The Deadlift: Part II


When a weightlifter does either a deadlift or a pull, the movement is being done to aid in pulling strength.  This pulling strength will be used in the snatch or clean, so it makes sense to do either the pull or deadlift with a movement as similar to the competitive lifts as possible.  The more deviation from line of pull, speed, and rhythm of the snatch or clean there is, the less the strength gained will carry over to the snatch or clean.

In weightlifting athletes often call this movement a pull when the load it is based off of a max snatch or clean and call it a deadlift when it is based off of the maximum weight that can be moved from the floor to standing erect.  Usually when the movement is called a pull more attention is paid to following the movement patterns of the clean and snatch, and when the movement is called a deadlift the main goal is just to get the weight to lockout.  I am going to call these clean deadlifts or snatch deadlifts although I prefer the line of pull, speed, and rhythm that follow the snatch or clean as closely as possible.

The problem with basing the load off the snatch or clean is that using the same percentage of the snatch can give one athlete a training session that is almost impossible to complete, and another a load that is too light to lead to any adaptation at all.   For an efficient lifter a load based on a high percentage of the snatch might be too heavy while for a beginner just learning the lifts the same percentage based load will almost certainly be too light.  I don’t like the idea of basing the training of one lift off of a different lift, even if they are related.  No one would base their bench press training off of their results in the military press, even though they are related.  They use similar muscle groups, and they both use the pressing motion, but even so basing the training of one on result in the other would still not be ideal.

Many lifters consider the pull or deadlift to be useful for both strength and technique.  This sounds good.  But it can mean that trying to keep the movement as close to the competition lift as possible means it is never done with enough load to increase strength, while by its very nature it will never mimic an actual snatch or clean well enough to help improve technique.  I have always believed that the snatch is the only thing that makes you better at the snatch, and the clean is the only thing that makes you better at the clean.  Why not use the snatch and clean for technique work for the snatch and clean, and program the deadlift like a strength exercise and base your load off of the snatch and clean deadlift?

That does not mean that you cannot do them as closely to the movement pattern you use in the snatch and clean as possible.  The snatch or clean deadlift should start with the hips in the same position as the competition lift with the hips and shoulders rising at the same rate just like they do in the competition lifts.  The deadlifts should be pulled quickly, with a bar speed as close to the snatch or clean as possible.  The bar won’t move as fast with heavy weight, but you should try.

When the deadlift is programmed like the strength exercise that it is, it is harder to recover from than a pull with a much lighter load.  Because of this it would be very difficult to do 5-6 days a week like many athletes program for pull.  One or two days a week is probably tops for most.  It is also hard to use as many reps as are normally used for an exercise like the squat.  Deadlifts also have to be lightened or eliminated when peaking for a competition.  Lowering the load to something close to what you can snatch or clean a few weeks out is smart and many athletes will want to eliminate them altogether the last week or severely curtail the volume.








Using the deadlift for pulling strength


Most weightlifters do lots and lots of snatches and cleans.  After all, you have to practice to be good at your sport, and cleans and snatches are the sport.  But many lifters do even more snatch and clean pulls.  I have never been a big fan of pulls.  To me it seems as though they take out the most important part of the movement, the timing of that moment when you cease to pull up on the bar and begin to pull yourself under.  Timing it correctly and the speed at which you can switch off the muscles of your legs and hips and switch on the traps, shoulders, and arms to pull yourself under is what makes a great snatch or clean, and pulls leave that part out.  Many lifters believe they are doing pulls for strength, and I would agree that they do improve strength in the pull.  But I believe there is a better way.  We all know that the signal to the muscles to grow stronger is based on muscle tension, and tension is highest when moving a heavy weight.  This sounds like a deadlift to me.

Many coaches will insist that the motor patters re-enforced by the pull done with a weight that is near to the weight used on the snatch or clean is so important that replacing pulls with deadlifts will never be a good strategy.  But what is to guarantee that the snatch or clean deadlift will not be done with a motor pattern that is very similar to the snatch or clean?  I certainly prefer them to be done that way.  You can even do a double knee bend if you want, and add an explosive shrug at the top.  At that point, the ONLY difference is the load and the bar speed.  But if the bar speed will only be significantly different if the load is significantly different, and if the load is that different, wouldn’t that mean that the snatch pulls were just as ineffective at building strength as the deadlifts are for building good motor patterns?

