Training for the Deadlift
by Paul Anderson
by Paul Anderson
I have spent much time and thought on the deadlift, and the main reason is that I am the world’s poorest deadlifter. I believe at the date of this publication I have actually raised more poundage in the lift than anyone else, but in comparison to some of my other lifts I am rather ashamed of what I have done. Ashamed possibly is not the word to use, because I have a tremendously bad leverage for the lift, as most large-bodied people do. The ideal deadlifter is as person with long limbs and a short body, but no matter how we look at it, we are usually favored or discriminated against in one of the three powerlifts, no matter how we are built. This usually evens it all out and makes it relatively fair for everyone. The point I am making is that if you are rather poor in a lift, you do more thinking on it, and consequently come up with better ideas and training methods.
I must also give credit for some of my knowledge in the deadlift to Bob Peoples. Bob lifted back in the day when powerlifting was not a recognized sport, and was quite alone. At 181 pounds or actually less, he raised 725 pounds. Considering everything I know about Bob Peoples and his training conditions, I must say that he is surely the greatest deadlifter that I have ever known.
To dwell just a moment on philosophy and my friend Bob Peoples, let me say that he has always been one of the greatest thinkers in the weightlifting world. Because of this, I was able to learn various things about the deadlift that would seldom come to most athletes because of my close association with Bob.
From the instructions and philosophy so far, you can see that I am always very sensitive and aware of a lifter’s position and procedure in carrying out a lift. I have called the correct manner in each athlete performing the desired movement the “groove,” and that is exactly what we are discussing: the particular manner in which each individual finds it easiest to make the lift, always considering, of course, performing in a legal manner.
I have observed lifters who looked like they made all their attempts in one motion. To better explain this, personally I have found that whether I am pressing, bench pressing, squatting, etc., I seem to have to change gears as the bar travels through its particular cycles. On the other hand, I have seen fellows who rammed a press to arm’s length or stood straight up with a deadlift in almost a sudden gesture, without any evidence of this changing of gears, which could very well mean the changing of the direction of the bar as it traveled to arm’s length, upright position, or as you would stand to finish position in the squat. These thoughts may seem trivial, but every individual must learn himself and know how he is performing the lift. Working out in front of a mirror, or better still, seeing a film or videotape of one’s performances can be of great help in finding out just how the bar is traveling, and deciding whether or not this is the proper manner in which you should perform.
These suggestions concerning the groove are important, and this is one of the reasons I have recommended repetitions in some of the lifts as we went through other routines. Doing the higher repetitions not only helps pump a great deal of blood into the muscles, which is part of strengthening them, but also gets you accustomed to allowing the bar along strongest route. Also this is why I say that a lift should be practiced along with assistance exercises to strengthen the particular lift. Coordinate the strength that you are building, while keeping the lift in the groove.
Before going into our first routine for the deadlift, let’s consider the fact that we are going to be doing some variations of the deadlift, and in doing so, we well be performing repetitions. Doing repetitions with a bar loaded heavy enough to work the lower back and other muscle groups used in performing the deadlift makes for one big problem. This difficulty is the tenderness of the human hands, resulting in blisters, calluses, torn skin, etc. The hand is naturally going to get tough as it is called on to do any particular work that puts a strain on the surface, but the soreness that results from each workout, as the lifter holds onto a bar for repetitions usually cannot be overcome by the next workout. This means that the entire muscle groups worked by the deadlift and its variations are going to be at the mercy of the condition of the lifter’s hands.
There is an answer to this and it is not original with me, although I have worked out some variations as the years have gone by. The first answer I saw to this problem was developed by Bob Peoples and as I have said, I will be mentioning him a great deal in this article. He had made two hooks to perform repetition deadlifts with and fastened them on his wrist by wrapping the upper ends with cloth tapes about 2 ½ inches wide. In this same manner, many have used straps to help secure the bar while performing repetitions, but I really believe that the hooks are the best idea. When straps are used, the hands still take a pretty good beating, while they can be far more relaxed when hooks are applied.
Also before going into the routines let’s think about the manner in which the bar is to be gripped. Many reading these instructions will already have their minds made up and through personal experience know exactly how they would like to grip the bar whether it be concerning the width of hand spacing or manner of holding the bar in the hands. The vast majority of deadlifters I seen use the reverse grip, securing the bar by hooking the thumbs. The main thing I would like to point out here is that if you use a reverse grip on your heavy singles when attempting a record lift, please also use that same reverse grip when using hooks of straps to do the repetitions. I think much has been lost in the past by lifters who have chosen to go to a straight overhand grip when using these aids in holding the bar, and found that even if they did not recognize it at the time, they were a little handicapped with their reverse grip on the heavy single. I say handicapped referring only to the fact that they were not using the power that they had developed 100% from repetitions. The simple reason is that the bar was not in the groove, because of a change of grip.
