Erwin van Beek has always been involved in sports: starting with Judo at the age of 4, wining more than 15 national medals. He graduated from ALO (sports academy), was drafted for the Royal Military Police Force and later worked for Dutch Police Academy where he was responsible for trainer education of special military and police unites. He found Crossfit in 2008, completed trainer certificates and opened his own box Reebok CrossFit 020 Amsterdam in 2010. Erwin is two-time CrossFit Games 40-44 Master athlete, finishing 4th in 2013.
We asked Erwin for his general tips on how to improve your Deadlift.
Erwin: I don’t want to complicate things but I read all kinds of online articles about improving your deadlift. There is a lot of good information available BUT:
I am believe in specifying stuff for the individual so I would also say this to people who ask me general questions like “do you have a strength program, how can I improve my deadlift” – my answer would always be: “Let me see you deadlift, let me see your training program and let me see your diet”.
Most of the time I begin with looking at the deadlift itself of course, and in most cases I get an idea when I see it: this is my starting point to make a program and coach people to improve.
If you force me to go “general” I would have a few points on how to improve deadlift:
1. Misconception about building strength: it won’t come fast.
Advice: make it your life project!
2. Quality of training: don’t do deadlifts before MetCons
I see a lot of programming that looks like 3×8 or 3×5 (or likewise) sets of deadlifts in 15-20 min before your MetCon. In my opinion that won’t work in building real strength. I would advice to make a macro planning of minimum a year to build real improvements in strength and NOT attach it directly to typical MetCon workouts.
3. Volume within strength training
That doesn’t mean you won’t be working on “lung function” ‘ in that period. I really believe in volume within the strength training with some time pressure, so training is focused both on strength and stamina, and at the same time going for 1-3-5 rep maxes within that training.
When you do heavy sets you can also attach “simple” very short lung function stimulus to the program (if you want to connect it to Crossfit even more) for example: a set of 5 back squats and then for time 50 double-unders and 30 sit-ups. Rest as needed and go for 5 or 7 rounds.
The focus should always be on the lift and not on the MetCon, so when you Deadlift make it the only training you do that day, and after it you should be DONE!
4. Leave it alone for a while
Often when people reach their plateau on their deadlift for example, they tend to train more on it even more. I would say “leave it alone for a while” and train other lifts that will support improvement.
That could be other types of deadlifts. But still sometimes the body is a blackbox: it‘s all connected so even working on your pull up strength would help your deadlift in the end.
5. Find a good coach
I could put this as number one. Find a quality coach. A coach is not someone who just gives you a program or the person who encourages you, but there are many, many things a coach should be able to do.
6. The general technique steps for deadlift are:
1. Feet under the hips weight on the heels.
2. Barbell in hook grip (reversed grip if you are really only deadlifting).
3. Activate the body: make sure your hips are not too low (less active hams, etc) and not too high (less active quads etc). Set your lower back: pull all you got towards your spine (hollow back, chest “up” and neutral face) and retract the shoulders. Remember it is a total body lift.
4. Hold your breath while you are lifting and “explode” from start. Open all angels at the same time and keep the barbell glued to your body (pull the barbell back) during the lift.
5. If you want to go touch and go for multiple reps exhale and inhale on top of the lift (full extension), push your butt back (close the hip) and DON’T lose tension at the bottom!
Important: it always needs to be a personal set up, so looking at the individual and making a plan is most important!
Photos: Berry de Mey Nutrition, personal archive