Man has always had a desire to pick things up off the ground. Intuition tells me that the deadlift is the oldest strength training movement. While bench presses and squats took some ingenuity to contrive, picking something up is instinct.
Pick up a heavy barbell and put it down. The experience is primordial, yet so satisfying. Ah, the good old deadlift! In primitive times strength was tested by lifting logs off the ground, rocks and in the case of Milo of Croton, a 6th century BC wrestling champion, deadlifting bulls.
For far too long the deadlift has taken a back seat to more "functional" or "civilized" movements. The bodybuilding and physique crowd preached that deadlifts caused a massive increase in waist size. The strength and conditioning crowd preached a gospel of non-functionality and safety.
Bodybuilding coaches that argue against the deadlift completely disregard science when they point out that some pro bodybuilders' distended abdomens are a result, in part, of heavy deadlifts.
These protruding bellies are a consequence of growth hormone injections and insulin; distended guts are a carryover from the 1990's, when these drugs first poked their ugly heads on a wide scale basis into physical culture.
Arnold deadlifted over 700 pounds, and epitomized a tapered waist. In bodybuilding's early golden age, when waists were smaller, hearts were bigger, and natural testosterone flowed like wine, bodybuilders trained with heavy deadlifts.
The thought in this era is epitomized by York Barbell icon Bob Hoffman, who said "train for strength and shape will follow." There is not a shred of evidence scientific that would suggest deadlifts cause a distended belly.
Some of the Johnny come lately "gurus" preach that if you train for shape, strength will follow. Strength is your base, as this false philosophy spreads, so do distended bellies.
"Functional" Back Lash
As for the freak side show, or what others call the "functional" crowd, doing bizarre complex exercises on bosu balls with one leg in the air is more dangerous than a relatively safe exercise like the deadlift. Even better, deadlifting builds strength, which is your base for everything physical.
The deadlift's basic action is picking a weight off the ground, forcing the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, lower back) to lift a load that's in front of the body. A strong posterior chain is essential for executing explosive movements that require extension of the hips. This is about as "functional" as weightlifting can get. Deadlifts are very effective for developing rate of force development, in other words how quickly you can develop tension in a muscle, which is essential for any strength or sporting endeavor.
Deadlifting for Muscle Gains
Ronnie Coleman has the biggest most developed back of all time. Big enough to win eight consecutive Olympia titles. Deadlifts were always at the core of Coleman's back training, when he moved monstrous weights that many world class strength athletes could only hoist in their wildest dreams.
It all starts with the lower back and nothing builds the lower back like the repetitive action of bearing and moving a massive load. But the deadlift is much more than a lower back exercise. EMG tests (the electrical activity of muscle), performed by strength coach Bret Contreras, showed that the deadlift is one of the most effective exercises for eliciting hamstring activation.
Assuming proper technique, as you move the weight from the bottom of the deadlift, the load will shift from the lower back to the lats, traps and other upper back muscles. This aides in developing thickness in the upper back and shoulders. Not to mention the load paced on the glutes and hamstrings as they co-contract to lockout the hips.
The benefits are not just limited to the back and the lower body. Your arms come into play when deadlifting. Think about it when you are hanging onto a heavy load (assuming no straps) and moving it upward. All of the muscles of your arms are forced to contract. Of course your forearms are forced to handle a large brunt of the load, serving as a catalyst to strengthening and building massive forearms.
The 8 Traits of a Great Deadlift
Now that we realize how important the deadlift is in the pursuit of size and strength, let's look at 8 traits to great deadlifts.
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Great deadlifting starts with the right stance. To find yours perform a standing vertical jump. Note the width of your stance at takeoff. This is your foot stance at the commencement of the lift. This is not set in stone but a good reference point.
Get your butt in the right position. For deadlifting the largest amounts of weight and for the sake of staying injury free, do not pull max weights with straight legs. The deadlift is also not a full squat, remember you can half squat more than you can full squat. Take advantage of this and descend into a half squat. With the barbell over the center of your feet, arms in full extension. Your shoulder blades are over the barbell at the commencement of the lift.
Set a firm grip, limp hands need not apply. This may seem obvious to hold on to the bar. As you grab the bar tighter, the central nervous system activates, more muscles are involved. Since our goal is not isolation, the more muscles activated the merrier!
Make a point of not letting your hips rise faster than your shoulders. If your legs lockout before your shoulders, you are in a biomechanically weak position. This also subjects your lower back and hamstrings to a much greater chance of injury.
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Commit to the Pull. Among traditional barbell lifts, the deadlift is the ultimate test of mental toughness and testicular fortitude. Technique is essential to mastering this exercise, but in no other lifts does aggressiveness and internal rage aid an athlete as much as in the deadlift. Committing to the pull means walking up to the bar and knowing that the lift is complete. You have made a decision that you won't drop the weight, come hell or high water
Pre Workout Supplementation. Taking a pre workout supplement before you hit the floor can make all the difference. BioQuest's AlphaFury, with its cutting-edge combination of a potent muscle pump catalyst, beta alanine for fatigue postponement, and matrix of focus and intensity agents, is always a great choice.
Good old caffeine works, too. An overwhelming amount of research shows that caffeine can help lifters enhance limit strength, increase pain tolerance during intense exercise, and improve muscle endurance. Use caffeine 30-60 minutes prior to training.
As someone with a world class deadlift and someone that coaches a plethora of world class deadlifters, these are 8 traits that I have observed that will help propel your strength and size to the next level. The deadlift works more muscles than even the squat. Thus, the deadlift is king for overall development. In regard to the deadlift, powerlifting says "the meet don't start til the bar hits the floor."