I believe every athlete should use the best tool for the job.  For building good motor patterns in the snatch nothing is as effective as snatching.  And for building strength in the snatch pull, nothing is as effective as snatch deadlifts done with weights based not off the snatch, but based off the capabilities in the snatch deadlift.

I prefer lifters to follow the motor patterns of the competition lifts as closely as possible.  That means starting with an extended spine and hips in the same place they would be in for a snatch or clean, and making sure the hips and shoulders rise at the same rate if possible.  A double knee bend is great if you are able, as is a shrug at the top.  But if an athlete is doing 5 sets of 2 with 90% and on the second rep of the 4th and 5th set the spine rounds, or a double knee bend is not possible I would not want them to stop the set or the workout.  The reason you are doing the exercise has to be remembered, and the purpose of the exercise has to be kept in mind, and the purpose is to develop pulling strength.  Many lifters (and coaches) get caught up in the development of skill.  They concentrate on that aspect so much that they forget that weightlifting is a strength sport.




Dynamis is a Greek word that is usually translated as the will to win.  And as a PED, it is without equal.  Dynamis is why some athletes always perform better in a competitive situation.  Getting 2 or 3 lifters together who are lifting similar numbers in the same weight class always leads to improved results.  If you are an 85kg lifter totaling 300kg, there is nothing quite so effective in raising your total to 310kg as training day after day with 2 or 3 lifters who are totaling 310kg. No one likes to lose.

In the book The Lucifer Principle Howard Bloom talks about how rats who lose a fight have lower testosterone, are less aggressive, and actually lose weight.  A similar thing happens to humans.  Wrestlers who lose a match have lower testosterone than those who win. Losing takes a toll on us whether we are rats or humans.  So it seems quite natural that we have an inborn drive to win.

Some athletes quite naturally have more will to win than others.  When eastern block weightlifting coaches used to test young kids to find their suitability for the sport of weightlifting, the tests often included a running event.  They weren’t testing to see how fast the kids could run, they were testing to see how hard they would push themselves.  Would they stop after 2 or 3 laps, or keep running until they were the only one left who hadn’t quit and given up.  Alexander the Great said he did not conquer the known world because he was the best general, or because his armies had outnumbered their enemies, he said it was because his soldiers had Dynamis.  The will to win.

I have noticed something lately in the Pendlay WOD group.  A more competitive atmosphere, even a bit of shit talking from certain people.  I think the lifter with the most Dynamis, or will to win, of anyone I have coached was Donny Shankle.  What set Donny apart wasn’t a big squat or a beautiful jerk, it was a will to win. I don’t think I have seen as strong a will to win either before or since.  But I am starting to see shadows of the same attitude in some lifters in Pendlay WOD.  And I love it!






Setting goals is one of the most important skills you can have as an athlete. But setting goals is sometimes harder than it sounds.  If the goals are too easily reached, they can actually hold you back instead of motivating you to move forward.  If the goals you set are too difficult they can seem unreachable and discourage you.  Many people recommend setting a big, very difficult to attain main goal, then setting smaller sub-goals that will happen along the way to focus on as you move toward achieving the main goal.

If you are setting a goal for your 2k time on a C2 rower and your current time is 9 minutes, your main goal might be 7 minutes. You might set up sub-goals of 8:30, 8:00, 7:45, and so on clear till you get to your main goal of 7 minutes.

But I think setting sub-goals that are slightly different in nature from your main goal works even better.  It works better because it give you a bit of mental variety and a periodic break from ALWAYS focusing on the same old thing.  For instance when a beginner weightlifter decides he wants to snatch 100 kg, he might set his first sub-goal as a 100kg snatch deadlift.  Obviously you will need snatch deadlift more than 100 to do a 100kg snatch but it is a nice first step.  The second sub-goal might be to back squat 150kg.  A 150kg back squat also does not guarantee the ability to snatch 100, but the snatch deadlift and the squat are strength levels that have to be met and surpassed on the road to a 100kg snatch.  Other sub-goals could be meeting a certain number with the snatch from the hip, or power snatch.

The real trick is to pich sub-goals that are different than the main goal, but not too different.  Different enough that they give you a mental break but not so different that meeting the sub-goals does not move you toward your main goal.






