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Knock 'Em Dead

Knock 'Em Dead

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Let's beat the summer blahs by shaking up our workout a little. This week, we're going to learn how dead movements work and how to implement them into your training to build new muscle

A squat or bench press is a reversible muscle action, you go down and up; both have an eccentric phase (negative), amortization phase (switch from negative to positive) and a concentric phase (positive).  Either movement can be made much more difficult by eliminating the negative, thus taking away the stretch reflex. A bench or squat work like a rubber band, going down is like pulling back, coming up is like shooting forward. Believe it or not, you store elastic-like energy when you descend on a squat or bench press that helps you lift the weight back up.

Want proof? First, bench press your max and then bench press your max from a bottoms up position in the power rack!  You will do a lot less weight bottoms up or in a "dead style."

Sure, this is harder, but if you want to get really strong it won't happen on the path of least resistance.

Why is a deadlift called a deadlift?  Simple, you are picking dead weight up off the ground, no negative phase to assist you; it's you against the pig iron. I have had outstanding results supplementing "dead movements" in the programs of my strength athletes from intermediates to world record holders.

Dead Bench Press
For better or worse, in the civilized world, strength is judged by how much you bench. We can debate all day about the legitimacy of this notion or focus on setting the standard. I like option B.

When it comes to supplementary movements that develop explosive power off the chest, the dead bench wins every day of the week and thrice on Sunday! The dead bench is performed by pressing dead weight off your chest (as shown in the video below). To reiterate, since there is no negative to store elastic energy, you are going to build blasting power off the chest.  This is huge for any bench press enthusiast, especially those who have to pause the weight on their chest in powerlifting meets.

Jeremy Hoornstra Bench Press World Record Holder 600 Dead Bench

Dead Squats
The weakest position in a squat is the bottom.  The squat has an ascending strength curve; in other words, as you lift the weight from the bottom to the top, it gets easier.  Oddly enough, many folks can come up a couple inches out of the bottom of a squat, and then, boom, they're stuck.  This is simply because the elastic-like energy of the stretch reflex "drove" them out of the bottom but when the free ride is over, the squat over.

Lesson learned: There is no free lunch when it comes to squatting.  

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This is where the dead squat offers huge benefits!  Start the dead squat two inches above parallel at your real sticking point.  Because you have to get the weight moving all by yourself, you will develop greater starting strength and activate more motor units in that weak position.  You are building strength that will help eliminate your limiting factor.

Dead squats benefit the sumo and conventional deadlift.  You are moving dead weight like the deadlift using many of the same muscles.  Sumo deadlifters gain the largest benefit. Training to increase the sumo deadlift should be used with your sumo stance using the same hip angle, knee angle and foot placement.

If you have a safety squat bar, I recommend it for the dead squat.  If not, a straight barbell will do.

Sumo Dead Squat (1/2 squat) Steve Coyne 700 Pounds

Ed McKelvey Dead Squat

Dead Zercher Squats
Dead Zercher squats are basically like the dead squat; the kicker is you hold the bar in the crooks of your elbows.  Like a deadlift, the muscles of the posterior chain (back side of the body) lift a weight that is in front of you.  Studies have shown Zercher squats torch the glutes; you also feel a huge stimulus in your abs.  These also are beneficial to the competitive strongman training for loading events.

James Vakertzis performing a dead Zercher squat

Deadlift for Singles
Training with single reps is considered taboo because some claim them to be unsafe.  This is not based off of any empirical evidence.  I think when you purposefully reset for a set of one rep, you are safer on the deadlift than going for a rep max.

Most any world class strength athlete trains with singles at some point.
Next time you perform the king of dead movements the deadlift, perform it for singles.

Deadlift Singles Guidelines and Benefits
  • Perform singles in a Compensatory Acceleration style (putting maximum force into the bar each rep).

  • Concentrate on technique; singles build technique.  Singles also force neural adaptations for competitive lifts; in other words, you lift one rep in a contest so you get more coordinated at lifting one rep.

  • Vary the weights. Working up to a one rep max is great, lifting 15 singles is great, 5 singles at 90-95% is great.  Doing the same thing all the time is wrong!  Each aforementioned method of singles has benefits.

  • Piling more iron on the bar is the most obvious way to progress but you should also manipulate rest intervals and the number of sets performed. 

  • Singles help gain strength without adding muscle mass; this is great for athletes looking to stay in the same weight class, but not so great for a bodybuilder to consistently train with.

  • Try cluster sets. For instance, deadlift 90% of your one repetition max for a single then rest 30 seconds; do this for 3 sets. 

  • Heavy singles are for advanced and intermediate trainees only; beginners can perform singles with less than 80% of their one repetition max.

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Benefits of Dead Movements
Okay, you're saying, I get it! I need some dead movements to breathe life into my training.  Here are some of the benefits you are going to enjoy:

  • Greater Motor Unit Activation (MUA) because the help is gone (elastic assisting energy), you have to activate a greater number of motor units

  • Increased starting strength. This is your ability to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible instantaneously.

  • Increased Rate of Force Development, or RFD, is how quickly muscular force can be produced.

  • Because adaptations are primarily neural (increased coordination to lift more), you will not gain as much muscle from dead movements.  This is huge for the powerlifter looking to stay within a weight class.

  • Because movements are for singles, you can reset technique between each rep/set.

Final Thoughts
Dead movements should be performed for single repetitions only, because studies indicate, even after a pause in the bench press motion, almost half of the stored elastic energy remains. For more volume and less intensity, don't pump out rep after rep; use multiple singles with shorter rest intervals.

Many know the science of training front to back, but if you do not understand the art of progression, you won't make gains. Variables to increase intensity in the dead movements are: shortening rest intervals, adding more singles with the same weight, and adding more weight. If increasing bar weight is all you care about, you will run yourself into the ground of failed progress.  

Remember, you can consider lengthening rest intervals and decreasing the number of singles as the weight increases. An example of this would be starting out with eight singles with a one-minute rest in between lifts, and by week six, performing four singles with three-minute rest. Obviously, the weight would increase each week during this hypothetical cycle (excluding deload weeks).

Time to start blasting, no excuse to let power out of the bottom hold you back any longer.

Some points to remember
  • To maximally develop starting strength and rate of force development, lift the bar as hard and quickly as possible

  • Use singles not reps

  • Use stance/hand placement you want to develop strength in

The author mentions that some people believe training with single reps can be unsafe, though he doesn't agree. Do you believe it's unsafe or not? Why?

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