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I've been working out for a while and just began to add deadlifts to my routine on back day. My problem is that I can't deadlift much. Mainly because I'm 400 lb and my knees aren't the best, I generally only get 25lb plates on the bar max. I don't use the shorter bar because the one at my gym is broken.

Anyway, I've read that proper deadlift form should have you either tap the weight on the ground or near tap it, but that's usually with a 45 plate on the bar. If I'm going with less weight, should I start my lift higher? And also should I stop my descent lower, as though I had 45s on the bar?

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For starters, deadlifting properly (in a technical sense) involves neither tapping the ground nor nearly tapping the ground with the weight. It is a full stop between reps. However, in your case, this may not be what's best.

There are several options that you can make use of.

If you have access to bumper plates, then consider using these, as each plate is the same diameter as a 45 lb plate.

If bumper plates are not an option, consider a deadlift variation. In your case, I would recommend a Romanian deadlift. This starts at the top and only goes as low as your neutral back will allow. Stiff-legged deadlifts (SLDLs) are another option, which also start at the floor but the knees experience very little flexion or extension during the lift. However, the SLDL is a bit more technical and can set you up with bad habits for when you get back to normal deadlifts.

Another option is to do block pulls or rack pulls which will raise the bar to a more comfortable height. This will, however, shift the focus more towards your back (not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind).

Pulling in a sumo stance may be another option that might work for you. Due to the angles of your legs in this stance, there is relatively less knee bend while doing sumo deadlifts than conventional deadlifts. Granted, more hip mobility is required for this stance than a conventional deadlift.

If none of these work well enough for you, then perhaps revisiting deadlifts after you have lost some more weight or can tolerate the necessary mobility will be better.

As a final note, deadlifts don't have a requisite height, rather they simply become relatively easier as the bar starts at a higher position relative to the ground. It's common to start with a 45 on either side, as that's the highest a standard deadlift will get as the weight goes up. A lot of lifters don't want to constantly mess around with changing from smaller to larger plates for warming up, so starting with 45's is a decent compromise (and as one gets stronger 135 becomes a valid weight for starting one's warm-up). There is nothing wrong with starting with a light deadlift that sits lower than a standard deadlift (with 45's) and then working up in weight (even if that too is lower).

  • No bumper plates or power rack for rack pulls (Good old corporate gym). I'll try at Romanians next week. Thanks for your help. – 9Deuce Oct 28 '15 at 19:31
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You could do straight leg dead lifts which don't need to be taken all the way to the ground. You could also put some plates on the ground on either side aligned with the 25 lb plates on your bar. This will in effect raise the ground to allow you to only go as low as the plates are stacked high.

  • Another option is one arm one leg dumbbell dead lifts. I'm sure you can find a "how-to" through a simple google search. These can be done standing next to something to hold on to for balance and you can do a wide range of weights. These do not need to be taken all the way to the ground either. – Dylan Oct 28 '15 at 19:24
  • The only problem with this is that my gym (corporate gym) is too busy with people when I'm in there for me to use some many plates (I'm thinking at least 2 per side). That is a good idea though. – 9Deuce Oct 28 '15 at 19:34
  • If they have a squat rack with adjustable rack arms (not the little ones that hold the bar right against the rack, I mean the arms that go out 2 feet or so) you could adjust those to a certain height and use those as your "ground" as well. – Dylan Oct 28 '15 at 19:50
  • Nope. Only a Smith Machine. – 9Deuce Oct 28 '15 at 20:40

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