Deadlift hitching is one of the few ways you can screw up a deadlift in competition. The act of hitching means that once your knees are locked, you unlock and re-lock your knees in order to scoot the bar up your thighs to lockout. This isn’t allowed in competition and will get you red-lighted (i.e. the lift won’t count).
Here’s perhaps the internet’s most famous example of deadlift hitching:
It’s always disappointing to see a lifter miss a deadlift due to hitching. Luckily, there are steps you can take in training to avoid hitching when it counts the most.
1. HIP EXTENSION VS. LUMBAR EXTENSION
Locking out your deadlift with your hips instead of your lower back is the simplest way to prevent hitching. In fact, many lifters hitch unnecessarily because they hyperextend their lower back at the top in an attempt to exaggerate their finish position. The only problem is that when you over-arch your back, your knees naturally want to unlock, leading to a hitch.
I often coach my lifters to meet the bar with their hips instead of bringing the bar backward at lockout. Sometimes it’s as simple as “humping” the bar at the top. This prevents the bar from drifting away from the body once the bar passes the knees. When this happens, lifters often push their knees forward to regain contact with the bar, but this re-bending of the knee leads to hitching and red lights.
Good hip extension is crucial for a strong lockout, which is why kettlebell swings are a tremendous deadlift accessory exercise. They teach powerful hip extension without excessive lumbar extension. If you carry similar mechanics over to the deadlift, you’ll develop a strong lockout.
2. SPEED OFF THE FLOOR
A fast deadlift is a strong deadlift. If you get the bar moving fast off the floor, you’re less likely to slow down right below the knee where most lifters fail.
Deadlift hitching most often occurs because the bar stalls as it passes the knee. If the lifter feels like they can’t straighten their legs and push their hips through, they’ll re-bend their knees in an attempt to keep the bar moving upward. Faster bar speed will help avoid this dreaded stall-and-hitch scenario.
The most direct way to improve your deadlift speed is to pull every rep as fast as possible, whether it’s 135 pounds or 600 pounds. Try to drive your heels through the floor like you were leaving footprints in wet cement. Another great cue I got from Adam Pine is to imagine trying to throw a 45-pound plate off your back and through the wall behind you.
Adding speed deadlifts to your workouts can help too. Using lighter loads (50-60 percent of your 1 rep max) for 8-10 sets of 1-3 reps with short rest periods is the traditional prescription for speed work. Add bands or chains to reinforce bar speed.
Finally, jumping can indirectly improve your explosiveness. You have to extend your hips and knees together in a jump and a deadlift, so there’s some merit to using jumps to drive up your deadlift. Box jumps are my favorite jumping exercise. Use a box that allows you to land in your deadlift starting position and no lower.
3. KEEP YOUR CHEST UP
Many lifters hitch their deadlifts because they round their back too much. Sure, there are tons of great deadlifters who pull with a rounded upper back, but those lifters still manage to get their hips and chest to rise together. It’s when your back rounds and your hips shoot up too fast that you get into a bad position and increase the chances of hitching.
An overly-rounded back leads back to the initial problem of extending the hips at the right time. If your back rounds as you start your deadlift, the hips often shoot up and back to quickly. This moves the hips too far away from the bar. Hitching is much more likely to occur if the hips rise before the shoulders because hitching allows the lifter to reposition their hips and knees for a more efficient lockout.
The best way to keep your chest up during the deadlift is to use your lats to leverage yourself against the bar. This skill is tough to master, but these two videos explain how to do it:
4. START WITH THE HIPS CLOSER TO THE BAR
By definition, the deadlift is a hip hinge, not a squat. This means you’re going to have more hip flexion than knee flexion. You can see that naturally, the hips will be further behind the bar during a deadlift than during a squat.
But pushing the hips TOO FAR back during the setup can lead to problems. This is especially true during sumo deadlifts, where you want to keep the hips as close to the bar as possible.
Hinging really far back like a Romanian deadlift (RDL) minimizes the amount of PUSH you can get from your quads and increases the likelihood of rounding your back (see tip #3 above). The more horizontal distance your hips have to travel, the more likely you’ll be to hitch in order to reposition yourself to lock out the lift.
So where should your hips be at the start of your deadlift? As far back as necessary to get hamstring tension, and as low as necessary to get your chest up WITHOUT losing hamstring tension. Sound complicated? Luckily, there’s another Technique Tuesday to explain:
5. PUSH MORE, PULL LESS
Similar to the last point, think of the deadlift more as a push than a pull. In reality, it’s both, but most people who end up hitching are doing way too much pulling and not enough pushing.
The pull occurs with the upper body by PULLING the slack out of the bar with the lats. This keeps the bar close to the body. As soon as the bar drifts forward away from the body, hitching is much more likely to occur.
The push occurs with the lower body PUSHING the floor away. This action gets the knees locked just as the bar passes the knees so the hips can be in position to finish the lift. If the knees are still bent as the bar passes the knees (because you didn’t PUSH enough), the hips will be too far away from the bar. By hitching, you essentially get your hips closer to the bar by re-bending your knees and supporting the bar on your thighs. Get the knees locked at the right time and you won’t have to worry about getting your hips through to the bar – it’ll happen automatically as long as you’re aggressive with your glutes as illustrated in the first point of this post.
I’m a big fan of paused deadlifts to help with pushing off the floor. If you pull too much, you’ll end up out of position and you’ll have a hard time un-pausing the rep.