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Part I: Olympic Lift Your Way to A 700+ lb (318+ kg) Deadlift

Quick Hit Summary

There are many ways that one can go about increasing their deadlift. In this article Phil Stevens explains a few principles and methods that he borrowed from Olympic weightlifting when chasing down his first 700 lb (318 kg) deadlift. Furthermore, he provides advice on how to implement them into your powerlifting program.

Deadlift Article Series

This is the second part of our Deadlift Series. This collection of articles is focusing in on how to properly perform the deadlift for your body form and then how to tweak your training by incorporating Olympic lifts to maximize your deadlifting potential. In all, there will be 3 parts to this series:

Methods, Principles & Olympic Weightlifting

Figure 1. Phil Stevens knows a little something about moving heavy weights in the deadlift. Image supplied by Phil Stevens.

After reading the title of this article, I know you're probably thinking…. "Olympic lift your way to a 700+lb (318+ kg) dead lift?? Come on Phil! You’re crazy. I know a thing or two about Olympic lifting and the largest lifts in the sport are well under 700lbs, and those are the world records. I bet 99.9% of the lifters will never reach the level of those world record holders, let alone get a 700lb dead lift. How do you expect me to swallow this toad you're trying to feed me?"

OK, I’ll get to that, but first I want to lead this off with a disclaimer about what this article is NOT going to be about, and what it IS going to be about based on the title. This is not going to be another one of those cookie cutter programs that promises to raise your lifts by 100lbs (45 kgs) in six weeks, or promise to add X amount of lean body mass in 30 days. I am not a believer in those types of programs and have yet to write one. Not that I don’t think a FEW of them are effective, but more often than not they are dense, well-thought-out books, not a few thousand word article that gives nothing but methods without teaching principles.

As this applies to resistance training…

Methods – exercises- bench, squat, clean, etc etc and tools, barbell, kettlebell, sand bag, etc reps = 5×5, 10 × 3, etc etc…..

Principles – Progressive over load, leverages (weak and efficient), dynamic training, etc etc…

What I am going to do is give you a bit of both, a nice base of principles along with a few methods. The implementation of these tools helped bring me to my first 700lb deadlift; I feel they can also help you add loads and efficiency to your lift as well. I must note though, what I’m about to teach you was only ONE piece of my 700lb puzzle. Other things were simple ideas such as "if you want a big dead lift you have to dead lift often", to more complex things.

Okay, back to your Olympic lifting question / comment: "How do you expect me to swallow this toad your trying to feed me, that Olympic lifting is going to help me dead lift 700lbs?" You have heard it time and time again, a picture is worth a thousand words – so does that mean a video is worth a million? Well here are two videos that I feel will accomplish just that for you.

Video 1

Hossein Rezazadeh Clean & Jerking roughly 580lbs (263 kg)

OK, now if a guy can move nearly 600lbs like that, I am pretty sure he can dead lift 700+ pretty damn easy.

Video 2

Pat Mendez 727.5 lbs (330 kg) x 4 @ at about 290 lbs (132 kg) bodyweight and 20 years old.

Another Olympic lifter, this time an American kid who has hosted the unofficial junior world snatch record in the gym, and did it easily. In this video he’s dead lifting 727.5 lbs and pretty easily I might add. Even more respect has to go to him due to the fact that dead lifting is NOT a competition lift for this guy, it’s more an assistance move done very infrequently.

What I am getting at here is despite what we know of Olympic Weightlifting in the USA as being 80% technique as taught by USA weightlifting, in the rest of the world these guys and girls train as well to get strong! Very strong. There is a reason why on the world stage our teams are not near the equal of other stronger eastern bloc and Asian countries. And as I've hinted, that reason is not technique; it’s strength. It’s these very videos and these very athletes that got me thinking; it’s obviously working for them, so what can I borrow to aid me in my search for a BIG deadlift?

