The Two Hands Deadlift
by Doug Hepburn
Many persons underestimate the importance of the Two Hands Deadlift in the training routine. You no doubt have heard the expression “Basic Power Exercise” as used by many weightlifting and bodybuilding authorities in their articles. I have used this term many times myself when referring to the Deep Knee Bend, Bench Press or, one of the top power exercises, the Two Hands Deadlift. Unfortunately this fine exercise is not as popular nowadays as it was in the time of Saxon, Cyr and Hermann Goerner, who was the greatest deadlifter of them all. This German strength athlete is credited with lifting close to 800 pounds in the Deadlift.
Whether you are training on the Three Olympic Lifts or your primary goal is the acquisition of outstanding body power and muscular size, the Deadlift is an absolute “must” and should be included in the training routine. No other exercise has such a direct influence on the lower back routine.
By performing the Deadlift you lay the foundation for a back that will withstand the rigors of heavy training whether it be Olympic lifting or concentrating on other strength lifts. Remember, “a chain is as strong as its weakest link,’ and no matter how strong you are, if your back is not proportionately strengthened it will detract from overall efficiency in the power lifts.
The lower back constitutes a vital portion of the human body, even more so in the case of the strength athlete as he subjects himself to the rigors of extra heavy power building movements. Because of this it is imperative that the back be conditioned and strengthened so as to eliminate any back injury, doctor bills, and undergoing forced layoffs from training for weeks and even months.
The old adage “a strong back and a weak mind” is a fallacy, especially when it is applied to present-day weight trainers. Sensible lifters and place the Deadlift high on the list of power exercises and devote a goodly portion of their training routine to this exercise.
The course contained herein is designed to give you extra-fast results with a minimum of time and effort. Adhere to the routine exactly as written, and don’t allow any training partners to sway you into altering it.
Yours in Strength.
Of primary importance is the correct type of training bar. If you have access to a regulation lifting bar are well away as it conforms to the accepted specifications. This bar is also knurled (minute diamond-shaped machined grooves on the bar). This will be a great aid to the handgrip when handling extra heavy poundages.
The large plates on the bar give it the correct height off the floor. If a lifting bar is not available a regular exercise bar will suffice as a revolving bar has no special advantage when deadlifting. However, it is imperative that the exercise bar be equipped with the extra-large plates. These plates should be approximately 18” in diameter – the weight is not important. Practically all of the major barbell distributors have such plates in stock so I am sure that the reader will have little difficulty in acquiring same. Two of these plates are all that are needed, providing, of course, that there is sufficient weight on hand to increase the poundage as proficiency increases. If the reader can manage to obtain more that two of these large plates it will be advantageous, especially when one is concentrated on the heavy power movements as a high poundage can be attained quickly and conveniently.
In the heavy exercises such as the Squat and Deadlift, gains are made very quickly at first and in a short time poundages in excess of 300 pounds will be used (I am referring to the beginner in this case).
All exercise bars are composed of solid steel as the hollow bar will bend or completely buckle with a heavy poundage. For this reason I do not recommend using any type of pipe or tubing in place of the solid bar. The majority of exercise bars have a diameter of slightly one inch so that practically all types of plates will fit. A bar of this thickness also assures a solid grip which is so essential when training with heavy poundages. If the reader has small or short-fingered hands it is imperative that a bar of this size is used.
The majority of persons will experience little difficulty in gripping at first. However, as the weight increases, unless you are gifted with large or unusually strong hands, some difficulty will be encountered in maintaining the handgrip.
As I mentioned, the regulation lifting bars are knurled. The exercise bars sold by top grade barbell distributors are also knurled for convenience. If at present the reader is training with an unknurled bar I advise either having it knurled at your local machine shop or purchasing a new one from any of the qualified barbell dealers. The latter will probably prove the most economical as a new bar will, in most cases, cost less than having a bar knurled. If you should decide to have your present bar knurled it is important that the knurling is spaced correctly so as to coincide with the width of handspacing when deadlifting. The two areas knurled should be six to eight inches in length and spaced sixteen to eighteen inches apart. Make certain that the knurling is not too coarse as this can injure the skin or tear the training apparel.
The correct overall length of the bar is also important as a bar that is too short lacks “life” or “spring” and will handicap your training progress. A recommend a bar seven feet in length for the best results.
If the reader intends to compete or set official records in the Deadlift – or for that matter any two hand lift, the bar must conform to certain definite specifications. It would be to your advantage to accustom yourself to such a bar.
