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Deadlifts. Where Have They Gone?


Deadlifts. Where Have They Gone?

If you’ve ever wondered why we don’t use the deadlift more in our skill training and or in the daily workouts, here is a good read on that topic. Read the whole thing.

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Why don’t we DEADLIFT more?

Great question! This has come up recently and it’s a great observation. The way we are training is meant for high(er) volume work, especially with pulls off the floor. We rarely max out on the deadlift and see it maybe once every two weeks in workouts. When we do see it in workouts, it is usually at a medium to heavy weight. There is a method to this madness…

A) What do we know about deadlifts?

1) Deadlifts are a relatively low-skill movement that require relatively low amounts of mobility and athleticism. Pick it up and put it down. If you are proficient at moving weight with the proper form and muscles (posterior what?) then you should have no problem using 50-75% of your 1-RM in a conditioning session.

2) Deadlifts (“slow” lifts off the floor) place a tremendous amount of stress on your CNS (central nervous system). This can be hard to recover from if you are eating and sleeping well — more so if you are not.

3) To receive significant benefit from the movement, you have to move more weight/rep than say a faster pull off the ground (i.e. clean or snatch). More weight = more stress to the CNS (see #2).

B) What do we know about cleans and snatches?

1) They are relatively high-skill movements that require relatively high amounts of mobility and athleticism. If you suffer from poor mobility in the ankles, hips, back and shoulders – you’re screwed.

2) Cleans and snatches (fast pulls off the floor) do not stress the CNS as much, because you are using less weight than you would in a deadlift. Less time under load @ a lighter weight = less stress to the CNS = easier/faster recovery.

3) The benefits to mobility, strength, power and athleticism cannot be understated. If you can snatch 225#/155#, chances are you are strong, fast, explosive and mobile. If a guy (or girl) can catch 315# in the bottom of a clean, chances are his/her midline is “pretty strong” too… (Who needs a strong midline to deadlift?)

C) Time to geek out…

In physics:

Velocity = Distance / Time

Acceleration = dVelocity / dTime (change in velocity divided by change in time)

Force = Mass x Acceleration

Work = Force x Distance

Power = Work / Time

Stay with me…

***Scenario A:

Let’s say you deadlift 275#. For the sake of argument, let’s say you move the weight from the ground to full hip extension (24″) and it takes you 2 seconds to complete the lift. (I timed some lifters during our sessions today – the fastest lifts were right around 1 second, while the slowest lifts were up to 5 seconds.)

Velocity = 24/2 = 12

Acceleration = 12/2 = 6

Force = 275 x 6 = 1,650

Work = 1,650 x 24 = 39,600

POWER = 39,600 / 2 = 19,800

***Scenario B: 

Let’s say you power clean 185#. For the sake of argument, let’s say you move the weight from the ground to the rack position (36″) and it takes you 0.25 seconds to complete the lift. (I tried to time these, but they were too fast… It is said that a power clean will take about this long.)

Velocity = 36/0.25 = 144

Acceleration = 144/0.25 = 576

Force = 185 x 576 = 106,560

Work = 106,560 x 36 = 3,836,160

POWER = 3,836,160 / 0.25 = 15,344,640


These two scenarios are not filled with arbitrary numbers or mere conjecture… They are real-life situations that we have seen in the gym. For example, today’s conditioning session consisted of 36 deadlifts at 275# (over the course of 3 rounds). We have had workouts in the past that have had 36 power cleans at 185# (over the course of 3 rounds).

1) Scenario A vs Scenario B: In scenario “B”, Force, Work and Power were all increased SIGNIFICANTLY. This is the holy grail for athletes in ANY sport, and ESPECIALLY in ours…

Force: 1,650 vs 106,560

Work: 39,600 vs 3,836,160

Power:  19,800 vs 15,344,640

The numbers don’t lie: power cleans at 185 produced more Force, Work and Power, and did so in LESS TIME. This is not my opinion, this is physics.

2) “Time under load”: This is probably the most important factor here. I mentioned loading the CNS above and recovering from maximal loading. John Wellbourn has been quoted as saying that it takes the body 10 days (TEN DAYS) to fully recover from a true 1-RM deadlift. The fact is this: we can stimulate a similar (if not greater) response in Force, Work and Power and do so with less damage to the CNS.

Take the conditioning from today: 36 deadlifts at 275#. Assuming all 36 were done at a speed of 2 seconds/rep, that would be 72 seconds under load @ 275# (assuming you dropped the bar from the top and did not lower it back to the ground).

If we had done the same rep scheme with power cleans at 185#, assuming all reps were done at a speed of 0.25 seconds/rep, that would be 9 seconds under load. 12.5% of the time spent loading the CNS and at a LOWER weight. Once again, stress to the CNS has been reduced drastically, while Force, Work and Power have all been increased drastically.

Keep this in mind: You can deadlift slowly. You cannot clean or snatch slowly. Try it… and then get back to me with the damage report…

3) Athleticism and CrossFit Specificity: Not only do you need to be strong in CrossFit, but you need to be mobile, powerful and athletic. We used power cleans in the above example, but full cleans would be an even more appropriate movement to highlight. If you can clean 185# with good technique – you will have no problems deadlifting with regards to mobility. However, I have seen men and women that can deadlift a HOUSE, but fail to clean light weight due to lack of mobility and strength in the bottom of a squat… PLUS: THIS IS PART OF YOUR SPORT. A BIG PART. When is the last time you saw a CrossFit competition that did not include cleans or snatches of some variety?

CAVEATS: So why deadlift at all?

1) Time under load can be a good thing!

To properly adapt to a strength stimulus, time under load can do wonders. Have you ever done a 1×20 maximal set of heavy-breathing back squats? The time spent under load can do amazing things for your muscles, tendons, joints and also stimulate a blistering hormonal response that can be HUGELY beneficial to strength gains — not to mention mental fortitude…

2) Muscle Memory (Specific Movement Motor Patterns)

Deadlifting is also a part of our sport. We have to be able to do heavy 1-RM and 3-RMs and also be able to do high volume/high rep sets in workouts. If you haven’t deadlifted in a year, chances are that when you go to pick up the bar, you will do it wrong (weight forward, no loading of hamstrings, midline not set…) For that reason, we also need to deadlift. When it is appropriate.

3) Max Effort Lifts

Like #2, you will need to be STRONG. Not just strong in your fast pulls, but strong in your slow pulls as well. Total-body all-over strong — and this is best developed by using a combination of both fast pulls and slow pulls. Volume, weight and intensity are all crucial factors here. I hope you have a coach…

By no means am I advocating NOT deadlifting — I am merely pointing out some of the reasons we do not deadlift on a weekly basis. Deadlifting is one of the pillars of a legitimate strength and conditioning program – and if you aren’t doing it, you’re missing out on some BIG TIME strength opportunities!

Lift smart, lift hard. Lift smarter, not harder ;-)

(Source: Coach Winchester)