Sunday, September 14, 2014

Deadlift Secrets of the Champions - Donald Pfeiffer


Of all weight training exercises, not just the three powerlifts, the deadlift is the most basic. It is also, along with the squat, one of the two most effective exercises for developing overall size and strength. Virtually every muscle in your body is worked when you perform deadlifts. When done for high reps with a moderate weight it becomes an excellent means of improving cardiovascular fitness. Unfortunately, however, many people have an aversion to bending down and pulling up and for that reason the deadlift has never been one of the more popular lifts.

Despite its simplicity and lack of popularity, the deadlift has spawned many creative and effective training techniques. In this article we will look at five great deadlifters of yesteryear and the methods they used to become successful.

We begin with the legendary Bob Peoples.

 Born and raised in the foothills of Tennessee, Bob was one of the most intelligent and creative lifters of all time. Forced to withdraw from college after one year because of the demands of farm work, Bob developed some quite revolutionary methods for gaining deadlift strength.

Blessed with with a classic deadlifter's physique - exceptionally long arms and a vice-like grip - Bob was the first amateur deadlifter to break the 700 pound barrier. He eventually increased his record to 725.75, a record that stood for 25 years. Bob's record is even more amazing when you consider the conditions he had to train under.

First of all, he always trained alone. He never had a partner to help and encourage him during his workouts. Secondly, in his early thirties he had major abdominal surgery that required an 18 inch incision and he was given a warning by the performing surgeon never to lift weights again. Finally, being a farmer, the demands of such a life never afforded Bob the chance to conserve his energy for his workouts alone. It wasn't uncommon for him to train after spending the whole day working in the fields. Let me remind you that back in Bob's day most of the work was done by hand, not by machines as is often the case nowadays. Because of the seasonal nature of farm-work he was often forced to take long layoffs from training. Had he not been faced with these obstacles it might be a safe bet to say that he would still hold the world's record in the deadlift for the 181-lb class.

Many people think that the lowering of heavy weights - or negative training as it is now commonly called - is a recent discovery. Well, Bob used a form of eccentric training over forty years ago (1940's), and while his apparatus was crude compared to the machines now available it certainly produced results.

Using a Ford tractor that had a 'lift' he hooked up a long stick that enabled him to operate the lift without leaving the rear end of the tractor. He would start with the weight in the top position and try as hard as possible to delay the weight's downward movement. When the weight reached the  bottom he would attempt to lift it but would usually need to activate the 'lift' in order to raise it. Eventually, he became so strong using this method of negative resistance that he had to help the tractor raise the weight in the finished position.

A common sight in power gyms today is the power rack. But one of the few, if only places to find such a piece of equipment back then was in Bob's rough-walled gym, where he trained even through the winter. He found that he could improve his deadlift by concentrating on three areas; just above, at the level of, and below the knees. He found this to be an invaluable aid not only for improving the deadlift, but also for any other of the 'power' lifts. He also felt that this rack was a necessity for anyone who, as he did, training heavy and alone.

Among Bob's other training ideas are wrist straps and the round-back style of deadlifting. He had many other ingenious training ideas but lack of space, unfortunately, forces me to list all of them. 

Bob Peoples: Deadlift Champion, Strength Theorist, Civic Leader
by Al Thomas -

A training principle used by powerlifters and bodybuilders alike is specialization. Powerlifters use this method to increase a lift that is lagging behind the other two, while bodybuilders will specialize on a weak bodypart to bring it into accord with the rest of their body.

One of the first men to really apply this principle was Harold Ansorge of Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

 In Mr. Ansorge's case it was one of total specialization. For a time he performed no exercise other than the deadlift. Here is his routine:

He would begin by performing 3 sets of 25 reps with a 25-minute rest between sets.

Five days later he would do 12 sets of single reps with extremely heavy weights.
This workout would last roughly 4.5 hours. After warming up, one every 20 minutes or so.

Five days later he would do 20 sets of 5 reps with as much weight as possible, this time taking only a 5-minute rest between sets.

He would repeat this cycle 6 times, which would take him about 3.5 months.

By using this method he was able to add 20 pounds of bodyweight and increase his deadlift by 80 pounds. Eventually he was able to deadlift over 700 at a time when few men could do over 600.

Ansorge is best known for his performance of Bent Press - which is not be be confused with the side press (the latter requiring one leg to remain straight during the bell's elevation). On October 21, 1941 Ansorge at a bodyweight of 220 pounds, managed 302.5 pounds in the bent press. In case you are not aware, the bent press is a one arm lift, although it is allowed to shoulder the weight using both hands.
After the bell is shouldered, it does not rise any farther. Instead the body is bent away and down from the bar until the arm is straight. To be complete, the lift must then return to a standing position.

Another ingenious and innovative deadlifter was William Boone of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Like Bob Peoples, Bill's program was hindered by the fact the he was engaged in hard physical labor. In Bill's case, it was drilling water wells, a job that often required that he work 10-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week.

In 1947, Bill faced Bob Peoples in an historic deadlifting competition. Despite having a weight advantage of almost 100 lbs he was still unable to beat Bob. This does not mean that Bill was an inferior deadlifter; he merely lost to the world's best amateur deadlifter. Eventually, Bill was able to exceed 700 lbs.

