Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Do you need to deadlift?

More specifically do you need to deadlift with a barbell from the floor?

If you are a powerlifter, yes, you have to.

Everyone else... probably not.

The height of the deadlift is arbitrary, based on the size of an Olympic plate, it is not based on your height, limb length, mobility or spine.

If you are 5 foot tall with long arms it's not that far away, if you're 6'5" it's a long way down.

What about the sumo deadlift I hear you say? Yes, there is less shear force on the spine (you are not bending over so much), but it still depends on your hip architecture, your back may be more upright and it may be more leg dominant, but you still need to be able to pick the bar up from near the floor. I know now a hybrid position of half sumo and half conventional is more fashionable, so it might be worth giving this a go.

Ed Coan: If you look this feel free to keep deadlifting.

Don't get me wrong the hip hinge is a fundamental movement.

But so many people can't lift from the floor without losing a good neutral spine position. Or they end up using a mixed grip or straps chasing a PB and the next thing you know, something snaps and it's not the cheap straps. Getting the bar up anyway possible becomes a fixation for them and can end in disaster.

Yes, you need to be able to hinge from the hips to use the glutes and protect the back when picking all sorts of things up.

One of the best ways to spare the spine when picking an object up is the so called 'golfers lift' which is essentially a 1 leg RDL, hinging on one leg and using the other as a cantilever. But I wouldn't be doing this with 200kg. No one ever chased a golfers lift PB.

Why are you deadlifting?

Is it to chase arbitrary weight goals, hit 100kg, 200kg, 300kg+. If you enjoy the process then fine.

If you are doing it to get 'stronger', then stronger for what? For more deadlifting?

Or for a sport? Then I would contend there are better options like rack pulls, suitcase deadlifts into farmers carrys.

The farmers carry will get your quadratus lumborum activating in the back, abductor activation,  obliques, grip work and more, add in some distance and you've got endurance as well; all with much less chance of technical breakdown under a very heavy load.

If it is to increase muscle mass, then again there may be better options, such as rack pulls, RDL, cable pull throughs, kb swing.

Plus all the single leg work options such as single leg RDL.  In the single leg version, in my experience, people can normally keep a much better back position and it is more self limiting as an exercise.

What benefit is there lifting the barbell from the floor, or in some cases from a deficit by lifting by standing on a small box or step such as the snatch grip deadlift; that can't be garnered from the lifting the bar slightly higher?

For most people a rack deadlift would be a better option. This takes out the most problematic part of the lift for most people. And means they can still focus on hip hinging, gripping the bar, irradiating tension through the body and keep a better back position. The same with a snatch grip from the rack or hang position. Add in a power shrug or high pull to the movement and you've got a good overall athletic move.

Now, I'm not talking about guys who load up the bar and set the rack about 1 inch below lockout, put straps on and then do a 1 inch 400kg deadlift.

The trap bar deadlift is a much easier lift for most people, it is much more intuitive and how people pick things up. However, the biggest issue with the trap bar is how awkward it is to move around and load up. Trap bars normally weigh more than the standard Olympic bar, typically 30kg plus. People tend to put their back in a poor position trying to move the thing and load it up, not during the actual lift.

When I injured my back, the Jefferson lift felt fine, it never aggravated my back. I couldn't lift as much as conventional deadlift, but it felt as hard and demanding but safer. For a good video and explanation of the Jefferson have a look at this link.

The only downside of the Jefferson, is everyone is going to think you are one of those guys doing a crazy exercise for the sake of it.

Take home points:

  • If you like deadlifting, then keep on doing it, and if you are a powerlifter then you need to. Nothing I say would stop you anyway.
  • But be  a stickler for form in the gym, there should be no variation in the reps. Leave the 'whatever it takes' rep for competition.
  • Ask yourself why you are chasing numbers, are big numbers on the bar carrying over into your other goals such as improved sport performance, hypertrophy or overall strength.
  • Try rack deadlifts, the bar might only have to be slightly higher than the standard height for you to keep  better form
  • For sports performance try suitcase deadlifts, farmers walks and long jumps (broad jumps).
  • For hip hinging and hypertrophy try single leg deadlifts with dumbbells or kettlebells, RDLs, cable pull throughs, a whole range of machines, kettlebell swings and more.
  • If you've had back issues which tend to show themselves when you start to load up on the conventional deadlift but you still want to deadlift, then try the Jefferson deadlift.
Let me know your thoughts, is the deadlift a staple of your programme? Do you lift heavy all the time, or use deload periods, speed/ dynamic variations. Do you switch up the style you use? Do you think you need the deadlift for strength, hypetrophy and sport performance.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative post!

    I have been alternating between rack pulls and deadlifts each back session. Deadlifts have got to be one of my favourite exercises, even though my main goal is too add muscle size I find that increasing the weight on compound exercises such as deadlifts is a great indicator of overall progress.

    I have a muscle building and fat loss blog which you may find interesting at:

    maybe we could collaborate on something in the future?