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Is it a Pull or a Push? Direction of Force in the Deadlift and Swing

June 9, 2011 10:00 AM

Brett Article
If you have ever had the chance to see a full biomechanical video of a Squat (or other movement like a deadlift) you have seen the blue arrows on the screen. These blue arrows represent the direction of force during the movement. During a deadlift the blue arrows should be pointing straight up but straight up actually means straight down.
Do you call a deadlift or swing a "Pull" exercise?
Chances are you answered, "Pull". And it might surprise you that I actually classify the deadlift and swing as a "Push".
Now that might be causing a bit of headache at the moment since the deadlift and swing are typically called a pulling exercise. But bear with me for a few moments.
Ground reaction forces are typically only talked about during sprinting and jumping but they are still very relevant in exercises like the deadlift and swing. During these exercises if your intent is to pull up you are like the boxer that loses punching power when they are suspended in midair. Martial artist and boxers take advantage of ground reaction forces with every punch and kick. Now you need to take advantage of the same thing during your deadlifts and swings.
Let’s begin by giving you a simple maxim to refer to:
"You push down to go up."
The perfect visualization to go with this maxim is that I want you leave 1" deep footprints in the ground when you deadlift and swing.
Yes gym owners everywhere should be calling me for floor repairs.
Note the line on the picture below. My structure is aligned to drive my force into the ground.
The bottom position of the deadlift where I am pushing down into the ground to begin the movement.
Tip: In the bottom position of the deadlift and swing the goal is to get your center of mass aligned with and as close as possible to the center of mass of the weight you are lifting.
Top position of the deadlift where my intention is still to continue pushing my feet through the ground.
Tip: If you drew intersecting lines from the center of my heel, the head of the 1st metatarsal, and the head of my 5th metatarsal that point of intersection would be the center of my weight and where I am driving my entire foot into the ground.
Top position of the swing and note the direction of force and alignment of the body.
Tip: Notice the straight line from ear to ankle and the connection of the arms to the body. Take video or pictures of your swing and note whether you achieve this alignment or if you are leaning back. Leaning back can indicate a pull up on the weight in an effort to lift the weight high instead of your force from the ground projecting the weight up from a stabile structure.
The Single Leg Deadlift uses the same maxim and same direction of force into the ground.
Bonus tip: If you are losing balance during the single leg deadlift and there are no mobility issues then try directing your force down into the ground through the stance leg. You might be losing balance due to "pulling" the weight to the top.
So are you "pulling" your deadlifts and swings or are you pushing into the ground and using the ground reaction forces?

Brett Jones is a Master RKC and co-developer of the CK-FMS program with Gray Cook. You can follow his blog at and see him live at the Summit of Strength in July for details.