One of his favorite techniques was to dig a hole and place a barbell on the outside while he would stand on the inside. Initially the hole was of such a depth that a complete deadlift involved only an inch or two of movement. Every workout he would add a couple of shovels of dirt. He would continue this until he was able to perform a complete deadlift. The effectiveness of this method was due to the fact that the increase in intensity (range of movement in this case) was so minimal that his body experienced no difficulty in adapting to the new level of stress.

Do you have trouble holding on to the bar when performing heavy deadlifts? William Boone did, but unlike most powerlifters he did something about it. He found that the best way to improve grip strength was to use bars with a larger diameter. He eventually worked up to a 3-inch bar with which he could deadlift 525 lbs. Personally, I find that using thick handled bars is the best way to improved your grip strength and it would behoove anyone interested in improving their deadlift to use this technique. 

Another favorite training technique of his was to perform his deadlifts while standing on boxes. This extended deadlift enabled him to develop great starting power in the deadlift. 

Possibly the most innovative and imaginative powerlifter of all time is Paul Anderson

Paul has probably developed more unique and productive assistance exercises for the three powerlifts than anyone else. His two training books, Power by Paul and Secrets of My Strength, are loaded with training advice and I highly recommend both of them. 

Although most famous for his prodigious squatting ability, Paul was certainly no slouch as a deadlifter. In fact, he was one of the first men to deadlift over 800 lbs. Had it not been for the fact that he had unusually small hands for a man his size and that he had broken both wrists, it's quite possible that he would have been the first to deadlift over 900 lbs.

Early in his lifting career, Paul discovered that his squat went up very rapidly, while his upper body exercises did not respond as quickly. His reasoning for this was that, due to gravity, the blood would drop to his legs when squatting and his leg muscles would always have an adequate supply of blood for growth. In order to increase his deadlift he believed that it would be necessary to find a way to increase he blood flow to his back. Thus, the 'decline deadlift' was born.

Paul would perform this exercise by taking a slant board which would have a pulley arrangement located at the top. From there a cable would pass over the pulley and at one end of pulley would be the weights, while at the other end of the pulley, located at the top of the board, would be a handle used to lift the weights. 

Lying supine on the board with his head at the bottom and his feet at the top, he would then perform decline deadlifts at approximately a 45 degree angle. Paul found this exercise to be most effective when he mixed it with his regular deadlifts. If you're a bodybuilder you should enjoy this exercise because of the extreme pump your lower back will experience. 

Paul was also a firm believer in the overload principle. That is, he liked to perform assistance exercises that enabled him to handle weight well in excess of what he would use for the particular lift he was training on. 

For the deadlift he developed a special belt made of heavy steel that had hooks on it located in front of each thigh. He would then place very heavy weights onto the belt from where he would then perform high pulls. He became so strong in this movement that he could eventually handle over 1,000 lbs. 

[He also used a pair of 'thigh belts' to allow himself to go very heavy with good mornings - 

"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."]
A look at out final deadlifter takes us to the Rhineland. Leipzig to be precise. It was here that the legendary Hermann Goerner, possibly the greatest deadlifter of all time, was born. 
Considered by many to be the strongest man of his time (1920's and 30's), the deadlift was clearly his outstanding lift. The best lift by this 6 foot 1/2 inch, 260 lb strongman was an incredible 793.75 lbs, a record that stood for many years. It should be noted that authorities did not consider Goerner's lifts the record because he was not an amateur. His lift was usually referred to as the professional world deadlift record.
A major reason for Goerner's outstanding deadlifting ability was his incredible gripping power. At the age of 58 he registered 286 lbs on a Collins Hand Dynamometer - the highest recording ever. Actually, his recording would have been higher if he hadn't broken the machine - it only went up to 286 lbs. Strength historian David Willoughby estimates that he could have done 315 lbs. To most of you these figures are probably meainingless. In that case, let me give you a means of comparison. Hopefully may of you remember Mac Batchelor,  a famous strongman of the 1940's and 50's who was also famous for his gripping feats and forearm strength. In fact, he was never beaten at arm wrestling. Well, the best that Mac could do on the Collins Hand Dynamometer was 220.5 lbs, 30% less than what Goerner could do.
A favorite technique of Goerner was to practice his deadlifts while using only one, two or three fingers of each hand. He would also lift heavy dumbbells in the same fashion. 
Probably the exercise most instrumental in developing his phenomenal gripping strength was the one arm deadlift. Hermann would usually perform this exercise one day a week, alternating arms with each set. His best one arm deadlift, performed with the right hand, was an amazing 727. 5 lbs, a lift that the late David Willoughby called the greatest feat performed by a modern strongman.
Here's an idea: combine Goerner's practice of performing one arm deadlifts with Boone's use of thick sleeved barbells. One arm deadlifts with a 2.5 to 3 inch thick barbell will develop a vice-like grip on anyone. 
There you have it: five of the greatest deadlifters of all time and some of the training techniques that they used to make them champions. I hope that you enjoyed the capsule glimpses of each deadlifter and that some of you may want to try some of these training techniques. If you do, I hope that they will prove successful. Others, however, may find it impractical to incorporate these methods into their training.
My main purpose in writing this article was to show that powerlifting is more than just brute strength; it is also a cerebral sport. All of the champions that I listed had a very intelligent approach towards training. They were constantly looking for ways to improve their deadlift, and when they reached a sticking point they immediately looked for ways to overcome it. Anyone who wants to reach his or her potential in powerlifting must do the same. Training hard isn't enough, you must also train intelligently. Thanks for reading and good luck in your training.       



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