Tony Bonvechio approaches the Deadlift using a Top-Down versus Bottoms-Up Technique

Posted on 26 Nov 2015 11:09


In this Technique Tuesday video, Tony Bonvechio describes two different approaches to the deadlift. One is a top-down set-up and the other is a bottoms-up set-up. These are different ways to set up for your deadlift.

Tony Bonvechio categorizes the top-down approach to the deadlift as a common set-up practice. The bottoms-up approach on the other hand, is meant for larger individuals who have some mobility issues. I will outline each of these techniques and you can scroll through to the video at the end.

Top-Down Approach to Setting Up for the Deadlift

The top-down approach is most commonly used and easiest to coach. You begin by placing your feet at shoulder width or thereabouts - whichever is comfortable for you, and place the shins 1 to 2 inches away from the barbell. Tony advises on activating the lats at the top before you grab the bar. Activating the lats is an important cue and to activate the lats you need to imagine pulling your scapula down towards your lower back. Another way to activate the lats is to stand with your hands hanging straight next to you and the palms facing backward. Now imagine someone pushing your palms forward and apply resistance to this - indirectly pushing your hands behind. You will notice that your lats are taut. Thise causes you to tense up the lats and you will feel them tightening immediately.

Tony coaches that while maintaining this tension in the lats you should push your hips back and down and reach for the bar. Once you are able to grab the bar (maintaining lat tension at all times) you should take the slack out of the bar, brace your core and begin the movement of lifting the bar to your hips. The emphasis here is to maintain the tension in the lats throughout the set-up process.


Bottoms-Up Approach to Setting Up for the Deadlift

The bottoms-up approach is how I like to set up for the deadlift and I am partial to this. My set-up and how I teach my trainees is not the same as Tony's but it is along a similar line of thought.

In this approach you get down to the bar in a "loose" position without bracing or flexing anything of your muscles. Remember, this is bottoms-up so just bend down and grab the bar. Tony says that starting this way helps place the hips in a more optimal position. Tony coaches that once you are at the bottom you then get your lats activated and brace your core and begin the movement of the deadlift. So this set-up is the opposite of what you do in the top-down set-up. In the bottoms-up approach you get down first, then you set your hips, activate the lats, take the slack out of the bar and begin the movement.

How I like to Set-up for the Deadlift

This is what I like to do and how I teach the basics of deadlift set-up to my trainees. I prefer a "bottoms-up" approach if I had to place it in one of Tony's categories. I do not like the top-down approach because it seems very hurried. You can't keep your lats activated for very long and some of you may have seen powerlifters using this technique in competition where they look up, brace their core, activate their lats then quickly grab the bar and begin the pull. This will work for a lot of lifters but it isn't a set-up I highly recommend because I want my trainees (and myself) to get the set-up right without rushing through it. So, with that being said, here's how I like the set-up for the deadlift to be:

  1. Step up to the bar keeping a stance that is a bit narrower than shoulder width (or whatever is comfortable for the trainee) and the bar should be placed 1 to 2 inches away from the shins.
  2. Bend down and grab the bar using an over-over grip or an augmented grip like the over-under. The grip doesn't have to be iron tight just yet though.
  3. Get the hips in a comfortable spot that is above the level of the knees and below the level of the shoulders.
  4. At this point the shoulders should be ahead of the barbell and the scapula will be directly over the barbell.
  5. Brace the core, grip the barbell tight and take the slack out of the bar. At this point the lats will be activated as well.
  6. Initiate by driving the hips forward and pulling the barbell to your hips.

As you can see, this is very similar to Tony's bottoms-up approach and it works wonders. One of the biggest misconceptions floating around the internet at the moment is that the hips need to be really low. The truth is that they do not need to be low. That doesn't mean that they need to be high, but they don't specifically need to be low. The hips and the bar should move at the same time - in sync. Therefore, forcing the hips lower than they need to be just makes the deadlift a squat off the floor - which it is not meant to be. A deadlift is pull off the floor.

If you want to know more about hip placement for the deadlift, I urge you to check out Eric Troy's article on the subject over at Ground Up Strength by clicking on the following link: How to do Deadlifts: Hips Too High, Too Low, or Just Right

Here is Tony Bonvechio's Technique Tuesday video from Facebook:

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