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SPECIAL EXERCISES SERIES – No.5 Roy Deadlift

Pierre Roy is one of the smartest men in strength training, period. Sadly, he is one of these guys who do not seek glory and had his most successful days when the internet did not exist. Thus, few people have had the chance to learn from him. As a weightlifting coach, he has trained Olympic, Commonweatlh, Pan Am and National medalists.

To the best of my knowledge, he was one of the first (if not the first) coaches to teach weightlifting as exploding the bar from the hips, quite a sway from the technique at the time, which used more of a vertical pull and focused on pulling long with not only the legs but also with the traps and arms.

I named this exercise “the Roy deadlift” even though technically, Pierre never used a “Roy deadlift”. I named it that way because it amplifies the technique he uses during the pull in the snatch. We could also call this exercise the “snatch pull to hips” but that just doesn’t sound as cool.

Interestingly, I saw multiple Olympic gold medalist (before being DQed for doping) Ilyia Ilyin perform that exact exercise.

What is it good for?

  1. Strengthen the lats for the specific action they have to perform in a deadlift, snatch or clean: to pull the bar “into you” keeping it as close to the body as possible.
  1. Improve the snatch technique. A lot of people pull up in a straight line but move their body back at the same time, causing the bar to move away from the body once it passes the knees. Then, they try to explode by attacking the bar with the hips which punches the bar forward instead of up.

    Basically, they are chasing the bar with the hips instead of pulling the bar into the hips. The Roy deadlift teaches you to pull into the hips, and from that position, you would explode up.
  1. It turns the deadlift into a better “muscle building movement”. Instead of being a leverage lift the Roy deadlift heavily involves the lats (they have to pull toward you to be able to do the drill) and the quads (because of the lower starting position of the snatch). This is even more pronounced when using the advanced variations: the Sweeping Roy Deadlift
  1. By including an isometric hold at the hip crease, actively trying the push the bar into you, you strengthen your lats to be able to resist a forward pull. Which is very useful for many actions, especially in combat sports.

How is it done?

  1. Get set up at the bar: the feet should be hip width. Grab the bar with a snatch grip. How wide is snatch grip? When you are standing up, and just push your hips back a bit there will be a crease formed by your upper thigh and lower abdomen. You should hold the bar with a grip that allows you to have the bar in that crease without bending the elbows.
  1. Hips are as low as possible while the shoulders are still slightly in front of the bar. If they are behind the bar (or even directly over it) your hips are too low. Keep the head in line with the spine and tense up your lats. This is your starting position.
  1. When you initiate the pull three things happen: a) the torso angle stays the same for as long as possible. From floor to mid-thigh it should be the same and only increase slightly when you are at the hips. b) Your hips are moving up and back, not only up.

    The knees are also moving back so that when the bar reaches the knees, the tibias are perpendicular to the floor. c) the barbell “follows the hips and knees”: it’s moving up and back in an arc, not just straight up. To do that you need to keep the lats engaged, actively pulling toward you.
  1. You finish by pulling into the hips while keeping the arms straight. This is very demanding on the lats, they need to be very strong to do this, if not, you will compensate by bending the arms, which is a mistake. When the bar is in the hips, the shoulders should be in front of the bar. Hold there for 1-2 seconds to make sure that you master the position.

Are there any different variations?

The one variation I really like is the Sweeping Roy deadlift.

You do the same exercise but with added band resistance pulling the bar away from you, so you have to work even harder with the lats to bring the bar into the hips. By extension this makes it an even better exercise to strengthen and build those lats. It also does two useful things from a technical standpoint:

a) it teaches you to avoid shirting the weight on your toes. When that happens either in an Olympic lift (before you explode) or deadlift, that’s when leverage plays against you and it becomes a lot harder to make the lift.

b) It recruits the posterior chain a bit more, again making it a more complete exercise.

What do you need to avoid?

  1. Make sure that the bar never moves away from the body. Notice in both videos how the bar is kept super close to my legs during the whole execution of the lift. Think “keep bar close”.
  1. Do not bend your arms to compensate for the lats not being able to pull the bar in. This is improper technique and does not recruit the right muscles. Let me be clear. YES there are some Crossfit athletes (Rich Froning, for example) and even high level weighlifters who have some arm bend when they pull.

    Just like with every small “technical mistake” you can see lifters who get away with it, normally because they are very strong in some places (in our example, biceps). But when it comes to learning technique you should never model yourself on the exceptions.
  1. Do not pull your shoulders back/stand upright at the top. The more upright your torso is, the easier it is to bring the bar to the hips. The goal of this exercise is to make the lats work hard so that they will get stronger. Anyway, in a snatch the shoulders should not move behind the bar until you have initiated the explosion; the longer the shoulders stay above the bar the more power you’ll have at the explosion point.
  1. Do not lose tension at the hip. The main objective of this exercise is to “connect” the bar and your body at the hips. As if the bar and you are one body. If you contact the hips and lose tension in the lats, you do not establish that connection. That’s why I told you to hold the position for 1-2 seconds. If you can’t stay connected, you are using too much weight.

What are the best loading parameters?

I like to use these two exercises several ways depending on what I’m trying to accomplish.

To build muscle: 4-5 sets of 4-6 repetitions with a 1-2 sec. hold at the top of each rep

To improve your capacity to connect body and bar: 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps with a 4-6 seconds hold at the top.

To strengthen the power position in the snatch: 6-8 sets of 1 rep with a 10-15 sec. hold at the top

To build strength specific to the snatch pull: 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps with only a 1 sec hold (so you can use more weight)

When to use it?

This exercise can be used before snatching, to engrain the pulling path before doing the explosive lift. Or it can be done after the snatch as an assistance exercise. If you are not doing the Olympic lifts and only desire to do this movement to build muscle and get stronger I would suggest doing it as your first assistance exercise after deadlifts. And if you don’t do deadlifts it would be the first exercise in your back workout.

— CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…