The Deadlift REVISITED: Still Overrated, Or?
Back in June 2016 I penned ‘DEADLIFT MYTHS & FACTS‘ – and the article was pretty conclusive, at least at the time. Although a lot can happen in 3 years + and many credible sources of info often update their thoughts on a topic as they themselves evolve. Well, it’s time for me to do just that as recently, courtesy of a new program, I’ve deadlifted (conventional style) for the first time in YEARS.
I, like you, used to think the deadlift was this magical mass builder that was the answer to all your problems and the worlds problems for that matter! Needless to say the fairytale ending wasn’t quite as cute as they’d have you believe.
Even back in 2016 I was starting to see the deadlift as an overrated lift; one that took more than it gave and accordingly, I left it to rot in its grave. It’s akin to that girl who you try and try with, who keeps giving you false hints you have a chance, only for you to see her with someone else in the end. We’ve all been there, right? RIGHT.
All changed recently though, as I excavated it and let it seem daylight as that’s what the new program I’m running called for – paused conventional deadlifts.
What’s funny is I’m literally typing this out THE DAY AFTER doing said deadlifts……….which should tell you the opinion I have is already strong.
My old stance was the gains the deadlift offered weren’t worth the strain and drain of the move itself. In short, you can get all the same benefits with nowhere near the same stress from the Romanian deadlift. This uses a stretch reflex and doesn’t involve a DEAD pull. Moving a weight dead from the floor requires a ton of CNS (Central Nervous System) output AND puts a ton of stress on the spinal erectors (lower back muscles).
The lower back is notorious for being slow to recover, combine that with the CNS taxation and you’ve got yourself a fiercely fatiguing combo!
But why is that an issue? Surely I’ll just adapt and be a beast?!
It’s an issue if you want to be anything other than a deadlift specialist. There’s only so much in a human fuel tank to give to training and aspirations outside of deadlifting require CNS energy, too. In my case, being a calisthenics based athlete, many of the skills I work on regularly are also ‘CNS demanding’ – handstands, front/back levers and muscle ups – all highly neurological movements. So it becomes a question of priority: well rounded calisthenics athlete or heavy deadlifter with no other assets?
I think you know my choice.
‘But I don’t do calisthenics and am only interested in looking good naked!’, you say. That’s cool too but even then, the deadlift will still rob you of strength potential on more important exercises – bang for your buck stuff like squats, single leg squats, dips, pull ups and any other compound lifts you do.
After my first deadlift session in years my very next upper body session SUCKED. I started well but the drop off was astronomical. I couldn’t hit numbers that were easy last time and lost reps all over the place in the last half of the session. This is unheard of usually. My nutrition has been fine. So has my sleep. Lifestyle stress is also low. Go figure. I’ve been in the game long enough to know when the system is fatigued and I can only attribute it to paused deadlifts.
You might protest that my form was wrong or I ego lifted but trust me, I didn’t. My form was impeccable for all sets and none were taken to total failure. I was even working at a low percentage of my projected 1RM.
Some ‘opinions’ are just straight facts
This was yet another case this year where I’d love to have been proved wrong but it just isn’t wrong. The deadlift is brutal and merciless and is only really worth training if you’re a competitive powerlfiter – and even then it’s notorious for sapping them of their strength for 7-10 days after a big lift somewhere close to their true 1RM. I knew there was a reason I NEVER use the deadlift with any of my clientele.
This doesn’t mean all hip hinge patterns aren’t worth training though…….
As mentioned earlier, the Romanian Deadlift is nowhere near as taxing as I’ve used them a few times in this program already with no signs of performance annihilation afterwards. The RDL is a good developer of hamstring mobility too, unlike its conventional counterpart. Single leg variations are also good, along with hang cleans, glute bridges/hip thrusts, glute/ham raises and Nordic hamstring curls to name a few.
If you’re still suspicious of me being biased away from big barbell lifts, consider also the very real fact of so many people being too immobile to actually deadlift with ideal mechanics. We’ve all seen the ‘cat deadlifter’ who looks like a cat while they pull, usually because their hamstrings are too tight to allow them to keep a natural curve in their lower back. Rather than address the issue, these guys keep deadlifting and pushing the numbers which is essentially playing Russian roulette with their spine!
(Image credit: castironstrength.com) – ‘Cat back’ deadlift vs ideal form.
Some get away with it and they’re fine, others end up with slipped discs and back issues that haunt them across other areas of life. All for some stupid PR nobody really cares about or is impressed with.
Save yourself the energy and drop the standard deadlift altogether. Train smarter and make better results while keeping your spine happy and healthy.
Case closed once and for all.
JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.
Well, I guess you should give up on the deadlift if you don’t want to make massive total body strength gains in a short amount of time. Concentrate on good technique and you will work nearly every muscle in your body with a single exercise.
Totally agree the deadlift hits virtually every muscle, but past a certain strength standard it can tax recovery far more than working on other moves/lifts that can actually build the deadlift, without the high recovery demand.
I know exactly what you mean. Iv been feeling the same way for a while but at this point I’m kinda blaming myself for not taking what pros say about the deadlift. I’d have to ask you, how many sets are you doing? Just as many sets as the other big lifts? This is where I blame myself for not listening to people with more experience. There’s a reason why the deadlift is only done for 1 heavy set in many novice programs. Because it will fucking bury you! I spend years being over taxed and just recently Iv realized it’s because of my thick head wanting to train the deadlift the same as the other lifts. Can’t do that for a long time without beating the hell out of yourself. Like you said, it makes everything else suffer and that includes work, family, it makes me over eat like a motherfucker because I can’t recover properly. I could be wrong but maybe you’re like me and need to rethink your approach to the deadlift? I don’t feel getting rid of it is the right thing to do, the lift has too much value. I just need to insert it into whatever program I’m doing and keep it low volume like the smarter people have already figured out decades ago!
Very good point indeed! I think that applies to almost any big move past a certain strength level; you need to really modulate intensity the right way or you just burn out. I think another key point is more frequent deloading. Most people don’t deload enough – myself included!
As for deadlifting for me personally, these days I don’t go near that stuff. I’m way more calisthenics and movement orientated, not to say you shouldn’t, it just doesn’t align with my priorities.
If I had to program conventional deadlifts nowadays I would do a volume and intensity sliding scale; weight goes up, volume goes down and then at the end of the cycle, sub out the main lift for another alternative.
Thanks for your comment though. I definitely think the 1 working set is the way forward!