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To Deadlift or Not To Deadlift?

Last week over on the WG-Fit facebook page, one of my lads posted the following article:


Dropping the Deadlift from Click the image and the article opens in a new window

The article caused some of my lads some concern.

They love BJJ and they love to Deadlift.

When an article suggesting that they stop deadlifting came out, much concern was shown and I was inundated with questions. When I said that the article was actually correct, jaws dropped!

jaw drop

Dave? what the hell?

Now don’t worry, I haven’t lost my senses, and there’s no way I’d ever tell you to NOT deadlift without a damn good reason. And if you re-read that article with a fresh eye, you’ll see the author actually says the same.

The question comes when we ask, “How strong is strong enough?” At what stage does the pursuit of ever greater numbers in the gym become an issue for an athlete? When does a strength & conditioning program cross over from being supplementary to the sport and when does it become the main deal and actually hinders athletic performance?

With the exception of my Kettleheads GS Team, all my guys train to improve at something other than being good at lifting weights. Amongst the crew are the BJJ guys, Muay Thai, Kyokushin, Rugby, Gaa, Triathletes and game for a laugh lunatics who’ll do anything that sounds like a laugh.

Only the Kettleheads are interested in lifting gradually more weight for more reps in Kettlebell Sports competitions. I’ve no power lifters, Oly lifters or strongmen.

So we only need to get people as strong as they need to be, not as strong as they can possibly be.

There comes a point where the pursuit of strength, in any given lift, not just the ol’ Dead, becomes a full time job. The powerlifting community are prime examples of this. Look at their training protocols, their dietary needs, their rest requirements and ask yourself if this kind of lifestyle will really help me with my next fight?

World Record Deadlift, but at the cost of mobility and endurance.

World Record Deadlift, but at the cost of mobility and endurance.

Chances are it won’t.

Is the risk associated with maxing out on the Big Three week in, week out, really worth it when you’ve a big event on the horizon, maybe a month from now?

Hell no!

So how and when do we decide how much to lift and when to back off?

Well, that all down to the planning procedure for the event at hand.

Whenever one of my guys comes to me and says that there’s an event on the horizon, or a new client comes in with goal in mind, I ask them several questions, the most important of which is:

“So, what do you suck at?”

I want to know all about your weaknesses. To be honest, I couldn’t care less about your strengths, they’re already strong. I want to know all about where you fall down, what is holding you back and what needs to be trained to get you in fighting fit condition.

If you need brute force, guess what, you’ll be deadifting till your eyes bleed.

But if strength isn’t an issue, why bother? Why not work to increase speed or reduce recovery time? Do you need more endurance? How’s your agility? Is that old injury holding up?

These are the real reasons we may take out your favourite lift.

One BJJ player came to me with the request for explosive power and agility. Do you think I had him grinding out heavy deads?


We still deadlifted, but they were well down in the exercise order, I think they were the third or forth lift of the workout. We started with jumps and plyos, then Olympic variations such as cleans and high pulls and only then moved to deads. The whole time a close eye was kept on the speed of the bar, so any grinding lifts meant that we had too much weight on the bar. We did the same with squats too, as soon as bar speed dropped, weight came off.

The Wife doing some cleaning

The Wife doing some cleaning

Now, the same lifter later in the year requested strength and bulk, he’d lost a stack of weight working on stamina and agility. So then, we did heavy (still not grinding) deads with quite a high volume.

My enduro guys spend a lot of time with single leg work, I think their spines take a beating already with their sports so heavy deads are a risk factor unless they are well out of season.

So, I’ll wrap this up now with a round up…

1: Deadlifts are possibly the best strength building exercise available, but they do have risks associated.

2: IF brute strength is not a priority, the deadlift is not a priority.

3: Substituting other lifts in place of the dead is sometimes the best way to progress, be it the RDL (as in the original article) or the Olympic variations as I prefer.

4: Always take the time to read an article thoroughly before getting excited by it. The original article states clearly that only strong lifters are the ones who substitute.

5: You don’t always need to max out on the dead to make progress on it.

6: Your sport is more important than your lifting numbers, unless big numbers ARE your sport.

Can we drop the deadlift?

Yes, just like we can drop ANY lift.


Dave Hedges

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