Something they’re doing is leading to great success in pulling power, throwing weight over their heads equal or greater than many so called "strong man’s" max dead lift! Furthermore, something is giving them those huge, dense, lower backs, and hypertrophied erectors that look more like quadriceps than spinal erectors.

My own search led me to discover two principles being implemented by these Olympic lifters on a very, very regular basis. I have since brought them into my tool box to aid me across the board in my performance pursuits – basically, dynamic or ballistic training, and that of adjusting leverages to actually put the lifter at a disadvantage. I will begin with the latter as it will be the most foreign I am guessing.

Key principle #1: Adjusting leverages to put us at a mechanical disadvantage

Putting yourself at a disadvantage while lifting – this sounds pretty counterintuitive I know. Furthermore you're probably asking yourself, Hey didn't you discuss in your last article, Using Your Levers to Reach Maximum Deadlifting Potential, that we want our bodies at a mechanical advantage while lifting? Yes, I did, but let me discuss further…

Weak Point Training. Some might refer to what I'm about to explain as weak point training, and in a sense it is, but it’s also more than that. Weak point training can be, and is, as simple as working on an otherwise limiting area. For example, the lockout portion of your bench to add extra triceps work if that is your weakness, or a bottom up (Anderson) squats if you lack power out of the hole. The adjustment of leverages is a bit more in-depth than that and takes a basic understanding of geometry, lever and moment arms, and how forces act upon them. Although I discussed this stuff a bit in an earlier article, I feel it's worth explaining again to make sure we're all on the same page. So, who is up for a little review?

A Quick Review of Biomechanics

Would you all agree that the body is made up of joints, and those joints are by majority a hinged-like joint that causes a limb to rotate on an axis? Like the lower leg if one was sitting on a table dangling it and letting it swing back and forth, the lower leg would be swinging on the knee joint around the origin at the hinged knee. Now yes, I understand some joints are a bit more complex than that such as the hip (ball and socket), and of course the shoulder which is much more complex. For our purpose, a basic understanding of a hinged joint will work as that is the essential joint movement of a dead lift – simplified a bit so as to not add any unnecessary confusion. So we are in agreement then? Now when you have hinge joints such as this and you add any sort of load, you create an environment for the creation of Moment and Lever arms.

Torque or Moment of Force – The tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot.

Loosely speaking, torque is a measure of the turning force on an object such as a bolt or a flywheel. For example, pushing or pulling the handle of a wrench connected to a nut or bolt produces a torque (turning force) that loosens or tightens the nut or bolt.

Another way of looking at it, a compressive force is thought of as 2 objects being pushed together. Likewise , a torque can be thought of as a twisting force.

Lever Arm or moment arm – The perpendicular distance between the line of action of a force and a pivot.

Its worth sharing as well, though I won’t stress it as much right away, but we also have sheer forces at work.

Shear – External force that acts parallel to a plane, unlike compressive force and tensile force which act perpendicularly. The lifters back held its ground and angle all the while the heavy load in his hand was trying to shear his back in two.

Okay, confused yet? Let’s go back to the old pictures are worth a thousand words for a few images and some analogies you will understand.

Figure 2. Hammer with compressive, but no torque forces working on it. Image Created by Phil Stevens

Have you ever held a sledge hammer in your hand with the head in the air, or try and balance some type of bar like object in your hand? If so, you've likely noticed that the hammer is not that heavy when you have the head is directly over its handle. (ie – in a straight vertical position perfectly perpendicular to the ground.) Thus, the only major force at play here is compressive force (See Figure 4 below for compressive force lines).

Referring to Figure 2. This hammer is in a perfect relation with its pivot point (blue dot), it’s in line with its center of gravity (the green line). The red arrow shows the force from the hammer, let’s say this is a standard 16 lb sledge hammer, in this case it is then applying 16lbs of force on your outstretched arm.

Figure 3. Hammer with compressive AND torque AND a little shear force working on it. Image Created by Phil Stevens

Now let that head shift just a bit to one side or the other and you feel a heavy force acting on your hand and the further the head moves from over its handle end (the pivot point or joint) the heavier it feels, the more torque or moment is created.