To once again put the burden on the individual, allow me to instruct you to lift without the aid of hooks or straps enough so that the hands will be tough and strong when doing heavy singles. This must be left up to you and your own judgment. The aids in gripping are just to allow the back and other muscle groups to be properly worked to gain your ultimate in deadlifting strength.
After warming up, the first routine is very simple. Do 8 repetitions in the regular deadlift, lowering the bar all the way to the floor and stopping each time for a new start. Follow with 8 repetitions in the stiff-legged deadlift, with the bar just touching the floor and no hesitation each time. 8 reps will be the most I will give in deadlifts because breathing is a little difficult while performing the movement. With the bar hanging at arm’s length and all the weight extending from the shoulders, the rib cage is cramped. A set of 8 reps in the regular deadlift and 8 in the stiff-legged.
It is almost imperative to have three bars loaded for this particular routine, or at least have helpers to make some fast changes if enough weights and bars are not available.
The routine consists of three different lifts and each set should be done in a relatively short period of time. First, after a warmup, do 5 repetitions in the regular deadlift. As soon as recovered do 5 repetitions in the “top side” of the deadlift, by raising a bar some four to five inches off parallel racks, boxes, or any other apparatus that you would like to use in raising the bar to a position so that there is only about four or five inches left when lifting the bar to a finish position. The weight used on this should be something that works the body well for the 5 reps, and your starting stance should be in the same position that it would have been if the bar had not been brought from the floor to this point. In other words, I do not want you to get in a real advantage position to handle more weight in this top side lift, other than the position you world ordinarily have been in had you lifted the bar from the floor. The weight you can handle in this “finish out” should be quite a bit more than in your regular deadlift.
Next, continuing to handle more weight than the regular deadlift, do 5 repetitions with a bar originating on the floor, and the body in the original starting position for the deadlift. The bar should be loaded to a point so that it can only be raised about four inches from the floor.
The two assistance exercises here are naturally to give a good “finish out” and “starting pull” for the dead lift. Many lifters will find that they are extremely strong in one or the other of these positions, but very few will find that they can handle a great deal more weight than their regular lift in both.
No matter what the poundage that can be handled for the five repetitions either in the top or bottom position of the deadlift, load the bar to what you can handle with a good exertion of strength. Work up to 3 sets in this routine with the regular, the top side and the starting position movement constituting one set. Five repetitions in each, then repeat the three movements. This is a routine that you may want to come back to occasionally, for it is a very good one. Other routines in the various lifts may work so well that they become favorites and you will want to repeat them every few weeks or months, but also remember that if a routine does not produce now, it very well could later. So try them again.
For an assistance exercise on this particular routine let’s use the good morning exercise. I realize that there are several things that will pop up as objections to the good morning lift, but let’s do it in a little different manner than usual.
The first time I tried good mornings as a strengthening lift for my lower back, I was very satisfied. I started out with a weight that I considered to be ridiculously light, for I wanted to do some high repetitions and also knew that sometimes discomfort resulted from a heavy bar resting in this position. I did this lift just as strictly as I thought was possible for quite a while and certainly did receive great results from it. The results I am speaking of came basically from my pulling power in the regular deadlift and also the clean and snatch.
Overly delighted with this particular assistance exercise, I continued doing it and even found I was getting much, much stronger in it, but then my progress in the lifts that I was actually performing this assistance exercise in order to increase stopped advancing. My first reaction was to consider what was wrong and give it some serious thought. I was not going stale because I was getting stronger in the good morning, so there must be something else wrong. On real close examination, I found that even though I was continuing to perform the lift with stiff knees, and bending the trunk of the body at least into a parallel position to the floor before rising again, there was indeed something different. I had, without knowing or planning it, learned to cheat on the movement. I was counterbalancing the lift by extending my hips backward, which accounted for lifting more weight with less of the desired results. Because of this experience, I developed a good way to do the good morning exercise, producing tremendous results.
Make a wide belt that can be pulled up just above the knee on each thigh. This belt can be made of leather or some type of webbing, and should be about five or six inches wide. On each belt there should be a ring sewn in, or attached in some way just about midway of the width. By attaching a rope, chain, etc. to each of the rings and joining it to a single rope about three feet from the rings, you will have yourself an apparatus that will help you perform good mornings in a strict manner. Attach a rope that the two original ropes or chains are fastened to on to something stable that is just a little higher than the position that the belts are in around the thighs. When taking the bar from the squat racks, have enough length on the ropes so that you may step forward into your stance for the movement and tighten the rope. (Photos – figures 29 and 30) Lean forward, do the exercise with tension being on the thigh belts. Keep a good footing so that you will not be apt to swing onto the belts and that way fall forward. To better explain, keep a great deal of weight on your feet and only use the belts as stabilizers to lean against and not swing all your weight on. This can best be done by using a very light weight for experimenting until you get it down pat.
