One of the most important keys to developing a stronger barbell deadlift is your setup. Without a good setup, not only are increasing your risk for injury, you’re also not fully tapping into your strength potential.

A solid setup includes the following five elements, and to help you remember what they are, I’ve devised an easy acronym: BRAGG.


Note: The steps are presented in this order to make them easier to remember, but you don’t have to perform them in a specific order. Be sure to read the article and watch the video below before giving it a try!

B is for Breath

Breathing can and will become intuitive when performing heavier deadlifts. You may even find that you temporarily hold your breath when reaching or attempting a max effort. However, the intention here is to focus on the breath that is most beneficial for regular training loads. Before you reach down to grab the bar, inhale through your nose, deep into your belly. As you stand up and approach the lockout phase of the lift, use a “tension” breath (also known as a power breath) as you complete the repetition and achieve full hip extension. If you are unfamiliar with what a tension breath is, place your teeth together with your tongue against them,then make the TSSS sound and feel your core contract (tense).

R is for Root

Rooting means actively pressing your feet hard into the ground, as if you are trying to make foot prints. You may have heard the term “wedging” before, but if not, the goal with each of these tips is to feel wedged tightly between the floor and the barbell. I describe it in the video and will speak more on this with the other setup steps, but for now simply visualize that you are “becoming one with the ground.”

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A is for Abs

The abdominals, or more comprehensively, your core, is one of the body’s three most powerful neural generators, meaning . Focus on using your abs, and you will increase your deadlift. When setting up for a heavy deadlift it is important to remember that to properly “wedge” yourself between the floor and the bar, you must brace your abs. As you inhale deep into your belly, brace your abdominal as if trying to press them against a tight belt, and expand your ribcage out. “Sucking in” your abdominals doesn’t make them stronger.

G is for Grip

The grip, often overlooked in most training programs, is another one of the body’s most powerful neural generators. Increasing your grip strength brings additional benefits to your “wedge.” As you hinge and grip the bar, instead of just wrapping your hands tightly around the bar, focus on using your grip to generate more full-body power. This means that as you grip and squeeze the bar, you will pull the bar closer to your shins and actively try to “break the bar” — notice the lat recruitment when you do this. To engage your lats, visualize pulling your left lat toward your right glute and vice versa, then maintain this grip and lat tension for the duration of your lift, from start to full lockout.

G is for Glutes

Your glutes are the third of the three most powerful neural generators mentioned earlier, as well as one of the largest muscles groups. Loading your glutes is the final step in the BRAGG setup checklist. You have taken a deep breath, hinged, braced your abdominals, griped the bar, engaged your lats, now you will load your glutes. To feel the “loading” of your glutes, actively push your hips far back as if you were reaching for the wall far behind you with your glutes. Maintain contact between the bar and your shins by pulling your arms and shoulders down and back tightly to keep the lats engaged. This tension that you feel is the wedge. It is a feeling of being stuck tightly between the floor and the bar. The glutes should power or drive each repetition. Squeeze them hard for a solid lockout. When you complete each repetition your body should be in a “standing plank” (the same rigid body alignment you would achieve in a traditional plank on the floor) with no bending or relaxing at the top.

The common factor among the five steps in the BRAGG checklist is tension. The more tension you build in your setup the easier and stronger your deadlift will be.

I regularly teach my students that in order to make quicker progress, sometimes it’s necessary to regress. In this case, regress to a lighter training load and practice using the BRAGG checklist. Each step will begin to feel more natural, and you will intuitively use each of these steps to fill any tension leakage before you pull the weight off the ground.

BRAGG Checklist

Remember, you don’t have to perform these steps in a specific order. I simply placed them in this order to create an easy-to-remember acronym. Lets recap this setup for your first repetition:

  • Approach the bar
  • Hinge at the hips
  • Grip the bar
  • Inhale a breath deep into your belly
  • Press your abdominal out “bracing”
  • Push your feet hard to root into the ground
  • Actively pull the bar back toward your shins recruit your lats
  • Pushup your hips further back to engage your glutes

Adding each of these steps will build tension and set up a proper wedge for a strong and powerful deadlift.

Remember to “BRAGG” for a deadlift you’ll want to brag about!


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