Will I Deadlift More by Deadlifting Less?

Written by: Kevin Cann


This question was asked to me by Kerry yesterday, and a few other days since we got back from Nationals. I love the fact that she cares enough to take genuine interest in making sure her program is the best that it can be. The majority of my group is like this.


It tests my patience don’t get me wrong, but it also tests me as a coach.  I better be paying attention and on my game.  I could never just do something to do it with this group and that is great.  I think this relationship plays a big role in our overall success.


We changed our offseason programs to look a bit different.  The goal of the offseason of powerlifting should be the same as it is for any other sport.  Take a break from the sport and work on other areas.


I have coached primarily high school and some college athletes for over a decade.  They would ask me what to do for an offseason conditioning program and my response was often to play a different sport.


Early specialization is such an issue in America and getting these kids to experience different movement parameters is important for long term health.  I know that my lifters are not kids.  However, in terms of playing a sport they are even less experienced than the high school athletes I used to coach.


Most of my lifters have only been involved with this sport for under 3 years.  Kerry has been lifting just a bit longer than that.  I need to be sure that I am setting them up for long term success.  Part of this long-term success is staying healthy.  You can’t increase your total if you are hurt.


I wanted to know what some of the top lifters in the world did that got them to a sustained success in the sport.  In Russia they have many years of general physical preparedness (GPP) before they begin specializing in powerlifting.


This GPP consists of gymnastics, followed by exercises such as box jumps, kettlebell swings, and so on. Lifters such as Marisa Inda and Bryce Lewis were bodybuilders before they were powerlifters.  They built the same base as the Eastern Europeans with GPP work.


Most lifters here in America just get into lifting.  They start with a program that more than likely has the majority of the volume coming from competition lifts.  This program will continue to increase the volume of those competition lifts for the lifter to get stronger.


This in my opinion explains why there is a sharp increase in total and then a few years later a big drop-off.  These lifters did not build the same base as the Eastern Europeans and the ones that have sustained long term success in this sport had a background where they actually did build this base.


We need to find middle ground and try to incorporate these ideas.  This is important for continuous success.  Not only for health reasons, but also for being able to increase the total steadily over time.


Being strong at all angles and training multiple angles are important for health.  This is how we avoid overuse injuries and overexposure to the same angles has been shown to increase injury risk.  It also plays a role in sustaining increases in totals.


I used to disagree with that last statement.  I thought you could just continue to alter sets, reps, intensities, and change small variations within the comp lifts to keep success rolling forward.  I do not believe that to be true anymore.


I think doing that can get you only so far and it can be pretty far depending on your genetic abilities within the sport.  In the 2 years of training with me Kerry’s deadlift has only gone up 15lbs, and we have only seen a 2.5kg increase on the platform.


This increase came last year at Nationals.  We have not hit a competition deadlift PR in now over a year.  During this time we have tried what worked for many of my other lifters.  Variations within the comp lift itself.  We did this with light weight and only practiced good reps.  It did not work.


We then lifted heavy much more frequently.  Took heavy singles in training quite often.  She did hit 350lbs during this time, but to no avail on the platform. Leading into Nationals we did a daily undulated deadlift program.  Volume was competition lifts and we had linear progressions leading into the competition.  It did not work.


During this time Kerry has increased her total by quite a bit.  This past Nationals she finished 10thin the open.  Progress has been there in total.  If she wants to continue to climb the ladder, we need to figure this out.


In the past I coached a lifter that finished 5thin the open at Nationals and she had a very strong deadlift.  Her technique was poor, just like Kerry.  She also got to a certain point and the weight just got stuck and progress was not happening.  I do not think this is a coincidence.


My former lifter was doing nothing nut comp deadlifts following her best every pull and it never got her stronger on the platform.  Kerry when she started with me has basically only done competition deadlifts. We varied quite a bit but always in comp stance.  Both of these lifters neglected accessory work within their programs.  A big part of this was my fault.


