by Bradley Steiner
Of the three basic power lifts the one with the greatest potential for overall poundage lifted off the floor is the deadlift. Power men with no particular outstanding record of lifting in competition often routinely work out with 400-500 pounds in this movement. In time, you will probably be able to do so too, if you work hard and intelligently.
The reason why such incredible poundage lifts are possible the deadlift is not only because of the particular muscles that are called upon to work – but because, in addition, they are called upon to work from their strongest possible point of leverage. No lift, except perhaps the harness lift, permits a man to so favorably bring into play the strongest lifting muscles of his body.
Surprisingly, the deadlift works almost the exact same muscles as the squat – but in a much different manner. The simple difference of not having to support the weight on the back and shoulders, and instead being able to let it be pulled up off the floor, enables much more weight to be hoisted in the deadlift. Now I am not saying the deadlift is the same as the squat, and I am not indicating that all of the movements and exertions made in both of these lifts are 100% alike; but I am saying, at least in regard to leg and hip action, that the squat and deadlift are in many interesting ways much the same.
One critical difference between the two is the fact that squatting is a push action lift, while deadlifting is a pull action lift. Regardless of the degree of similarity between squats and deadlifts, or regardless of the dissimilarity between squats and deadlift movements, the fact remains that both have great merit, both as physical developmental exercises and as power lift feats.
My experience in training both myself and others has pointed one very definite fact out about why many encounter problems with their deadlifting (injuries, never can achieve limit lifts, etc.): in more than 75% of the cases where men work seriously at powerlifting they overtrain in the deadlift. That’s right. The vast majority of well-intentioned lifters, in their zeal to do as well as they possibly can, often do too much deadlifting, too frequently, and thus end up defeating their ultimate purpose of maximum power-output in this lift. Possibly this is because the deadlift is a relatively simple lift – yet so much more satisfying, poundage-wise, than say, the bench press. It’s always nice to leave the gym feeling, “Hey, I lifted 500 pounds tonight!” One can do this quite honestly, and just neglect to mention that one lifted that “500” in the deadlift, not in the overhead press, the squat or the bench press. It sounds good to someone who doesn’t know the difference.
Seriously, don’t overwork the deadlift. The lower back area can be the real weak spot in a man’s anatomy, and it can be as fickle as a woman! One day you can train your lower back for two hours and hit a 600-max deadlift, then leave the gym feeling fine. You wake up the next day and feel like training again. Yet, some athletes have seriously wrenched their back by sneezing! So, respect the crazy nature inherent in your lower-back structure. The low back can, with patient, steady work, be built up to levels of truly phenomenal strength. But take your sweet time about it. Any injury or strain to this critical area will put you painfully out of action, possibly for a month or more.
For all persons breaking into heavy power training, I advise giving the back a full 4-8 weeks of patient, steady break-in training before going all out. This may seem like an overly cautious approach, but I’d rather be careful with a person about his back rather than be negligent. We have plenty of time to go for world deadlift records!
Daily Moderate Exercise Desirable
It is advisable to work your lower back every day, if possible, with some mild form of freehand stretching or calisthenic movements. The Yoga Cobra exercise, Hindu cat stretches and Tiger bends are all very good for this purpose. Also, there is one extremely simple and relaxing movement that, in my opinion, should be an integral part of every heavy lifter’s regimen: hanging from a chinning bar.
Hanging, without moving or chinning one’s body at all, from a high bar, with arms straight is a cheap, simple, enormously beneficial natural traction movement for the lower and upper back and for the spinal column in its entirety. Doing this every day for a few minutes can, by itself, alleviate minor back soreness, and often, when done immediately following a workout, can prevent the onset of any soreness. I cannot commend this movement too highly. Everyone should do it.
Aside from the above, there really are no “assistance” exercises suitable for deadlifting. You could arrange to practice deadlifting off low boxes, or you could build deadlift hoppers to slightly assist the movement. But these little gambits are effective only to a certain extent. When it comes to the actual deadlift and attempting a limit you cannot use any such assistance, so perhaps it is better to train the actual lift. You avoid strain simply by not doing the deadlift too frequently. Instead, work the lower back with a different movement . . .
Stiff-Legged Deadlift or Power Clean?
