It seems that in every family there's always a black sheep, someone who just doesn't quite fit in with the rest. It might be your crazy Aunt Sally who's run off and joined a cult, or maybe your family has its own cousin Eddie of National Lampoon "Vacation" fame.
When it comes to strength training, the deadlift has long been the black sheep of the family. Not nearly as glamorous as the bench press and always having to play second fiddle to its bigger brother, the squat, the deadlift has had to toil in anonymity for many years. Even in the ultra hard-core culture of powerlifting, it's taken many years for performance in the deadlift to reach the levels of the bench press and squat.
I find all of this neglect amazing, especially since it's highly likely that the deadlift was a predominant movement of our ancient ancestors. I'm quite sure that lifting heavy objects off the ground was a staple of their daily activity. Although much has changed since we were picking up rocks and slinging them around the forest, there are still those instances that require us to exert some significant effort to pick an object up off the ground and move it. A good example is the following familiar scenario:
Tom has been asked by his cute neighbor next door to help her move. Tom wants nothing more than to impress this cute little vixen in hopes of scoring a date some time in the near future.
If you were desperate to get a date like Tom, and had only three weeks to train prior to the big event, what would you do?
a. Bodyweight Calisthenics
b. A traditional Bodybuilding Routine
c. A Hybrid of Sub-maximal Deadlifiting in conjunction with GPP exercise
d. Nothing at all
If you chose "d", well, all I can say is that you might as well kiss any chance of a future date goodbye! If, however, you chose "c", you're absolutely right. When we find ourselves in situations such as Tom's, we're usually required to perform not just a single maximal effort, but to execute multiple sub-maximal efforts (e.g., lifting numerous heavy and not-so heavy boxes, pieces of furniture, etc.).
One of the most common laws of training is the Law of Specificity. If you know that you're going to undertake a particular activity, then why not give yourself an opportunity to perform to the best of your ability by training specifically for that activity? In Tom's case, as in many other instances I'm sure you have encountered, two principles apply:
1. General Physical Preparation (GPP) is critical. In other words, it's always a good idea to be physically prepared to perform a specific type of exercise/work.
2. Contrary to what one well-known "body-weight only" guru might have you believe about deadlifting, more often than not when being required to "work," you'll be doing some form of deadlifting.
Let's get down to business and take a look at a few of the exercises that you might use to prepare to impress that cute neighbor or, far more importantly, just to get in damn good physical condition. Besides, doing the following routines is damn fun and may serve as a welcome respite from conventional training.
Undulating Dumbbell Deadlift and Farmer's Walk
You'll start this movement with two sets of dumbbells, a "light" set and a "heavy" set. You'll place them 50 to 100 feet apart.
Start with the "heavy" set and deadlift them up so that you're in a standing position. Begin your Farmer's Walk toward the "light" set of dumbbells. Once there, place the "heavy" set on the floor, deadlift the "light" set, and walk back towards the starting point. When you reach the starting point, place the "light" set down. You've completed one cycle. You'll begin the next cycle by deadlifting the "light" set and walking toward the "heavy" set.
Protocol: Your goal is to work up to 1000 total feet. Depending on the distance between your dumbbells, this will require 5 – 10 cycles of work. If at first you aren't able to reach 1000 feet, then your goal each successive session will be to increase your distance by 20%. At the point that you reach 1000 feet, increase the load of each set of dumbbells by 5% and start over. The recommended rest interval is 60 seconds between cycles.
Pick-Up Deadlift with Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch
This movement requires just a single dumbbell. Set yourself in your typical deadlifting stance with the dumbbell on the ground in between your feet. Start by deadlifting the dumbbell off the floor with one arm. Upon completing the deadlift, lower the dumbbell back down to the start position for the single- arm dumbbell snatch. Complete the snatch and return to the start position for the deadlift. Repeat the process with the other arm.
Note: For this exercise, the amount of weight that you can single-arm dumbbell snatch will be the limiting factor. However, since the goal of this movement is for general physical preparation, that won't be a problem. Choose a weight that is approximately a 10 RM for the single-arm dumbbell snatch. Also, if you have an arm/side of your body that is blatantly weaker, I recommend starting the movement with that arm/side of the body.
Protocol: Use a "ladder" protocol for this movement. Start with a conservative weight. To perform ladders, you start by performing a single repetition, then sets of 2, 3, 4 and 5 repetitions. When you finish a set of 5 repetitions, reset your ladder back to a single repetition. Run a clock on your total work time. Depending on your current conditioning, anywhere from a 10 to 20 minute work interval would be appropriate. Once you have set your base level of work, try to increase it each week. When you have reached a 20% increase in work performed, increase your load by 5%.
Suitcase Deadlift and Farmer's Walk
To perform this movement, stand next to a dumbbell or barbell and deadlift it off the floor with one arm. Begin your Farmer's Walk for the designated distance. Upon completion, set the dumbbell/barbell down and perform the exercise with the other side of the body. Although this movement may be performed with either a dumbbell or a barbell, using a barbell will be much more demanding due to the balance issue and the fact that you may need to elevate the bar some in order to maintain spinal integrity.
Note: Again, if you have an arm/side of your body that is blatantly weaker, I'd recommend starting the movement with that arm/side of the body. Also, during this movement be sure to keep your torso vertical and avoid "leaning" away from the side holding the resistance.
Protocol: Each week you'll perform four sets of work. Each set is comprised of a complete cycle or one repetition with each side of the body. Below is a quick look at what a four week training regimen might look like:
Week 1 4 sets of 50 feet
Week 2 4 sets of 65 feet
Week 3 4 sets of 80 feet
Week 4 4 sets of 100 feet
I recommend starting this movement at 15-25% of your deadlift 1 RM. Use the same weight until you've reached 4 sets of 100 feet.
Special Note: Depending upon your flexibility and your ability to maintain safe spinal curvature, you may need to elevate your dumbbell onto a box or platform prior to performing this exercise in order to ensure ultimate safety.
Tire for Time
This drill was created during an impromptu training session at one of the "Secret Arizona Training Facilities." Although there's no "iron" involved, you'll definitely be performing some pretty serious pulling movements while working just about every other muscle in your body. All you really need is a good-sized flipping tire (the one I use is in the 300-400 lb. range), a competitive training partner, and a stopwatch. It's as simple as that.
Protocol: You and your partner line up across the tire from each other and flip the tire back and forth between you as many times as possible in 1 minute. Repeat 1-3 times.
Note: If you don't have a training partner, feel free to set your stopwatch for 10-15 minutes and perform as many flips solo as you can. Log your flips and try to beat that performance next time.
The point I'm trying to make with all of this is that even if you're not a fan of deadlifting, odds are that for the rest of your life there are going to be occasions that will require you to lift things off the ground and move them.
Performing one or two of the above exercises as a GPP session during the week will prepare you for any "functional deadlifting" you may run into, and you just might end up getting in a little better shape, too. As the Boy Scout Motto says, Be Prepared.
In this instance being prepared means that you'll be able to perform when the time comes without having to worry about hurting yourself or being unable to function for days afterward. And who knows, you just might get the girl too!