Let's look at Figure 3 to left to better explain this law of physics. You see something new has happened. As you tilted that hammer we now see two new objects in the photo, a yellow line and a purple arrow. The yellow line is to indicate the new location of the LOAD at the end of the hammer or arm. The distance from the yellow line to the green center of gravity over the pivot point of the hammer is the length of the lever arm. The purple arrow is the torque or moment force at the pivot created by the introduction of the lever arm. Your hand now has to not only fight the red arrow load of 16 lbs pushing down on it (ie – compressive force), but as well the torque created by the lever arm. The further the load at the end of the arm moves from its center of gravity the greater the torque force is applied.

Figure 4. Various types of Stress. The red arrows indicate the direction from which the force is being applied. The left hand figure represents compressive stress. This type of stress occurs when 2 objects are being smashed together. In the above picture, the top box is being pushed into the bottom box (which is also being pushed into the top box). The right hand figure represents shear stress. This type of stress occurs when two objects are rubbing past each other. An example of shear stress would be rubbing your hands together when you are cold. Image created by Sean Casey.

We also have to deal with shear. Shear is created by the force of the head pushing down on you as it was prior, however now it’s not going straight down the handle. That’s because the head has shifted at an angle away from its center of gravity over its pivot point. Shear is the force that it trying to bend the handle, or shear it in two, from the vertical force action down on the tilted handle. A simple box representation of shearing force, along with compressive force, is found in Figure 4.

Got it? That is not a total education in physics, but for this article it should be enough to explain what I am talking about when I talk about adjusting leverages to put us at a mechanical disadvantage. I am going to show you how you can use a lower load than you can handle in the dead lift, but due to the creation of a larger lever arm by implementing an Olympic lifting drill or method, we create a very heavy force the body must fight and react or evolve to handle.

Enough Reviewing; Let's Put These Biomechanics Principles Into Action…

Coming from a powerlifting and strongman background, the first thing I noticed when I began exploring and learning the Olympic lifts (to coach them), was that while the lifts looked very much similar to the deadlift, especially in the portion that goes from the floor to the waist, in reality they are very different. As a powerlifter, I am looking for every mechanical advantage, beginning with the start of the lift at the floor, to give myself the most powerful and efficient means to lift maximal loads.

In the Olympic lifts the portion from the floor to the knee is much different, as is the goal of the lift. An Olympic lifter from the floor to the knee is looking at putting themselves in the most advantageous position to move a sub-maximal deadlift load in a very dynamic manner. The focus is to propel it overhead, in the case of the snatch, or to the shoulders in the case of the clean. In doing so, they actually create an environment that is very disadvantageous to moving maximal loads in the deadlift, but put a huge stress and stretch on the whole of the posterior chain to allow a long powerful pull to get the weight over the lifters head or onto their shoulders in an efficient manner.

Confused again? Okay we will go back to a couple of pictures to help explain. In the images below, the green line will again be the center of gravity, the yellow line will be the creation of lever arms as they move away from the center of gravity, and the blue dot will be the bar. Remember that the larger the lever arm, the more moment (or torque) created at the corresponding pivot point or joint.

Dead lift at the knee

Figure 5. Deadlift at knee. Image supplied by Phil Stevens.

World meet Tami, Tami meet world. As we see in Figure 5, Tami has simulated a good position we should aim to be in at the knee when performing a deadlift. She has fired major hip extension and has reached a position where at the knee her shoulders have made it nearly back in line with the center of gravity. She has a large portion of her body behind the bar which has helped her lift the load, and all that is left is one area of her body away from the center of gravity to finish by firing her glutes, quads, and hams hard to drive the hips under the shoulders and complete the lift. She has no faults of incorrectly created or lengthened lever arms that would put her at a disadvantage for completing the lift.

Clean At the Knee

Figure 6. Deadlift at knee. Image supplied by Phil Stevens.

