Both the Army’s Occupational Physical Assessment Test and its proposed Combat Readiness Test feature a deadlift element — a familiar lift for powerlifters, but one that’s sometimes avoided by others at the gym. Now, with performance on the lift potentially dictating how (or whether) a soldier can continue service, here’s some advice from the experts:

Push, don’t pull: “It’s more leg-driven focus,” said Army Maj. Donald Bigham, chief of human performance at the Human Performance Integrative Office at Fort Benning, Georgia, whose in-competition deadlifts have topped 630 pounds. “They’ve got to treat it as a push, rather than a pull. … Learn how to push first, because your legs are the strongest.”

The push will help stabilize your back, Bigham said, setting your frame up so you can lock out the weight easier. He’s a big proponent of the lift in general, calling it “probably the best exercise you can do to focus on strength.”

Target weaknesses. “When you get to a maximal weight, where are you failing?” asked Staff Sgt. Brad Arbic, who recently managed an 805-pound deadlift in training and has topped 765 pounds in competition.

If you’ve got trouble getting the weight off the ground, Arbic suggests deficit deadlifts — stand on a plate to force yourself to pull farther than you normally would. Trouble locking out? Consider block pulls or pin pulls, where the bar begins farther up the lift and “you’re actually starting at the hardest part, or the part where you fail,” Arbic said.

Don’t just jump in. “I think it’s awesome that the Army has added [the lift] to some of their tests, but they shouldn’t rush putting a ton of weight on the bar,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Mckenzie Curtis, a former junior worlds powerlifter who’s now a military police officer stationed in Japan. “That can actually hurt you more than help you.”

Curtis champions an incremental strength-building approach (get the basics here). And while she’s not facing a deadlift as part of her Marine fitness testing, she did do seven pullups on her last Physical Fitness Test to max out her point total.

“I’m training to do 20 like the males,” she said.

Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.

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