The Deadlift is an Anything-Goes Lift?

Posted on 11 Apr 2013 14:37

By Eric Troy

Olympic lifting experts often misunderstand the so-called slow lifts. The O-lifts are not technical and precise "just because." Simply speaking, there is a much thinner line between technical precision and success in the O-lifts than in the slow lifts. This has everything to do with the amount of time you have to apply force and to maneuver the body.

Therefore, when Olympic lifters with minimal true experience lifting maximum loads see the heavy deadlift they compare it to the clean or snatch and the deadlift seems to them like a loosey-goosey "anything goes" lift.

I take exception to this portrayal. Although for some lifters it is an anything-goes type of thing, much more success and longevity, for most people, will be gained from a fairly strict adherence to good technique for most of the training load. Notice I said most. That's important.

This, once again, is a difference between what we intend when we lift a maximal load, and what happens and is SEEN by others. The Olympic lifter might see what looks out of control, but this does not mean that the deadlifter approaches the lift from this perspective, nor does it mean that the lift IS out of control. It is the difference between form and technique, but it is also the difference between what an expert in the slow lifts has trained his or her eye to see and what an Olympic lifting expert has trained their eyes to see. The needs of the lifts are so much different that the results need to be viewed from different perspectives and expectations. I have yet to come across anyone who truly seems to be an expert at both disciplines.

The clean and the deadlift are, in fact, often confused and conflated. Many people actually think that the deadlift is a derivative of the clean! This is absolutely not true. The deadlift came before the clean, which was not just a reaction to the deadlift. It may help to illustrate this if I describe a different version of the "dead lift" from the lift we call the deadlift today.

Although we think of the deadlift as lifting a loaded barbell from the floor to the waist in one movement, during the old-time strongman days, such as those of Sandow, a lifter would often stand on two chairs or platforms and grasp a handle attached to a weight between the chairs. He would then lift the weight a couple of inches by straightening his legs and back. Obviously, the range of technique could be somewhat different than that of the barbell deadlift. Sometimes, the chairs were not used at all. The lifter just stood on the ground with a chain attached to a weight between his legs and the chain was used in a way that only required the lifter to hunch over at the shoulders a bit to initiate the lift. As I've explained before, the technique utilized in the lift is dependent on the implement being lifted! It is not called a deadlift because of a certain trunk angle or technique. This is a fallacy and yet many modern strength coaches, due to the ever increasing promotion of functional training, teach this fallacy. Deadlift simply means lifting the weight from a dead stop.

Now, as you can see that anything to do with lifting a weight up from the ground "to the waist" could be considered a deadlift, you might wonder how someone could have derived the idea of the clean from this, since the clean has nothing to do with chains or chairs and the deadlift has nothing to do with getting the weight to your shoulders. Well, it is just as likely that the clean was a reaction to the Continental or the Continental Jerk. I discuss this, as well as much more information regarding the clean lift versus the deadlift in Clean Style Deadlift versus Powerlifting Deadlift

I understand enough about Olympic lifting to know that there is a much greater need for precision, even in an all-out lift, within reason. But beyond this, most all of my time has been spent studying and perfecting the slow, maximum strength lifts, where a greater time to develop force means that, at times, the application of "brute force" technique can be the difference between success and failure. The word brute has connotations, does it not? Well, don't confuse how we use our skeletal muscles with how we use our thinking muscle. I keep my nose out of Olympic lifting and do not make judgement calls about things I know little about. Instead of arguing about it, how about we simply admit that we may not understand each other completely, and we don't need to!

See also Were the Old-Time Strongmen Really Stronger?

This page created 11 Apr 2013 14:37
Last updated 18 Jul 2016 00:34

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