3 Tips to Improve Your Deadlift

In case you didn’t see it, Hafthor Bjornsson—who plays “The Mountain” Ciegane on Game of Thrones—just recently set a world record with the elephant bar—sometimes referred to as a “longbar”. The elephant bar is 9 feet long and designed to stack on far more plates than your standard barbell can hold.

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Hafthor Bjornsson is an actor and a competitive strongman. I guess this is sort of obvious with the number he put up on the deadlift. The Icelandic strongman and actor was also a professional basketball player at one time as he stands at 6’9” which makes his deadlift even more impressive in my view. This is truly a mountain of a human.

So what does it take to pull a strong deadlift?

First and foremost, it takes commitment. With a competitive strongman like Hafthor Bjornsson this is something that involves a good portion of his life. Even if you might not hit a 1041 lb. deadlift you can still implement the following deadlift strategies to give your deadlift a significant upgrade.

Follow these tips and you’ll be setting a new PR in no time.

Tip #1: Get the proper setup

I often witness many people these days rush into things when it comes to lifting. Rushing into a big lift with a sloppy setup is only going to set you up for failure from the start. You need to ensure you have correct form. This is true for any lift, whether it’s a lighter lift you incorporate to a faster timed workout, and especially so for heavier lifts. Poor form leads to injury.

We live in a society of immediate gratification and impatience. Being able to pull a strong deadlift requires discipline, patience, and focus just like anything else in life.

To set up properly for the standard deadlift make sure that your feet are firmly planted and in place at about hip width distance apart. If you watch Hafthor Bjornsson in the video he takes his time to get his set up in place with this before attempting the world record lift.

Once you get your stance locked in then you want to work to get your grip position. With the standard deadlift you want to grip the bar at a width just wider than your hips, or for a simple cue just outside the width of your stance.

From here you want to hinge your butt back, brace your midsection, and eliminate the slack in your arms to prepare for the pull.

Tip #2: Breathe behind the shield

When it comes to exerting yourself during a heavy lift, you need to understand how to breathe.I realize what I’m getting into here is a bit more scientific, but it’s information I feel is important to know and understand if you’re going to learn how to breathe in a manner that supports heavy lifting.

Right now as you’re sitting there reading this article tense your entire body and midsection for about 5 seconds as if you’re bracing for impact. As you do this you’ll notice that you will initially hold your breath when doing so especially if you are creating maximum tension.

This ability for you to brace is a natural response to you creating muscular tension. When you exert yourself during a heavy lift muscular tension is going to be at a maximum. This response from your body is due to what is known as the “valsalva maneuver”—a forcefully-attempted exhalation against a closed airway, usually done by closing one’s mouth, pinching one’s nose shut while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon.

The valsalva maneuver is when you create intrathoracic pressure within the pleural cavity— the thin, fluid-filled space between the two pulmonary pleurae, the membranes lining the thorax and enveloping the lungs. Normally, the pressure within the pleural cavity is slightly less than the atmospheric pressure, in what is known as negative pressure throughout your midsection with sort of an air bubble to protect your spine.

To do this effectively you DO NOT want to inhale a large breath into your chest making your body big, but rather pull the air into your diaphragm breathing into your stomach. Another image you can use as you brace your stomach is to imagine breathing into your pelvis.

If you practice sitting creating tension with your stomach and then imagining you’re filling that area with a deep breath, you’ll see what I’m meaning. As you do so, you can still brace your midsection pulling air into your stomach while also being able to manage minimal breathing.

This process of breathing during physical exertion is also known as “breathing behind the shield”. This is essentially the same method that opera singers use. In simpler terms, it’s called “belly breathing”.

Tip #3: Bend the bar

Once you have your setup and everything is in place when beginning the pull of the deadlift you want to crush your grip of the bar and try to bend the bar into a horseshoe shape around your body. Imagine if you’re standing with the bar against your body just below your waist.

If you’re in this position imagine trying to bend the bar in that horseshoe pattern around your legs and outer hips. You want to do this from the start of the lift until you are locked out in the standing part of the lift.

If you are in the setup at the beginning of the lift and crush your grip while trying to bend the bar you’ll notice that your shoulders will pack in close to your body as your lat muscles will be engaged prior to pulling the bar off of the ground. Recruiting your lats is crucial for enhancing your deadlift which is why you want to bend the bar.

The Takeaway

I guarantee you that Hafthor Bjornsson tackled all three of these tips when setting his world record deadlift. If you look carefully you can even see him do all three of these in the video of his lift.


SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness.

He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia.

Brandon also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.


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