Strong Off the Floor: Push the Floor Away Cue for a Stronger Deadlift
Deadlift Knees then Hips
Hip extension makes use of more muscle mass than knee extension, and the deadlift is often called a hip hinge and is understood to train the hip extensors and the back. Why would we cue knee extension if we want to begin strong off the floor?
The most biomechanically efficient way and the shortest way to move the barbell-lifter system is in a straight line where the center of mass moves straight up over the center of balance. The center of balance is the midfoot.
If you extend your hips first your shoulders will start moving back while your knees stay forward. If your knees remain forward, the bar will have to move forward to clear the knees. This occurs as your shoulders move back, not in the correct position where you start with your shoulder blades or armpits over the bar.
If you, instead, extend your knees, your knees move back, allowing the bar to move in a straight line up your legs and keeping your shoulders in a better position over the barbell.
This actually parallels the squat, where the initial movement out of the bottom is knee extension not hip extension (hip extension would be raising your chest).
The deadlift, especially the conventional deadlift, is a hip dominant movement, so you finish the deadlift with hip extension, bringing your hips to the bar through the combined contribution of the hamstrings, glutes, and adductors.
The quadriceps, however, begin the movement off the floor with knee extension.
Strong off the Floor: Push the Floor Away Cue
We often call the deadlift a pull, so why would we cue a push?
Let’s consider what people typically do if they think “pull.” Thinking “pull” will typically cause one of two errors.
First, the lifter may jerk the bar off the floor using their arms. Lifters need to ensure their elbows are fully extended and that the squeeze the slack out of the bar.
Second, the lifter may think about their hips and back and start extending their hips, which we’ve already discussed what issues that causes.
To cue “push the floor away” or “leg press the floor away” emphasizes the necessary knee extension to most efficiently begin the deadlift strong off the floor.