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The Best of 2012: Strength and Conditioning Product Reviews

Written on January 2, 2013 at 8:57 pm, by Eric Cressey

To wrap up my “Best of 2012″ series, I’ll highlight the top product reviews I did at this site in the last year.

1. Deadlift Dynamite – This product was a great fit for me to review not only because I’m particularly fond of picking heavy s**t up off the floor, but because Andy Bolton and Pavel Tsatsouline packed so much practical, yet forward-thinking information into it that it was hard to not rave about it!  Check out my entire review: What a 1,000-Pound Deadlift Can Teach You.

There were certainly some other great products I encountered this year, but these three reviews proved to be the most popular with my readers, based on hosting statistics.

2. High Frequency Training – I’d actually say that this was my “funnest” read among the product reviews featured here, as I’ve always enjoyed Chad Waterbury’s writing and perspective.  It’ll really make you rethink your perspective on volume management in training programs – and if you’re looking for a program to kick your butt, look no further.

3. Elite Training Mentorship – It probably sounds incredibly self-serving to review my own product, but Elite Training Mentorship is a resource of which I’m tremendously proud because it isn’t just mine.  Rather, it’s updated monthly with contributions from great coaches like Mike Robertson, Dave Schmitz, Tyler English, Vaughn Bethell, Steve Long, and Jared Woolever.  With monthly updates – in-services, exercise demonstrations, webinars, articles, sample programs – from each of us, this is a fantastic continuing education resource that is both affordable and convenient. This isn’t so much a product review, but I think you’ll appreciate how this article demonstrates just how valuable a site like this is: 5 Reasons to Be Excited About the Future of the Fitness Industry.

There were certainly some other great products I encountered this year, but these three proved to be the most popular with my readers, based on hosting statistics.  Hopefully, there will be plenty more to come in 2013!

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5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs

Written on November 18, 2012 at 7:42 am, by Eric Cressey

When my first book was published back in 2008, a lot of people were surprised that I included speed deadlifts, either because they felt too easy, or because they didn’t think that deadlifting that wasn’t “heavy” couldn’t be productive. Interestingly, when their deadlifts invariably shot up after completing the four-month program, nobody was questioning their inclusion. With that in mind, I thought I’d use today’s article to outline my top five reasons for including speed deadlifts in one’s strength training program.

First, however, I think it’s important to outline what a speed deadlift is. Simply take any variation of the deadlift, and perform it at a lighter percentage: 35-80% of one-rep max (1RM) for sets of 1-5 reps. The higher the percentage, the lower the rep scheme, and vice versa. Examples include 8×1 at 80% of 1RM, 6×3 at 50% of 1RM, and 4×5 at 35% of 1RM. It’s possible to add chains or bands to the exercise, too, if you have access to them. You would rest anywhere from 30s to 120s between sets.

The most important factors, however, are perfect technique and excellent bar speed.

The bar should feel like it is exploding off the floor straight through to lockout.

Now, let’s get down to the reasons you might want to include it in your program.

1. Technique practice

I’ve coached a lot of deadlifts in my career, and people tend to fall into one of three categories:

a. Great technique (~5% of people)
b. Great technique until the load gets heavy (~60% of people)
c. Terrible technique (~35% of people)

In other words, 19 out of 20 people’s technique will go down the tubes as soon as the load gets heavy, so they might as well work on technique as they gradually build the weights up.

When you first took driver’s education class, you didn’t go straight for 65mph on the highway, did you? Nope, you drove around a parking lot, and then headed out for some back roads with very little traffic. Deadlifts are the same way; master the easy stuff before you get to the advanced stuff.

2. Improved bar speed off the floor

Imagine two lifters, both of whom are attempting 500-pound deadlifts. Lifter A puts a ton of force into the ground quickly at the start, and the bar jumps off the ground. Lifter B puts the same amount of force into the ground, but it isn’t applied as quickly, so the bar comes off a bit more slowly. Which lifter is more likely to complete the deadlift? My money is on Lifter A. Bar speed off the floor matters, and that is a very hard thing to teach at higher percentages of 1RM.