In Figure 6 Tami is showing a slightly exaggerated position an Olympic lifter would want to be in at the knee when they are looking to perform a clean. Do you see the differences? What shoots out at you? Maybe the much greater lever arms created at the hip joint by getting your shoulders out in front of the bar? This position is created by nearly pure knee flexion from the floor that puts her on her heals, shoulders out in front of the bar, and winds the hamstrings TIGHT like a pulled rubber band. This position creates that dynamic explosion needed to propel the load up in the air and onto her shoulders in an efficient fashion.

This is horrid deadlift form (though sadly you see this position reached in most lifters now a day’s wrongly, due to a weak posterior chain and quad dominance leading to missed lifts. Another topic for another day.), but is great clean form. If you take a closer look for our purposes, she has created more than twice the lever arm at the hip joint than the dead lift at the same position. She has done this by allowing her knees to close, pushing the bar back with her lats and getting her shoulders out over the bar. Thus, if she were using the same exact load in both lifts, it would create twice the torque or moment applied on mainly the hamstrings, lower and mid back, and glutes. Less is placed on the quads where most people are already too strong.

This enhanced torque is exactly what we’re going to take advantage of, and ultimately use, to bring our deadlift up. We are going to implement a simple Olympic lifting drill, the first pull or Clean Lift Off to put our bodies in a disadvantageous position (and somewhat later in the Clean Pull) that will put a much larger load per load stress on the whole of our posterior chain, than a perfectly executed and practiced dead lift. In turn this will create twice the training environment for adaptation and progress in that area. In layman’s, or meat-head terms, we are going to practice exaggerated, sh*tty deadlift form on purpose to overload the posterior chain and cause us to get stronger. As a result, when we go back to our (hopefully flawless) deadlift form, we will able to have heightened performance. Where, in this case, performance means the ability to lift heavier loads.

Time for the nuts and bolts of the lift. For this it’s easier to use a video to simply show you what is going on in regular, and slow motion, and make what was explained above clear.

Video 1. Sarah Stevens performing the Clean Lift Off. Video supplied by Phil Stevens

From the floor, set the back, use pure knee flexion through your heals to lift the bar from the floor to the knee, while simply maintaining torso angle, keeping chest out, butt back and back arched. Pull the bar back into the body with the lats. You should reach a position where at the knee your shoulders are well in front of the bar, and if you were to relax the lats the bar would swing out under the spine of the scapula. Another great queue is you should feel your hamstrings get very, very tight and taut like the skin of a drum. We will then, not finish the lift, but return it from the knee to the ground slowly and repeat. The whole while you are to maintain the torso angle in relation to the ground and flex the spinal erectors hard to not let the load fold you.

Part I Comes To A Close

There you have it – the first of the two major drills I used to bring my dead lift up. We can use this drill attack very usual weaknesses possessed by the majority of the modern population, and that when properly trained, can lead to BIG advancements in strength and even postural changes.

In the concluding part of this article, we discuss the 2nd drill I use to bring up my deadlift as well as how to implement both of these tools into your training program. Be sure to check Part II out!

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Written on November 24, 2012 by Phil Stevens
Last Updated: July 25, 2013

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Coach Phil Stevens is an accomplished strength athlete with considerable experience in Powerlifting, strongman competition, and highland games. Phil is the 2007 APA World Champion in the 242-pound class (total). He has held the APF 275-pound class raw National bench, squat, deadlift, and total records. Phil’s marquis lift was his 725-pound raw beltless deadlift, performed on February, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. He has been ranked in the “Top 10” in the deadlift across all national powerlifting federations. In addition, Phil has in a few short months moved to the A class in highland games with the goal of going Pro. His coaching services are avalable by clicking on the Strength Sport Consultation tab.
Professional Commitments:In addition to his coaching duties, he also serves as the California State Chair for the North American Highlander Association, as well as the founder of Lift For Hope an annual strength competition with proceeds donated to charity. He also runs his own printing business (business cards to t-shirts with everything in between) that can be found at www.bingcolorprint.com.