Saturday, August 16, 2008

The One Arm Deadlift - Charles A. Smith

Doug Hepburn at Muscle Beach
Photo Courtesy of Jan Dellinger


 Above and Below, Pete Cortese 



 The Right and Left Hand Deadlift by Charles A. Smith

Fare dips the pen of despair into an ink of tears and regrets, and on a sheet of hopelessness writes the word - FAILURE. Every month there are thousands of young men who enter the ranks of weight trainers with high hopes and the conviction that the world of weights is their oyster. All they have to do is find some way of opening its shell and fame and fortune is theirs. They commence training – alas – along the wrong lines and with a misguided schedule of exercises. They work and sweat and work again. They write to all the “authorities” and buy all the books and magazines but the eagerly worked for, looked for and waited for results are a little late in arriving. They begin to regret the time spent in training. They feel there is no hope for them and slowly become convinced they are just failures. And we lose perhaps another Pete George of Reg Park or whoever your favorite hero happens to be.

Now I have always maintained that it is essential for every beginner to start off right. If it were possible for me to say what novices should and should not do, then I would commence with every newcomer taking an extensive course in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. I maintain that there need be no failures in the field of weight training if each and every beginner knows BEFORE he touches a barbell, why he is training, what he can expect from training and the effects which that training has on his entire body. The possession of knowledge is a bright light which guides us on the right path, and stays us from stumbling in the darkness of haphazard methods.

When you know what happens, what the specific effects are when you, say – curl or press or snatch or bench press, then all major obstacles are removed from the road to greater muscularity and physical impressiveness AND power. Nothing can replace the CORRECT performance of an given exercise. There is only one way to workout and that is the CORRECT way. Imagine the disappointment the lifter experiences when he discovers that the minute amount of progress he has made is a travesty of what progress really should be alongside of a weight trainer who has followed a planned and scientific course of exercise.

The reason for these articles is not only to advise training in the many lifts, but to clear the air of many arguments in training for the maximum in development and strength. These two qualities are all too often separated. There is a competition side to all weight training and we have as evidence the increasing popularity of bench press contests, curling contests and deep knee bend contests.

You DON’T perform a single hand deadlift by strapping the wrist to the bar or tying it there with a handkerchief. You can be the most honest guy in the world, but other folks have an awkward habit of exaggerating and you might be called on one day to make a genuine one hand deadlift. You will look like an almighty fool if you fail to give forth. There are rules which govern the performance of single hand deadlifting and you DO NOT make a deadlift of 650 lbs. by rapidly lifting the weight from the floor an inch.

No instructor worthy of the name would give you exercises without CAREFULLY explaining how to do them, why you must do them and what results you can expect depending on your type of physique and potentials. If this is so, then why expect to get away with a sloppy performance when you KNOW full well there are rules which govern that performance. You kid no one but yourself and you certainly don’t kid the experts.

There are few referees and judges who can officiate outside of the International lifts. It is with no little pride that I say I am capable of calling the shots on every lift from a right or left hand press right through to the two hands deadlift. I am not boasting, merely making a statement of fact. When it comes to judging a curl or a one hand swing or a side press, most officials are sadly and badly off the beam. I doubt if there are more than four men in the entire country who can tell you what a man can be ruled out for in a bent press of a two hands swing or any other lift in the book other than the International 7.

Let’s take the single hand dead lifts. Here are the rules as recognized by the British Amateur Weightlifters Association.

“The barbell, which at the commencement of the lift may lie either parallel or at right angles to the lifter’s front, shall be lifted from the ground to AT LEAST the height of the lifter’s knees. Should the bar be brought into contact with the legs during the lift it shall not be counted cause for disqualification. At the conclusion of the lift the legs shall be straight and braced at the knees, the heels remaining astride throughout but placed not wider than 15 ¾ inches.” – 1948 Edition of the rules.

You will note that I have emphasized the words “AT LEAST” in the above ruling. The weight can be lifted while placed BETWEEN the legs or while held in the front of the thighs or across the fronts of the thighs. You will note that it is NOT required for the lifter to have his body UPRIGHT at the conclusion of the lift BUT it IS essential that the bar be KNEE HEIGHT at least. The knees MUST be locked at the conclusion of the lift and the feet are NOT allowed to move during the lift. The legs and knees must be STRAIGHT while the count is being given. If one end of the bar is lower than the other, then this is perfectly OK providing that end of the bar does not touch the ground.


The bodybuilding qualities of deadlifts are outstanding and I am not alone in my opinion. If I had to choose a single lift on which I would be allowed to train, then I think that I would take either the single hand deadlifts or the two hands version. The entire shoulder girdle, the spinal column, the thighs, the forearms and the upper arms and calves are all vigorously called into play when this weight movement is used as part of a schedule OR practiced on its own. The pulling power, the snatching and cleaning strength which one may build up with the deadlift is almost beyond belief. One can even improve one’s curling strength with it. The triceps are affected by being PULLED into lock and the lateral deltoids right down near the lower portion get a going over not possible with any other exercise. The single hand deadlift affects the body even more widely. The oblique muscles are developed to their fullest extent and the erector spinae are given individual treatment ensuring that an equal development of strength and size is obtained. Great bodily power is the direct result.

