To increase your strength in the deadlift, you need to address weak points within the range of motion. A weak point is a spot within the deadlift where you feel the barbell slowing down or a point in which you always fail under heavier loads.
So what should you do if your deadlift is weak off the floor? If you’re weak off the floor in the deadlift it means that your knee extensors (quads) are lacking strength. As such, you should implement exercises that increase the loading demand on your quads, including low pause deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, and front squats.
In addition to targeting the muscle group that is responsible for the specific deadlift weakness off the floor, you need to ensure you have proper technique and positioning to maximize your efficiency as you start the movement.
We’ll cover the proper technique along with 7 tips to get a stronger deadlift off the floor. Let’s get started!
I wrote a similar article to this if you find that your sticking point is at the knees in the deadlift. Check out Is Your Deadlift Weak At The Knees?
Why Is Your Deadlift Weak Off The Floor?
There are two main reasons why you are weak off the floor in the deadlift: (1) the muscles responsible for generating force off the floor are underdeveloped, or (2) you lack efficient technique in the start position of the deadlift.
In order to implement solutions, you first need to understand the root of the problem. Once you identify whether you have weak muscles, weak technique, or both, you can start correcting the elements of your lift that need the most work.
Weak Muscles In The Deadlift
In my article on What Muscles Are Used In The Deadlift, I discuss how different muscles contribute more or less at various stages of the movement. In the bottom of the deadlift, the muscles that are activated the most are the quads.
This is because the first move your body needs to make in the deadlift is to extend the knee (the hips and torso stay relatively static as you initiate the first pull off the floor). Therefore, you need to look at what muscles are responsible for knee extension. For the most part, this is going to be the role of the quads.
Takeaway: If you’re weak off the floor in the deadlift it may be due to having underdeveloped quad muscles.
Weak Technique In The Deadlift
There are several aspects of your deadlift technique that if you get wrong in your start position it will make it incredibly difficult to break the barbell from the floor.
No matter how you’re built, whether you are tall or short, or have long arms or short arms, there are fundamental technique principles that every lifter needs to implement off the floor in order to be in the most optimal position possible to produce force.
Let’s cover those technical principles now!
Related Article: Deadlifting With Shorts Arms: 4 Tricks For Bigger Pulls
Don’t Stand Too Wide
If you stand too wide in the deadlift then two things will happen:
First, it will make it incredibly difficult to activate your quad muscles because the loading demand shifts to your hips in order to deal with the extra external hip rotation that is now required.
Second, you automatically increase the range of motion that the barbell needs to travel. Not only will this enhance an already weak position of the floor, but it will also translate into a harder lockout position.
For lifters who deadlift in a conventional stance, you should stand with your feet either directly underneath your shoulders or slightly inside shoulder-width.
Takeaway: Don’t stand with your feet outside shoulder-width apart in the deadlift.
Don’t Grip The Barbell Too Wide
If you grip the barbell too wide then two things will happen:
First, it will create a torso position that is more horizontal to the floor. As such, your spinal erectors (low and mid-back) will need to work a lot harder than necessary off the floor.
Second, just like standing too wide, a wide grip will also increase the range of motion that the barbell needs to travel.
I go into more detail on how to properly grip the bar and the optimal spacing between your hands in my article on Deadlift Grip.
Takeaway: Don’t have your hands outside of shoulder-width apart in the deadlift.
Are Your Hips Too High? Or Too Low?
If your hips are too high, then your back angle becomes parallel to the floor. As a result, you’ll be placing a lot of loading demand on your hamstrings and low/mid back to lift the weight off the floor.
If your hips are too low, then your back becomes too vertical and you end up ‘squatting’ the weight off the floor. It places your quads under too much stress (likely more than they can handle) and your glutes and low/mid-back have a really hard time contributing to the movement.
You can read more about the optimal hip position and torso angle in my article on What Is The Best Deadlift Back Angle?
Takeaway: Your hips should be in a position where if you draw a straight line down from your shoulders to the barbell that your shoulders are either directly in line with the barbell or just slightly in front.
Start With The Barbell On Your Shins
If the barbell is off of you when you initiate the first pull in the deadlift, then two things will happen:
First, the barbell will pull your whole body forward, which will create instability and balance issues. You’ll have to put some of your strength toward ‘not falling over’ versus simply driving the weight up in a vertical range of motion.
Second, your lats will get yanked out of position, which will cause your upper and mid back to start rounding. You can read more about this issue in my article on Rounded Back Deadlift.
Takeaway: Ensure you’re starting the deadlift with the barbell touching the shins.
7 Tips To Eliminate Being Weak Off The Floor In The Deadlift
Now that you have an idea of the muscles and technique that contribute to a weak deadlift off the floor, let’s discuss practical tips for your training.
My 7 tips to stop being weak off the floor in the deadlift are:
• Practice quad-dominant deadlift & squat variations
• Pick a weight where your hips don’t “pop up”
• Cue “push the floor away”
• Pull the “slack” out of the barbell before lifting
• Play to your individual deadlift leverages
• Increase your deadlift frequency
• Switch to a hypertrophy phase of training
Let’s go into these tips in greater detail.
1. Practice Quad-Dominant Deadlift & Squat Variations
Since the quads are the muscles responsible for producing force off the floor in the deadlift, you need to implement quad-dominant exercise variations.
These are exercise where your knee travels through a greater range of motion compared to any other joint angle.
However, my top 3 exercises for building quad strength are:
Deficit deadlifts are when you stand on an elevated surface, typically 2-4 inches, in order to increase the range of motion that you need to pull the deadlift from the floor.
