DEADLIFT - The Ultimate Get Huge Movement

Get Huge with Deadlifts

This is one of the basic, core essential exercise for power and size.

Mrs. Maxwell Rogers wasn't a powerlifter; she had never seen the inside of a gym. That didn't stop the 123-pound woman from performing a feat of strength that landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records, however. You might say that Mrs. Rogers was highly motivated. Most mothers would be if they saw their sons about to be crushed under the weight of a 6,000-pound automobile.

When the jack slipped under the car her son was working on, Mrs. Rogers jumped into action faster than you can say "Wonder Woman." She extended her skinny arms and grasped the bumper of the car long enough to allow her son to escape safely, thus preventing him from becoming a poster boy for the International House of Pancakes.

Some experts say that Mrs. Rogers' auto deadlift was equal to about 2,000 pounds. Compare that with the present Women's world record for powerlifting deadlifts in the 123-pound class: 441 pounds by Joy Burt of Canada. Any way you look at it, Mrs. Rogers did a prodigious lift that day. She did, however, pay the consequences with a stay in a local hospital to treat the severe back strain that resulted from her effort.

This story illustrates at least two things: 1) the lengths to which a mother will go to save her child (Don't forget to call your mother this week!) and 2) just how elemental the lift we call the deadlift really is. Unlike other lifts, which require at least some knowledge of technique, it seems as if anyone-even panic-stricken moms-can quickly become proficient in the deadlift. Looks are deceiving, however. Mrs. Rogers' lift may have saved her son but it also cost her a hospital stay and possible permanent back damage. Those who are unaware of proper deadlift form may experience a similar fate.

Other Great Deadlifters

W.A. Pullum, a British weightlifting champion in the '20s who trained the late J. Paul Getty (formerly the world's richest man and bodybuilding enthusiast), once said, "The deadlift is the fundamental test of a man's bodily strength." We can forgive Pullum's sexist remark, since female weightlifters were rare in those days, but we can also agree with the sentiment.

Because the deadlift offers unique possibilities for exhibiting strength, it's been a favorite of strongmen since the days of loincloths and powdered bodies. The legendary French-Canadian strongman Louis Cyr, said to be one of the few ever to stand up to boxing champ John L. Sullivan and live to tell about it, supposedly performed a dead-weight lift of 1,897 pounds. This may not have been a full deadlift, however. Cyr is also credited with a one-arm floor lift of 987 pounds and a one-finger lift of 545 pounds.

A few years after Cyr performed his famous feats, professional German strongman Hermann Gorner put down his beer stein long enough to do a few mind-boggling strength stunts of his own. For example, weighing 220 1/2 pounds, Gorner deadlifted 793 2/3 pounds. Even more startling was his one-arm deadlift of 734 1/2 pounds on July 20, 1920, in Dresden, Germany.

In 1956 Paul Anderson, whom many consider to be the strongest man of all time, became the last American to win an Olympic weightlifting gold medal in the Superheavyweight class. Paul also practiced powerlifting, and his 1,200-pound squat still hasn't been topped. Anderson proved his all-round strength by deadlifting 820 pounds in 1958. Lars Noren of Sweden holds the current Men's Superheavyweight world-record deadlift of 894 pounds.

Then there are the novelty deadlifters. Take the 10-man team from an English prison that set the 24-hour team deadlift record of 5,519,634 pounds on May 26 and 27, 1990. Or the 24-hour individual record of 810,626 pounds set by another Englishman, Paul Goodall, on December 2 and 3, 1989.

The most amazing deadlift champion of all, however, has to be Lamar Gant. Gant became the first man to deadlift five times his bodyweight when he pulled 617 pounds while weighing 123 1/4 on November 2, 1979. He repeated this feat in 1985, when he deadlifted 661 pounds while weighing 132. Gant still holds two world powerlifting records: 638 pounds in the 123-pound class and 683 pounds in the 132-pound class.

Gant is a great deadlifter because of his structure. He has a short trunk for his height (5'1") and very long arms. Because his arms are so long, Gant only has to deadlift the weight a relatively short distance. What's really incredible about him is that he has a severe case of scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that usually weakens the back. When Gant deadlifted 425 while simultaneously being X-rayed, his spine showed a curvature of more than 90 degrees!

When Gant deadlifts, it seems as if his chest disappears. He's obviously taken what's normally considered a disability and used it to good advantage.

In the animal kingdom our primate cousins, the apes, show some impressive deadlifting power. One 100-pound chimpanzee proved a veritable simian Samson when he deadlifted 600 pounds with ease. Zoologists estimate that an enraged gorilla can deadlift more than 2,000 pounds-without using steroids.

Why Do Deadlifts?

All this talk of superhuman deadlifting makes for interesting reading, but on a more pragmatic level the question is, Why should bodybuilders do deadlifts?

For one thing, the lower back is your body's center of strength. Anyone who suffers a lower-back injury knows how incapacitating it is when that bodypart is out of commission. Upper-body exercise becomes painful and difficult; leg work is limited to back-braced movements such as leg presses and leg extensions. Properly executed deadlifts are one way of strengthening your lower back and preventing such injuries.

