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DEADLIFT BASICS PT. 2[]

by Doug Daniels [1] from Powerlifting USA December 2010 - Vol. 34 No. 2


Last month I discussed deadlift basics such as technique and assistance work, and I presented an 8-week off-season routine. This month, I’ll cover competitive rules plus give more tidbits on technique, assistance work, and an 8-week contest routine that should end in a higher max single.

To recap, there are two styles of deadlifting: conventional and sumo. The conventional style is performed with the legs about shoulder width apart with the arms on the outside of the legs holding on to the bar. The sumo style is named after the stance Japanese sumo wrestlers take; that is with the legs out wide. With sumo style, the lifter grips the bar with the arms between the legs. There is no clear-cut way to decide on which style a lifter should use. Some believe it’s based on height or weight—shorter lifters should sumo and taller lifters should go the conventional route—but there have been many examples of lifters who were successful with either style despite their size. Each lifter is unique, so experimentation, experience and proper training are musts.

In general, the sumo style requires greater flexibility and relies more on the stronger hip and leg muscles than on back power, as does the conventional style. Sumo’s major advantage over conventional is that the bar travels less distance from the floor to lockout, which is simple physics. Due to these advantages, I think most lifters should give sumo a fair try to see if it shows potential. At least one training cycle should be devoted to training sumo. The keys to deadlifting sumo style are to maintain an erect torso with a flat back and to begin the lift with your legs. The bar should be pulled inwards as well as up, keeping the bar close to the body. The pull off the floor for the sumo generally will be slower relative to the conventional style, but the lockout tends to be easier, visa versa for conventional. Because of these nuances, good coaching on technique is even more critical for sumo than for the conventional style. If improper sumo technique is deployed, the bar may not even leave the floor.

If you choose to compete using the sumo style, I suggest deadlifting conventional style deadlifts up to 6–8 weeks prior a contest. This will build back strength that is readily transferable to the sumo style. Include one sumo set of five reps with 50% of your most current sumo max single at the end of your routine to develop and maintain proper form during this period. When the meet is six to eight weeks away, switch completely over to the sumo style and you will hopefully notice an increase in usable strength.

Below is an 8-week contest routine for a lifter capable of a 400 pound max deadlift. This routine can be adjusted to fit your own strength level by using a little math. The first four sets are always 135 x 8, 185 x 5, 225 x 3 and 275 x 2. Start with light stretching, especially in the lower back and hamstring areas. Use a lifting belt for all the sets after the 275 x 2. I suggest taking your last deadlift workout 10–14 days prior a meet to insure proper recuperation.

Here is the routine

  • Week 1 315 x 5 305 x 5 295 x 5
  • Week 2 325 x 5 315 x 5 300 x 5
  • Week 3 305 x 1 335 x 5 315 x 5 300 x 5
  • Week 4 305 x 2 350 x 3 325 x 5 305 x 5
  • Week 5 315 x 2 365 x 3 335 x 5 315 x 5
  • Week 6 315 x 1 345 x 1 380 x 3 355 x 3 325 x 5
  • Week 7 325 x 1 365 x 1 415 x 1 405 x 1 375 x 2 325 x 3
  • Week 8 325 x 1 355 x 1 380 x 1 425 x 1 410 x 1 335 x 3


A 25-pound increase in 8 weeks is very realistic and a good accomplishment. Rest 2–5 minutes between the first four sets; thereafter, increase rest time to 5–10 minutes between the heavy sets. Be sure not to bounce any reps of any set. Place yourself in the proper pulling position for each rep for maximum power and leverage as well as to minimize the chance of injury.

Use lifting chalk for your hands for a better grip on the heavy sets. Always deadlift in shorts or, better yet, in a wrestling singlet. Deadlifting in sweat pants is not a good idea as the sweats will greatly slow the ascent of the bar. Another trick is to put some baby powder on your thighs to reduce friction caused as the bar moves upwards. Apply it on your thighs while seated then use the bottom of the container to smooth and spread the powder evenly. Don’t go wild with it; lightly cover your thigh from the knee upwards to just above where the bar would stop at lockout. Don’t get any baby powder on your hands, as it will hamper your grip.

Assistance work is essentially unchanged from my previous article on the off season. After your deadlifts, do 4–6 sets of either a pull-down exercise, a pull-back exercise like one-arm dumbbell rows or a trap exercise like barbell shrugs. It’s optimal to alternate one of these three types of exercises each back workout. Concentrate on using proper lifting form keeping the reps in the 6–12 range. Full range barbell or dumbbell curls for bicep power should also be included.

Ab training is important in building torso stability and strength that is also critical in the squat. Your best choice is 3–5 sets of crunches, 3–5 times a week. Doing crunches on one of those big inflatable exercise balls is also a good variation. Finish your workout with stretching, concentrating on the hamstrings. Increased flexibility aids in attaining an upright pulling position for best leverage. Flexibility will also compliment the squat as well as reducing chance of injury. Two weeks prior the meet, drop assistance work, except abs and flexibility, to avoid overtraining.

The bar cannot move downwards after the pull begins and cannot be supported on the thighs, which is called “hitching.” The bar must travel up the thighs until you are fully erect with your shoulders slightly back. At the lift’s completion, the referee will signal a “down” command for you to return the bar to the floor. This must be done under control and without releasing the bar until it meets the floor. Dropping the bar at this point would mean red lights, wasting all your efforts. It’s not necessary to softly lay the bar down, just display control of the bar and do not let go of it until it hits the floor.

After the meet, take one week completely off from weights. When you restart training, adjust your workout weights so they reflect your new and hopefully higher max. If you did not get the improvement you expected, examine other factors such as training intensity, frequency (remember quality, not quantity) and nutrition. Perhaps your goal was unrealistic. My projected increase of 25 pounds may seem low to some, but if you can put together two or three of these 25-pound gains in a year, you will be amazed at your progress. Always remember, your real competition is yourself!

I hope my two part deadlift basics series has provided some useful info and tips to both novice as well as more experienced lifters. The deadlift is the ultimate barbell test of strength. It’s you versus gravity.

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