Some interesting points on deadlift training - any opinions?

The "No Deadlift" Deadlift Program

By Kenny Croxdale, BA, CSCS

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Reprinted with the permission of the author and Mike Lambert - Powerlifting USA Magazine - SEPT/01. Powerlifting USA subscriptions are $31.95 a year for 12 issues - Call 1-800-448-7693 to order.

If you're like most lifters, you probably work on improving your deadlift by regularly training with the deadlift itself. You may want to reconsider this method. Although it might seem like the logical and accepted way to train, several well respected lifters over the last several decades have said otherwise.

There are two components to training the deadlift efficiently. The first is strength and the second is power.

Let's start by looking at the strength aspect. Back in 1968, at the Senior National Powerlifting Championships, two of the best powerlifters weren't powerlifters - they were strength athletes from another sport. To the amazement of the powerlifters, one of these visitors demolished the 198-pound American Deadlift Record with a 666-pound pull, while the other assaulted the Super heavyweight American Record. It must have been a bit unsettling to the powerlifting community to have those two invade their turf and steal some of their thunder.

These visitors to the Championships were Olympic lifters Bill Starr and Ernie Pickett. Neither trained the deadlift. By eliminating deadlifts from training, Starr's personal best had jumped 61 pounds with Pickett adding 50 pounds to his deadlift.

It was Starr's belief that the majority of powerlifters over trained the deadlift. He stated that heavy deadlifts with 500-600 pounds fatigued the lower back and required longer recovery times. Not many people paid much attention to him. Powerlifters, as a whole, are still over training their deadlifts.

Another lifter who didn't believe in training with the deadlift was Loren Betzer. In the late '70s, Loren Betzer wrote an article titled, "To Deadlift More, Don't Deadlift". Betzer described himself as a conventional deadlifter. As with most conventional deadlifters, Betzer was blowing the weight off the floor only to have it stall out higher up. By dropping the deadlift from his training program, Betzer ended up putting 40 pounds on it in 5 months.

Today, Louie Simmons is on the front lines touting the benefits of executing other exercises to develop one's deadlift. One of the most profound statements Simmons made about the deadlift is, "Why do an exercise that takes more than it gives back?"

Let's take a look at how Starr, Betzer and Simmons' choose to train their deadlifts. There is a common thread that runs through the lower back programs they use.

Bill Starr detailed his "no deadlift" deadlift training program in the September 1969 issue of Muscular Development, in an article called, "A Different Approach To Improving The Deadlift". According to Starr, there were four exercises that carried over to the deadlift: power cleans, heavy shrugs, hi-pulls and good mornings.

Power cleans and hi-pulls were used to build speed, as well as working the traps. Olympic style shrugs were also performed for development of the traps. The traps are vital in finishing the top part of the deadlift.

Starr's final exercise was his favorite good mornings. Good mornings contributed the most to pulling strength, and were trained with heavy poundage.

Betzer added 40 pounds to his deadlift in five months by breaking down his deadlift training into three areas: the blast-off, the knee area and the mid-thigh area. For the blast-off, Betzer found working the squat to be the best exercise. For the knee area, Betzer's exercise of choice was, again, good mornings. And finally, for the mid-thigh area, Betzer selected deadlifts off 6-inch blocks. Block deadlifts are essentially the same as rack deadlifts.

The current strength guru to put good mornings on the breakfast table of champions is Louie Simmons. Simmons could be the poster child for good mornings. His training tapes take you through a jungle of good mornings. Starr, Betzer and Simmons all consider good mornings to be the staple exercise for training the deadlift, with a huge potential for producing gains.

Now let's talk about the power aspect of training the deadlift. Power is the grease that helps you slide through your sticking point. When it comes to speed development, research clearly shows there are one group of exercises that are the kings of power: the Olympic pulls.

