Why we Deadlift

“ The deadlift is unrivaled in its simplicity and impact while unique in its capacity for increasing head-to-toe strength.”   Coach Greg Glassman – CrossFit Journal 12, August 2003

The best part of the CFJ 12  is the conversation between Coach and Doctor about why someone who is “elderly, marginally ambulatory and frail” should learn to deadlift.  It is one of my favorites.

From CFJ 12:

(Transcript of actual conversation)
Doc: Many of my patients shouldn’t be doing
the deadlift.
Coach: Which ones are those, Doc?
Doc: Many are elderly, marginally ambulatory,
and frail/feeble and osteoporotic.
Coach: Doc, would you let such a patient, let’s say
an old woman, walk to the store to get cat
food?
Doc: Sure, If the walk weren’t too far, I’d
endorse it.
Coach: All right, suppose after walking home she
came up to the front door and realized
that her keys were in her pocket. Is she
medically cleared to set the bag down, get
her keys out of her pocket, unlock the
door, pick the bag back up, and go in?
Doc: Of course, that’s an essential activity
Coach: As I see it the only difference between us
is that I want to show her how to do this
“essential activity” safely and soundly and
you don’t.
Doc: I see where you’re going. Good point.
Coach: Doc, we haven’t scratched the surface.

This article is great and I encourage you to read
 http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/12_03_Deadlift.pdf.

Because I know you won’t read it, here is the tl/dr on CFJ 12:

We deadlift because:

  1.  It is essentially a functional movement.  There are many instances in life where we need to pick up/put down things.  
  2. It is unparalleled in developing core strength.
  3. Like the back squat, the fact that you are able to lift heavy loads creates an important hormonal response that helps develop muscle, tendon and bone strength throughout the body.
  4. It is whole body in nature.

OK, so the question becomes…why do we straight bar DL instead of using a Hex Bar/Trap Bar DL?  

In his article “ Almost No One Should Straight Bar Deadlift”  Mike Boyle does not say anything that contradicts any of this.  His belief is not that we should not deadlift, but that we should primarily use the Trap or Hex Bar instead of a straight bar for various reasons.

The Hex Bar/Trap Bar is a useful tool.  It has the ability to start in a higher position (side with handles) and it also does not dictate that the athlete loads the ‘posterior chain’ (glutes, hamstrings) as much as a straight bar.  It allows a very upright back and it is really more of a squat than a deadlift. It is also much more forgiving for a beginner because the knees can move forward, like a squat. Also, truly many folks will be able to lift more weight than a traditional deadlift. However, since it is more like a squat it is probably best used as an accessory lift rather than a primary lift.

Some of the disadvantages of a Hex/Trap bar vs a traditional bar.

  1.  Learning to load correctly and move the bar correctly with respect to the bar has carryover into the Olympic lifts and life.  Keeping a weight closer to the center of gravity, loading the hips and hamstrings is the safest way to pull anything.
  2. The Trap bar does not require the core to be stabilized (as much) during the initial lift which leads to a false sense of security.
  3. The lockout position with the weight hanging in the hands away from the body is highly unstable and can create a large side to side force on the lumbar spine.  Whereas the lockout position on the straight bar is highly stable, bar resting against the upper thigh bodyweight holding it stable.
  4. Although many can lift more with a trap bar, this breaks down a bit because folks can also lift more off of blocks or pins.  

Finally addressing some of Mike’s concerns with the straight bar deadlift.

Keeping your biceps safe:

  1.  If you use a reverse grip keep your arms straight.
  2. Use a variety of grips
  3. Learn to hookgrip correctly.  Use tape.
  4. Use straps for higher reps.

Dragging your shins:

  1. Control the bar
  2. Wear sweats, socks or something similar
  3. Set up with your legs on the smooth part of the bar

Safe Movement:

  1. Get good coaching
  2. Learn the right start position
  3. Load the entire body, don’t just take a gulp of air

Bottom Line:

A straight bar deadlift is a great, safe, effective and efficient tool to achieve great gains in strength and fitness.  When properly executed it is really unparalleled in its ability to promote most of the adaptations we desire. The hex/trap bar deadlift is a different movement, just like dumbbell movement, Romanian deadlift, straight leg deadlift or even a hip thrust.  Different. It is a good movement, but different. We can use both but still choose to prioritize the straight bar deadlift. 

Just as Coach Glassman has said, “The deadlift, like the squat, is an essential functional movement and carries a potent hormonal punch.  This is core training like no other.”