The quality of steel that the bar is made of is also of importance. All bars used in official competition are composed of hardened steel as they undergo a great deal of punishment. Be sure that your training bar is of this quality so it too will stand up to the poundages that will eventually be used. I know from experience that an ordinary soft steel bar will bend when loaded to poundages in excess of 400 pounds. This might seem like a lot of weight to some but I can assure you the reader that such poundages, and more, will be used in training much sooner than one would imagine.
Always place outside collars on the bar when training, especially so when deadlifting as the plates tend to slide outwards. This is due to the bend in the bar when a high poundage is used. The jarring effect when the bar contacts the floor during repetitions will also cause a shifting of plates. Shifting plates can prove dangerous as it throws an unbalanced strain on the back and shoulders. All manufactured barbell sets are equipped with inside and outside collars. Don’t neglect making use of them when training with heavy poundages.
Make sure that the floor of your training quarters is absolutely level. An uneven floor surface can be another cause of back injury when Deadlifting or Squatting as an unbalanced body position is caused. Although the back constitutes one of the most powerful parts of the body it is highly susceptible to strain. Any sudden wrenching or lifting improperly can have serious after-effects.
Several top level weightlifters have been painfully reminded of this fact as they were forced to undergo an extended layoff from training through lack of caution. I ask the reader to make a careful note of the last two paragraphs so that any future discomfort may be prevented.
If possible, I recommend the reader to construct a small wood platform for deadlifting on. A 4’ x 8’ area is sufficient for this purpose. Training on a cement floor is extremely hard on the bar and the floor. Deadlifting on a good wood, cement, or tile floor will cause considerable damage as a heavily loaded bar contacts the floor with considerable force.
I would like to mention two points that will prove an aid in gripping the bar when deadlifting. A type of magnesium chalk can be purchased at any drug store. This chalk, when placed on the hands, assures a solid hand grip. This will be appreciated when the hands are sweating. Resin is even better for this purpose but unfortunately it is extremely difficult to remove from the hands. Placing adhesive tape on the tips of the fingers will also help as this helps prevent the bar from rolling off the hands. I have used such tape to advantage when attempting heavy cleans as my fingers are short and quite thick.
Wearing the right type of training shoe is highly important. Under no circumstances attempt to deadlift while wearing shoes with elevated heels. Such a heel tends to throw the hips forward and this in turn directs undue strain on the lower back. You are also handicapped in another way as the raised heel increases the height of the body thus increasing the distance the weight must be lifted. I would recommend the removal of shoes when attempting a personal record or otherwise.
The type of shoe that should be worn when deadlifting, pressing or squatting is a regulation weightlifting boot. This boot has a small rubber sole (no heels) supported at the arch and leather tops. This shoe is difficult to obtain as most weightlifting boots are made in
If you are accustomed to wearing a lifting belt when training then by all means continue to do so. I am of the opinion that little assistance is given by such a belt when training on the deadlift.
If you are not in the habit of wearing a sweat suit when exercising I would advise you to start now. To eliminate muscular strain the body must be kept warm at all times. Many bodybuilders and lifters train while wearing a T shirt and shorts. This practice is all right in the warm summer months but if continued in the cooler temperatures an injury such as a torn muscle or pulled tendon can set you back months in your training progress.
Correct Performance in the Two Hands Deadlift
The correct technique in the Deadlift, as in all other lifts, is of prime importance as this will enable the trainee to lift many more pounds. Coupled with this is the fact that injury is often prevented due to the correct utilization of body leverage.
Load the bar to the required starting (warmup) poundage (how to arrive at this will be described in detail in the next chapter). Approach the center of the bar placing the feet under it so that the fronts of the ankles are almost touching. The feet should be spaced slightly wider than when cleaning (lifting the bar to shoulders) but not as wide as when squatting. This will allow the arms to pass on the outside of the thighs when positioning the body at the commencement of the Deadlift. A person of average height should place the feet approximately fifteen inches apart (measured between heels). If the reader is shorter than average then adjust the distance accordingly.
Taking the Grip
To attain the reverse grip turn the palm of either the left or right hand (whichever is most comfortable to you) so that it faces upwards and away from the body when first gripping the bar. Assuming this position of the hands helps prevent the bar from slipping in the grip and rolling out of the fingers. Coupled with the reverse grip is the utilization of the “Hook Grip” position of the fingers. Unfortunately, not everyone can realize the benefits of this gripping technique as those who possess small or thick, short-fingered hands will be unable to effect the correct position. However, a person with average hands size will find the hook grip quite easy to attain after a little practice.
