Should Athletes Deadlift? Part 1

19 Apr Should Athletes Deadlift? Part 1

Should Athletes Deadlift? Part 1

Although this post is geared towards athletes who participate in team sports, recreational lifters may be able to learn something from this as it pertains as to how the deadlift is misused and how deadlift training is misunderstood.  And of course you’ll get something profound from it either way because hey, it’s me… C’mmmonnn…


Deadlifts – A Tool Or A Means to An End

Like much of strength and conditioning and performance training, the issue of whether or not to use deadlifts for athletes depends on a few different factors.

With all the good press deadlifts get from online strength and fitness publications you may not even know that some good strength coaches prefer not to use them for some athletes. The deadlift is a great corrective lift and a great tool for increasing power production, stability and core strength. But if you think that it can do no evil, you would be wrong.

Like everything else that I preach about, I’m not writing this to question pseudo-strength training doctrine and get down to discussing what really works and what is thrown in as extra to make people seem innovative.

To be clear, I love the deadlift, as a powerlift and as a tool for some team sport athletes. That’s not what this is about. This is about the idea using something for everyone that should only be used for some. You may have heard the saying There are no bad exercises just bad coaches or however it goes. I agree.

I also think that There are no bad exercises just idiot coaches that think everyone should be doing the same thing. That one is a little long but I think it’ll catch on.


The Deadlift To Teach Movement

The deadlift is one of the most fundamental movement patterns. That’s why guys like Gray Cook utilize it when they are correcting movement and neuromuscular coordination in patients. To that extent, the deadlift can be used in a strength and conditioning program to teach adequate hip extension and train power production of the glutes and hamstrings.

The deadlift is a great place to start in teaching the clean or snatch as well. It can be progressed for a long time in young athletes  and will build great levels of strength that can be used in sport. The deadlift though, as with many other training means, has a point of diminishing returns and that point is clear in stronger male athletes is sports like football and wrestling.


When The Deadlift Becomes the Competition

Deadlifts are meant to be used as a tool to build strength to help the athlete compete better in his or her sport. No surprise there. Some strength coaches and trainers fail to see how telling strong, male athletes to deadlift heavy consistently may become more of a hindrance than a help, though.

The deadlift is an extremely taxing lift on your nervous system, hips, and back. If you don’t know what I mean then you’ve never really lifted any weight worth batting of an eye at, and in that case I don’t care about your opinion on the matter.

An athlete who is a beginner in the weight room can set a new max and add weight to really any lift every time he steps foot in the weight room because he is still learning and perfecting the motor pattern, building better neuromuscular coordination, and he can adapt to the stress far quicker because it isn’t as great as someone whose spent years in the weight room. On the other hand, if you take a big strong football college or NFL player whose been coached well in the weight room since high school and tell him to keep adding 5 pounds to his 5 sets of 5 rep deadlift day he’s going to burn out pretty quickly. The intensity that he’s working at is so high and he’s handling such heavy weight that this one lift burns him out and fries his CNS. That would be fine if he just did this one lift or if his body and CNS wasn’t being fatigued from his actual sport  but not so good if you want him to actually recover and perform better.

Granted you can make the same argument for pushing heavy weight in other lifts but the simplicity of the deadlift is where athletes can get carried away.  The weight used in other lower body or full body lifts used in a strength and conditioning program such as the squat or clean is limited by technique. Once the motor pattern and movement deficiencies are dealt with, the deadlift is simple. Just grab the weight and stand up with it. Yes, you need to learn how to extend at your hips and not your lumbar spine, bracing, etc., but a lot of athletes will be able to deadlift a lot more weight than they can squat especially if they’re built for it.


Know Who You’re Trainning

I believe that 80% of the results being achieved in the weight room comes from 20% of what you actually do. I think that’s a principle someone came up with once.

Sarcasm for those who get it.

If you’re trying to get a high school athlete bigger, stronger, faster for his sport pressing, squatting, and pulling should be focused on — and just that for a long time. You can progress an athlete for a pretty long time in the squat, press, any explosive lift and deadlift before you need to throw anything else in. These compound lifts work not because they’re powerlifts or Olympic lifts but because they are compound lifts that make the athlete move through full range of motion while overcoming a resistance. Let’s not forget that this is how the body develops strength and the subsequent need for increased muscle mass.

A male high school athlete can keep deadlifting heavy because he still had a while to go before he reaches his potential and so he won’t fatigue himself as easily as an older more experienced athlete.

Female athletes can keep deadlifting even longer into their college years usually because they won’t move enough weight to cause complete neuromuscular fatigue for some time. For these athletes, deadlifts are great. For these athletes the deadlift should be performed. For those who are too strong for their own good, other options should be considered.


Pulling Fast

For those athletes who heavy deadlifts aren’t appropriate for, it should be remembered that moving a submaximal weight with the same force that you would apply to the bar of a max lift can also develop strength. That’s where variants of the deadlift lifted for speed and cleans come into play.

Next time I’ll talk about how to program the deadlift or variants of the deadlift for the athlete.


Got an opinion? Really want to hear it. Let me know in the comments.



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