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Part II: Olympic Lift Your Way to A 700+ lb/318 + kg Deadlift

Quick Hit Summary

In the concluding part of our series "Olympic Lift Your Way to A 700 lb (318 kg) Deadlift", Phil discusses another Olympic lift to boost your deadlift , the clean shrug. In addition, he explains how to incorporate the clean liftoff and clean shrug into your deadlift training plan.

Deadlift Article Series

This is the third 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:

Recap of Part I

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

In Part I of this 2 part article series, we learned how the incorporation of some Olympic lifting techniques could be used to bolster our deadlifts. More specifically, we discussed how by taking advantage of unfavorable powerlifting levers, but GREAT Olympic lifting levers, we can target the posterior chain in a way that traditional deadlifts will fail to strengthen (to the same degree). Now that you understand that key principle, let's turn our focus towards another benefit of incorporating Olympic lifts into your training routine…

Key Principle #2 – Dynamic/Ballistic Training

Now let’s move to principle #2 Dynamic or Ballistic training. I am sure you have heard of dynamic effort training. The word has been "all the buzz" since Louie Simmons popularized it in the Westside method. Just in case you don’t know, let’s go over what is dynamic effort training.

Dynamic Effort is used to increase force production and explosive strength. By training at 50-70% and using maximum acceleration, the athlete should become more explosive and more efficient at recruiting his/her pool of muscle fibers. Using maximal acceleration, an athlete can push maximally against sub-maximal weights. For example, an athlete that can lift 600lbs would be using 350lbs (60%) and theoretically produce 600 lbs. of force, as long as he concentrates on accelerating the bar as fast as possible.

In others words, we have just found another way that we can tweak our training, along with the adjusting of our leverages, to put more force than is normal at any given load, above the regular exercise execution we do. With this method we are not only putting more stress on the pivot point and the muscles that control it, we are also training ourselves to move explosively; remember – speed kills.

I’ve seen it time and time again; if an athlete were able to move a bit faster they would have made the lift, made the tackle, etc. As they say, an object in motion wants to stay in motion. It has momentum carrying it through. The problem I found was speed deadlifts never really did much for me, or those I worked with on a regular basis. When working at the 60% or so prescribed weights, many times you compromise perfect form, you simply are not able to wedge the lifts and lift the load explosively in the same form one would with a full, near maximal deadlift. You have to get in percentages too high for the traditional benefit of dynamic training, more in the 80-90% range. Anyone who has tried this knows you will get burned-out FAST consistently working at those loads with the dead lift.

The Solution

Figure 2 The clean pull. Image supplied by Phil Stevens.

This is where the clean pull from the knee comes in. It’s a drill that Olympic lifters use to train the explosiveness and power in that final pull, which is the pull that propels the load to the shoulders or overhead. As you will see in the video below, from a deadlifter's perspective, we are not only training dynamically, but we are also coupling with it the concept discussed in Part I ourselves at a leverage disadvantage. In terms of a deadlift, this disadvantage means loading more stress on the posterior chain. Using dynamic effort, coupled with the leverage disadvantage, in my opinion makes this speed work more beneficial than speed work done from a traditional dead lift advantage. The lifter is creating high velocity through maximal force output on the bar, when their body is in a position related to the load that has multiplied the forces applied on it through the creation of much larger lever arms and torque.

Video 1. Phil Stevens performing the clean pull. Video supplied by Phil Stevens

The video will again speak a thousand words. In short, what we are doing in a clean pull from the knee is placing the bar in a rack at a height that is just on top of the knee cap. From there, the lifter walks up and addresses the bar, touching the bar with straight legs. From there the lifter JUST unlocks the knee with a very slight bend, arches and locks the back in place. They should hinge almost entirely at the hip, putting their shoulders well in front of the load creating a large lever arm. This is seen in the picture again of Tami at the right (Figure 2). The lifter then puts tension on the bar, feeling the weight in their hands, and explodes with the hamstrings and glute drive to a full and complete extension.

You will see in the video the bar reaches a velocity at which it become weightless and actually defies gravity due to the forces applied by the lifter. The bar pushes on the hands and forces the lifter into a shrug. If you have metal plates on the bar you will hear the distinct sound of metal smacking as the plates become weightless and hit the bar. It is this weightless phase that we use to judge the load used. We always want to use a load that when maximum force is applied at the top of the lift, the bar feels like it wants to keep going and pushes up on your fully locked arms. The only reason it doesn't go further is you don’t get out of its way. If you reach a load that is still not maximal but loses this velocity to create that weightless environment, you need to back off a few lbs to gain that feeling again. You will progress by slowly being able to up the load and reach this phase.

Putting the rubber to the road.

As I told you above I am not going to give you a set program to make you huge or strong in 6 weeks. I just don’t believe in them in totality. There are too many individual variables for a cookie cutter program. What I will tell you briefly is how I implemented these moves into my training and how you might benefit as well.

The Clean Lift Off

You’re not going to be using maximal deadlift loads due to the nature of the lift explained by the disadvantageous leverages we are purposely placing ourselves under, though we will be reaching near maximal loads as it pertains to those leverages. What I did, and what I might suggest to you, is drop the conventional deadlift in totality for 4-6 weeks. Add these in as a second move on a lower body day, following a heavy or rep squat. Work in the 1-5 rep range (I am a firm believer that the deadlift in all forms except possibly the stiff legged version, is best implemented, and should nearly always be implemented, in that low rep range) and use sets in the 5-10 range.

Control your load by keeping it at a range that you can complete every rep in perfect form, as explained in the text, and shown in the video (Refer to Part I). Look to push this up slowly as you earn it by displaying that you own the old load. Keep your back at a hard arch, and get well in front of the bar pulling the posterior chain TIGHT. Take reps in sets as their own being, briefly paused, and cut any set short when form begins to wane. You will add this in on a max effort like lower body day. This move can also be a second move on a pure deadlift day, to work a weakness in the hamstrings and low back. That is the good thing about principles; they are variable and can be punched into existing programs as well as the methods used to implement them.

The Clean Pull

This move I would add in on a second lower body day as either the first, second, or only dynamic move. Again, think about devoting 4-6 weeks to these two moves while dropping all other deadlifting. Work in the 2-3 rep range, 8-10 sets, and the goal is speed as explained and measured above by the weightless phase reached. Approach the bar, knees JUST unlocked, hinge at the hip placing the shoulders well in front of the bar. Big air, big chest, locked arch, pull out the slack, and then explode to full extension, creating that signature clink in the plates as they go weightless and the long locked arms stop the bars trajectory. Like above, though you’re performing a 2-3 rep set; give each rep its own life, briefly pause between each and be sure to do them correctly.

You are done when you no longer reach an explosion that produces the all-important weightless phase, your form goes to hell in a hand basket, or you have reached the allotted goal of sets and reps. Try to slowly push the load up, as you can explode harder creating more force reaching that weightless phase and earning more iron on the bar. Like above, this move can also be a second move on a pure deadlift day to work a speed weakness, and also the hamstrings and low-mid back’s ability to hold static against a load.

That's a Wrap

That’s it folks. Now get out there and Olympic lift your way to a new PR and huge dead lift. We look forward to hearing about the results!

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Written on December 18, 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.