What you have to realize is that explosive strength (also known as rate of force development) is dependent on the INTENT to apply force rapidly (lift quickly), not the actual bar speed. An isometric muscle action can be explosive even though the bar doesn’t actually move; just imagine an elite deadlifter pulling against a bar 500 pounds heavier than his 1RM. He’s still applying a lot of force to the bar – and doing so quickly – but the bar isn’t moving. Take a look at my missed deadlift at the 2:12 mark of this video, as an example. You’ll see the bar bending, even if it isn’t moving; there is still force being applied. Advanced lifters get that.

The problem is that less experienced lifters don’t appreciate that you can be explosive in an isometric action; they have to have the feedback of the bar moving fast to teach them that they’re actually being explosive. And, that’s where speed deadlifts can be a great teaching tool and practice mechanism.

3. Power development

In an old installment of The Contreras Files, Bret Contreras did a great job of making a case for submaximal conventional and trap bar deadlifts (30-40% of 1RM) as potentially being as valuable as Olympic lifts in terms of the peak power production, in light of some recent research.  I think we all still have questions about this comparison, as the Olympic lifts require an athlete to apply force for longer (greater ROM) on each rep (allowing for greater carryover to athletes), and more seasoned Olympic lifters may be able to demonstrate higher power numbers simply from better technique.  However, the important takeaway message with respect to my article today is that submaximal deadlifts can, in fact, be a great option for training peak power – and I'd definitely recommend them over Olympic lifts for folks who don't have a qualified Olympic lifting coach available to teach technique.

4. Double extension is probably safer than triple extension in older, uncoordinated, inexperienced exercisers.

I'll probably get some nasty comments for this point; oh well.

We know that as people get older, the age-related loss in power is a huge deal.  So, training power is important for not only folks who are trying to get stronger and more athletic, but also folks who just want to preserve power for quality of life purposes.  I'd love nothing more than to be able to do loads of jumping, sprinting progressions, and Olympic lifts with a middle-aged population, but I'm just not sure that's a good idea in light of the number of degenerative Achilles tendons there are in the crowd, and how poorly many folks move.  These are exercises toward which we can build, no doubt, but early on, double extension exercises for training power can still be beneficial. 

I think this is one of many reasons that kettlebell swings have become so popular; they allow you to train power via double extension with a lot of the same benefits as the aforementioned modalities, but more safely.  Speed deadlift variations can work in much the same way: double extension, compound exercise, plenty of opportunity for power development, and less risk.  Eventually, when you want to start to introduce some eccentric challenges and triple extension, skipping drills, uphill sprints, and sled sprints are all good ways to do so gradually.

5. A way to train squats and deadlifts on the same day without feeling like poop.

Heavy squats are hard, and so are heavy deadlifts.  Doing both on the same day is brutal – and it can increase your injury risk in training.  Accordingly, powerlifters need to lower the intensity on one of the two if they want to get in plenty of quality work on both.

On this front, a training approach that worked really well for me during my powerlifting career was two have two lower body days per week, and break them up as:

Day 1: Squat for Speed, then Deadlift Heavy
Day 2: Squat Heavy, then Deadlift for Speed

Speed deadlifts allowed me to train bar speed, pull frequently enough to enhance technique, and get girls to like me – all without feeling like poop.  It was a win/win situation.

Speed deadlifts aren't the be-all, end-all of training initiatives, but then again, nothing is for everyone at every time. One thing that makes them unique is that they yield benefits to beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters – but for all different reasons. Try incorporating them here and there in your training and I think you'll find them to be valuable.

For more deadlifting tips, I'd encourage you to check out Deadlift Domination, a thorough resource from Andy Bolton.  It's on sale through Friday night.

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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.

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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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Stuff You Should Read: 6/29/09

Written on June 29, 2009 at 5:20 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of great reads:

If We Know We Shouldn’t, Why Do We Still? – This blog post from Dr. Jason Harris is a fantastic commentary on the overuse of diagnostic imaging – particularly with lower back pain patients – and the negative impacts these diagnostic results can have on patient outcomes and ease of treatment.  I learned about Dr. Harris’ blog through Mike Reinold and have been a regular reader every since; the information is fantastic (THIS was by far my favorite post; very good info).

The True Role of the Rhomboids – This is an old newsletter from some guy named Cressey.  Not sure if he knows his arse from his elbow.

Five Pounds is Gold – I really liked this article from Myles Kantor.  It’s short, but makes an outstanding point – using world-record deadlifter Andy Bolton as the example.


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