Thursday, December 17, 2015

Caught Dead Deadlifting - By Burt Gam

About 10 years ago I happened to meet a cocky young kid who fancied himself a body builder. A rather chunky individual, this character was doing some sort of 6 day split routine just like an IFBB pro might do. Chest/Back on Monday, Legs on Tuesday and shoulders/arms Wedensday and all over again on Friday. It was exhausting just listening to him describe his work out. I guess he had unlimited time and energy. Not me. I had spent countless years learning about what works for me and what does not. Split routines, multi-angular training, drop sets, pre-exhaust systems, nautilus routines and countless other methods. I asked him if he had ever done deadlifts and he said no he had not. I asked him why not try them in his routine instead of the countless other exercises he was doing. He responded by saying "I don't see much point in them. That was the end of the conversation because I could see it was a dead end and a waste of energy and time.

If I had cared to expend the effort I would have told him that by deadlifting alone he could accomplish as much or more benefit than all the lateral raises, leg extensions and arm curls combined he was doing. Technically, I suppose the deadlift would be considered a lower back exercise but that description alone would not do it justice. In reality, the deadlift is a most complete exercise because it incorporates so many different muscles either directly or indirectly, perhaps as much as 70% of the entire body's musculature. The quadriceps, hamstrings, lats, and traps are all significantly activated, as are a multitude of stabilizer muscles almost too numerous to count. Much like the squat, the glandular release of testosterone, growth hormone. and insulin like growth factors combine to produce a potent anabolic effect. Perhaps no other exercise barring the squat is nearly as effective in this regard. Muscular growth and overall useful bodily strength are accelerated to a point where one becomes stronger in other exercises as well. Useful and practical strength with significant core strengthening are promoted. Even grip and forearm strength is significantly improved. All I know is if I knew I was going to prison in 3 months and could only do one exercise to put slabs of muscle on my frame, this is the exercise I would pick! And perhaps a few well placed tattoos to boot!

As old as humans have been roaming the earth, the deadlift may be the most practical and functional lift in existence. From the beginning of time, humans have had to squat down and lift heavy objects from the ground. The lift itself has a stark and primitive nature that is both gratifying and relatively easy to learn as far as technique is concerned. Deadlifts can be quite taxing. After performing deadlifts, one has the feeling that they have truly accomplished something productive. As basic a lift as it is, there is still a need to learn the techniques applicable to the lift, not just for the sake of efficiency but for safety as well. While it may be true that poor technique in the deadlift can put the discs of the lower back at risk, it is just as certain that proper performance can go a long way to prevent lower back injury. Powerful spinal erectors and strong abdominal muscles will act like a girdle to protect the lumbar discs, which when weak are responsible for a large incidence of back pain and problems. 

Rather than try and discuss proper technique for the deadlift which can be practiced and learned, what follows here is a discussion of basic principles on how to incorporate the lift into a routine. First and foremost, the deadlift should be performed early in a routine because of the taxing nature of the lift. If your passion is powerlifting or strength training, perhaps deadlifting one day a week is all that is needed. Sometimes less is better, as it may take some individuals a full week to recover from an intense deadlift work out. The other work outs will focus on some other types of lifts such as squats and bench presses. In fact, since squats incorporate so many similar muscles, it could actually prove to be detrimental to deadlift more often. Squat day would perhaps best be devoted to that lift itself. As far as repetition schemes are concerned, this lift seems to lend itself to low or moderate repetitions to focus on technique, although a few hardcore individuals have used higher reps which can be extremely effective in developing hypertrophy or cardiovascular endurance. This method can be extremely taxing and seems to be the exception rather than the rule. For bodybuilders who seem to prefer devoting each workout to a different area of the body, deadlifting on leg or back day can work just fine. Again, it would be prudent to prioritize the deadlift as the first exercise of the day or performance is likely to suffer due to fatigue. Also, some workouts incorporate the squat and deadlift on the same day, but in this instance one or the other is likely to suffer. In this case, if one is performing both exercises twice a week on the same day, train each lift heavy on one day and light on the other day to avoid overtraining. There are many different ways to train and no single right way, just general principles. Everyone is different so by trial and error see what works for you. The main thing is to make steady progress by gradually increasing the poundage. When progress stalls, some kind of change is in order or perhaps a layoff is required. Try and incorporate the deadlift into a 12-14 week cycle and take a much needed and deserved rest. Also, due to the compressive forces on the spine while performing squats and deadlifts, it is wise to perform some flexibility work after lifting to help prevent muscle pulls and tears and relax the muscles for overall back health.

To summarize, whether your passion is bodybuilding , strength training, or general fitness, consider making deadlifts a part of your program. It is truly an all around exercise with all around benefits.
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