By Bill Piche
When I discovered the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation (ADFPA) had a strong presence in Iowa, my focus shifted to attaining a triple bodyweight deadlift in competition. In addition, ranking lists were now being published for the ADFPA and my goal was to be ranked in the top 50 in the United States for the 198 pound class.
I was pretty certain that 600 pounds would make the top 50 list. I was within 30 pounds before even moving to Iowa so the goal seemed reasonable. However, it would be another three years before I attained that goal when in 1989 I pulled a 600 pound deadlift at 192 pounds bodyweight in an ADFPA competition and ended up ranking 49th in the nation that year. Along the way I learned a few things for training the deadlift and also a few lessons were learned in reflection that I would change today if I was to do it all over again.
IN THE BEGINNING
“There are two basic techniques for the deadlift, conventional and sumo.”
When I first started deadlifting, technique was an afterthought and this was an enormous mistake. And, even in the years close to my retiring from powerlifting, I did not take the importance of technique seriously. There are two basic techniques for the deadlift, conventional and sumo. Feet and hand position can best describe the difference in the two techniques.
For the conventional deadlift, the feet are generally closer than shoulder width apart and the hands are placed on the bar outside of the legs. For the sumo deadlift, the feet are wide with the hands placed on the bar in between the legs. The sumo deadlift is like a squat with the weight in your hands.
I started deadlifting using the conventional technique. I experimented with the sumo deadlift for only one workout. It felt ugly and uncomfortable and I felt much weaker using the sumo technique. Many lifters have the exact opposite result when first trying the sumo deadlift. However, I do not see any reason to use the sumo technique unless you are a competitive powerlifter who can deadlift more weight using the sumo technique. An exception to this would be the lifter who has had lower back problems. Do not erroneously think that the sumo deadlift will protect your lower back. If you do not properly execute the technique, you can injure your lower back just like when using the conventional technique.
USING LOW REPS
If there is an exercise where people tend to use low repetitions, it is the deadlift. I used a repetition range of 5 or less for many years. And, I paid the price with lower back problems over the years. If you are a competitive powerlifter, you must lift heavy weights for low repetitions before a contest. This is necessary because you have to prepare your body for the contest one-repetition maximums.
Even the competitive powerlifter should limit the amount of low-rep work to just before the contest. If you aren’t a competitive powerlifter preparing for a contest, check your egos at the door, and forget about low reps. In fact, there are plenty of Bodybuilders who have built great backs without relying on the deadlift. Keep an open mind, too. If you improperly train the deadlift, the damage you do now will likely not show up for years and then it will be too late. Take it from someone who has been there.
I recommend a repetition range of 10-20, with a caveat. The caveat is that your technique must be the best possible. There are no exceptions. Performing more repetitions means there are more chances to make errors in technique that could cause injury. Every rep must be performed with the best possible technique. If you cannot comply, I would say forget about the deadlift as an exercise. This may sound radical, but the deadlift can be just as destructive as it is effective. Do not get caught up in poundage increase at the expense of technique.
“I thought I was going to get weaker. I got stronger instead.”
I do not recommend deadlifting more than once per week. And for many, once per week may be too much. My deadlift remained stagnant for a long period of time until I decided to experiment and deadlift every other week. The result was an immediate poundage improvement and this was a key element to achieving my goal of a triple bodyweight deadlift.
The biggest barrier to reducing my deadlift frequency to once every two weeks was psychological. I thought I was going to get weaker. I got stronger instead. You should also never perform a deadlift repetition where the bar gets stuck because most people will have broken their technique as well and this can be a very dangerous practice, opening yourself up to injury.
“Not wearing a belt forces you to use your core muscles to a larger degree.”
Besides a reduction in frequency for deadlifting, there were a few other key training ideas that worked for me that may also work for you to increase your deadlift. When I experimented with deadlifts off blocks, I started so high that the bar was almost crushing my feet! When I went back to the regular deadlift, I could not figure out why it felt awkward, my timing was off, and there was no real carry-over.
The problem was I had changed the movement enough from the normal deadlift movement to render it ineffective for increasing my max. I did find that a very small elevation of approximately one inch or slightly less (one typical board high) made the movement harder but did not change my timing and how I performed my normal deadlift. But, it made it harder and it was very noticeable in positive way of improving my starting strength.
Another very helpful training idea was to not use my heavy powerlifting belt for all of my training. Using a belt definitely adds poundage to your deadlift and in reality it is an artificial aid. Many use the “protect the back” argument for always wearing one. I do not buy that argument. Not wearing a belt forces you to use your core muscles to a larger degree. However, keep in mind that not using a belt for a long period of time can cause your technique to suffer once going back to the belt. So, I would not recommend that a lifter can use the belt only for heavier sets or can cycle its use as well for short periods of time. However, during pre-meet training it should be used for all sets.
Another useful training method I felt was effective in increasing my deadlift was incorporating the leg press into my routine. Up until the time I started training at a commercial gym my only leg exercise was squats. Unlike the squat, the lifter starts the leg press with a static start and if done properly removes the lower back from the movement. Many lifters end up turning the squat into a modified good morning exercise and this makes it harder on the lower back. I used a width between my feet the same as my deadlift stance.
Weighted back extensions were also a very effective exercise for me. I went beyond the normal method of holding plates. I would take an Ez Curl bar and used a foam pad across the bar. I would place the bar across my traps, making sure it was not on my neck. I used back extensions as an accessory exercise after performing the deadlift. In addition to the back extension, I used two other main back exercises as accessory exercises: the pull-up and one-arm dumbbell rows. Although I would never recommend to anyone today how I performed these exercises, both are good basic exercises to work the upper back muscles.
To be continued… GAINZMAG
BILL PICHE | CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Bill is lifetime drug-free powerlifter. In 1989, he pulled an over triple bodyweight deadlift of 600lbs at 193lbs bodyweight that ranked 49th in the nation in the American Drug Free Powerlifting Association that year. Bill created the Cyberpump network (Cyberpump.com) in 1995, one of the oldest training sites on the Internet. Bill has written numerous articles for various publications including HARDGAINER, Powerlifting USA, Monster Muscle, and various web sites.
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