Deadlifting for Serious Size and Strength

Deadlifting for Serious Size and Strength
By []Dane Fletcher

Advancing technology is a great thing – after all, it’s seen us progress from TV to video and now the DVD. Advancing technology for gym goers has seen the rise of the multi-gym, the Smith Machine and the Nautilus variable cam. One of the unfortunate side effects of such progress, however, is that sometimes the old, tried and true basics get lost in the rush to try out the new and exciting. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the deadlift. Once the king of mass and power movements, the deadlift is virtually unknown by modern day weight trainers. Those who are familiar with it have been taught to leave it alone as a useless and potentially dangerous movement for bodybuilders. The truth of the matter, however, is that there’s only one way to build a physique that emanates rugged power and thick, deep mass – and that is to enter the dead zone.


There is no other exercise that will increase your core strength while packing thick slabs of muscle onto your torso than the deadlift. Every muscle group at the back of your body is involved in this deceptively simple movement.

Here’s how each of them comes alive when you deadlift:

Calves: The gastrocnemius, along with the soleus, is the part of the calf responsible for plantar flexion at the ankle, which naturally occurs when you deadlift. Result? Deadlifting will increase the size of your calf muscles.

Hamstrings: The hamstrings do two things – they extend the hip and flex the knee. So it follows that to fully develop them we need to mimic both of these movements. Leg curls, which are the start and finish of most bodybuilder’s hammy program, only flex the knee. Enter the deadlift – it provides full hip extension and, therefore, a great hamstring work out (the stiff legged variation even more directly targets this muscle group).

Glutes: The gluteus maximus is the biggest, strongest muscle in your body and it gets direct stimulation from the hip extension involved in the deadlift. As well as giving you a kick-ass butt, it’s development will give you tremendous thrusting power when you jump or sprint (or whatever else you choose to do).

Spinal Erectors: These are two thick columns of muscle that run alongside the spine from just above the hips to the mid back. Their prime functions are to straighten the back from a bent position and arch the spine. They are also largely responsible for maintaining a fit and problem free lower back. Deadlifts will hammer them mercilessly.


Place a loaded barbell on the floor in front of you. Squat down, with feet shoulder width apart, grab it with an overhand grip, arms slightly wider than shoulder width. With arms straight and back arched, lift to an upright position. Pause at the top before lowering back to the floor.


Stand in front of the bar with feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing out slightly. With back arched, squat down to grab the bar with a reverse, shoulder width grip (one hand should be supinated (palms facing you) and the other pronated (palms facing away)). Hold the bar as high on the palm as you can to allow for any bar roll as you lift. Begin the upward pull by driving your heels into the ground as you pull the bar towards you and up. As your knees straighten, the bar should be right up against your legs. As you near the top of the movement push your hips forward and your shoulders back. Lift to an upright position with legs straight. Your shoulders should be pulled back and your lower back arched. Pause for a two count and then slowly lower to the floor. Pause and move into your next rep. Don’t let the momentum of a fast rep rate do the work for you.


(1) Round your Back: Rounding your back is the natural reaction to going heavy on the deadlift. But, unless you want to take 20 excruciating minutes to get your pants on in the morning, you must avoid this tendency at all costs. Keep your chest high, chin up and eyes focused on a spot above you and you’re back will naturally remain arched.

(2) Jerk the bar up or move so quickly between reps that momentum is doing most, or any, of the work. You want to have a smooth cadence and a slight pause at both the top and bottom of each rep.

(3) Lean back at the top position. While this was recognized as good form in decades past, we now know that it puts too much stress on your lower back. If you want to hyperextend, do hyperextensions.

(4) Move your foot position during the movement. Keep your feet planted in one spot and push through your heels as you lift. Juggling your feet with a handful of heavy iron could give a whole new meaning to the DEADlift.

(5) Lift your hips faster than your shoulders. Correct technique has the hips and shoulders moving together. If you have already straightened your legs before the bar has hardly left the floor, you need to drop the weight back and get your form on song. Failure to get this right could lead to serious back rounding with its associated problems. It would pay to have a spotter check out this aspect of your technique.