The stiff-legged deadlift is, for those who find no problems from doing it, the finest single basic EXERCISE for the lumbar muscles of the body. It is also a tremendously effective overall conditioner, having overlapping effects on the entire body – with special benefits to increased flexibility. The stiff-legged deadlift with moderate to moderately-heavy resistance rates as a super exercise for the back in lieu of the standard deadlift.
No attempt need be made to go to extreme poundages in the stiff-legged deadlift. Bodyweight on the bar can provide an exceptionally fine developmental workout. Those who find that they have a special liking and propensity for the movement may go as heavy as they wish, of course, with enormous gains to be carried over when the standard deadlift is attempted.
Some few individuals can do their stiff-legged deadlifts off the end of a sturdy block or bench, allowing the bar to actually be lowered below the level of one’s feet! This is okay if you can do it, but I’d be careful, especially with heavy weights.
For those who enjoy the stiff-legged deadlift it can be used for 95% of one’s deadlift training – provided one is able to go heavy on it. Otherwise, simply use it as a light substitute for the standard deadlift after going all-out during a workout or a meet.
For those who find deadlifting a necessary evil, there is (in my judgment) the more valuable power clean exercise, that, whenever one wishes to do back work, can be used as a deadlift substitute. This exercise builds the low back quite well.
Never fear that your capacity to deadlift will be weakened if power cleans are used in most workouts to hit the low-back area. This is not so. As long as you power clean heavy you’ll be able to deadlift heavy.
Don’t use more than 5-rep sets in the power clean. Sets of 3 or as little as 2 are oftentimes effective when sheer power is the goal.
If you wish you may alternate between stiff-legged deadlifts and power cleans in your training, and use the standard heavy deadlift perhaps once every two or three weeks in a somewhat heavier training session. This is an effective way to train, and the deadlift numbers you achieve this way may surprise you.
Spend most of your time on squats; spend pretty much your balance of time on bench presses. Every now and then see what you can do on the deadlift.
While that rule might seem too casual and not at all in accord with many of the publicized deadlift training methods, I assure you it is a very sound rule. It is used my many of the top powerlifters who have learned from their years of experience that the lower back’s power is something to be maintained by moderate exercise and tested only occasionally by heavy lifting.
Suggested Deadlift Training
What might be a good beginner’s deadlift schedule? Here is a suggestion:
Workout Monday and Thursday on the back area.
For FOUR workouts do the following –
Power clean: 4x4, heavy weights.
Stiff-Legged deadlift: 2x10, light weights.
On the FIFTH workout do –
Stiff-Legged deadlift to warmup: 1x10.
Deadlift: 1x5, 2x3, 1x2, 1x1, 1x1 (weight increase after each set to ultimate all-out lift).
Follow the above training – after each workout – with about 5 minutes of simple hanging from a strong overhead bar.
More Advanced Training
Largely, how you train as you become a more advanced lifter will be your own decision, born ultimately from your own gradual experience and understanding of your body. However, the following is a good advanced deadlift workout suggestion. I recommend that it be followed only ONE DAY A WEEK AT MOST.
1st set: EITHER stiff-legged or regular deadlift to warmup, 1x12.
2nd set: EITHER stiff-legged or regular deadlift with about a 30 lb. increase, 1x8-10.
3rd and 4th sets: REGULAR deadlift, 6 reps each set, very heavy.
5th set: REGULAR deadlift, 3 reps.
6th set: REGULAR deadlift, 2 reps.
7th set: REGULAR deadlift, 1 rep.
That’s a lot of work, but an advanced, powerful lifter can benefit from such a routine if it is not performed too frequently. If you find once a week to be too much, do it less often. Think for yourself. The goal is to hit that new limit poundage, and the back needs to be fully recovered and thoroughly warmed up before the try is made. The object, once again, is not to see how often you can lift the same weight, but to show how much weight you can deadlift. Remember that always!
It is a very common practice for many men to train by starting off light, adding weigh and dropping reps in the sets they do, and then, once they hit their limit they start decreasing weights again, and they begin to do progressively more reps again. If I were to TRY, I could not invent a more wasteful way to train! Don’t train this way. It serves only the questionable purpose of aiding in PUMP. And if you train properly you’ll get all the sane pump you need to grow without spending twice the necessary time on workouts and without burning up 6,000 extra calories and several nerve endings each workout. Be sensible. It actually works.
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