This will place your knee at a greater angle in the start position, increasing the loading demand on the quad muscle.
Read my full guide on the Deficit Deadlift.
Pause deadlifts are when you pull the barbell off the floor and then pause for 1-2 seconds somewhere between the ankle and the knee.
If you’re weak off the floor in the deadlift, you will want to implement the pause as close to the floor as possible. I like to pull the bar up 1-2 inches, then pause for 1-2 seconds, then drive as fast as I can to standing.
Read my full guide on the Pause Deadlift.
Front squats are when you place the barbell on the front part of the shoulders versus the back of your neck.
In the front squat, your quads are activated to a greater extent because the knee needs to push forward more (in front of the foot), and as such, it travels through an extended range of motion.
2. Pick a Weight Where Your Hips Don’t “Pop Up”
If your quads are weak off the floor in the deadlift, then one thing that might happen when you initiate the movement is that your hips will ‘pop up’ before the barbell leaves the ground.
This occurs because when your quads are weak, your body will search for leverage (help) in other places. When your hips pop up it’s your body’s way of trying to shift some of the loading demand away from your quads toward your hips and glutes.
Unfortunately, your hips and glutes do a pretty bad job of assisting with the deadlift of the floor.
It creates unnecessary stress on your hips and glutes, and so even if you do manage to get the barbell to your knees, your hips and glutes will be too tired to lock the weight out, even though that’s their primary job.
Therefore, pick a weight where you can maintain your hip position as you initiate the first pull on the deadlift. Your quads need to learn how to activate properly, and they can’t do so if your hips are constantly popping up trying to shift the loading demand to your glutes.
3. Cue “Push The Floor Away”
In order to activate your quads off the floor, you should implement a deadlift cue that helps facilitate this goal.
One of my favorite deadlift cues is to “push the floor away”.
When you think about the deadlift as a “push” rather than a “pull”, it will draw your attention to the role of your knees. This means that your knees will have to extend first (before your hips).
Pushing the floor away will allow your hips to be patient in the start position. It will also keep your torso angle unchanged when the barbell is traveling from the floor to the knee. Both of these things shift the priority to prioritizing the role of your quads.
Read my ultimate guide on the Top 10 Deadlift Cues For Stronger Pulls. Cue #8 is where I talk about “pushing the floor away”.
4. Pull The “Slack” Out Of The Barbell Before Lifting
The goal of “pulling the slack out of the barbell” is to create full-body tension prior to producing force.
In other lifts like the squat and bench press, you have an eccentric range of motion to build muscular tension before driving upward. In the deadlift, there is no eccentric phase to create tension. You’re literally pulling the weight from a “dead” stop — hence the name deadlift.
Therefore, you have to actively get your muscles tight before pulling the barbell.
There is a special technique for pulling the slack out of the barbell. Top powerlifting coach, JP Cauchi, put together a great guide on how to start implementing this technique with your deadlift. Check out this article on Deadlift Slack.
5. Play To Your Individual Deadlift Leverages
Everyone is built with different leverages, which will impact their strength off the floor in the deadlift.
“Leverages” refer to how someone is built and the relative proportions of their limbs.
For example, someone can be built with long legs, long arms, and a short torso. Another person can be built with short legs, long arms, and a long torso. There are multiple combinations of these proportions.
While you CAN’T change how you’re built, you CAN change how you set up your body in relation to the barbell, which can either make the lift harder or easier off the floor.
If you’re curious about what your leverages are, you should go through the assessment process I outlined in this article. Scroll to the section on “limb length and height”.
After you have measured your limbs and figured out your proportions, you may realize that your deadlift style, back angle, or hip position, may need to change.
6. Increase Your Deadlift Frequency
While you don’t need to start deadlifting every day, if you are only deadlifting one time per week then increasing your frequency to 2-3 times per week may be beneficial.
When you increase your deadlift frequency, you get two tangible benefits:
First, you get more practice with the technique of deadlifting.
We’ve already reviewed several technique points in this article that will help eliminate weakness off the floor in the deadlift. In order to improve on this technique, you need multiple opportunities throughout the week (practice makes perfect).
Second, increasing your frequency will provide a boost to your overall training volume.
Your training volume is an important drive of both muscle gain and strength. If your training volume doesn’t have the ability to increase within the capacity of a single workout, then you need to increase how many days you train the deadlift to keep progressing your volume.
If you are going to start deadlifting multiple times per week, I would focus at least one of those workouts on a quad-dominant deadlift variation, as discussed above, if you want to prioritize building strength off the floor.
7. Switch To A Hypertrophy Phase of Training
Many lifters will hit a plateau if they are stuck in the same phase of training for too long.
This is often the case when lifters are in a strength development phase for weeks on end and their numbers fail to progress week-to-week.
When this happens, you should drop the weights back and focus on higher rep, higher volume training with a focus on deadlift variations that prioritize your areas of development.
Building muscle, specifically on your quads, will help translate to greater force production off the floor in the deadlift. You can think of having bigger muscles as having a bigger engine. The bigger the engine, the more potential you have to produce higher levels of force.
If you’re weak off the floor it’s caused by two primary reasons: (1) you have weak contributing muscle groups, namely the quads, and (2) you have inefficient technique, ranging from grip, stance, hip, or torso positions relative to the barbell.
Improving your deadlift strength off the floor will occur only after several months of training aimed at exercises and drills focused on the bottom-end range of motion.
In addition, making programming changes, such as increasing deadlifting frequency and focusing on muscle-building, can aid in the efforts.