Learning to Pull

by Jason Morris

Over the last year I have transferred my deadlifting technique to a conventional stance. Before that I pulled from a sumo stance because it felt better. So why the change? Two reasons: First, I’m a coach and I need to be able to coach various movements and secondly, because I don’t want to change my pull style with less than a year to go until competition.

In my journey to learn Olympic lifts (for which I have fellow teammate and former coworker Ed Bauer to thank as a coach), I had to improve my first pull in the clean and snatch movements. The initial pull is similar to the conventional deadlift and I began new approach by pulling from the floor. Just over year ago my Sumo deadlift was 355lbs, and conventional was just short of 300lbs, currently my conventional deadlift 405lbs.

As a trainer, I teach both stances. If someone were to approach me and ask which stance is best for them, I would need to look at their current trunk stability, the length of their arms, and their torso to body height ratio. The pulls for each stance vary. While the sumo deadlift is a more vertical torso pull, the conventional deadlift begins with greater degree of flexion.
Should a powerlifting trainee demonstrate poor trunk stability I would start them in a sumo stance, while working through correctives to improve trunk stability. After reaching an appropriate stability point the alternative deadlift stances could be tested. If a competition is within the next few weeks to 9 months I would most likely stick with what stance was practiced the most ( it can take a long time for the nervous system to relearn a movement pattern to maximum potential). Looking at nine months to a year out we would work toward the best mechanical advantage specificity.

As a coach I like to make myself as well studied as possible, and often find myself looking at articles written by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. According to an article written by Dr. Michael Hales, those with long arms -despite torso length- are better advantaged by a standard deadlift those with short arms are better advantaged by a sumo deadlift ( Hales, PhD, August 2010). This is an over simplification of Dr. Hales article, he has put much research and work behind his coaching methodology and I would encourage you to read his article referenced below so that you may further learn the finer points of biomechanics in the deadlift.

Hales, M. PhD. ( August, 2010). Improving the deadlift: Understanding biomechanical
constraints and physiological adaptations to resistance exercise. Strength and
Conditioning Journal vol. 32, 4. National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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