The Deadlift Part 3

Our previous excursions into the wonderful world of Dead Lifting dealt with the two most popular methods for lifting a heavy barbell from the floor.  If your goal is related to lifting the most weight possible from the floor then you will need to practice using the Conventional or Sumo techniques for the Dead Lift.  However, if your interests run more toward building back, hip and leg strength or if you are looking for ways to enhance your Dead Lifting or Squat strength then you may wish to consider adding some variety to your Dead Lift training.  Training with these is lifts is safe as long as you maintain perfect technique and do not have some pathology that would contra-indicate putting heavy stress on your back and/or hips. The basic rule here is that you must maintain a neutral lumbar spine during the performance of these lifts.  That is, you must hold your normal lumbar lordosis during all phases of the exercises. 

You may find advice related to the advantages of “rounded back” lifting.  The theory is that in order to strengthen the back extensors you should allow these muscles to work segmentally in extending the back rather than using an isometric hold by maintaining the neutral spine. This sort of lifting is termed a P.I.L.E. lift (Progressive Isoinertial Lifting Evaluation) and is often used in a rehabilitation setting with chronic back pain patients.  In this setting the lifts are monitored so as not to exceed parameters set for lumbar extension strength.  As a theory, that makes a certain amount of sense but when you are training asymptomatic athletes or fitness enthusiasts to Dead Lift you will be using substantial amounts of weight since the hips and legs will contribute to the lift and these muscles will need heavy loads to achieve a training effect.

The Romanian Dead Lift is an excellent exercise for strengthening the back, hips and legs. In particular it will focus on the gluteal and trapezius muscles.  To start the lift you will be standing and holding the bar with either an overhand or reverse grip.  (You can get into this position by Dead Lifting the bar from the floor or by starting with the bar up on blocks or in a safety rack). The head should be slightly retracted and looking straight ahead or very slightly up (you will maintain this head position throughout the lift). Next, retract the shoulders so that you are “sticking out” your chest, again you will maintain this position as much as possible during the lift.  At this point, simply bend over while maintaining a neutral lumbar spine and keeping your knees slightly bent.  Hold the knees in this slightly bent position.  Do not straighten them fully.  It is also important that you keep the bar close to your legs throughout the movement. Do not allow your back to round, even if you feel that you are not bending over very much. This exercise can be very taxing but will produce tremendous results.  I recommend that you keep the rep range at no less than 5 and no more than 10 or 12.  If the rep range is too high you will fatigue during the set and risk injury due to technique failure.  If the rep range is too low you will not be able to keep the intensity high without risk of injury.

High and Low Pulls are assistance exercises used to build vertical jump and speed “off the floor”.  These lifts are used extensively by Olympic style lifters but can be beneficial for fitness trainees, strength athletes and Power Lifters as well.  These exercise require the use of relatively light weight as the focus is on pulling for speed.  The set up is basically the same as for the Conventional Dead Lift (see Part 1).  Again practice flawless technique.  High Pulls require that you drive off the floor coming up on your toes and pulling the bar above the waist and as high as the lower chest.  Low pulls are essentially a “speed Dead Lift” in that you drive hard and fast off the floor but only pull to about waist height or a little lower.  The two lifts are very taxing neurologically so should never be trained in a fatigued state.  Keep the reps low (in the 1 –5 range) reset for each rep and rest enough to fully recover between sets.  Again, beware of fatigue; keep the number of sets low so that you can focus on speed and technique.  The advantage to including these in your strength training is that they will enhance your initial pull off the floor.

Partial Dead Lifts are just what the name implies, that is limited range lifts.  You can perform these as lockouts from just below to just above knee height or as short range lifts from the floor in which you contact an immoveable pin after a few inches and hold for a brief isometric contraction.  These are specialization exercises and are effective for training sticking points in the range of your lift as a result they are seldom used for general fitness training.

As you have probably gathered from this series of articles Dead Lifts are an excellent training tool.  These exercises work many of the body’s muscle groups thus providing the lifter with a lot of “bang for the buck”.  Aside from the barbell squat the Dead Lift may be the most complete body exercise working everything from the ankles to the shoulder in one movement.  The variety of the lifts will provide you with many hours of interesting and effective training and the nature of these exercises is such that you do not need a spotter or any special equipment or machines.

This wraps up my Dead Lift series. I’ve tried to keep it brief and easy to follow while still covering all the basics.  If you have questions or comments please forward them to me through the ADFPF web site or you can e-mail me at  I hope I’ve encouraged you to take advantage of a truly efficient exercise in your strength training programs.

© 2016 (rev) David Mansfield MA, MSPT, HFI, CSCS