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Deadlift is King Part II
I originally released this article about five months ago, but it fits with my current series on improving the Big 5: Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. I have added a lot of new information to make this an even more complete article on conquering the Deadlift. Enjoy!
Well to me the Deadlift is King! I love the deadlift, just because it is the rawest exercise in the world. There it is! Now pick it up! I love it. I am sure that Adam looked at Eve, and said watch me pick this rock up. Right? There isn’t a better way to impress the opposite sex. How could you not love it? It drives some people crazy because it can be one of the toughest exercises to improve.
Jim Wendler once told me that that increasing the deadlift is like searching for a million dollars that is hidden under a rock in a rock quarry. You simply keep turning rocks over until you find the money. I have tried a million exercise and a million routines, and I found a lot of great things that helped the pull. Now I am going to give a few of them to you.
Deadlifting 800 pounds was one of the most exciting accomplishments of my lifting career. I could do anything, and my squat would continue to increase. However, there came a time that my deadlift stalled at 725ish for what seemed like 10 years. It was probably more like two years, but it drove me crazy. The day that I first deadlifted 800lb came with my first 2300 pound total. It was one of the greatest moments of my career.
Joe Ladnier held the meet in Biloxi, MS. It was a Pro WPO Qualifier, so I was primed and ready to go. I opened with 700lb, and then went to 750 for a 25lb PR. That gave me a 2250lb Total, and it left me with a big decision to make. I could have taken 770lb on my third attempt, which was the reasonable attempt to take. However, I could go 800lb, break the 800 barrier, and surpass the magical 2300lb Total. 2300lbs at the time had only been surpassed by 3-4 people at the time.
I gambled, and went for the homerun. As I was chalking up, all that I could think about was the people that had doubted me. I am from a tiny little town in the mountains of North Carolina. A person performing extraordinary athletic accomplishments isn’t something that happens very often in that little town. When you grow up around a town like that, it can sometimes give you doubts. I refused to listen to those negative voices. I wanted to show all the athletes and people from my hometown that anything is possible with the right work ethic and a little faith.
I let all those negative thoughts boil inside me like a volcano, and then I remembered all the people that loved and believed in me. I wasn’t about to let them down. Finally, the realization that this lift would put me in the same league as Jesse Kellum, Chuck Vogulpuhl, and the immortal Ed Coan overwhelmed me with excitement. This was the moment that I had been lifting for. I wasn’t about to let it slip through my hands.
I charged the loaded bar like a raging bull. I grabbed the bar, set my back, and wasted no time in ripping the weight from the floor. The bar exploded past my knees, slowed a little, but there was no way that I wasn’t finishing. I used every ounce of strength in my body to hoist that weight to completion. Three white lights!!!! I had arrived in the sport of powerlifting.
I tell this story because the deadlift is a lift of emotion. If there is nothing on the line, it is hard to pull a big lift. It is easier to pull a 10-pound PR than it is to pull a weight that is 10 pounds below your PR. That is a simple fact.
The deadlift is not just for the powerlifter. It is a great lift for weightlifters if performed with the same form and technique as a Clean. It is also a great lift for any strength and conditioning athlete. When it comes to absolute strength and bulletproofing the athlete, Dan John says there is no better lift.
Whether you are a weightlifter or any athlete, it is important to look at the Back Squat to Deadlift ratio. In a perfect world, any athlete should pull about 10% more than they back squat. Of course, it doesn’t always work out exactly like it is supposed to. Some lifters are designed to deadlift, and some are not, but we should always strive to reach perfect balance.
If you are an athlete that deadlifts 10% less than you back squat, you should deadlift a little more often. I have watched many athletes like Travis Cooper and Jared Fleming focus more on their pull and less on their squat, and doing so yielded great results. Both of them are on the World Team, so something about the process worked.
Muscular Balance is not just about performance. It is also about balancing the body to prevent injuries. When you have a major imbalance, it is like driving a car out of alignment. The car will wear out much quicker, and so will the body. Exercise selection is about a lot more than automatic transfer to the lifts or on the field. It is about preparing the athlete’s body for competition.
Here are some of the ways that helped me increase my deadlift:
• EMOMs or every minute on the minutes! I would start with 70%, and I would focus on the speed of the lift. I would work up to around 85-90% based on the speed of the lift. Multiple reps on the deadlift aren’t that advantageous because there is not a big eccentric portion of the lift, so a lot of the benefits of multiple reps are lost.
• A second day to perform Max Effort exercises. I have used a lot of partial deadlifts with the bar starting anywhere from knee level down to the plates 2 inches off the floor. You could use reverse bands as well, but I always preferred deadlifts off blocks. Deficit pulls are always good too, but not too much of a deficit. I would stick with 2-4 inches at the most.
Deadlifts off Blocks:
Deadlifts from a Deficit:
• The posterior chain is so important. I have used GHDs, Reverse Hypers, and Goodmornings with massive success. However the best exercise for me was RDLS with bands from a 2-4” deficit. This was the primary assistance exercise that I used when I trained for my first 800lb Deadlift. I performed them once per week using 3-4 sets and keeping the repetitions at 5-8.
During this training cycle, I performed the EMOMs once per week, and I only went up to 700lb one time during the entire cycle. Of course I knew by the speed of the pull that I was good for way more. I performed the Deficit RDLS with Bands on another day. I used GHDs, Reverse Hypers, Goodmornings, and Bentover Rows as assistance exercises on both days. The result in 10 weeks was a 75lb PR, my first 800lb Deadlift, and a 2300lb Total. I would say that it worked.
• Pauses are great to add anywhere in the mix. I love pauses two inches off the ground or at the knee. I normally pause 2-5 seconds. This addition has really helped me move towards that 700lb mark again now that I am training again at 42-years-old.
• Heavy carries are great for stabilization, posterior chain, and overall core. These transfer well to the deadlift.
• Pulls against Bands are another great exercise especially for those that struggle locking out. I prefer to do these like the EMOMs above. A good band platform comes in handy with these, but one can always rig something up with Kettlebells and Dumbbells.
• Lockout weakness can also be solved with Barbell Hip Ups. This is where you lie in the floor, roll the barbell to the hips, bend the knees, and then extend the hips against the barbell. You can also perform this exercise with your torso elevated on a bench. Great Glute exercise! Put some bands around your knees to engage the glutes even more.
Here is the elevated version:
• Lately my favorite way of conquering any exercise is with isometric contractions against pins. I like to pick 1-3 areas to target with an example being 2” off the ground, at the knees, and then 4” before workout. I recommend 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps with 3-5 second contractions against the pins. Nothing strengthens a position more than isometrics.
• Eccentrics are rarely used on Deadlifts, and I often wonder why. The eccentric contraction causes a majority of the hypertrophy, and a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. I like to add in 5-6 second eccentrics for deadlifts. Sometimes I will program something like this: pull to knee, 3 sec pause at knee, lower to ground with a 3 sec contraction, pull to completion, and then a final 6 sec eccentric. That little combo is a great way to maximize all three contractions.
I hope this article helps you to conquer the Deadlift Beast. These tips have helped me have a lot of fun over the years breaking through barriers that once seemed impossible. I encourage you to never stop the search for the secret that increases your deadlift. I know that sometimes it will feel like that it simply won’t move, but it will. Keep turning over those stones! Right Wendler?
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