The Deadlift Training Secret No One Talks About
After wiping down the benches and giving the rubberized flooring a cursory vacuum, I locked up the Beast at 11:20 p.m. Hobbling out to the car, I quickly glanced into the backseat to ensure that it was unoccupied. I threw on my glasses for the relatively short ride home and backed into the dark night. After cramming down some chicken, largely eaten over the kitchen sink, I filled a big Ziploc freezer bag with ice for my knees.
Ambling out to the television room with my ice bag and a protein shake, I attempted to decompress in front of pre-recorded UFC while flopped on the couch attending to my throbbing old knees. My body ached, including my hands, and I thought about my lifting career (I use the term “career” loosely) as I continued with my rehabilitation. I watched a careless young fighter tap out due to a loosely applied rear naked choke. My deadlift training had been little more than fair that evening, which is to say that I emerged from the session without major injury.
Bored with the fights, I nabbed my laptop and watched Vogelpohl XXX for the hundredth time, forwarding to the good parts. There isn’t any need for a spoiler alert here.
I’ve long been vexed by the deadlift. If you’ve ever read any of my blogs (http://beastllc.com/), you already know that the Deadlift Devil has tormented me for years. He (or more aptly “it”) frequently perches in the corner of the Beast taunting me during my training sessions, especially the max effort sessions. I hate that dirty, scaly son of a bitch. It haunts my dreams, maybe because deep down inside I’m afraid I won’t be able to defeat it before my time runs out. Perhaps I’ve set the bar too high?
I’ve read 1000 articles on the devil lift and studied countless videos on technique. I’ve sought powerlifting mentors, hypnotists, and sports psychologists and have attended endless training seminars. For the better part of the last several years, I was stalled and it appeared as though nothing and no one could help. I’ve been mentally ship wrecked, lost on the Island of Misfit Deadlifters with my buddy Yukon Cornelius.
Around midnight, I’d finally mustered the energy to lift myself off the couch. I ambled into a quick hot shower and finally hoisted my body into bed, positioning pillows to allow for the most shoulder friendly position possible.
The Phone Call
My eyes finally closed when the phone rang. Dave Tate was on the other end of the line. Little was I aware at the time that Dave was about to help me exorcise the Deadlift Devil, most notably by sharing the deadlift training secret no one talks about. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Dave’s call, a veritable act of mercy, would significantly alter my future deadlifting successes.
“Hello,” I answered, my voice somehow already thick with sleep.
“I’m looking for Erik Eggers,” a deep voice said. “Erik Eggers from Beast Training in Trumbull, Connecticut.”
“You got him,” I said. “Who is this?”
“Dave? What the hell time is it?”
“It’s about one in the morning. I couldn’t sleep so I figured I would give you a call.”
“Probably too many of those Spike energy drinks.”
“No Erik, that’s not it. Do you want to hear what I have to say or not? I’ve got a lot of other calls to make tonight.”
“Sorry. Sure. What’s up?” I pulled myself out of bed and walked down the hall and into the kitchen.
“It’s your deadlift.”
“What about my deadlift?”
“It sucks. It’s not moving and it hasn’t moved in a while…and now I’m God dammed distracted by it.”
“You’re distracted by my lack of progress in the deadlift?”
“Listen, Erik. You use and promote our equipment. You attended our seminar, the elitefts™ Learn to Train Seminar 3 last year. Hell, we even published your write up from the seminar. I can’t have you floundering in the deadlift. It makes you look bad and it makes us look bad, too.”
“I knew things were bad, but I didn’t realize we’d come to this extreme.”
“Erik, I heard about you ‘air deadlifting’ in your kitchen.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot I’d shared that with you.”
“Yeah, your wife caught you. She asked you if you were ‘air deadlifting,’ and when you confirmed that you were, she suggested the lifts looked heavy.”
“For Christ’s sake man, you’re a CSCS. You need to grab hold of yourself and get this thing done. How much have you gained in your pull since our seminar?”
“About 20 pounds.”
“OK, that’s not as bad as I thought, but you’ve still got a lot left in the tank. I know it.”
“Dave, I’m 42 and I sometimes feel like I’m falling apart.”
“That’s just a bullshit excuse and you know it. I don’t have time for that shit.”
It was approaching 1:20 a.m. and I didn’t want to argue. Candidly, I was interested to hear any advice Dave was willing to offer.
“OK, OK. What do you think I should do?”
“Erik, can I trust you with something?”
“Of course, Dave. You know you can trust me.”
I peered around my kitchen, suddenly feeling like someone was watching me, subtly eavesdropping on what had now transformed into clandestine conversation.
“I’m going to share something with you. It’s an old training secret, something we used to implement a long time ago.”
I was super intrigued at hearing that Dave was willing to share an old secret with me. I’d long been a disciple of his earlier years, devouring all the training materials I could get my hands on. I was now wide awake, too.
“Let’s hear it, Dave.”
