Now, for full disclosure, my best deadlift ever is 465 (and it's going up). Some people will want to know this because they will think that just because I haven't pulled more than they have that they can't learn anything from me. Well, if you think that, you're a cheesedick.
I orginally came up with this cue just a few months ago when helping my friend Drew work on his deadlift setup. He's a big strong guy who's pulled 525 and whom I've seen bench 365. Drew's old setup included him getting the bar over his shoelaces and right up against his shins; just like coaches write about all the time. The problem is that his back didn't look too great; it certainly wasn't awful, it could just stand to be better. He would start his pull with a slightly flexed spine, and then it'd get a little worse as the lift progressed. He also would perform a classic "stripper deadlift" where his hips shot up much faster relative to his chest. Here's a pic of his old deadlift setup:
And now here's his setup with the tweak (we are working on packing the neck):
What's so different? His knees are over the bar/through his elbows. I've yet to hear this cue from anywhere else, but it's certainly been working for me to help clean up deadlift issues.
For starters, it helped Drew get his back into a better position. It also got his shoulders above the bar rather than out in front of them. This also helped him get his hips down a little which provides him with better quad drive off of the floor; he's far from being in a squatting position, however. Pushing your knees through your elbows also gets your hips closer to the bar, improving the leverage. Keep in mind that you don't want to push your knees so far forward that they get in front of your toes and create a positive shin angle. Because of his body type/mobility, Drew needed to start setting the bar up further away on his feet (over his toes). However, when he got his hands on the bar, it was once again touching his shins. Boom, great bar path.
I wanted to see if this was something that was specific to Drew, or if it was applicable by a larger number of people. Turns out, a lot of great deadlifters do this same thing with their knees (whether they know it or not). Here's the proof:
And his 650 pound pull at 165 pounds (I think):
Todd Bumgardner (615 deadlift):
Chad Wesley Smith:
Konstantin Konstantinovs (939 pound pull with no belt):
Benedikt Magnusson (world record 1,015 pound pull):
So you don't have to take my word for it, but I think these pictures say more than I could. There is a ton more evidence of guys who pull huge weights getting their knees through their elbows at the start of the lift, but I wanted to include people who were recognizable. Just like anything else, I'll make no claim that this is 100% effective. Everyone has different body types and pulling styles, so maybe it won't work for you but it is very much worth a shot.
I've been working this cue through my mind when pulling for the last several weeks, and I've hit several PR's. I've also been using it with clients and friends with great efficacy. Give it a shot with yourself or with a client and let me know how it feels.
Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!