A Year In Review: Deadlifts Need To Improve

Looking back over the last year and my athlete’s progress, I can see some patterns in the progress of each one of the 3 lifts. By far the most progress has been on squats. Almost universally the athlete’s I coach have made significant increases on their squat, and while I will never stop learning and trying to expand my knowledge, I think I have a pretty good system in place for how I coach and program that squat.

For bench press, results have been pretty good, but not great like squats have been. I think a lot of that falls back on my hesitancy sometimes to push volume on bench like I need to. It doesn’t mean going from 2 days and 10 sets a week on bench to 4 days and 25 sets, but it does mean to have consistent and slow progression to build volume tolerance over time. This very well could fall back on more hypertrophy emphasis blocks for bench press.

The difference I feel like I have noticed on squat and bench press is that while both technique and volume are very important, comparatively technique matters more on squat and comparatively volume matters more on bench press. Don’t take that as volume matters more than technique on bench press, technique is always more important. But what I am just saying is that comparatively volume matters a bit more on bench press than squat, at least in my observations with my athletes. Where I think this idea is proven is in the average gym bro. You won’t see an average gym bro walk up to a squat bar and hit 500lbs. to depth, but go to any local commercial gym and you will find plenty of guys benching 315lbs.

For the last lift deadlifts, that is where I am just not happy. I’ve had people make progress, but not as much as I’d like. And more importantly, I am not seeing correlations between those who have seen good progress, at least on the programming side. I believe most of the progress my athlete’s have made on deadlift has been from technical adjustments, but not near as much from the programming side. I spent the last 3 weeks reading everything I could on deadlift, especially from sources/coaches who have excelled in coaching the deadlift with their athletes, and also reading from a lot of sources/coaches from prior generations that I may have overlooked before. There are so many differing opinions out there, so what I was looking for was the couple key points that seemed to be consistent across the board. Principles that I saw across multiple programs and that had stood the test of time from past generations of powerlifters to our current day. I found two main things:

1.) The coaches that seemed to excel with deadlifts did a lot of lower back accessory work. This may seem kind of obvious, but the fact is that modern day trends lead a lot towards just deadlifting for lower back strength. But looking at the programs and articles detailing keys to progression on deadlifts, I saw over and over the use of a large amount of accessory work to build the lower back, and that is something I have not been doing.

2.) Opposite stance deadlifts. If I have someone who sumo deadlifts, I mainly have had them sumo deadlift, and vice versa. But looking at all the material I found, there was a correlation to coaches training multiple stances in the deadlift and their success. We do that in bench press with no questions asked. Close grip, medium grip, competition grip, and wide grip. But for deadlift I was just training one stance. In particular, it seemed that coaches with high level sumo pullers were still having them hit conventional deadlifts heavy, which goes back to point #1 and strengthening the lower back.

With all that being said, this has just been information gathering to this point and now I need to put these ideas into practice. Time will tell if these hypothesis are correct, which I am confident they will be, but if not it is back to the drawing board to reassess and continue to build.

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