The Deadlift: Back Killer Or Mass Builder?
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One of the best overall tests of strength is the amount of weight a person can deadlift. The deadlift is a powerful compound movement, a total body exercise that affects nearly all the muscles in the body. During the execution of a deadlift the calves are worked, and according to research, take approximately 10% of the initial loading as one pulls off the floor. The quads, hamstrings, and glutes are seriously worked as are the abs, spiral erectors, lats, traps and to a certain extent, forearms. Certainly the deadlift should be a key movement in anyone’s routine where the goal is size, shape and power.
The above being the case, why do some trainees shun the deadlift in favour of the lat machine or cable rowing? The answer basically is laziness. The excuses vary, but the underlying reason is normally the same. I’ve heard excuses like “I don’t want to get a bad back,” “Deadlifts thicken the waistline”, “I’m saving my energy for dumbbell rows,” etc, etc. For the weight-trainers who make these or other excuses, I would like to point out that Arnold, Franco and many of the all time greats, deadlifted – All of whom had great backs – all of them won Mr. Olympia titles. Yes, if you want depth and thickness added to your back then include deadlifts in your routine. Once having made that decision remember that one can get too much of a good thing, in other words, do not overtrain this lift. The compound movements like the squat, bench press and deadlift burn up huge amounts of energy – Therefore do not train this lift more than once a week. It is interesting to note that some top American drug free deadlifters work this lift only once per fortnight with some very good results. Everyone is different so you might have to experiment a bit. Find out what works for you and then stick with it.
Technique & requirements
Deadlifting isn’t about running up to a bar, giving it a yank and then pulling like mad. I’ve unfortunately seen people lift like that, their style is abominable, their back is bowed like a u-bolt and they have a one way ticket to injury city. Of much greater value is to think carefully about your technique, draw up a plan and employ a sensible routine. Be sure that you fully understand the lift and that your technique is sound even on light weights. Listed below are 10 points of technique and requirements that should be borne in mind whilst embarking on a deadlift cycle.
- When deadlifting always wear supportive trunks or pants.
- Footwear should have as flat a heel and sole as possible.
- Keep back flat at all times.
- Keep hips low during the initial phase off the floor.
- Set and maintain your position at the start of every repetition.
- Keep the bar close to the body throughout the pull.
- Look forward or slightly up at the beginning of the pull.
- Start the pull with fully inflated lungs.
- Finish the lift and breathe normally.
- Make sure that at the top of the lift the shoulders are back, the chest is out, knees are locked and the body is erect.
- Avoid any tendency to lean backwards.
- Do NOT lower the bar back to the ground slowly. Keep the hands on the bar and let gravity take the weight down.
Just to expand a bit on the above points: Never weight train wearing boxer shorts or other underwear that doesn’t give support. Cycle shorts or trunks will give the necessary support and are a basic safety requirement. Poor technique is something that I see all the time at various gyms, and deadlifting with a round back is a common fault lower back and disc injuries. Always lift with a flat back. If the hips rise too quickly at the start of the deadlift more stress will be placed on the back and the lifter will be in a mechanically poor position to complete the lift.
Many times I see a lifter who begins a set in perfect style but as the set progresses the repetitions get progressively worse. I teach my clients to sit in and then lock the back on every repetition of every set. By applying this disciplined approach to the lift, the lifter is soon able to feel the correct position and notice a fault in style should this arise. The bar must be kept close to the body throughout the deadlift and, because of this, it is wise to wear thick, long socks when deadlifting to protect the shins. Look forward or slightly up at the beginning of the deadlift. This helps to flatten the back out at the start of the deadlift.
The last two points mentioned concern safety yet again, Excessive leaning back at the completion of the deadlift, can damage the back. Also do not lower the bar slowly to the ground. If your gym manager complains about the noise, ask them to get some thick matting to absorb the shock or move gym. A whole book could be written on the deadlift – all I have done in this article is to touch on some fundamental requirements of the lift.
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