“I’m not going to tell you that you can’t share what I’m about to tell you, but I want you to be careful with whom you share this shit with. You need to make sure they’re ready to receive this information. I can’t have newbies abusing these kinds of advanced training techniques.”
“Sure, Dave. I’ll definitely use discretion.”
“It’s the deadlift training secret that no one talks about.”
At this point in the conversation, my heart was racing like a dragster. Dave was going to reveal the training secret that was finally going to take my deadlift training to ethereal levels.
“You have to pull in khakis.”
“Dave, can you repeat that? It sounded like you said pull in khakis.”
“That’s exactly what I said. It’s a technique I learned from a deadlifting guru about twenty years ago.”
“Pulling in khakis? Dress pants?” I was pacing my kitchen (nearly wearing holes in the tile) in disbelief, a giant naked silhouette under the moonlight. Was I really speaking with Dave Tate?
“Dave, who is my sales rep at elitefts™?” I asked.
“Who is my sales rep?”
“How many collegiate power racks have been purchased from elitefts™ over the last couple of years? Only two,” Dave said.
“OK, it’s you. I just had to make sure,” I said.
“Listen, when you read and hear about all the crazy stories, does pulling in khakis really sound so strange? I did it, Matt Smith did it, and Jim Wendler did it. For Christ’s sake, Vogelpohl loved pulling in khakis.”
“Tell me more,” I said.
“I hate the deadlift, always have. I was no different than you are now. Increasing my deadlift was a slow and painful process. When I first started lifting, we rarely deadlifted at all. Instead, we focused on various exercise to increase the deadlift like speed squats, glute ham raises, pull-thrus, and pin pulls. Toward the end of my time, we started doing speed deadlifts on dynamic day, typically 5–8 singles at 50 percent. That’s when the idea of pulling in khakis was first introduced.”
“So how does pulling in an old pair of khakis help the deadlift?” I was cutting to the chase, anxious to receive the rest of the information Dave was offering. The conversation was surreal.
“OK, I think you will relate well to this given that you’re a powerlifter who’s also managing a career in a white collar world. As you’ve heard me suggest,” Dave continued, “a deadlift is like a teeter totter. The goal is to get the weight moving backward by getting your body movement backward.”
“The other important deadlift technique cue is that you can’t start with your hips too low. Although the lift starts with pushing your belly into your belt and driving the floor away from you, you do not want to try and squat the weight up. The deadlift is a pull. You need to be mindful of your hip position at the start of the lift. This is where the khakis come in. The closer you can keep your hips to the bar, the better leverage you’re going to have. Have you ever squatted down wearing a pair of khakis? You know that feeling you get in your crotch like your pants are going to split? I suspect a big guy like yourself has definitely at least tested the seam on his pants.”
“I’ve split some khakis in my day,” I admitted. Cracked a couple of toilet seats, too.
“Exactly. The khaki pants help you gauge how low to bring your hips and ass. When you feel that pants splitting pressure, the chances are that your butt is low enough and it’s time to concentrate on keeping your chest up and pulling.”
“I can’t believe I’ve never heard about this before. Do you really think it will help?”
“Definitely. The sooner you implement this technique, the better. This isn’t for new lifters, so remember our agreement.”
“Absolutely. I’m going to implement this during my next couple of workouts.”
“Alright, man. I got to run. I still have a number of calls to make tonight.”
“No problem. Good luck and keep fucking pulling.”
I didn’t manage much sleep that night. My mind simply wouldn’t shut down. Is this really going to work? Will this be an effective weapon in my war against the Deadlift Devil?
One of the advantages of owning your own strength and conditioning facility is that you’re able to have the place to yourself from time to time (though not as frequently as you may suspect). The Thursday following my conversation with Dave, I packed a pair of old khaki pants in my gym bag and scooted over to the Beast for some heavy pulling.
Midway through my deadlifts, I recall thinking that this technique might work. The pants served as a subtle reminder to keep my hips close to the bar (low but not too low).
Three weeks later, I was leaving the house wearing my trusty khakis on the way to the Beast to see if I could pull a new gym PR. I can’t explain how I felt, but you’ll understand what I’m referring to if you’ve ever experienced this mental state. I essentially knew I was going to hit a PR before I left the house. I just felt it in my bones.
“You doing some painting over there?” my wife asked.
“Er…ah, yeah. I mean no. Long story. I’m working on my deadlift.”
“Deadlifting, huh? In those old khakis? Have fun.”
I pulled 610 that day. Nothing earth shattering but a hard earned 10-pounds PR.
Erik Eggers pulling in khakis wearing an “Empowerment” shirt from elitefts™ in BEAST Training’s strength and conditioning facility.
I suspect the lesson is that although it’s important to commit to a program and give it a chance to work before making wholesale changes, there is frequently room for subtle, intelligent experimentation along the way.
Training is a marathon, not a sprint. In order to expedite achieving success, it is immensely helpful to listen to those who have been there before us, learning from dozens of years of trial and error to determine the optimal methods of training. No matter how educated we become, there is always room for improvement.