MIke O'Hearn, a quarter of a century ago.
I'm convinced that it was one sadistic mother who invented the deadlift. It's far and away the most gut-wrenching of the three powerlifts. (Let's face it, they don't call it the deadlift for nothing.) I remember when I started in the sport, my coach told me that the deadlift separates the men from the boys.
I believe I tested out as a fetus the first time around.
This lift is a killer -- no doubt about it. Not only do you need powerful legs and an iron-strong back to be a good deadlifter, but you also need heart -- and I do mean a lot of it. I've seen guys with wills of tempered steel broken by this exercise. It's a nasty lift, and you have to be an iron man to use it in your training.
As tough as the deadlift is to perform, it's one of the most beneficial exercises you can do. It can give you the quintessential combination of ungodly mass, power and symmetry. Rep for rep there's no exercise that does it better.
Some athletes say that the deadlift is primarily a lift for the lower back, while others say it's a power movement for the legs. The truth is, it works every major muscle group in your body -- the legs, buttocks, lower back, stomach, upper back, arms and neck. Even the muscles in your forehead and temples get involved.
There are a number of things you need to know about deadlifting before you incorporate the movement into your training. First, of course, you need to get a pair of those cute little wrist bands that Nike sells. The other rules for deadlift survival are as follows.
1) Develop Good Form. The deadlift is one exercise that requires picture-perfect form. One mistake and you could be singing soprano for the rest of your life -- so take your time. Before you do a single rep, understand exactly how the lift should be performed, and don't start your first set until you've mastered it. This will not only help you get maximum development from your deadlifts, but it will also keep you from ripping your spine out of your lower back.
2) Train Smart. Warm up before you start working out -- and stretch out before and after each exercise. This will increase your development and decrease your chance of injury. The most common cause of injury is lack of flexibility.
When training, increase your workload and intensity gradually. If you've never deadlifted before, it's probably a good idea to use light resistance until you get your form down pat. Take your time. Remember, you are trying to develop your body, not destroy it.
3) Don't Kill Yourself. For the love of God, man, don't jump! This is a primary rule of weight training. Believe me, if you're not careful, the deadlift can kill you -- or at least injure you seriously. When your body says no, don't say go. Or, in the profound words of Hee Haw's Dr. Archie Campbell, "If you do something and it hurts, don't do it."
Pain is a warning signal that something's wrong. If you experience pain while deadlifting, stop and don't start again until the pain is gone. Whatever you do, don't try to work through an injury. The deadlift is a great exercise, but it can be dangerous -- so it requires your full attention.
Lifting is supposed to be a lifelong activity, not a life threatening one.
In light of all the above, make sure you give the deadlift a fair chance. It can make the difference between you being good and being great, so give it time.
The Biomechanics of the Deadlift
Although the deadlift is a real butt buster, it's an extremely simple movement to perform, so simple that your little sister could do it. You just have to pay attention to form.
As you may already be aware, there are two methods of deadlifting -- the conventional method and the sumo method. If you're using this movement strictly for bodybuilding, I suggest you stick with the conventional method. If you're considering wearing the red, white and blue at next year's World Deadlifting Champeenships, however, you might want to consider the sumo method.
In general, if you're long-waisted and you have long arms and a strong back, you should use the conventional method. Conversely, if you have superstrong hips and legs and are short-waisted, you may want to give the sumo method a try.
Sumo-style is also the best method of deadlifting if you don't have a bionic back. The sumo method is a leg lift, not a back lift, so you pull the weight with your legs, not with your back. On a sumo deadlift your hands are inside your legs. Most lifters position their hands so they're half on and half off the knurling. The closer your hands are, the less distance you have to pull the weight. On the other hand, the closer your hands, the less control of the bar you have. What's more, if your hands are positioned entirely off the knurling, you'll probably have difficulty gripping the bar. It's also a good idea to use an over/under grip (one hand over the bar, and one hand under), which cuts down on the bar's torque.
As with the squat, foot spacing is an individual matter. Some universal rules apply, however: You point your toes slightly outward, lock your thighs in a just above parallel to the ground position and keep your back tight, straight and upright, with your head straight and facing forward. The hardest part of this lift is breaking inertial -- getting the weight off the ground. Generally, once you get past this point, the lift is yours, especially if you've kept your hips down.
That's something you want to concentrate on. When the weight gets heavy, many lifters have a tendency to raise their hips and drop their back forward. Not only is it nearly impossible to pull the weight from that position, but it's extremely dangerous. Remember that this is a leg lift, not a back lift.
There's one last point: When pulling the weight, keep the bar close to your body. The farther the weight is from your body, the less leverage you have and, consequently, the harder the lift. I've heard every inch the weight moves out in front of the body is equivalent to adding 40 pounds of resistance to the bar. I'm not sure the arithmetic is correct, but the concept certainly is.
Now let's look at the conventional performance style.
As I said, this is the method I generally recommend for bodybuilding, and if you're tall, with long arms and a strong back, it's definitely the deadlift for you. Even so, the legs play a big part in this style as well. As with the sumo method, you use an over/under grip to cut down on the torque. In the conventional method, however, you position your hands outside your legs to cut down on the distance over which you must pull the bar. As with the sumo method, your toes are pointed slightly out, your thighs are locked in a just above parallel position, your back is straight, and your head is positioned straight forward. A common problem occurs when the thighs are too high at the start. This may cause some rel trouble when the lift gets beyond the knees -- like ripping your lower back in half.
When you're in the correct position, pull the bar with a fluid motion. Don't try to jerk the weight from the floor. Remember that the back and thighs work together at the top. It's also a good idea to drive your head backward as you lift the bar. Everything tends to follow your head. By driving your head back, you force your shoulders back and your chest up -- and force your hips to stay down as well.
So there you have it -- the deadlift in a nutshell. As I said, it's a simple skill. Be careful, however. It's a simple lift that can make or break you.
Enjoy Your Lifting!
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