Leaks and Tweaks

The lions share of my clients training revolve around three tools; Bodyweight, Kettlebell and the Barbell. Bodyweight allows for equipment free training. Kettlebell can limit things to a single tool and the Barbell allows for progressive loading across a great range.  The principles of training apply regardless of the tool used and each presents certain advantages and limitations.

That said, I will use whatever tool is necessary or best suited for a particular client and their needs.

I am currently training my basic barbell lifts (Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift and Military Press) with specific targets for each. The last month has seen gains in all lifts, but more importantly new insights into each technique. As well as I thought I knew them, I still have much to learn…at least when applied to myself.

An  “energy leak” is a term I picked up from StrongFirst and roughly translates as a place on your body where energy is being needlessly lost during a lift. Poor elbow positioning for example,compromises each of the compound lifts and could potentially lead to injury due to compensations or risky joint angles. Minimally, a leak increases the inefficiency of a given movement and treads the line between safe and unsafe.

SIDEBAR: Based purely on conversations in the gym it seems elbow issues are on the rise.  Barring past injury, poor technique can often be attributed.



This is why we Deadlift.

In some circles the Deadlift is considered the easiest compound movement to teach and is the lift capable of handling the greatest loads. It is learned before the Kettlebell swing is introduced, required learning for the Olympic lifts, a staple in Strongman training and a fundamental human movement pattern.

My goal is to perform 3 repetitions at twice my heaviest bodyweight (AKA Fat Chris) which would be a 360lb/164kg Deadlift. This is presently the lift which I am plugging leaks and tweaking my program to address my needs. Twice bodyweight doesn’t mean I’m strong, it just means I’m not weak.


Iron Addicts Las Vegas Wall of Power requires a male to deadlift at least 300lbs/136kg over bodyweight just to get on the board. 300lbs by itself is more than many humans will ever lift.

As of today, (7.3.16) I am 87.5% of the way to my Deadlift goal. At 90% my leaks could change as load changes things. I could potentially reach my target in spite of my leaks, but I consider the long-game and the potential for injury. Further, I wouldn’t progress a client until these leaks were addressed.

Tweaking a program could be required when dealing with leaks.  In some cases a total program re-write may have to occur, it depends on the size and relative complexity of the leak.

The most common Deadlift leaks seen in others in the absence of past injury or structural issues:
The Feet/Ankles: Lack of driving into the ground, deadlifting in running shoes, Lack of mobility.
The Knees: Too much knee bend, essentially squatting the bar up.
The Hips: Too low or too high, mistimed hip drive, bucking the bar up (“Kipping Deadlift”) or essentially stiff legged deadlifting the bar up when this wasn’t the intent.
The Lower Back: Rounded
The Upper Back: Rounded
The Shoulders: Incorrect positioning over the bar, slack in shoulders,re-slacking between repetitions,shrugging the bar up.
The Head/Neck: “Pez Dispensing” the head during the lift.
The Arms: Slack, triceps not engaged,trying to involve them in the lift, re-slacking between reps.
The Wrists/Fingers. Weak grip, Poor grip technique, never switching sides on alternating grips.
Somewhere above the eyebrows: Ego or lack of self-confidence. The weight is too heavy for them or they think it is too heavy for them.”
A number of these leaks stem from poor, or less than optimal initial set-ups. Imagine a Dog a taking a poop and you’ll have a visual for a very poor Deadlift set up.


Working above the knees rack pulls for some lower back targeting. It’s only a few inches but quickly becomes exhausting work and helps train the grip.

My current leaks
Upper Back too rounded on set up.
Hip drive occurring too soon and I wind up bullying/stiff leg deadlifting the weight up.
I’ve had my leaks confirmed by a veteran powerlifting coach. Review of past video indicates my leaks are consistent.

My programming tweaks
I happen to be starting a new cycle anyhow and the intent this phase is plugging my leaks while developing my other strength skills. I have added T-Spine mobility drills to my training and active recovery days along with Farmers Walks as a finisher to help build the full body strength needed for the Deadlift. Considering the leaks are consistent across loads it suggests that the motor pattern was grooved slightly off in the first place.

Upper Back Rounding: I am working sets of five progressively heavier single reps along with various position rack pulls. The focus is on proper torso position in the start phase and making my opening rep and fifth rep look identical in performance. Video is taken and analyzed for form,velocity,acceleration and force output.

Hip Drive is a matter of timing and volume of perfect practice. This is an advantage of working with single reps. Even non-elite, but highly experienced and capable lifters occasionally mistime lifts, so I’m keeping good company.

I have no problems repeating a load and wont die if I don’t PR something in a particular session. I just need to be better than I was last session and continue inching my way to my goals.



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