There have been other such methods developed, such as leaning on a board and different variations on such, but to me this is the best method I have used.
Do about ten of these good mornings for part of the set in this routine. For the second portion of each set I want you to get a weight that is almost your limit in the deadlift, approaching it without hooks or straps, using your regular grip, and do one repetition. Put this weight down, stand erect, take several deep breaths, and once again do a single repetition. Continue doing this for 10 repetitions. Try to do the lift as rapidly as possible, although I do not want you to sacrifice poundage for speed in performance.
During the first few times you try these singles, work up just how many breaths it takes between each lift. This way you can gauge your performance. Also try not to leave the original stance, keeping chalk nearby so that you can just pick it up and re-chalk your grip when necessary. These lifts will not only build strength but will really put your heavy deadlift in the groove.
Summing up this routine, do ten modified good mornings, ten of the heavy singles and you will have accomplished a set. This is another one of the real killers, so be conservative on your sets, hoping to work up to three.
I would like to start this routine by saying that there is no one who cannot deadlift more flatfooted than with heels on their shoes. I say that I would like to start by making this statement, but there surely is an exception to every rule when it comes to lifting. This is because of the many body makeups and sizes of people. So, let us just say that, as a rule, there is no one who can’t lift more flatfooted than with heels. I think this can be emphasized by many of the lifters who have caught on to what some are calling “deadlifting downhill.” This expression describes those who would actually build up the front of their shoes, raising the ball of the foot higher that the heel so that when the lift is started the lifter is really pulling back and has a better leverage on the bar than if he was flatfooted or barefooted.
Now, operating under the assumption that being flatfooted is an advantage, let’s take a great disadvantage. After a proper warmup, I would like you to do a set of deadlifts with the first being in the regular form, the next four stiff-legged, and a final repetition going back down into your original regular deadlift stance and completing the lift. This is the only exercise in this routine I would like you to do, performing 4 sets.
Do not misinterpret this as elementary, for we are going to do it the hard way.
That is, with the heels elevated. I would like for you to elevate your heels just as high as possible and still be able to put weight on the entire foot. Maybe by wearing a shoe with a regular heel and putting on top of a 2 x 4, there will be enough elevation. If this does not seem enough for you, put even more under the heel so that you are really lifting uphill instead of downhill. This is going to put a unique strain on the entire deadlift movement, and should help overcome the sticking point that you personally have.
You’re going to have to use hooks or straps for this one. The “down movement” as discussed in training the squat. Prepare for the heavy down movement by doing the maximum reps in your deadlift, which we have said is eight. After the proper rest, your spotters are to give their help in bringing the heavier than you can manage weight to the finish position and, as you voluntarily start to lower it, they will push down so that in no way can you stop the bar even though you should try with all your might. Repeat this four times. A set in this routine will be 8 deadlifts, after warmup, and 4 repetitions in the down movement. If four repetitions are too much, cut them down, and even though you are working up to a hopeful 3 sets, judge this by your progress and endurance.
There are many lifting routines I can give you in every lift that is done in power lifting competition. A different combination of the routines I have instructed you in can be worked out by you as you advance and experiment on your own.
My tendency has always been to overtrain, and on occasions it has caught up with me just like it will with you. I point this out because some of the routines I have given you are quite strenuous and some of you possible cannot bear up under the full thrust of them. Even though I have said this many times throughout these instructions, play it cool, and work into them slowly.
Indeed, you will have to work hard to make progress in lifting – as in any other thing in life. You will get out of this work just about what you put in. From many of my comments you should have gathered that weightlifting takes not only hard work to be successful, but also much thinking. I challenge you to THINK! Some of your best ideas will come when things are not going well. This is why I have offered you the possibilities of rearranging the lifts that I have recommended in the routines, or even rearranging the routines themselves where I have put them in sequence. First, I would like for you to try them as I have given them to you.
Yes, there are many other exercises that I could give you, but most of them take special equipment and as a rule, they are not any better than the ones I have projected. One is the inverted stiff-legged deadlift. This takes a bench, something like an incline board but not quite as steep. The lift is done by the athlete hanging by his feet in an inverted position on this bench and pulling the bar from the starting to the finish position of the stiff-legged deadlift. The weights are attached by a cable hooked to the bar going up over the top end of the bench through a pulley. The weights themselves are, of course, suspended at the other end of the cable.
This is only an example of the many things that I have worked out through the years for special problems in lifting.