• Kyle Kokotailo

5 Things Holding Back A Better Deadlift

Updated: May 21, 2020

So, you want to get serious about your deadlift – awesome.

Justifiably, the deadlift is often called the greatest reflection of full-body strength – because of this, the deadlift is often used across the industry as the greatest assessment of strength in hockey players – and is found in the fitness testing of many college/pro teams.

Regardless of whether your team is using the deadlift as a fitness test, deadlifts have incredible value for hockey players.

The strength demands on the posterior chain and truck stability have significant carryover to on-ice performance and will not only lay the strong strength foundations to develop a powerful stride – but also a stronger, more bulletproof body. Interestingly, the hex-bar (or “trap bar”) deadlift scores have been found have the greatest correlation with sprinting

Whether you’re trying to throw on size/strength or just trying to increase your numbers (hopefully both), let’s break it down from the ground up.

1) Prepping the Movement Wrong

Before you even begin to move the bar, your set position can sabotage you from pulling heavier. I see this all the time with athletes who are trying to go heavier and/or haven’t had technical coaching with a good Strength Coach.

There’s two common position flaws:

a) You’re not getting your ass low enough.

This one is most common I see with hockey players and is most important. Often because of tight hips, hockey players don’t start their deadlift with a low enough hip position. This causes a more horizontal back that results shifting some load from the hips and glutes and places it on the lower back. Obviously, this isn’t great for back health as we add more and more weight – but relying on our back opposed to the super-power of glutes is holding back strength development. Prep by mentally “loading up your hips” as you go to lift.

b) Your weight is shifted too forward

This one’s more complicated and less common, but still a major stumbling block. We see this more commonly in squats (when we see heels come off the ground) but a shifting your weight forward is going to once again reduce posterior-chain load and spread it somewhere else.

Our coaching cues are: Load your hips. Drive through your heels.

2) Weak off the floor

After prepping the position, a lot of athletes struggle with just getting the bar off the ground. The first 1-3 inches is typically a stumbling block with new/heavier weights. As we get stronger, that strength is often translated last to the end ranges of motion due to neglecting to train in these ranges. (This is why you see a lot of super heavy quarter squats from bro-lifters) As the deadlift is initiated from a range that forces greater joint flexion, struggle through those 1-3 inches can often be attributed to end-range weakness. Elite powerlifting coach trains athletes through merely pulling through this end range with increasing loads.

3) Weak through the Mid-Range:

As we move up the chain, struggles through the mid-range are often hamstring related. We can see this in athletes that have built up massive quad or glute strength without properly addressing strength imbalances with the hamstrings.

4) Finishing the pull

Moving up the chain further, the last third of the deadlift is rarely a struggle for hockey players. This range is heavily dependant on glute and lower back activation (with elite hockey players, the “hockey ass” means that glute strength is rarely an issue).

If this is an issue – it’s almost entirely due to posterior chain strength through the glutes and lower back. Attacking this through heavy hip thrusts and specifically really forcing glute contraction (expert talk for squeeze your ass).

5) Losing Grip

Lastly, is grip strength. As athletes rapidly develop strength this is often an area of weakness. Your body is only as strong as the weakest link. If you have the strength to deadlift 400 pounds or to crush out 20 chin-ups, but can’t hold on – you can’t do it. A lot of athletes will try to cheat this with straps (there are situations this can be appropriate, but they shouldn’t be a go-to) this isn’t addressing the weakness.

We won’t dive too much into grip strength here – we have a separate article exploring grip strength for hockey players. But the take away should be that if your grip strength is holding you back, don’t cheat it – develop it.

What to Take Away:

  • Make sure your set position is tight. Get a coach to watch or film yourself to try and ensure you’re prepping the movement correctly.

  • If you’re struggling to move the bar – break apart the deadlift and train the bottom third.

  • Use more posterior-chain work (hip thrusts are our go-to) to enhance pulling through the mid-range.

  • You’re only as strong as your grip.


Kyle Kokotailo, B.Kin - Performance Coach & Founder of Relentless Hockey

Kyle is a Hockey Performance Specialist who’s worked with hundreds of hockey players from Peewee to Pro. A former elite hockey player, Kyle earned his degree in Kinesiology before becoming a Strength Coach that specializes in hockey performance. Today, he runs Relentless Hockey where he works with players across the world, including pros in over 20+ leagues including the NHL, KHL, and OHL.