When I think of bodily power the images of three titans of strength blossom in my memory. Charles Rigoulot – Hermann Goerner – Malcolm Brenner. Of them all, for sheer stark strength, Goerner takes the proverbial cake. Despite the tremendous force of Rigoulot’s lifts, and despite the fact that Goerner NEVER approached the quick lifts of the Frenchman, I pick Hermann because of the basic ALL AROUND strength which made it possible for him to perform feats with weights that well nigh defy the imagination. His single hand deadlift of over 700 pounds. His two hands deadlift of 798 and the odd ways he had of hoisting the iron, stamp him as one of the all time greats. His was that brutal crushing power as opposed to the strength of blinding speed and flashing style which Rigoulot has in plenty. As friend Johnny Davis once said, people no longer ask him what new records he is going to create. They say, “When are you going to break Rigoulot’s records?” It is hard to conceive a one hand snatch of 253 pounds – and just as hard to imagine 264 snatched to arm’s length. A two hands clean, unofficial, of 422 pounds and an accredited lift of 405 stamp Rigoulot as a superhuman indeed. Young Malcolm Brenner has the best possibilities of all weight trainers to eclipse the records of Goerner and closely approach those of Rigoulot. Malcolm claims a single hand deadlift of 620 and his power in other lifts, lifts which incidentally he doesn’t train on, provide ample evidence of his giant potentialities.

If you can manage it, place the pictures of these three men together. Notice something? Right first time! They all had, of have in the case of young Brenner, a certain indefinable something which can no better be described that “bulkiness” combined with a pleasing definition. Even the squat Rigoulot had a certain shapeliness about him and Goerner of course was one of the biggest “muscular” men the world has ever seen. The most probable cause for the shape and definition which these men possess is the direct influence on the abdominal and lower back region of the single handed work with weights – an OBVIOUS cause, one might be tempted to say. In the following exercises, I can guarantee you the results which you have been seeking for a long time, but which have until now eluded you. In my opinion, the deadlifts should in preference to the deep knee bend because of their power building qualities which make growth all the more easy to gain and all the swifter in arriving.

EXERCISE 1 – Parallel Squats With Dumbbells. Load up two dumbbells with a weight you normally use in your regular deep knee bends. A safe gauge is to take a weight you are able to handle for 10 comfortable reps with a barbell. Place the dumbbells at each side and, bending down, grasp them and return to upright position. From here bend the legs until the upper thighs are level or parallel with the floor and return to upright position, repeating for 5 reps. Work up to 3 sets of 12 reps before increasing the weight. Throughout the exercise, make every effort to keep the back as upright as possible. Try and place all resistance onto the thighs. In this exercise the aim is to strengthen the grip and the STARTING STRENGTH of the upper legs. You will experience a rapid increase in gripping power once you are used to this unusual movement.

EXERCISE 2 – Parallel Stiff Legged Deadlifts. Load up a barbell to your best clean and jerk. Place the bar across a box, bench or rack and stand right in front of it. Bend forward and grasp the bar. If it is at the correct height, the entire back should be level or parallel with the floor. From this position perform your stiff-legged deadlifts. Commence with 5 reps and work up to 12 reps before increasing the weight. The repetitions should be performed as rapidly as possible.

EXERCISE 3 – One Arm Rowing. Place the non-exercising hand on a bench or support so that the body is in a bent forward position. Grasp the dumbbell in the exercising hand and PULL up with all you have. As the dumbbell reaches shoulder height, TWIST the body to the side and make every effort to pull the weight HIGHER. This body twist is essential for it strengthens the external obliques and the lower sections of the erector spinae muscles. Change hands when you have completed the allotted number of repetitions. Start off with a weight you can comfortably handle for 3 sets of 8 reps and work up to 3 sets of 15 reps before increasing the weight.

EXERCISE 4 – Assisted Single Hand Deadlifts. The purpose of this exercise is to get you accustomed to handling heavy weights in excess of your best one hand deadlift. Take a weight around 20-25 pounds UNDER your best one hand deadlift. Place it on two boxes or in a rack so that the bar is just below knee height. Grasp the bar with the exercising hand – say, the right, and then GRASP your right wrist with the left hand. Lift the weight off the boxes and relax the grip on the wrist WITHOUT letting go. Hold for a short count of two and lower and repeat. Make sure you have the bar well centered – that is, balanced so there is no swing from side-to-side. Start off with 3 sets of 3 reps and work up to 3 sets of 8 reps.

EXERCISE 5 – Single Handed High Pullups. Here is another exercise designed to increase the power of the entire back. Take a weight on a bar which you can comfortably handle for 8 reps in the one arm dumbbell row. With the weight placed in front of you, grasp the bar in the center and stand erect at the same time pulling on the weight. Take the bar to CHIN height, the elbow should be pointed UP. Start off with 3 sets of 8 reps and work up to 3 sets of 15 reps before increasing the weight on the bar.

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