Experienced bodybuilders also know that, similarly to squats, deadlifts somehow increase total muscular mass. This may be because of the compound nature of the movement. This seemingly simple lift involves the most massive muscular structures of the body. Properly done deadlifts train the thighs, the lower back, the hamstrings and even the upper body, which acts as a stabilizer.

Small wonder, then, that champions such as Rich Gaspari include heavy deadlifting as an integral part of their off-season training programs. It's during this time that these champs build the muscle they later refine in precontest training.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is another bodybuilder who favored heavy deadlifts during the off-season. Few people know that in his early training years Arnold was a powerlifter as well as a bodybuilder. In fact, he once won the German National Powerlifting championship. This early powerlifting gave Arnold the power that became the cornerstone of his huge muscular bulk.

The early powerlifting training surfaced after Schwarzenegger moved to California. During his off-season workouts he frequently did heavy deadlifts and encouraged other bodybuilders of that era, such as Frank Zane and Franco Columbu, to follow his lead. It wasn't unusual to see Arnold and his friend/rival Columbu engaged in a heavy deadlifting contest in Gold's Gym with poundages often exceeding 600. Now you know how Arnold really built his superb lower back.

Even in today's bodybuilding contests the lower back remains a common and glaring weakness among competitors. This is admittedly rare in the professional ranks, however, where weak lower-back development can cost you a contest. Most physique athletes at this level do either regular bent-leg deadlifts or stiff-legged deadlifts.

Many bodybuilders favor the stiff-legged variation to exercise both the hamstrings and lower back. This movement makes most orthopedic surgeons cringe be-cause it places the spine in a very vulnerable position. Since this style of deadlift is usually done on a high block or standing on top of a bench, you tend to hyperextend the spine. Adding to the problem is the bottom position of the movement, which is called the "banana-back position" because of it's resemblance to the curvature seen when viewing a banana from the side.

In the banana-back posture your lumbar disks are virtually unprotected. The lower-back muscles stretch, and the posterior longitudinal ligament, which supports the spine, narrows to the size of a ribbon on the lower back.

An even worse scenario occurs if you have tight hip flexor muscles (from doing full situps and leg raises) combined with tight hamstring muscles. This combo sets you up for both lower-back and hamstring pulls.

Any way you look at it, stiff-legged deadlifts can be dangerous. That's why most experienced bodybuilders who do stiff-legged deadlifts reserve them for hamstring training and use light weight. Some, like Mike Quinn and Robby Robinson, only go halfway up because they believe that doing a full movement on this exercise increases waist thickness.

Proper Style

The usual powerlift deadlift, which involves bent legs, is a much safer exercise than stiff-legged deadlifts even though you usually use much more weight in the bent-leg version. The bent-leg movement is safer because it is a compound exercise that involves the front and rear thighs, the gluteus, the abdominals, the hip flexors and the erector spinae, or lower-back muscles. Properly done deadlifts distribute the weight among all these muscle groups, thus avoiding excessive strain on any single area.

To do bent-leg deadlifts properly, start with your body at the bottom position for the squat, with your thighs parallel to the floor. Keep your feet eight to 12 inches apart and use a shoulder-width hook grip-one hand facing in and the other facing out. This grip is best for deadlifts because it helps prevent the bar from slipping out of your hands. Keep your head up and your back at a 25 to 30 degree angle, flat but arched at the base.

Take a deep breath, but don't hold your breath; you might pass out. Keep your arms straight, your back locked and then stand erect, driving up using hip and leg power for as long as possible. The lower back doesn't fully come into play until the bar passes your knees. Don't jerk the weight off the floor by straightening your legs, bending your arms or rounding your back. Don't bounce the bar off the floor.

You do the lift with your hands positioned just out-side your legs and your knees over and in front of the bar. In the top position it's important not to arch your back or complete the lift by straightening your shoulders. This type of form leads to serious injuries. In the lockout position your legs are straight, and you lock your shoulders and traps back.

Some lifters favor a sumo-style deadlift, in which you keep your knees wide and lift with your arms pressed against your inner thighs. This style provides a shorter stroke than the conventional deadlift, and some people have greater hip and leg power in this position. In addition, the arms placed against your inner thighs allow you to keep the bar closer to the major fulcrum muscles, the gluteus and thighs, which provides better leverage for some people.

How you incorporate deadlifts into your workout is largely a matter of personal choice. Some bodybuilders do deadlifts as the first exercise in their heavy back workouts, followed by lat exercises. Others prefer to do deadlifts after heavy thigh training. Experiment to see which suits you best. One suggestion: If you decide to do heavy deadlifts, make sure you 1) warm up with lighter weight and add weight on each set and 2) don't do heavy deadlifts more than once a week. It takes the lower back several days to properly recover from a heavy deadlift workout, and the recovery time will do much to prevent back soreness.

If you perform them correctly, deadlifts will increase your total-body power, thicken your lower back and, if you're lucky, earn you a place in the next edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.

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