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Written on November 15, 2012 at 2:33 am, by Eric Cressey
I know a thing or two about how to deadlift. In the 165- and 181-pound weight classes, I’ve consistently pulled well over 600 pounds.
One thing I noticed early on in my training career was that while there were a ton of guys out there with huge squats and bench presses who could really coach technique, very few people could apply the same level of wisdom to the deadlift. I suspect that it has to do with the fact that it’s the one lift out of the big three that hasn’t been as dramatically impacted by the addition of powerlifting suits/shirts to the sport. Plus, there are more differing opinions, given that some folks pull sumo and others pull conventional.
Because of the fact that great pullers are pretty few and far between – even at powerlifting meets – I had to study a lot of videos of my technique and coach myself, especially as I added body weight and moved to a new weight class. Candidly, nothing I ever read early-on in my powerlifting career ever helped me much, and I can’t put a finger on a single person who gave me feedback that really made a difference. It seemed like everyone just said to squat heavy and do plenty of good mornings, and then your deadlift would come along for the ride. Really logical, right?
Then, in 2006, Andy Bolton changed the game when he pulled 1,003 pounds, becoming the first one to eclipse the half-ton mark.
That, folks, is a crapload of weight. You don’t just get there by being genetically gifted or lucky. Sure, those factors help, but to get to that point, you have to train smart in order to avoid injury and plateau – especially when you’re also competing in the squat (1,214 pounds) and bench press (755 pounds), as Bolton does.
At the time, my best competition deadlift was 617. I remember hearing that Bolton had pulled 1,000 pounds and instantly checking online to try to locate the video. Then, I started asking everyone I knew (at the time, I was training at South Side Gym in Connecticut, one of the premier powerlifting gyms in the country) if they knew anything about how Bolton structured his training. As I learned a bit more through the grapevine (this was before Bolton really had much of an internet presence), there were three things that really stood out for me, from what I had heard:
1. He didn’t do a lot of sets at his heaviest weights for the day. He worked up to the target weight for the day, but didn’t really do multiple sets. I’d been doing a lot of sets of 3×5 in the low 500-pound range, and it was really beating me up to the point that I couldn’t pull as frequently as I would
2. His total sets/reps on assistance work and overall training frequency weren’t all that high. Learning more about Bolton’s training made me realize that as I got stronger, I needed to be cognizant of not letting volume and frequency remain as high as it had been when I was younger and weaker.
3. He didn’t miss lifts. I, on the other hand, would often compete with guys 50-200 pounds heavier than me on a regular basis, and it meant that I’d miss a lift at least once every two weeks. I learned to be more conservative with selecting weights on my heaviest sets; the difference between 95% and 101% was a lot of wear and tear and recovery. I think I went several months without missing a lift on multiple occasions.
Over the next year, I made a conscious effort to get more full days off from training, as opposed to always wanting to add assistance work on off-days. And, I stopped pushing crazy volume on my deadlifts; in fact, I went to one heavy, low-volume day (e.g., work up to a heavy set of three), and another day where I pulled for speed (45-70% of 1RM) after squatting heavier. In 2007, in my last official meet, I pulled 650.
An improvement of 33 pounds in a year might not seem like much to most people, but since I already had a deadlift in the Powerlifting USA Top 100 in my weight class, it was a huge deal to me. There were quite a few things that changed in that year for me, but I can say without wavering that those two modifications to my training were a huge part of my improvement.
Would I have figured those out without asking around about Andy Bolton’s training? I don’t know. I doubt it, though, as I sure as heck hadn’t figured them out on my own in the previous three years of competing!
Early on, I taught myself a lot about deadlifting through trial and error simply because I didn’t feel like there was a good resource out there for it. In fact, if you take a look at my technique now (recent “mock” meet video below), you’ll see that I’ve simplified my pulling technique by eliminating the heel stomp.
If even advanced pullers are trying to find ways to get better, surely there are lots of deadlifting secrets out there that could really benefit novice and intermediate lifters. And, that’s why I was pumped when I heard that Bolton was teaming up with renowned strength/kettlebell expert Pavel Tsatsouline on a new resource, Deadlift Dynamite. I was fortunate to get an advanced copy, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
I emphasize the term “resource” because it isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan. Rather, it’s a great educational tool that teaches lifters of all ages about proper technique and programming strategies. Some valuable topics they cover that stood out for me were how to:
1. Determine whether you’re better built for the conventional or sumo deadlift technique.
2. Deload prior to meets/testing days.
3. Integrate kettlebell exercises with more traditional powerlifting training.
4. Manage your breathing during heavy deadlifting (I wish someone had taught me this eight years ago).
5. Build a solid hip hinge so that you can deadlift safely.
6. Make sure you appreciate the difference between how Olympic lifters deadlift (first pull) and how powerlifters do so.
7. Pull yourself down to the bar (this is a HUGE game-changer for lifters when they finally “get it,” especially on deadlift bars with a lot of whip)
8. Utilize compensatory acceleration training: performing the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement as fast as possible, regardless of the weight.
These are just a few of the first things that come to mind as I went through the product. Bolton and Pavel also go into great detail with respect to training the squat and deadlift.
Like I said, I wish I’d had access to it as a beginning lifter, and I give it my highest endorsement for those of you in the same situation. It’s on sale with a special collection of bonuses, so I’d strongly encourage you to check it out: Deadlift Dynamite.
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