Mike Burgener on Japanese weightlifters and deadlift strength
“How much do you squat?” How many times do you hear this question? It is probably the next question a lifter is asked after they are asked about their competition lifts. But why do we ask just about the squat, why not the dead lift? After all you have to pull a weight first before you stand up with it. In the other parts of the world you may be asked what your dead lift is along with your squat.
My introduction to the concept of regular dead lifting began in the summer of 2000. I received a stipend from the University of Cincinnati to attend advanced language studies in Nagoya, Japan at Nagoya Foreign Language University. Wanting to lift while I was in Nagoya I contacted the Japanese Weightlifting Association and they gave me the name of Chikara Takahashi coach of the Meiden High School Weightlifting team in Na- goya.
Having almost 3 months to study in Nagoya I was able to spend many hours talking training with Coach Takahashi and other coaches and athletes who stopped by to visit and train. Being in close proximity to China and Russia many of the coaches and athletes go to those two countries to train and be coached.
One of the interesting topics that came up regularly was “Do American weightlifters dead lift much?” Outside of RDL’s I told them no. “Why not?” At the time I really didn’t have an answer but as I observed the training of different levels the athletes both male and femail from Jr. to Master I noticed almost everybody dead lifted. Some of the athletes had quite impressive dead lifts. It wasn’t just dead lifts from the floor but off of blocks from various heights targeting specific weak points. Another interesting thing I picked up on is Japanese and Chinese lifters could dead lift what they squat or even exceed their squat max at times. I do want to clarify that the dead lifts were done with a regular overhand grip. Some of the guys would do their deadlifts with straps and some wouldn’t. If you have the grip strength then tape up your thumbs and give it try sans straps.
Curious I asked Coach Takahashi what was up with all the dead lifts. He replied that in Asia the dead lift is viewed as a fundamental strength lift along with the squat; dead lifts are for base pulling strength, squats for stand up strength and press work for pressing strength. He said dead lifts help build and maintain “Everyday strength”. I had never heard that phrase before in English or Japanese; I understood the words but not the con- cept. Everyday strength he explained is strength you have day in and day out. To show me what he mean he walked over to a bar loaded with 200k and dead lifted it with a flat back and little effort weighing only 67.5k at 52 years of age. “I can do this any day of the week and more if I want”.
According to Coach Takahashi this focus on dead lifts and base strength work I was told was a concept they picked up from the Chinese and Russians. The concept has also been accepted in other Asian countries be- sides Japan. The reason is some Asian lifters are not only shorter as a general rule but some Japanese have a longer trunk with shorter legs resulting in weak leverage in regards to the 1st pull and so they develop their dead lifts to compensate for the weak leverage. Secondly if squats build stand up strength then they reasoned dead lifts build pulling strength provided a more complete strength base for a weightlifter.
One example of a Japanese weightlifter with exceptional base pulling strength is a lifter by the name of Nishimoto from Okinawa who held the Japanese national records at 108 and 105k with competition lifts of 180/ 220. He dead lifted 300x2, squatted 310k and pressed 150k. My training partner Toyotaka Murata an 85k lifter I trained with (155/195) dead lifted up to and over 250k and snatch dead lifted around 200k.
Being the curious type I decided to add dead lifting to my training and see what would happen. I found it is possible to train and recover from dead lifting 4X a week. I woud DL 2x off the floor and 2x off blocks at the transition of the 1st and 2nd pull. After three weeks or so I started noticing that cleans which had been a problem in the past starting moving much smoother and my control of the lift improved. For me I was able to see a direct link between a stronger deadlift and the improvement in my clean results.
Returning to the States in August of 2000 to finish my senior year I really felt physically prepared, confident, and was looking forward to competing in ’01 Nationals. However a week before Christmas 20000 I was
7hit head on by another driver resulting in blunt force trauma to my left knee (think sledgehammer to the knee), lumber/hip problems and a torn muscles in my left shoulder.
After the wreck I really couldn’t put much power through my left knee and gave up trying to squat or do any competition lifts but found I could dead lift. I started doing snatch and clean dead lifts 1x a week. In June of ’01 the pain in my knee somewhat disappeared to the point I could front squat with out much pain. I front squat- ted 2x the first week and on the second week feeling my oats I decided to see what I could do for a double. I worked up to 150K (pretty much pain free) and then did 180k for a single! 1 month later I front squatted 200k for a single! This was without doing squats of any kind and only dead lifts for 6 months. It was a major shock to me; it didn’t make sense to me. How could I front squat 200k for a single without front squatting for 6 months with a gimpy knee? Maybe there was something to this dead lift thing... This was massive paradigm shift for me and really started me on a study of training techniques from around the world to see what kind of different techniques and methodologies were being used and if they had application here in the US.
As I started studying anything and everything strength related one of the things I did find out is that lift- ers here in the States during the 60’s and 70’s dead lifted. Some of our past champions had dead lifts that would have won power lifting meets in their day. For example, Norbert Schemansky dead lifted 200 lbs over his 445 C&J, squatted around 600, benched 440 and curled 225. Bill March another 60’s era lifter had a 575 dead lift, 315 snatch, and a 405 C&J. In this era the RDL has become popular with weighlifters and powerlifters here in the States after it was demonstrated by Nicu Vlad at the USOTC in the early 90’s. In an article taken from the USAW magazine it was reported that Vlad did a 300kg x 2 RDL (USAW magazine article titled (Vlad’s Pulling “Secret”: The RDL.) Do you think that 300k RDL helped? You Betcha!
Looking at our recent Super Heavy weight national champions it is interesting to note that the past two were world class power lifters before switching over to weightlifting. Mark Henry dead lifted 905. That’s 905 folks, no matter what that is a lot of weight. I think that you can count the number of men in the world on one hand who have squatted and deadlifted over 900, snatched 180k and C&J’d at least 220. In the late 60’s and early 70‘s the great Jon Cole from Arizona was not only a great weightlifter but also a world class power lifter and thrower who could deadlifted in the mid 800’s.
On the subject of throwing; I learned that hammer throwers utilize the dead lift in their training. I had the chance to train several times for extended periods of time with the French National record holder in the Hammer and 3 time Olympian Chritophe Apelle at 6’7” 275 lbs seemed like the last person who would dead lift. He to the best of my knowledge still has the 15th best throw of all time in the Hammer. One day while we were training together I watched him dead lift 250k 5x5. He said his max was 315k. He told me that every ma- jor hammer thrower in Europe he knows and some here in the States dead lifted regularly. It is interesting to note that he did all dead lifts overhand with no straps until his hands tired then he would alternate to supinated right hand over, switch to supinated left over so that his hands would not develop a strength imbalance. Try that if your feeling your wheaties.
On the subject of weightlifters and power lifters according to Lou DeMarco Dimitri Klokov’s training consists of a 2x a day training plan. In the AM power lifting style bench, deadlift, squat in the morning and then the Olympic lifts in the evening. Something to think about. (Thanks, Lou)
I hope that this little article will be of benefit to some of you who read this. Please feel free to email me with feed back and your own experiences. I consider this a living article in that I will update it from time to time if there is enough feedback and people want to contribute routines for the good of everyone. I like to look at all exercises as tools in a toolbox, the greater the number of tools the greater chance of finding the right combination of tools necessary to accomplish a job.
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