points.
"Take the Slack Out of the Bar"
Taking the slack out of the bar—that is, putting tension on the bar before you lift it—is a hugely effective way to set your full body tension and pull yourself down to the starting position. If there's 225 lbs on the bar, you should be pulling up on the bar with 224 lbs of force before the weight even moves. There has to be that much tension on the bar.
"Engage Your Lats"
This cue goes hand-in-hand with taking the slack out of the bar. (Some lifters will tell themselves to "bend the bar" by firing their lats.) Both engaging your lats and taking the slack out of the bar will effectively set your back, generate more tension, and get you into the best starting position possible. Pulling up on the bar sets the lats and subsequently creates a tighter core.
"Drive the Floor Away"
Once you're locked into your starting position and have the greatest amount of tension possible, drive the floor away as if you're doing a leg press. This is a helpful coaching cue, especially if your hips tend to shoot up at the start of your first pull.