How to Get Properly Loaded in the Deadlift and Swing

Not so fast—”getting loaded” means something completely different at StrongFirst.

Getting “loaded” means an active eccentric to the bar for a deadlift or active eccentric before the first hike of the kettlebell in a swing. And I’m sure you have some questions about all of this. So, let’s dive into the concept of getting loaded.

The Skill of Getting Loaded

There is an old Queensryche rock-opera album called Operation: Mindcrime where in the opening of one of the songs you hear someone yelling, “I’ve had enough and I want out!”

Wait, weren’t we talking about getting loaded—how did we get to late ‘80s hairbands?

Well, “I’ve had enough and I want out!” is my basic reaction when I watch deadlift videos where people reach for the bar first and then try to find their position, tension, and wedge for the lift. Watching a skilled powerlifter reach for the bar first and find the bottom position is a very different thing.

How to Get Properly Loaded in the Deadlift and Swing

But for those learning the lift, developing the skill of getting loaded can be a major source of issues. Starting your pull before you have the perfect position with your tension set and a good wedge between the ground and the bar is a recipe for rounded backs and trouble.

Pavel knew this and offered his advice on it all the way back in 2000. When he put out his book Power to the People, he advised to get tight at the top and pull yourself to the bar, and also to let go and reset for every rep. In addition, he advised sets of five and under. In the bodybuilding-based fitness culture of that day, it was a pretty revolutionary book.

Well, I read that book and started my deadlifting following its details of how to set up and reset for every rep. This led to my competition-best 573lb belt-only deadlift at a body weight of 198lbs in 2007.

So, what does it really mean when we talk about “pulling yourself to the bar” so you can “get loaded”? In short, it means we are creating an internal eccentric load to assist in the start of the deadlift.

Note: Eccentric action of a muscle is a contraction that happens as the muscle lengthens. Concentric action is when the muscle shortens as it contracts.1 The negative portions or lowering portions of an exercise are typically eccentric actions and positive portions of an exercise are typically concentric.

How to Get Properly Loaded in the Deadlift and Swing

When you contrast the deadlift with the squat or bench press, you see that the squat and bench press are loaded into the eccentric or negative portion of a lift (the downward portion, in the case of both those lifts) and then a positive or concentric is subsequently performed.

This is versus the deadlift where you start with the concentric portion of the lift. The eccentric load of the squat and bench press is a whole different skill to be mastered, but suffice it to say it, too, “loads the spring” for the concentric portion of the lift.

Said another way, we “get loaded” through an eccentric movement. Since the deadlift begins with a concentric movement, our approach and set-up is what provides us with the opportunity to create an eccentric load.

By the way: the kettlebell military press falls into the category of a concentric-first lift and that is why the clean that precedes the press is so important.

How to Get Loaded for the Deadlift

  • Stance: Be precise on your stance and position with the bar. Everything from your width of stance, angle of feet, and distance from the bar should be precisely the same every time you step up to the bar—period.
  • Tight from the Top: Pull the kneecaps up, tighten the glutes, sniff air into a braced abdomen, engage your lats by bringing your armpits and hips closer together, and flex your triceps. All of that should have you feeling like a solid block.
  • Pull Yourself to the Bar: Use all of that internal tension to create a “spring” that you have to compress down, and actively pull yourself to the bar against that tension.
  • Grab the Bar: Your hands should be aimed straight for the bar and grasping it should be easy.
  • Wedge: Drive your feet into the ground and try to wedge yourself under the bar to begin your deadlift. Louie Simmons’ advice to “feel equally loaded between your feet and hands” is excellent for getting the wedge started. The wedge also takes the “slack” out of the bar.

All of that begins your deadlift. Then, continue driving into the ground and extend the hips to the top. There, sniff more air into the braced abdomen and either perform a controlled eccentric to the ground or a controlled “quicker” lower (less tension, but not a drop). The bar should go straight down—not out and around your knees.

Breathing

Your breath is the key to setting the load. Notice in the video that when I get tight at the top, I perform a forced exhale to pre-tense the abs and body. Then, I sniff air into the braced abdomen and I sniff a bit more in at the bottom. This dials-in the intra-abdominal pressure to set the “cylinder” of the midsection to amplify strength and stability for the lift. All of this requires good, nasal, diaphragmatic breathing.

