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Deadlift Domination: What a 1,000-Pound Pull Can Teach You

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 creating a new resource, Deadlift Domination. I was fortunate to get an advanced copy, and it's absolutely fantastic.

deadlift_domination_3d_cover

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 also goes 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 Domination.

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  • Casper

    Seen great reviews of the book a lot of people are giving it a high score. As a deadlift aficionado cant wait to get my own copy.

    Btw Eric; would you consider someone who is pulling 400lbs for 10 reps an advanced lifter (@ 185lbs bw)?

    Casper

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    That’s pretty solid, Casper; that’d put you at over 2.5x body weight, and possibly even close to 3x.

  • Colin Lane

    Great article and thanks for all the info. I can’t pull much, maybe 300-320 for a 1 RM. but, I’ve been wanting to get back to working on my DL’s. I also train BJJ and a little striking. So finding the right frequency, volume, and load has been difficult for me. In addition I have torn both pecs in the past, and popped the SC joint on my left side. When pulling my last or heaviest set of 5, which is about 240-250 right now I feel a pulling in my clavicle area that scares me a little. I know it’s difficult to assess without actually working with me in person. But, I was wondering if you had any suggestions or if I should temporarily drop the DL or work different variations etc.

    Sorry for the long post.

    Thanks in advance.
    Colin

  • Rob Lane

    Can you give a brief contrast between the Olympic DL and Powerlifting DL.

  • Josselin

    Your dead is really strong, but the thing is, every time I heard and see to deadlift with a straight back, and I never seen a record in the deadlift with the back straight, every time the back is really rounded,I know that myself I’m really stronger with a rounded back, I don’t know if the injury com mostly with bad posture or bad backs genetics…

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Rob,

    The Olympic deadlift is just a first pull designed to put the bar in the right position to set up the second pull. It’s more of a squat than a deadlift, as the hips start much lower than with a powerlifting deadlift.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Collin,

    SC joint injuries are real pains in the butt, as they’re tough to manage. I’d encourage you to get it checked out to see if the injury has progressed.

  • Dr.No

    Eric

    Thanks for the information you provide on your website.

    I got a winged scapula about 2 years ago. The result was a shoulder impingement and an unstable shoulder. Doctors where no help. I’ve read everything I could find about shoulder problems. I fixed the serratus anterior and lower trapezius function. The winging and impingement problems got better.

    One thing remains: a pain under the clavicula, around the coracoid process. The pain gets worse when I do wall slides(back/face to wall), shoulder scaption with a straight arm or push ups(+plus). Often when I protract and retract the scapula, I can see the superior/medial border coming of the ripcage.

    My thoughts are: the rhomboids or/and mid traps are weak/long. This results in a excessive internal rotation of the scapula.

    What are your thoughts on that problem?

  • Chris

    Eric – I never been into powerlifting, but a ton of guys powerlift at my gym. I see these guys squat and it seems like they are not even doing a squat and it makes me wonder what’s the point. My question is does the powerlifting style wide stance squat have any real purpose other than it’s a better position to lift heavier weights? For example would anyone looking to improve sport performance or induce hypertrophy squat that way? And, are there negative consequences or higher chance of injury versus a more moderate width stance with less foot external rotation?

  • http://www.gamedaystrength.com Alex Carnall

    I keep reading that you need to figure out whether to pull sumo or conventional and I have to ask.

    1. If you are not “suited” – no pun intended – to pull one way but can move more weight that way is it really worth the switch?

    Superset question:

    2A. Would rotating between sumo and conventional every couple weeks (like changing from squats to front squats) not likely expedite development? 2B. Louie always says with the squat: Training wide makes you stronger narrow. Is the same applicable here in your opinion?

  • Ben

    I’d like to add that Mark Rippetoe views the conventional Olympic first pull as an inefficient movement pattern because in his analysis of videos of Oly lifters, the bar always comes off the floor when the lifter is in a position where the bar, midfoot, and scapulae are in line – in other words, a powerlifting deadlift. In a conventional Oly deadlift, the hips are very low, which places the scaps behind the bar. A heavy bar cannot be lifted this way. The bar will ALWAYS come off the floor when the scaps are above above it. I agree with Rip on this one. Watch a lot of video and you’ll see what he’s talking about. There are some Oly lifters out there who start the first pull PL style rather than conventional Oly style, and this is the way I do Olympic-style lifts like power cleans.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Chris,

    I think there is a place for it from a variety standpoint, but I wouldn’t use it all the time, especially for athletes.


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