Exercising verses Training

I recently got to know a woman who is very much like me in many ways.  She is goal oriented and driven in most aspects of life.  But she is clueless when it comes to eating and exercise.  She goes to the gym and puts in the time but does not see the results. She exercises, rather than trains.  And there is a huge difference between the two.

Folks who exercise often do not get results because even they do not know what the goals are. What exactly does it mean to get in shape?  Or to become more fit?   They describe their workout in a similar manner.  They talk about how much time they spent at the gym, or maybe some very rough description of what they did like I walked for a while on the treadmill then I did some weights.

Achieving your goals starts with setting the correct goals.  There is probably no goal more difficult to achieve than the goal of simply looking good with your shirt off or in a bikini.  There is no definitive end point when you can say yes, I did it.  And there are no performance markers along the way that let you know you’re moving in the right direction.  To be successful you have to set performance goals that are easily definable and that can be very accurately measured.  Accurately enough that you can see even very small changes that take place over an extended time.

For my friend that I spoke about earlier, the woman who “exercises” most evening, I would love to tell her to stop exercising and start training.  Pick one or two performance goals and go after those goals like you were an athlete.  Two goals that would be great for a woman who want to be in better shape would be to back squat 135 pounds for a set of 5 and to do a 2k in under 10 minutes.  If she achieved both of these goals the side effect would be far more in terms of health or just being in “good shape” than anything she would ever have achieved just going to the gym and exercising.  One of the reasons is that as soon as you start to focus on concrete goals, you just naturally move away from toxic dietary habits like skipping breakfast or lunch.  Because the consequences move from hazy consequence like “it’s not healthy” to a very real and immediate like, if I don’t get some food down I am going to absolutely die on my 2k tonight, or if I don’t eat I have no chance to get that set of 5 with 100 pounds that I have planned tonight.

And that might be the real secret.  Concrete performance goals make for concrete performance failures.  And no one wants to fail.

Go for it.


You should never make 100% of your lifts in any session.    If you do it tells you one thing, you are training too LIGHT!!!  Many people talk endlessly about the evils of too many missed, and there is no doubt lots and lots of misses are a bad thing.  But making all of your lifts is probably even worse.  That means that you haven’t even had the guts put the weight on the bar.

Putting 100 kg on the bar is the absolutely necessary first step in snatching 100 kg.  Have the courage to load the weight.  Of weights that you do load on the bar, my belief is that you should make about 85% of those lifts.  I have put this number between 70% and 95% at various different times, when I was in various different moods.  But 85% is a good middle ground.  If you usually make too many more than this, you may be training too light.  If you make too many less than this you may be training too heavy and not developing good motor patterns as quickly as you could be. This applies mostly to singles and doubles, but when using an RM of 3 or 5 reps, when do you call it quits?  I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule.  BUT, if you are doing a 5RM and rep number 5 is picture perfect and your name is not Caleb Ward, you are training too light.  Form breaks down with heavy weight.  And for a normal humans it is impossible to be moving picture perfect on the last rep of a 5RM.  Period.  On the other hand, if rep number 1 is dangerously bad, take weight off the bar.  Most 5RM’s will break down between rep 2 and 4 to some extent.

But every weightlifter should remember that the whole point of weightlifting is to lift the most weight.  So if you are going to err, err on the side of GOING FOR IT!  Don’t fail for lack of trying.

Weightlifting Diet addendum III


My last blog on the weightlifting diet focused on eating the right carbs.  In a nutshell, ditch the bread, pasta, rice, and white potatoes in favor of more nutrient dense and high fiber foods.  Sweet potatoes, squash, zucchinis, carrots and other vegetables like these are much healthier because they contain way more nutrients, are more filling because they contain more fiber.  They also don’t lead to overeating like the “lazy” carbs do.   It is hard to get fat on zucchinis and carrots. It is easy to get fat on bread and pasta.

The weightlifting diet also needs to contain protein.  Just like the carbohydrate choices, your protein choices should be  nutrient dense.  Eggs are a great protein source.   Better if you eat the whole egg including the yoke, even better if  it comes from a free range chicken and not one that lives in a cage and eats only chicken feed.   Chickens that get plenty of exercise and eat a natural diet have a higher percentage of a omega 3 fat versus omega 6 and this helps a hard-traning lifter fight inflammation.