Apart from the squat, there is no exercise that will knock the stuffing out of you as quickly as the deadlift. You can’t deadlift for a long period of time and hope to keep perfect form – you’ll simply get too tired and that inevitable back rounding will start happening. Fortunately, then, the deadlift can be fully utilized in a sensible bodybuilding program with the addition of just three working sets per week. Place them at the beginning of your back day workout as follows:

Warmup – 15 reps

Set One – 12 reps

Set Two – 8 reps

Set Three – 6-8 reps

Clearly, that last set is an all-out effort. Try to add some weight to the bar every work-out but never sacrifice form for poundage.

Continue your back work out as follows:

Wide Grip Chins 2 x 10-15 reps

Seated Rowing 2 x 10-12 reps

Upright Row 2 x 10-12 reps


(1) Romanian Deadlift: This is a great exercise for the hamstrings and glutes because it involves flexion of the hip joint. The fact that it is neither a true deadlift nor has its origins in Romania doesn’t stop this from being an excellent tool to have in your leg building arsenal. Do this movement inside a power rack, with the pins set at about knee level. Approach the loaded bar, squat down slightly, grabbing the bar at shoulder width. Step back and stand upright so that the bar is at mid thigh level (the finish position of a standard deadlift). With back arched and chest up move your hips back so that your butt pushes back behind you. This will have the effect of lowering the bar 6-8 inches to knee level. Your lower back should hardly move and should not lose its natural curvature. Now reverse the movement to complete your first rep.

(2) Sumo Deadlift: Stand before the bar with a stance similar to that of a sumo wrestler (feet wider than shoulder width and feet turned out at a 45 degree angle). Squat down and grab the bar with a closer grip than in the conventional deadlift (the arms are inside of the legs). Perform the rest of the movement as in a conventional deadlift, remembering to keep the back arched, the head up and the butt low. The extra wide stance here places more of a workload on the inner thighs and hamstrings and lessens the likelihood of lower back injury.

(3) Stiff Legged Deadlift: This variation will again place the major emphasis on the back of the legs (hamstrings, glutes and calves). Stand before the bar with a shoulder width foot spacing. With knees slightly bent – but locked in that position – lean forward to grab the bar with an overhand grip. Make sure your back is arched and your chest pushing out. Now bring the bar to an upright position. This is the start position for the movement. Tilt your pelvis forward – keeping your knees locked – so that the bar returns to the ground. At the end of the movement your hamstrings should be fully extended and your torso roughly parallel with the floor. Return to the top position to complete the rep.

(4) One Armed Deadlift: Stand alongside a loaded bar so that when you reach down you are able to grab the bar at its mid-point. With back arched and butt down low, squat down to grab a hold of the bar with one hand. Now raise yourself erect as if doing a conventional deadlift. Start with a light weight to get the correct balance of the weight when bringing it up. Do an equal number of reps on both sides. This exercise was a famous with the old timers, and for good reason – it not only hits the legs, traps and shoulders but also gives a great workout to those stubborn obliques and side intercostals.


The deadlift is perhaps the truest test of raw power – what’s the heaviest weight you can grab a hold of and stand up with? Being a competitive powerlifting movement, there are plenty of figures around that allow us to measure our pulling strength with the best of the best. Check out the cream of the crop and see how your one rep max compares:


Franco Columbu – the Sardinian powerhouse was renowned for his deadlifting ability and regularly repped out with 700 pounds at the old Venice Gold’s Gym in the early ‘70’s – and that was more than three and a half times his bodyweight!

Dorian Yates – this British bulldog hoisted some heavy iron on his way to bagging 6 Mr Olympia titles – including 720 pound deadlifts for 4 reps.


Andy Bolton – This guy is definitely the Alpha male of the deadlifiting pack. No one has pulled 900+ pounds from the floor more times and at the 2003 Arnold Classic he smashed the record books with a 933 pound lift – and he made it look easy!

Ed Coan – Pound for pound this guy is in a league of his own. At a bodyweight of 220 pounds he deadlifted a staggering 902 pounds (Bolton’s record lift was at a bodyweight of 275 pounds). Coan is equally adept at lifting huge weights in both the conventional and the Sumo style of the lift.

Centurion Muscle – In 1990 retired dentist Collister Wheeler managed to deadlift 195 pounds for 3 reps
– not bad for a guy who was born in 1893! In his prime Wheeler could do a one handed deadlift with 340 pounds.

About the Author: Dane Fletcher is the world’s foremost training authority. He writes exclusively for, a leading online provider of []Steroid Alternative. For more information, please visit []

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