The Need for a Deadlift
Years ago they would say the meet doesn’t start until the bar hits the floor. The deadlift was the big equalizer. Nowadays, the big equalizer is the bench shirt, as some can get more than 300 pounds over their raw bench. I feel the bench shirt is here to stay, but it has affected the deadlift in a negative way.
Westside has 26 men over 800 pounds in the deadlift and four over 900 pounds. There are several programs on Max Effort (M-E) day—from rack pulls using three different pins, sumo and conventional stance, some with just barbell weight and some with 170, 250, 350 or 450 pounds of band tension to conventional standing on a two-inch or four-inch box, sumo or with bands of 220 or 280. Westside will also place a second band over the bar. It can range from a light, average or strong band. For the very strong, two bands can be used. You should keep records on the amount of bands you are using to verify all records on M-E day. Many types of Goodmornings are done for a record set of three or five reps: arched back, round back, bent legs, straight legs, wide stance or close stance. Mostly round back is done for deadlifting and arched back for the squat or sumo style.
Special note: Choose the type Goodmorning to improve either the squat by doing arched back or an arched lower back and a rounded upper back for the deadlift. Do the deadlift with a band attached to the front of the rack over the barbell. To ensure the lifter must pull the barbell toward the body, start with mini-bands in front. Goodmornings also can be performed in this manner. Start with light bands over the bar.
To our good friend Gerry McNamara from Ireland, who has squatted world records of 749 pounds in the 132, 804 pounds at 148, and 903 pounds at 165 pounds, I say “Thanks, Gerry, they work great.”
It is good to do some high pin-over-knee lockouts on occasion with slightly lighter weights for shoulder shrugs with close and wide grips. Westside has found that as your squat goes up, so does your deadlift—almost always for the light weight. Of course, as you get bigger, your center of mass makes squats easy, but makes deadlifting harder due to the frontal body mass. This is why there are several 1,000 pound squats and only two 1,000 pound deadlifts.
Speaking of squatting, the special squats play a larger role in deadlifting. Angelo Beartanlie, our 165 lifter with a 560 deadlift, was stuck at that 560 until we had Angelo use a close-stance squat on a six-inch box with different bars. The six-inch box squat was done with a long relaxed pause and worked up to a max single. Within a year Angelo made an official 640-pound deadlift sumo style.
John Stafford, a Westside 275 pounder, used an eight-inch box, close-stance squat to push his conventional-stance deadlift to 832 pounds. Eddie Copeland of Belgium at 186 pounds pulled an 826-pound deadlift. His favorite special exercise was the front squat. Westside has used the front squat as well to pushup the deadlift. But use a front squat harness. Ed Zercher invented the Zercher lift years ago. Ed would squat down and hook his elbows under the bar and stand up. This is a great exercise for the deadlift and also for the squat.
For larger lifters, take the bar off a set of low racks or pins and perform squats until you touch the bar on the top of the knees. One can also take the bar out of the rack and squat down and lower the bar out over the knees as close to the platform as possible.
A great lifter from the past, George Clark, pulled 700 pounds at 181 body weight while only doing the deadlift behind the back. A more modern lifter, Brad Gillingham, also used the behind the back deadlift to officially pull 870 pounds. There are many examples such as Bob Barnett a 165-pound lifter who pulled a 675 meet lift while using the Zercher lift almost exclusively.
If you deadlift too often you will no doubt discover the Law of Accommodation and your deadlift will go backward. Small special exercises play a large role in our progress. Small special exercises include the following, to name just a few:
We have talked about M-E day, but what about the Dynamic day for squatting and pulling? This article is about deadlifting, so let’s look at an alternative to speed work with mini or monster bands over the bar. I am sure you have heard of the Finnish Deadlift Routine. Our friend Danny Wohleber from Cleveland, Ohio, used it to become the first 900-pound deadlifter at 23 years old and at 267 body weight. His routine ran for 13 weeks with mostly simi-stiff-legged deadlifts.
Westside has its own version. It runs after Dynamic Method squats and it consists of both conventional and sumo-style while standing on a six-inch or four-inch box and using a special bench press chamber bar deadlift. Each phase lasts three weeks, then rotates to the second and third phases and finally rotates back to the first box and repeats. For three weeks do conventional style for five sets of five reps. Each week you add weight. The workout must be hard, but not hard enough to not finish. After three weeks, switch to sumo style off a four-inch box. For three weeks do five reps for five sets. Remember, start fairly hard, but you must add weight for the next two weeks. And, finally, deadlift using a five-inch chambered bar. Stand on a 10-inch box placed so you can grip the bar about four inches below your feet and do five sets of five reps for three weeks adding weight each week. (Note: You may have to use stiff-leg or semi-stiff-leg style off this high box chambered bar deadlift.)
Light-weight men and women can often squat down low to use leg drive at start. While training a woman bob sled athlete with a best deadlift of 375 pounds after 12 weeks of this rotating program she made a 405-, 415- and an easy 460-pound deadlift. Others have had similar results. Remember after speed squats, go to the six-inch conventional block pulls, then four-inch sumo block pulls, and finally, stand on a 10-inch box set diagonally with a five-inch chambered bench press bar set on top of your feet.
The deadlift is almost a forgotten lift. You can’t buy a deadlift … you have to work for it. I constantly read and I am amazed at the Russian’s progress in the deadlift. It started with K K Konstantin Konstantinov and also Oleksandr Kutcher’s 793-pound deadlift at the WPO in Columbus, Ohio, which I had the honor to witness. The Russians have unbelievable athletes and highly intelligent coaches like Askold Surovetsky, Sergey Smolov and A. Kotov. The Russian coach who I have studied the most and have admired the most is Boris Sheiko. Our methods are similar in that we both find ways to increase total volume. Because of Boris, we increased our speed pulls on squat day from the eight to 10 we were doing to 20 lifts.
I also suggest you purchase Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Power to the People. To close remember this: you can buy a better bench shirt and you can buy a better squat suit, but you cannot buy a better deadlift.
Remember to go to small special exercises after the large barbell special exercises. Examples include rack pulls, next high reps in the Goodmorning, then back raise or reverse hypers, rows and ab work. Twelve hours later more small special exercises, some type of leg curls like glute-ham raises or inverse curls, and then finish with pulling a light sled. Light sled walking can also be a warmup for any upper or lower body workout.
Here’s to a better deadlift and the work you’ll be doing to get it.