They were both newer lifters, naturally gifted in the sport, and got strong really fast.  Problem is they got strong without that base.  This led to them having a lower ceiling on their lifts, in my opinion.


Trying to fix technique with Kerry is hard.  She has a strong pull in her weight class, is in the top 10, and in order to fix technique we would have to use weights that are too light.  We need to find a way to fix technique and still load the bar.  We also need to find a way to build her a bigger base.


The first step for me was analyzing the deadlift.  Kerry, when the weight gets heavy her hips rise too high and her back rounds.  Kerry has a very strong back and will re-extend anything at the top.  Her back can get quite a bit of weight moving off of the floor too.


When we see this error it generally means her hips need to get stronger.  Kerry also pulls sumo.  The wider our legs go the more emphasis that is placed on the quads.   Kerry needs to strengthen her legs and hips for the deadlift.


Oftentimes I view fixing the lifts as skill development.  This will work almost all of the time.  However, when you have a lifter with above average strength and some training time under their belt it won’t work.  I know, I have tried.


Our offseason program is 4 days per week.  Kerry will be squatting on 3 of these days, benching 2 days per week, and only deadlifting 1 day.  This drop-in volume serves a couple of purposes.  For one, it helps reset volume baselines.  We drove volume really high before Nationals and can’t just continue to add volume without negative repercussions.


It also allows us to target volumes a bit differently.  The squat basically works the same muscle groups.  Squat volume can drive deadlift volume.  The way that Kerry pulls can be very taxing in the long run for the lifter. I know she will tell me she recovers fine, but over the longer term I am not so sure.  Many rounded back deadlifters have run into problems.  In fact, the majority.


I do not think it is the rounded back that is the problem, but the fact that the back has to sustain the majority of the volume.  Over time it will hit its threshold and problems arise.  Adding in the legs to help can help sustain the lifter by them taking a bit of the total volume.  I think this is why adding in the sumo deadlift really helped Hartman’s career.


I can now focus a lot more volume on the weak areas of Kerry’s deadlift.  For the 1 deadlift day I want to put her in a position where her legs and hips need to do the work without her back being able to take over.  I then want to train the shit out of this and load it as heavy as possible.


For Kerry this means wider stance deadlifts.  The wider stance puts more emphasis on the quads and being more upright her back just can’t do the work the same way.  The problem with this is the hip extensor moment arms are the same.


After her wide stance deadlifts she does conventional deadlifts with a pause above the knee. This is the area within this lift where the glutes peak forces occur.  It is about 80% of the way through the lift.  This also puts more emphasis on the back muscles to maintain that strength.


We are also using high bar close stance squats in this block.  The high bar position actually increases the demands on the back muscles (thoracic extensors) and being in a close stance requires more of a torso lean. This also should put more effort on the back muscles.  This is to help maintain back strength while we remove it from the deadlift.


On top of that we are hammering back accessories with a lot of glute and quad work.  Things such as hip thrusts and stiff legged deadlifts are in the program with ghrs and step-ups.  The total volume within the program is very similar before it is just more targeted to strengthening lagging areas.


This also allows us to start working on that base.  If we do this for 4-8 weeks after each competition it can add up quickly over time. That is 2-6 months per year we can really hammer this stuff in.  The base is also a weakness of Kerry’s because we have never spent the time to build it.


Kerry was telling me she feels we have tried this before and it didn’t work.  We definitely have not.  We have tried to fix technique and load the deadlift much differently in the past and there was never this same emphasis on accessory work.  I truly believe this a much better plan than we have ever had as it is much more complete and everything really blends together well.


From a skill perspective the wider stance will force her to drive her knees out and keep her chest tall. She also hasn’t fucked up the deadlift in this position before.  It is like learning a new skill.  Removing the old position for a while can allow for regression in skill that can actually be built upon.  If we leave it in forever, we become limited in our progressions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s