By Coach PK
One of the many things I’d like to thank the CrossFit community for is making the deadlift cool again. For decades, strength and bodybuilding experts have been preaching the benefits of regular deadlifting for strength gains, muscle development and overall “bad assery”. Unfortunately, this advice seemed to fall on deaf ears. I would travel to various commercial gyms across North America (even so-called hardcore establishments) and I would rarely see anyone pulling a heavy weight from the floor. However, thanks in part to CrossFit, I see more and more folks giving the classic powerlift a try. This is a good thing. When performed correctly, the deadlift will make you insanely strong, build a wall of muscle from your traps down to your hamstrings, and enhance your performance in all kinds of sports. I’d like to share three keys to building a stronger deadlift. Whether you are a newbie or a veteran of the iron game, these keys will help you move some serious weight!
1. Deadlift From a Deficit
One of the most effective techniques I’ve used to improve my deadlift is by increasing my range of motion. The deadlift from a deficit accomplishes exactly this. You can use a 45 lb plate to stand on for these. You’ll have to reduce your weights significantly at first in order to maintain optimal technique, but don’t stress. Your numbers will go up as you get used to the new range. Make sure to keep your spine in a neutral position throughout the movement.
2. Deadlift Using a Snatch Grip
This lift has been amazingly effective at building muscle in my upper back and also increasing my range of motion. If there is one lesson I can impart to anyone who wants to get truly strong, it’s this: Always focus on exercises that have the least mechanical advantage. The exercise with the least mechanical advantage has the greatest transfer to your overall strength and performance. This means if you want to dramatically improve your bench press, get stronger on the seated military press. If you want to improve your back squat, get stronger on your front squat. And if you want a bigger deadlift, get stronger on snatch-grip deadlifts and deficit deadlifts. Far too often you’ll see people spending way too much time on exercises with great mechanical advantage such as decline presses, partial squats, leg presses and partial deadlifts to move as much weight as possible. This creates a false sense of security and an illusion of strength. The carryover of strength to full range movements is very poor. I will expand on this in a later article, as I believe it to be one of the most important keys to building real strength, enhancing athletic performance and preventing injury.
3. Increase your Training Volume with Stiff-leg Deadlifts
Full range deadlifts are extremely taxing. And the stronger you get, the more recovery time you will often need. You also need to get in a certain amount of training volume to continually make progress. One of the best ways I’ve found to increase my training volume on the deadlift without impacting my recovery is by adding heavy stiff-leg deadlifts to my program. I will do these on a separate day from my regular, conventional deadlifts, usually after squats. You can go a little higher on the reps (6-10) than you would normally with a regular deadlift (typically 1-5).
If your deadlift has been stuck in a plateau for some time, add deficit deads, snatch-grip deads and high-volume stiff-leg deadlifts to your program. More strength and muscle is guaranteed.