To assume the hook grip place the first two fingers over the thumb (both hands) when first taking the grip. After practicing with this grip on either an ordinary broom handle or the actual bar and examining the position of the fingers and thumb the reader will readily see the advantages as the leverage is such that the heavier the weight on the bar becomes the more solid is the handgrip.
Those who find it impossible to manage the hook grip need not become discouraged. I personally know of many outstanding deadlifters, one of whom can lift 700 pounds, who are incapable of hook gripping. These men discovered, as you will, that Nature compensates for things such as this and the hands simply become stronger to meet the demands put on them.
The illustration above shows the reverse hand position and hook grip.
Space the hands at approximately shoulder width on the bar when gripping. When the correct handspacing is attained the arms should be almost vertical or at right angles with the floor level. A too wide or too close handspacing handicaps both the grip and the lifting leverage.
Correct Starting Position of the Body for the Deadlift
After properly spacing the feet and taking the grip and the right handspacing make sure that the knees are bent and on the INSIDE of the arms (the thighs should be almost parallel to the floor). It is a common error among lifters, both advanced and beginners, to attempt to lift a heavy bar off the floor with the legs insufficiently bent. This places undue strain on the lower back as the large and powerful muscles of the thighs are not being utilized to their fullest extent. This in turn results in faulty deadlifting leverage and a loss in lifting efficiency. There is also the danger of injuring the lower back region, often severely. It is imperative that the back and legs share the overall strain during the primary stage of the deadlifting movement.
It is also important that the back be kept flat throughout the deadlift movement. A rounded back during any phase of the lift can have serious consequences for most trainees as usually the lift is failed or the back injured. The reader might feel that I am taking a rather dismal outlook in regard to the dangers encountered when deadlifting improperly. It is not my intention to discourage the reader but rather to instill in him a healthy respect for deadlifting technique. This in turn will assist in the development of a polished top lever deadlifter and not someone who will make the chiropractor rub his hands in anticipation. To assist in keeping the back flat concentrate on maintaining the head well up throughout the entire deadlift movement, under no circumstances look at the floor. When commencing the deadlift, position the head so that the eyes can be comfortably centered on a point directly ahead and at eye level.
The arms are to be completely extended at all times, especially at the starting phase of the lift. A common mistake is to attempt to bend the arms just before lifting the bar from the floor. This is simply a waste of energy. The arms serve one basic purpose when deadlifting and that is to form a connecting link from the hands to the shoulders. Try to visualize the assistance of the arms in this light as it will help you to more fully understand the mechanics of the deadlift.
The Deadlift Movement
Before we go into the actual deadlift movement I will summarize the various points of the correct starting position of the body.
(1) Correct spacing of the feet.
(2) Feet flat on the floor.
(3) Thighs almost parallel with the floor level.
(4) Arms on the outside of the knees.
(5) Back as flat as possible.
(6) Head up and looking directly ahead.
(7) Arms completely extended.
(8) Correct hand spacing.
(9) Utilization of the reverse grip, if possible combined with the hook grip.
We will assume now that the trainee has correctly positioned the body and is prepared to perform the actual movement.
Inhaling and exhaling at the right phase of the deadlift movement is highly important. The technique of breathing will vary with each exercise. This is due to the diverse positions of the body. In the deadlift a deep breath is taken immediately BEFORE commencing to lift. Never attempt to inhale AFTER the deadlift is started as the chest is compressed and breathing is restricted. Do not exhale until the back is almost in the erect or upright position. Always breath through the mouth as you simply can’t get enough air in a short period of time by the use of the nose only.
As soon as the breath is taken commence lifting the bar to the waist. The legs must straighten in coordination with the back as it assumes the upright position. It is during this phase of the deadlift that many lifters are at fault. The most common error is to extend the legs prematurely and throw the greater portion of the work on the back. The legs should not be completely extended until the completion of the lift and the back is in the vertical position.
A common procedure among advanced deadlifters is to lift the bar slightly above the knees allowing it to contact with the lower portion of the thighs and then commence working the bar to the waist. This is a normal occurrence and will happen in almost every case where a limit attempt is tried. the point to be remembered when deadlifting whether in training or in competition is to elevate the bar from the floor to the waist – there is no cause for disqualification by resting the bar on the thighs. However, I would not advise this practice until the weight becomes so heavy that you have no alternative but to do so. When training concentrate on lifting the bar to the waist in one smooth motion and then when you try our limit whether it be in training or actual competition you will find that you will do just that much more.