Other nutrient dense protein sources are organ meat and wild game.   Organ meats like liver have some of the densest nutrition of any food and I recommend eating liver  at least every couple of weeks. We had liver once a week the whole time I was growing up, it’s not my favorite but it certainly didn’t kill me to eat it.   Any wild game is usually more nutritious than what you buy at the supermarket.  It is almost always lower fat and the fat it does have will contain a healthier ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats.  Venison, pheasant, quail, and rabbit are all healthy and tasty.

The protein sources that are probably the least healthy are the ones most of us like the best, higher fat cuts of beef and convenient sliced lunch meats.   A good corn fed ribeye steak is probably the tastiest piece of meat you can eat. It is also one of the least healthy. Not only does it have more fat than it should, the ratio of a omega three to omega six is not the greatest.  It’s probably better for you than highly processed meats like most sandwich meats, but is being healthier than salami and pepperoni really enough to recommend it?

Protein is important for the hard training lifter, and should include a variety of protein sources. But cutting down on the lunch meats like pepperoni and salami and eating more wild game and organ meats instead will make you a healthier person and a better weightlifter.


Weightlifting Diet Addendum 2


For most civilians, adopting a good diet usually involves losing weight.  Since you are a competitive weightlifter losing weight is usually not a problem, nor should it be your chief concern.   Being in optimal health should be your chief concern.  After all, the healthier you are better  you will recover from training.

If you are training 3-5 times a week (and you should be) you will have an above average activity level and above average muscle mass.  Both of these things mean the accumulation of excess body fat should not be a problem.  If you do need to push your bodyweight up or down you can do so by controlling what I call the “lazy foods”.  Bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes.  If you need to push your weight up like David Hamor, chow down on some pasta, bread, and the like.  In his case, chow down on a LOT of it.  If you need to drop a kilo or two or if you are dropping a whole weight class like Sal Badali, be extra strict with consumption of foods like bread that aren’t nutrient dense, and that are easy to overeat.

You will find that if you get most or all of your carbohydrates from foods that are also high in fiber and bulk, it will be very difficult to put on body fat.  In the same way that we have devolved into eating   carbohydrate sources  that are less than ideal the protein sources often aren’t ideal either.   We will talk more about healthy protein in addendum 3.



Weightlifting Diet Addendum 1


One of the benefits that you will notice immediately when you cut candy and junk food from your diet is a change in your taste buds.  If you constantly eat candy and crappy food, you will have a drastically decreased ability to taste normal food.  You will NEED crap like tons of salt and sweetener for food to taste good.  This is not normal, and it is not healthy.  After about 10-14 days of no concentrated sweets, and no super salty processed foods like pizza, and your taste buds will revert to their natural ability to taste.  You will find that many foods that you used to eat now taste way too salty.  And foods that you never realized were sweet, start to taste sweet.  Like milk.  If you have not had concentrated sweets for a while regular non- sweetened milk will taste sweet to you as will many things.  And I am not just talking about fruit, but you have to stop eating candy and junk food for a while before you can taste it.


Weightlifting Diet

There is no doubt that the diet of an average American stinks.  But as a weightlifter, you shouldn’t be eating like the average American.  How should you eat?  Well, many books have been written about that, but I think I can boil it down to a couple of key rules.

Rule 1:  Do not eat candy or sweets.  This takes zero smarts to figure out.  This includes candy bars, Pop tarts, most breakfast cereals, potato chips, cokes, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and other crap like that.  Including anything that has high fructose corn syrup.  When you start reading labels you will be amazed at how many things are made using this crap.  It is literally everywhere.

Rule 2:  Little as you can of high carb items such as bread, potatoes, corn and rice.  These are filling, but low nutrition foods.  They are also easy and convenient.  Actually too easy convenient, which is why I call them lazy foods.  For many people, if they took junk food and lazy food out of their diets, they would starve.  These are the foods that are making America fat and unhealthy.

Rule 3:  Eat more vegetables of all kinds, except the really high carb ones like potatoes and corn.

Rule 4:  Eat a variety of protein items like meat, nuts, and eggs. 

Now, if you are anything like me, when you first start eating like this you will struggle a little bit because out whole society is based around eating a certain way, with bread being a major part of most meals.  At first it will be a struggle to replace all the bread you used to eat with other items.  It might be hard to maintain your weight at first.  You will find that you have to eat A LOT of vegetables to get enough calories to replace the bread that you used to eat.