Westside has 15 members who deadlift more than 800 pounds, six women who have done more than 500 pounds, and one, M. Liggett, who deadlifed 484 at 132 body weight. I have found a common denominator for deadlifting success: the proper selection of special exercises. Let’s start with special squatting.
Safety Squat Bar. This bar plays a large role in our deadlifting. Use a narrow squat stance and a box of 4 inches lower than your regular box that you use to train the squat. Work up to a 5- or 3-rep or single box record. The Safety Squat bar will overload the back, hip, and leg muscles, resulting in a stronger deadlift. One can use a very wide stance and very low box for more hip development. As a bonus, it increases your flexibility for your sumo pulls. Good mornings with the Safety Squat bar are tremendous for the deadlift as well. We use three varieties. One is the regular good morning standing up with bent or straight legs in an arched or bent-over back position. A second method is with the bar suspended by chains at a variety of heights, or placing the bar on power rack pins of your choice. Hold on to the bar yolks at all times. The third method consists in turning the bar around. It works completely differently this way. Try it.
Front Squat. This is a second type of special squatting. For the front squat you want to use a front squat harness if you can. Many great pullers used the front squat for deadlifting. Eddie Copplin, who pulled 826 at 186 BWT, was one. We use a low box, as for the Safety Squat bar squats. Sometimes we sit on a foam box for more leg strength, using both wide and close stance. For the individuals who wear Chuck Taylors like myself, try using a weight lifting shoe with a heel occasionally, to really feel it in the legs. I would have Olympic lifters do box squats like Westsiders to raise their front squat. We do front squats to raise our squat and deadlift.
Zercher Squat. Ed Zercher came up with this squat variety many years ago. In 1966 or 1967, I read about a prisoner by the name of Robert Barnett, who had just pulled a 675 deadlift at 165 BWT. He related that the Zercher squat was responsible for his success. He reported that his best was 395 x 5 reps done off the floor. The article also said that Alexander Karelin, the famous Soviet wrestler, had done 440 for 5 reps while visiting Finland. I was sold on this exercise and have been doing them for years. I found them tough right after my right bicep tendon rupture in 1979. I finally came up with a device called the Zercher harness, to take the pressure off the biceps. Our deadlifts started going up again when we added heavy Zerchers into the rotating program. Thanks, Ed Zercher, wherever you are.
I have talked about squatting for the deadlifts so what about deadlifts? We do several special deadlifts with band resistance.
Speed Pulls with Mini Jump-Stretch Bands. The tension at the bottom is 100 pounds and 220 pounds at lockout. Do 5-10 singles for dynamic work. I made 535 pounds bar weight plus mini-bands and made a 715-pound deadlift at 217 BWT. The top weight with bands was 755; 415 pounds with two sets of Jump-Stretch mini-bands, which doubles the tension, will yield a 700-pound deadlift.
Tom Eiseman came to Westside for a visit and pulled 505 bar weight plus monster mini Jump-Stretch bands that produce 280 pounds of tension at the top. The bands and the bar together equal 785 at the top, very close to his best official pull. We have several examples that are similar. My speed work for the 715-pound pull was 345 plus 220 pounds of tension at the top with the mini-bands. We will add more band tension at lockout by placing a light, medium, or strong band over the bar but not doubled up. This builds a tremendous lockout. It also develops a very fast start. After one such pull, your brain will understand what physical demands you are placing on it.
Rack Pulls. Rack pulls are as old as Milo, but we put a new twist on them. We quadruple-up mini-bands for up to 600 pounds max. Monster mini-bands are used by up to 800-pound pullers. Sometimes light Jump-Stretch bands are used to slow the pulls from start to finish. When Chuck Vogelpohl trained here, I asked him what he thought the rack pulls with bands taught him. He replied that they teach him to think while pulling, instead of pulling wildly in the wrong direction.
Deadlifts without Band Tension. Years ago, John Smith of Australia wrote an article about straight-leg sumo pulls. I decided to do an experiment with Tim Harold, a former Westsider. His best official pull was 700 pounds conventional. Because he is 6’ 7” tall, we placed 6-inch collars on the bar before adding plates. With a max stance Tim worked on this style. His pulls were with legs bent as much as the stance would allow. In a 1 ½ year span his conventional pull went to an official 825 pounds and an official 855-pound sumo. That is a 155-pound increase in his meet deadlift. While this has been the most dramatic increase, others have made substantial gains.
Straight-Leg Sumo-Style Deadlift. Last on our list is this exercise from John Smith. Use as wide a stance as possible and keep the back fully arched. This will place the shoulders very far in front of the bar. Keep the back arched fully. While this places great stress on the hamstrings and lower back, it is perfectly safe. Greg Panora made 685 pounds for 3 paused reps and deadlifted 815 pounds at the next meet.
After reaching your near potential in the deadlift, it is very hard to increase it. But I feel most lifters never reach their real potential. Why? You can buy a better bench with a bench shirt and a better squat with a squat suit, but you have to really train to be a good deadlifter. I was amazed to witness Andy Bolton pull a 1003 deadlift, and now he has done 1008 pounds. I am 61 years old and did not think I would live long enough to see a 1000-pound deadlift.
The methods I have discussed will help you reach your ultimate goal. Some other tips are to make sure your abs are very strong. After all, you flex the abs first, I hope. Of course, the lower back has to be armor-proof as well. We have found that the hamstrings, when weak, get injured, but when they are strong, they hold all you can put on them. I am sure you know what I am talking about. These exercises are the key for football players as well. They build the posterior chain. Many talk about the posterior chain, but don’t have a clue how to build it safely. There used to be a saying, and a true one, that went like this, “The meet does not start until the bar touches the floor.” But that was before you could get 300 pounds out of your bench shirt.