There was a day when bodybuilders were characterized by thick massive torsos, tumbling traps, and sweeping lats that hung like boxcar doors from broad-beamed shoulders. All this came about from slapping as many iron plates as possible onto a barbell and dead lifting it off the ground in whatever manner it took to get the weight up. The deadlift is the oldest of all weight training exercises and is one of the most effective exercises for overall body development. Deadlifts are not pretty and neither are the men who hoisted them, but this movement made their physiques the biggest, thickest, and strongest in the world.
The deadlift is a compound movement that works all of the major muscles in the body, with most of emphasis on the traps, spinal erectors, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. The remaining muscles are involved in stability control.
It is the purest single test of strength because it is one of the few lifts where you lift a dead weight off the ground. In most other lifts the weight changes direction or starts from the top position and you can use reverseal strength and momentum to rebound and assist in lifting the weight, as in the squat and bench press.
In this article I’m going to cover three different variations of the deadlift as well as an effective 7 week deadlift training cycle that you can use to help sky rocket your deadlift poundages and pack on slabs of thick dense muscle mass on your frame.
Regular Conventional Deadlift
Stand in front of a barbell with your shins close to the bar. Feet shoulder width apart or closer. Grab the bar with your hands outside your legs, a bit wider then shoulder width. Keeping your arms straight, bend your legs and flatten your back. Position yourself so it is like you are doing a squat with the barbell at arms length in front of you.
Pull the barbell off the floor by straightening your legs and torso until your body is completely erect. Pull your shoulders back. Then lower the bar back to the floor.
The Sumo deadlift is a variation of the deadlift whereby the legs are spread far apart to the sides, mimicking the stance of a sumo wrestler. This variation changes the emphasis of the lift and places more work on the hips and legs and a bit less work on the back. Depending on your build the sumo deadlift may be easier to perform then the conventional deadlift.
When doing the sumo deadlift, rather then focusing on pulling the weight up, focus on keeping your knees out wide and pushing your feet out to the sides as if you are trying to spread the floor apart with your feet. At the same time bring your hips forward. This will improve your leverage and allow you lift more weight.
Romanian deadlift (aka Stiff Leg Deadlift)
The Romanian deadlift variation places most of the emphasis on the hamstrings and lower back. This variation is better suited for higher reps and lighter weights then the conventional and sumo deadlifts. The legs are kept almost straight through the movement, with just a slight bend in the knees to take stress off the tendons.
You can start with a regular convetional deadlift to get the weight up. Then just bend over at the waist until you feel good stretch in the hamstrings and then staighten back up. Don’t let the bar touch the floor in between repititions. This will keep constant tension on the muscles at all times during the Romanian deadlift.
Deadlift Training Tips
For a lot of people the grip is the weak link in the deadlift. If your hands are not strong enough to hold onto the bar, then the weight will not go up, regardless of how strong you are in the back, hips and legs.
|To help increase your grip try using lifting chalk on your hands. Lifting chalk is just magnesium carbonate and it is actually good for the hands. Chalk will dry up sweat and increase friction between your hands and the bar. It comes is small blocks and is available at most sports stores for less then $10. I keep a block of lifting chalk in my gym bag at all times. I store it in a small Tupperware container and use it for most all free weight exercises, especially deadlifts.|
|Another grip tip that helps the deadlift tremendously is using a mixed or alternate grip when lifting heavy weights. This is simply holding the barbell with one hand facing forwards and the other hand facing backwards. The advantage of this grip is that as the bar is rolling out of one hand, it is also rolling into the other hand. Thus allowing you to hold onto heavier weights then you could with a regular overhand grip. I personally like to switch back and forth with the hand positions for each set to ensure equal development over the long term.|
A good weight lifting belt should be worn on your heavy sets. The purpose of a belt is to provide protection, support, and stability for the entire mid-section, especially the lower back. Do not wear the belt for lighter warm up sets. Rather save it for your top weight sets when you need it most. Overuse of a weight lifting belt may actually weaken the muscles of the mid-section because of the constant support, the muscles will not get a chance to be worked like the rest of the body.
|The best belts are the thick powerlifting style belts that are just as wide in the front as they are in the back. This allows you to push your stomach against the belt and provide more support for the lower back. I suggest you avoid the thin weight lifting belts that are common in most department stores.|
When you deadlift you should wear flat thin soled sneakers. This will keep your body in proper alignment to lift and keep your feet as close to the ground as possible. If you wear thicker soled sneakers this will increase distance that you have to pull the bar. It may not sound like much, but that extra inch of cushioning could take several pounds off your max deadlift. My personal favorite sneakers are Chuck Taylor Converse, these are one of the best lifting sneakers that I’ve ever worn. They are totally flat and provide good grip and ankle support.
One of the best ways to improve your deadlift strength is to perform multiple sets of single reps. Here is a sample 7 week deadlift cycle to help increase your deadlift 1 rep max. I’ve used this cycle several times with great results each time. With each lift focus on pulling the weights as fast and explosively as possible. The faster you lift the weight, the more stress you’ll apply to the muscles, and the stronger you’ll become.
7 Week Deadlift Cycle
The weights are based on a percentage of your current 1 rep max.
- Week one: 70% – 15 sets of 1 – rest one minute between sets
- Week two: 75% – 12 sets of 1 – rest one minute between sets
- Week three: 80% – 10 sets of 1 – rest 90 seconds between sets
- Week four: 85% – 6 sets of 1 – rest 90 seconds between sets
- Week five: 90% – 3 sets of 1 – rest two minutes between sets
- Week six: Rest (no deadlifting)
- Week seven: try for a new max deadlift. Rest as long as you need in between sets (i.e. 3+ minutes)
Note: You can use this 7 week deadlift cycle for either the sumo or conventional deadlift. Do Not use this routine for the Romanian Deadlift, for this exercise it is best to use lower sets and do multiple reps (i.e. 3 sets of 10-20 reps).
To show an example with some real numbers, lets assume the lifter has a 1 rep max of 405 lbs.
Week one: 15 sets of 1 rep with 285 lbs.
Week two: 12 sets of 1 rep with 305 lbs.
Week three: 10 sets of 1 rep with 325 lbs.
Week four: 6 sets of 1 rep with 345 lbs.
Week five: 3 sets of 1 rep with 365 lbs.
Week six: rest
Week seven: work up to a new 1 rep max…
To pyramid up to a new 1 rep max the weights should go like this:
Each set after this, add approx. 5-10 lbs. to the bar until you reach your 1 rep max.
Most folks who are used to bodybuilding type workouts will probably be quite surprised by the idea of doing multiple sets of single reps. But this is one of the most effective ways to develop strength and power. Obviously you will not be pumping out reps until failure, but rather you’ll be explosive and feel strong and powerful with each single rep set. Generally, after the first few sets you’ll actually feel stronger and be able to pull the bar up harder and faster. This is due to getting comfortable with the exercise and getting into your individual groove where your body position feels strongest.
By using the training tips and suggestions covered in this article, and following the 7 week deadlift workout cycle you should have no problem blowing past your personal deadlift 1 rep max.
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