Do not attempt to jerk the bar off the floor at the initial phase of the deadlift as this is a waste of time and energy as you just don’t jerk four or five hundred pounds off the floor. It is hard to believe but I have seen man people try just this and the result is often a torn or wrenched back.
When the bar has reached the region of the waist exhale and at the same time commence to thrust the arms and shoulders well back. This shrugging movement will facilitate the last phase of the deadlift.
To help alleviate some of the strain from the arms and grip at the completion of the deadlift arch the back, this in turn causes the hips to move forward so that a proportion of the total weight of the bar is supported on the front of the hips.
When replacing the bar on the floor it is necessary to lower it in a controlled manner down the front of the thighs to the knees. From this point lower it to the floor level. You will note that I said “lower” the bar, under no circumstances drop the bar from the waist too quickly, especially while still maintaining the grip, if you do the result will probably be a strained back or a bent bar.
The reason I stress a controlled lowering of the bar is, as I above mentioned and another more important point. The bod must assume the SAME RELATIVE POSITION when lowering the bar as when the bar was lifted. This can only be accomplished in a controlled manner. If this is not done, besides damaging the bar, there is also a danger of seriously injuring the lower back.
Your Training Routine
This routine should be performed three times per week with one rest day between training sessions. If possible include he deadlift along with the lower body movements such as the Deep Knee Bend. If at present you are concerned with developing basic body power the Squat and Deadlift are all that is necessary to strengthen the lower body. These two fine exercises go hand in hand as squatting will assist the deadlift and vice versa.
You will note after reading the arrangement of the sets and repetitions in this course, or for that matter any of the others that I have written, that I favor a combination of single repetitions and sets of fairly low consecutive reps. I have found that this method of training builds unusual strength and exceptional muscular bulk.
Sets and Repetitions
Warm up with a poundage that can be handled comfortably for 5 consecutive repetitions. Make sure that you are not overstraining with this weight. Then increase the poundage so that ONE SINGLE REPETITION can be performed comfortably (rest approximately three to five minutes between sets and single reps). Increase the poundage again and perform another single rep. The trainee should be working harder now but not over exerting. Increase the weight once more and then perform FIVE SINGLE REPETITIONS (resting between each single rep). If the trainee is unable to perform the required 5 single reps, then the weight is too heavy so reduce the poundage until the 5 singles can be performed. It is necessary to go through this procedure at first to find the correct training poundages when first starting this routine. When the reader has found the poundage that can be handled for he 5 singles stay with this weight and strive to increase the amount of single reps each following training period until EIGHT SINGLE REPS CAN BE DONE. When this is accomplished increase the poundage so that a minimum of five single reps can be performed as before and again, using the training principle as explained above, work up to 8 singles. When the 8 singles can be performed with the increased poundage, up the weight and again work up to eight singles, etc, etc. . . .
When performing heavy singles it is important not to use a poundage too close to the absolute limit. Always hold something in reserve as this practice will assist in preventing muscular staleness. If the singles can be increased by one each workout period then good gains are being made, don’t expect to do more. However, if the trainee can perform more than one extra single rep then by all means do so.
This completes the single rep portion of the deadlift training routine. The second part of the routine consists of a series of sets of consecutive repetitions. The performance of heavy single reps will develop the highest degree of muscular strength. However, it is necessary to perform consecutive reps to stimulate muscular growth and increase the recuperative powers.
Load the bar to a poundage that THREE CONSECUTIVE REPS can be performed with. Stay with this weight until FIVE sets of FIVE consecutive reps can be done. Increase the poundage when the prescribed sets and reps can be performed. When this is accomplished increase the poundage so that a minimum of three consecutive reps can be done and again work up to the required 5 sets of 5 reps. Increase poundage, etc,. etc.
IMPORTANT – Be sure to increase the warmup poundage and preliminary poundage increases in the heavy singles proportionately when a poundage gain is made in the final training poundage.
This completes your deadlift routine. Don’t perform more sets or reps than what is called for. Don’t train on this routine more than three times per week. Don’t let others talk you into changing this routine. Remember – overtraining is just as bad as undertraining.
If any problems are encountered regarding this course mail them to me and I will be pleased to assist you.
Yours in Strength,
Document courtesy of R. Weaver.