During the positive or concentric phase of the deadlift, you can either “power breathe” (do a forced exhale) to continue to squeeze even more tension and strength into the lift or (if it is safe for you to do so) you can perform a breath hold to the top. If you have questions on any of this, please speak to your doctor.

How to Get Properly Loaded in the Deadlift and Swing

Applying This Lesson to the Swing

Follow the same steps minus the arms going straight to the bar. In the case of the swing:

  • Get tight as described above with an appropriate stance for the swing.
  • Hinge first, then reach for the kettlebell without losing your position or tension.
  • Sniff in more air and hike the kettlebell to connect the arms to the ribs with lat engagement—and you are off and swinging. Don’t wait until the load of the kettlebell “hits” you to get tight at the start.

When it comes to breathing in the swing, the breathing here is rhythmical—sniff into a tight abdomen on the hike and force air out at the top.

How to Get Properly Loaded in the Deadlift and Swing

One Rep at a Time

I have said for years that if I could give the fitness world a gift, it would be to remove the “repetition mindset” and get students to focus on one rep at a time. That means thinking of a set of five as five sets of one, not one set of five.

This is a perfect mentality for the deadlift, where you are pulling yourself to the bar, performing your rep, letting go and resetting to the top without the bar, taking a breath, and repeating the process for every rep.

This ensures a perfect set-up for every rep instead of potentially pulling a second rep from a less-than-ideal position if you were to get pulled forward during the lowering of the bar.

Where Can You Learn More?

The SFL Certification is the barbell “campus” of the StrongFirst School of Strength. StrongFirst Lifter dives deep into applying the StrongFirst principles to the barbell lifts. And, as you can see with the connection between the deadlift and swing, the “campuses” of the School of Strength are consistent in our principles and carry over to each other.

So, get loaded for your deadlifts and swings!

References
1. Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications, 2011.
Brett Jones
Chief SFG
Brett Jones is StrongFirst’s Chief SFG Instructor. He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching by e-mailing him at appliedstrength@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones.
Brett Jones on EmailBrett Jones on Twitter

11 thoughts on “How to Get Properly Loaded in the Deadlift and Swing

  • Another one one the deadlift. Keep them coming. I never get too loaded with this. I like the concept of getting in the right position before you reach down for the bar. I think the biggest benefit is getting in the right mindset for the set. If you wait until you’re in the uncomfortable position of being bent over, it can mess with your head.

  • Brett,

    Really enjoyed this one and think it is perfectly timed for those starting there TSC training for October. We met with Tony Gentilcore a couple of weeks ago and he described “melting to the bar” after the initial pressurizing breath. This really hammers that point home with the “canister” analogy.

    Another grand read.

    Thanks!

  • Wonderful article. My question is, when tensing the body at the top before the lift, should one anteriorly tilt the pelvis in order to ready it for the position at the bottom? Squeezing the glutes intuitively has me doing a posterior tuck which then needs to be “flipped” the other way in order to have the correct posture at the bottom. I hope this makes sense and thank you for any insight you have.

    • Elise
      I would not advise an anterior tilt but rather keeping a more neutral pelvis for the entire movement. (neither anterior or posterior)
      Let me know if you have any other questions

  • Anyone who quotes Queensryche gets my upvote! I still listen to Operation:Mindcrime once in a while.

    But seriously, your video and explanations finally got me to properly pressurize before any lift. Before, I would breathe and then press with my core muscles to try and pressurize, but was never that successful, despite practicing after reading Hardstyle Abs. Breathing out with tension and then breathing in while keeping this tension finally got me to really tense all the core muscles. I could feel the tension building all around, especially on the side where I had trouble getting any significant tension before. I did double kettlebell front squats with this technique and it made a big difference in how stable they felt, especially in the hole! I can’t wait to try it on deadlifts at my next deadlift practice.

  • I realize that for each person it is different, but for me there was no greater satisfaction in lifting than to be able to complete properly a really heavy deadlift. (In my case a competition best in 1985 of 515 lbs. at a bodyweight of 181 lbs.) Great article, in deed! If only I had known…..:-)

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