Train Your Deadlift for Your Body Type and Watch Your Strength Explode!
The other day I was reading an article by a well-known strength coach when he mentioned that Olympic weightlifting coach Anatoly Bondarchuk believed there were three different kinds of athletes—those who responded best to volume, those who responded best to intensity, and those who responded best to variety. The author then went on to discuss his various rambling opinions on the subject. I, however, had an idea.
For some time, now, I've wanted to write an article on deadlifting for Dragon Door. However, I wanted to make sure I wrote something that was good. You know, the kind of article other lifters would actually want to read. Not just something that my wife and family and the lifters I train would be interested in. After reading Bondarchuk's opinion on the three kinds of athletes, I believe I came up with just the article.
Enter the Deadlift
For some reason, you never see good articles on deadlift training. Or, I should say, you don't see enough good articles. There seem to be articles aplenty out there for the squat and—God only knows!—the bench press. But that's a real shame. Especially when you consider just how important the deadlift is, and how many lifters are out there training it each week. After all, the meet really doesn't stop until the bar hits the floor. The deadlift honestly and truly can make or break the "full" powerlifter. Also, it seems that there are a large number of competitors who are now entering deadlift-only contests.
So what in the heck is the deal? Why aren't there more good training articles for the deadlift? The reason, I believe, is because of a little something called confusion. That's right: confusion. Even some of you deadlift "specialists" out there don't really know how you should be training the deadlift.
Before all you DD readers start crying foul, let me explain.
The Three Different Kind of Deadlift Athletes
How many times have you sat and listened (or read in a book or—heaven forbid—internet forums) to someone complain how this type or that type of training doesn't work for his or her deadlift? C'mon, you know what I'm talking about. Does any of this sound familiar?: "There's no way Westside can work for my deadlift. I mean, how in the hell is the friggin' deadlift gonna go up if I never train it directly?" Or this: "Three days a week for my deadlift?! Is he a complete loon? That dang Pavel and all them good-for-nothin' Russians must be off their rocker. There's no way that training your deadlift that frequently will work. No friggin' way!" Or how about this: "Westside training only works for the genetically gifted deadlifter and the deadlifter who's shot full of 'roids." Or even this: "Training the deadlift twice-a-week only works for the genetically gifted deadlifter or the deadlifter who likes to inject buckets of 'roids in his gluteus maximus."
Am I beginning to make my point?
And the point is that the reason many people aren't making good gains on these different deadlift programs (outside of the fact they don't really try them) is because they are doing the wrong type of training for their body type. Which brings us to the next two points. How do you know what your body type is? And how do you go about training once you do know?
The "Laws" of the Deadlifting Universe
No matter what your philosophical opinion is on the world we live in and the universe in which this world resides, there are certain laws—scientific laws—that can't be refuted. And so it is with the deadlift, as well. No matter what your body type is, there are two "laws" that really can't be deviated from.
I think it's important that we examine these laws of the almighty deadlift before we get to training the different body types. This will help to clear up some of the clutter and confusion that is floating inside many of your little deadliftin' heads.
Law Numero Uno: You can't do a lot of reps. I understand that there are some great deadlifters who do a lot of repetition work in the offseason, even on the deadlift. But even these lifters switch to low reps come contest time. And the majority of us shouldn't even do higher reps during the off-season.
The reason for this is two-fold. For one, the deadlift is the only one of the three powerlifts where the "negative" (eccentric) portion of the lift doesn't precede the "positive" (concentric) portion. Therefore, repetition work will always be less beneficial here than on the other two powerlifts. Two, repetition work is good for building muscular endurance, but it really blows for building maximal strength and power. Let me use an analogy that Louie Simmons once made in order to prove my point. He used the example of throwing a basketball into the air. When the ball first hits the ground, it will bounce the highest. With each subsequent bounce, the ball loses energy and doesn't bounce as high. The same will happen with each repetition of a deadlift set.
Law Number Two: There is no "best" deadlifting form. I'm not talking training techniques here, I'm talking about the form you use. In other words, conventional deadlifting is not necessarily better than sumo deadlifting. Records have been broken in all weight classes using all different forms. The form you use depends on body mechanics (i.e.: the length of your arms and legs) and the strengths of your different muscle groups. Generally, if you have a strong upper and lower back (not to mention strong lats) combined with long arms, then you are almost assuredly going to be a strong conventional deadlifter. If, however, you have "tree-trunk" thighs and short arms and are a powerhouse squatter, then there is almost no doubt that sumo style is going to be where it's at. And, of course, there will be a lot of you that fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
If you don't know what form is best for you, then experiment and find out. That's enough said about form in this article.
Determining What Kind of Body Type You Are
Here are what I consider to be the different kind of deadlifters out there:
The first deadlifter is the one that responds well to high volume. This athlete will do very well training very frequently. If, for instance, you tried one of those "Russian super cycles" that you found here of Dragon Door—the kind of program where you train your deadlift four times during a given week—and you found that your lift had skyrocketed at the end of the training period, then you definitely fit into this group. This athlete is usually genetically predisposed to deadlifting (think Lamar Gant's physique or—the Granddaddy of deadlifting—Bob Peoples).
If you tried one of those aforementioned Russian training programs and you felt like someone had beaten the livin' hell out of you after only a week on the routine, then the chances are that you fit into the second group of deadlifters. These are the high intensity, low volume lifters. This group does very well by training with extremely heavy weights, performing only a moderate amount of sets, and then taking up to a week off in between training programs. If, for instance, you get good results by training your squat on Monday, your bench on Wednesday, and your deadlift on Friday, then you probably fit into this category. (Brag Gillingham is a lifter that comes to mind as a poster-boy for this category of athletes—John Inzer would be another.) However, if you immediately start to get weaker by training this way, then you are one of the other body types.
The third category of deadlifting athletes is the variety set. This athlete does well by training extremely heavy and training fairly often. How do you know if you fit into this category? Well, if you have been training Westside-style and your lifts have been going up, up, up, then the chances are very good that this is your training style.
END OF PART ONE
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