Work by Dr John Garhammer, a biomechanist at the Department of Physical Education at California State University reveals some interesting comparisons between exercises in the development of power. Garhammer underlines Starr's remarks that speed for the deadlift is built with Olympic pulls. In "A Review of Power Output Studies of Olympic and Powerlifting: Methodology, Performance, Prediction and Evaluation Test", elite Olympic lifters' and powerlifters' power outputs were as follows (w/kg = watts per kilo of body weight):

During Entire Snatch or Clean Pull Movements:
34.3 w/kg Men
21.8 w/kg Women

Second Pulls:
52.6 w/kg Men
39.2 w/kg Women

Squat and Deadlift:
12 w/kg Men

For female powerlifters, "estimates indicate that the corresponding values
for women are 60-70% as great".

With this basic breakdown in mind, the power output comparisons of a
100-kilo male lifter in the clean, second pull and deadlift would be as follows.

Clean-------------3430 watts
Second Pull----5260 watts
Deadlift----------1200 watts

Obviously, there is a huge difference in power outputs. The power output of clean pulls is 2.85 time greater than a deadlift. Second pulls are even higher with power outputs 4.38 times larger than deadlifts. Garhammer's research showed that even when dropping the training poundage down to lower percentages for Olympic pulls and deadlifts, outputs for Olympic pulls were still almost twice as great. Starr was way ahead of the curve on his training in regards to Olympic pulls for deadlifts.

Now let's take a look at how to make this "no deadlift" deadlift program work for you. The first thing is-- stop deadlifting! The deadlift is not a skill lift. It overworks the lower back. It requires longer recovery periods between training sessions. In the July 1981 Powerlifting USA article, "The Biomechanics of Powerlifting", Dr Tom McLaughlin cautioned, "...whatever you do, DON'T OVER TRAIN THE LOWER BACK. These muscles fatigue faster than almost any other muscle group in the body and also take more time to recover."

If you feel you must do deadlifts, work them out of the rack at your sticking point, as Betzer did. However, their use should be restricted to infrequent training sessions. Remember, rack deadlifts, like regular deadlifts, quickly over train the lower back, due to the tremendous poundage that can be lifted.

Replace the deadlift for lower back training with good mornings. Good mornings strengthen the lower back muscles for deadlifting without over training them. Starr, Betzer and Simmons all regard good mornings as the breakfast of champions for strength training the deadlift.

Most powerlifters perform some type of lower-back strength training, but neglect the importance of speed training for the deadlift. Those who do realize the importance of speed training are not employing the best exercises... namely, the Olympic pulls.

Supporting Starr and Garhammer's belief in the importance of Olympic lifts in the development of power is Fred "Dr. Squat" Hatfield. In his article, "Athletes and The Olympic Lifts", Hatfield comments: "Pound for pound, Olympic weightlifters have a greater level of speed-strength than any other class of athletes in all of sport. This fact was made very clear during a massive scientific expedition carried out on the athletes at the Mexico City Olympics in 1964. Sports scientists found that Olympic lifters were able to both vertical jump higher than any class of athletes (including the high jumpers), and run a 25-yard dash faster than any class of athletes (including the sprinters)."

While genetics played a large part in this high level of power, specialized training allowed these athletes to approach their genetic potential. The "snatch" and "clean and jerk" were the centerpieces of their training.

Hatfield's article, "Powerlifting and Speed-Strength Training" revealed that "explosive movements with the weights is the only way to develop great explosive strength." Hatfield went on to say that, "If all you've been doing is slow, continuous tension movements -- and from my observations, too many of you do it -- you should take careful heed of the research. Remember, it's the white fibers -- the ones that contract fast -- that will give you the greatest returns in speed-strength.... never neglect these important fast movements."

As you can see, Olympic pulls are vital for power development for your deadlift, while good mornings are essential for strength training. Put together, good mornings and Olympic pulls are the most effective exercises for increasing one's deadlift. You will be less likely to over train your lower back. You will have more energy for your squat and bench press. And as an added bonus, you will reduce your ibuprofen usage.

The concept of "no deadlift" deadlift training may go against the grain of longstanding popular opinion, but it's backed by solid reasoning and results. Give it a try and see how it works for you.