IN GYMS EVERYWHERE, LIFTERS ARE STILL TRYING to impress one another with shows of strength on the bench press — the assumption being that this is the best and truest indicator of virility this side of wrestling a live cougar. But for real strength aficionados, the deadlift has always been — and will always be — king when it comes to measuring total-body strength.
That’s because the deadlift doesn’t lie. Picking up a heavy, plate-loaded bar from the floor without the benefit of momentum, elasticity or an easy spot, with literally hundreds of muscles working in concert to do it correctly, holds the most truth you’ll find in a gym.
But the deadlift isn’t only about strength for strength’s sake. Engaging and overloading that much musculature at once — particularly in your lower back, glutes, hamstrings and wrist flexors — helps you build massive loads of muscle. Therefore, developing a better dead should be the goal of those seeking to reinforce their physiques with as much strength, power and dense beef as possible. Use this compendium of tips and wisdom to increase your deadlift totals, and watch your muscle gainsskyrocket in the process.
DEAD MAN TALKING
When it comes to the business of deadlifting, few men in the world are more knowledgeable than Marty Gallagher, strength coach and author of The Purposeful Primitive. Gallagher, who once pulled 744 pounds at a bodyweight of 235 pounds, says that the dead is the best exercise for building back mass, period, and that those who don’t do it are just “hobbyists.” Here are Gallagher’s seven tips for building your own competition-strength deadlift.
1. Be conventional. The conventional deadlift — versus the sumo or other variations — is superior for slapping slabs of beef onto your back.
2. Keep your foot stance narrow. Generally speaking, allow no more than one foot between the heels. Your stance can be as narrow as six inches.
3. Stay in contact with the bar. Some lifters think they’ll catch Ebola virus from touching the bar, so their shins are back and their knees are forward, but you need to be touching it with your shins at the start. For every inch the bar has to move forward to clear your knees, you have to exert an additional 40 pounds of force.
4. Infuse tension. My best-ever deadlift partner, Mark Challiet, who had a deadlift of 880 pounds while weighing 260, said he would exert about 100 pounds of upward pressure on the bar at the start of each rep, because if you go from no force application to maximal force application, you’re going to get hurt.
5. Use straps. Not using them is inherently limiting. Straps turn a single into a triple, a triple into five and five into eight. If straps aren’t available, use chalk. Bodybuilders require overload to grow, and you’re not going to get it if your grip is a limiting factor.
6. Keep your butt down. By raising the butt, it makes it easier to break the bar from the floor, but the problem is that to complete the lift, you have to get your body back into position. Instead, think about pushing though the floor with your heels.
7. Just give it a tap. In between each rep, you should touch the platform only lightly, because your body has so much tension. If there’s a bang, you’re trying to use momentum and that’s wrong. Where descent turns into ascent, there should just be a tap before you explode into the next rep. To do this, think about lowering the weight very, very slowly.
So, should you train deadlifts with back or legs? Despite the fact that the deadlift hits many back muscles — such as the lats, traps and erectors — we suggest that you train deads on leg day, because the prime movers of the deadlift are the legs. This will also give you the opportunity to devote more attention and energy to your existing back-training routine, which should include a variety of pullups, pulldowns and rows.
MAX POWER: How to safely test for your 1RM on the deadlift
The key to testing your max deadlift, without your spine exploding,
is in the preparation. As such, you should complete three to five
light warm-up sets, gradually moving up in weight until you are
close to your true one-rep max weight. To discover your 1RM, pick a
weight that you can normally lift for six to 10 reps to failure and
add about 30%-40% more weight. Allow plenty of rest between
1RM attempts. Rest three to four minutes before making
successive attempts. If you were successful, but know
you can push up more, load on another 10-20 pounds and go again.
If you weren’t successful, don’t be discouraged — just decrease the
weight by five or 10 pounds and hit it again. Aim for no more than
three to five attempts at your 1RM in a single workout. The same
approach can be applied to your squat.
DEADLIFT: BY THE NUMBERS
52 Percentage increase in muscular strength on the deadlift
when using a staggered grip.
40 Pounds more force required to complete the deadlift
for every inch the bar is away from your shins at the start of
804 Pounds deadlifted by bodybuilder Johnnie O. Jackson at
2004 Ironzone Deadlift Challenge.
931.5 American deadlift record, in pounds, set by Garry
Frank at a bodyweight of 366 pounds in New Orleans in
1,008.6 World deadlift record, in pounds, set by England’s
Andy Bolton at a bodyweight of 347 pounds in April 2009. FLEX