Deadlift Foundation Training
by Roger Benjamin (1983)
The deadlift has been called The King of Lifts by those who really understand the sport of powerlifting. The amount of training importance put on your deadlift should be greater than that of your other lifts. One stands to lose or gain more in competition with this movement than with the squat or bench press.
If Mother Nature dealt you a cruel blow and blessed you with short bone structure like a dachshund, do not despair . . . you will probably have a good bench. As to supportive deadlift training, contrary to the popular myth you CAN do supportive deadlift training without crippling yourself.
Conversely, if your parents gave you a bone structure like that of James Cash or Chip McCain, you can do deadlifts to the point of overtraining because you’re never in a poor leverage position.
Foundation work for any lift should be done twice a week for anywhere from the first two to six years, depending on what level of fitness you walked into the gym with when you started powerlifting.
The two finest athletes I’ve ever had the opportunity to train, Mike Arthur and James Cash, both had extensive backgrounds in wrestling. I believe that the sport of wrestling prepares an athlete for powerlifting better than any other activity. The physical preparation is total because of unique aspects of wrestling: the work load is placed on both sides of the bones, muscle tissue is stressed for strength along with the ability to carry and recover O2, and the wrestler, like the lifter, is required to deplete energy through weight loss, then ‘suck it up’ and perform in that weakened state.
Wrestling also asks an athlete to maintain total concentration in a circus atmosphere. I’ve seen many lifters step on the platform, totally prepared, and then have to answer a spotter’s question. This requires a switch in the thought process to he other side of the brain. It doesn’t always get switched back in time for the lifter to regain concentration to complete the lift successfully.
Training for our foundation program will be done on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Wednesday, we concentrate on technique and starting position. If this is not stressed early in the program then you’re going to have to teach an old dog new tricks. Spend 20 minutes stretching, concentrating especially on leg biceps. We begin with standard deadlifts, all reps paused at the floor. Emphasis is upon form only, going no heavier than 60% for 3 sets of 5 reps on top. Ease the weight from the floor, once the bar gets to the knees accelerate it to the lockout position. The speed of bar movement is critical, if this is not done you will not enervate the fast twitch fibers. From these, we go to deficit deadlifts off a crate or box about four inches off the floor. Go back down to 135x10, then back up to 45-50% for 3 sets of 10, done is a style of constant tension, that is, touch-and-go. Position is an absolute must on this day an dif the butt comes up faster than the bar, you’re using too much weight!
This is followed by 6-8 forty-yard sprints. Remember, today we work fast twitch muscle fibers and short sprints are one of the finest fast movements a lifter can use. Finish the routine with 60-80 reps on the abs. Don’t forget to stretch down, paying particular attention to calf and hamstring stretching.
Saturday we do strength work on the deadlift and all its related movements. Start off with 20 minutes of a light warmup moves and stretching, then warmup with 3 sets of 10 squats with your deadlift stance and he bar high on your back. Then, we start at 225 and go to progressive sets of 10 reps to one top set. They are all done touch-and-go in constant tension fashion. Concentrate on:
1) The lockout, and
2) Raising the ribcage high at the top to fully contract the upper spinal erector muscles.
Come back down the same way you went up, poundages and reps constant back to 225.
Now we go to what Don Blue used to call “Hospital Reps”. These are done with absolutely horrid form: stiff legs, rounded back and the head down. This is the movement that works the spinal erector muscles whose function is to ‘erect the spine’ and keep it upright. This is a movement that is neglected by so many! Range of motion work is absolutely necessary on this muscle group, but everyone knows you’ve got to keep your back flat when your deadlift, right?
Wrong! Thirty reps, 3 sets of 10, are done in this fashion, touch-and-go. Allow the back to totally round, shoulders are forward, head down, legs straight, then fully locked at the top, raise the ribcage, look up, and thrust the shoulders back to force the lockout. Now, we hit lats with 4 sets of 10 on a lever or cable row machine, and hyperextensions for 3x10 and then you’re ready for calves. Calf strength is responsible for moving 8-10% of a maximum weight from the floor. Flexibility and strength in this area allows a better starting position, so calves MUST be trained. Work in a strict fashion, toes straight ahead, and go to 5 sets of 10. Stretch your calves down when finished. Then, hit 80-100 reps on the abs and your ready for a hot shower . . . and a cold one.
You may need to modify the total poundages to suit your recuperative abilities, but 50 reps on Wednesday, and 80-100 reps on Saturday must be done to develop motor patterns. This foundation program will:
1) Strengthen the muscle tissue,
2) Get never impulses to muscle tissue that has never been called upon, and
3) Develop coordination of the muscle groups involved.
To obtain more specific information of how to do the stretches that will help to reduce injuries and improve your powerlifting, I recommend that you purchase a copy of Bob Anderson’s stretching book, or one of the many others available. It may be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
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