Deadlifts & Viagra

Hey John,

Love the program and thank you for what you do for us.  I was a collegiate rower over a decade ago, but since then have given up the long steady-state work and have fallen in love with strength training.  I’ve been on the Amateur program for about 1 year now and I’ve been making good strides in my overall strength.  But I know I have a weak link…my lower back (and glutes, and hamstrings).  My deadlift has been reset a few times this year and I just can’t make consistent gains for a long period of time.  My lower back just gets incredibly fatigued after a while (esp. from a week like Dec 6-11 with E. Caf as the finisher).

I know this limits my squat, clean & snatch and I was wondering if you would recommend assistance work to help this area?  How and when should I fit this into the programming so it’s not overkill?  If I just need to suck it up, let me know.

Thanks,

Joe

DEADLIFTS & VIAGRA#1

Before I offer any advice, lets make a few assumptions: your technique is solid…you are not 6’1” 155 lbs…you are eating enough calories and trying your best to put on body weight and gain strength…you are not doing hour long metcons on the off days in hopes of hiring a photographer to take semi nude photos for your Face Book profile. If you read this and thought, “hey that is me!” read no further. However, if this is not you, continue…

A wise man once said, “The deadlift is like Viagra…use it very sparingly and you will not be disappointed. Over use it and it becomes worthless.” Now I have to take his word for it, as I am too young to need bedroom performance enhancement, but I must agree with the deadlift reference.

I started lifting weights when I was 14 years old in George Zangas’ garage. The old men would squat for 3 hours taking up to 15 minute between sets. It took so long to squat they would often have sandwiches delivered and go through 3 pots of coffee. However, once they got done they would switch into ballet slippers, load up the bar and pull 3 heavy singles. That was it…just 3 heavy singles. Then it was on to the reverse hyper and abs. I was always confused by the lack of attention put towards the deadlift. I just figured they didn’t like to deadlift or it wasn’t useful.

After a few years of this, I finally asked, “why so many squats and so few deadlifts?” The response was simple…squatting is the best assistance exercise for the deadlift but not vice versa.  You can recover from the squat so you can train it more. While the deadlift, in contrast, is very taxing on the central nervous system and low back thus taking a long time to recover from.

* On a side note, I had the pleasure of hearing Dave Tate speak in San Diego a few years ago and when talk turned to the deadlift he indicated no more than 4 pulls over 90%. Anything over 4 pulls at 90%+ and could not recover to the next max effort work 7-10 days later.

George’s thinking went; if you want to make gains in the squat and other lifts, use the deadlift sparingly. You can create a monster pull with a steady diet of squats, reverse-hypers for strength and flexibility, abs for a strong trunk, a ton of grip work for strong hands and heavy weighted dips for strong shoulders and upper back. George’s thought was, the squat was the foundation of a strong lifter and a good deadlift was the sum of all the parts. The making of a strong bench press was in the shoulders and triceps. Bench training rooted in the press, seated DB presses, close grip bench and weighted dips were all a lifter needs to be successful.

DEADLIFTS & VIAGRA#2
Joe, your problem is common to new lifters, they deadlift too much. The deadlift has become the key indicator of strength in the CrossFit community, much as the bench press is the marker for strength at Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness’ around the world. The heavy pulling once a week coupled with Olympic lifting and metcons like E Caf are fatiguing your low back to the point where they are hindering your other lifts.

Even though, the Amateur program calls for a 5-rep max adding 10 lbs to the week before you are no longer a rookie. The Amateur program is meant to last no longer than 6-9 months. And just for reference, it is the single hardest program I have ever seen. This is indicative of something that comes from the programming of Bill Starr and Mark Rippetoe. Those guys come from the school of nothing fancy. Heavy weights for 5’s and singles with halting deadlifts and rack pulls being their most exotic offerings. No bands, no chains, no dynamic efforts, no special exercises or fancy bars. Just iron plates, a rack and the idea you must walk it out to count it.

*On another side note, the amateur program is meant for untrained athletes with little to no exposure to this type of training. It is meant for 165 lbs little skinny kids like Nate with 165 lbs squat and it only lasts for 6-9 months.

But do not feel bad as it is not your fault for not knowing. The people you trusted to teach you this vital knowledge did not. Now you have two issues to contend with to begin the healing process.

One, as competitive athletes, we have the mindset that if something is lagging, hammer it death. We think if 5 is good 10 is better and while this makes perfect sense it is flawed thinking.

And second, the deadlift is fun and glamorous and is a lot easier to perform when compared to the squat. Load a big heavy bar and pull, no eccentric load, just a big concentric pull. The squat on the other hand take some serious commitment, place a heavy bar on your back, squat down and stand up. Takes a lot of dedication to squat heavy weight. The worst thing that can happen when a deadlift goes wrong is L5 shooting across the room. But when squatting goes wrong…getting crushed to death is a very real consequence. Squatting heavy is the original Danger WOD.

I would suggest switching to the Collegiate template where you get a heavy 5 RM deadlift, on average, once every 12 workouts. But do not fear, we make up for it with an cornucopia of dynamic pulling called the power clean and power snatch, squats, pull-ups, grip work and sprinting.

DEADLIFTS & VIAGRA#3

John

John Welbourn is the creator/operator of CrossFit Football and Power Athlete. He is a 10 year NFL veteran. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft. He went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John also is owner of CrossFit Balboa, an S&C gym in Orange County, CA. CrossFit Balboa is one of a handful of Westside Barbell certified gyms in the world. In addition to training MLB, NFL and other professional and Olympic athletes, John travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie.

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Posted in Aggressive, FAQ, Lifting Weights, Talk to Me Johnnie, The Power Athlete, Training | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

25 Responses to Deadlifts & Viagra

  1. This post is good because John talks about boners and the Danger WOD. Both of which are critical to the survival of the human species.

  2. freddy c._one world

    Word!!! Great post John…..

  3. Dig it. Hit the cork, as usual, John. No harder lesson to learn than ‘less is more’.

  4. Dead lifts and viagra save lives.

  5. Joe S

    John, Thanks! I appreciate the kick to shift over to collegiate. I clearly didn’t know when, since my other lifts were still going up, just at a slower rate. Over the past year, I have come to embrace the squat & just love the challenge getting under the bar. And yeah, I’m eating to recover & put on weight – I gave up the urge to be a semi-nude Facebook waif a while ago.

  6. Also, if you find that your back is fatigued doing everyday stuff like running, you might have tight hips which is causing you to be constantly overextending your back. Go to mobilitywod and check out the couch stretch and the psoas stretch. This fixed and overly-fatigued back for me.

  7. Nice post! I was concerned after seeing the link there would be a video clip from “A Night in Chyna.”

  8. Jaybird

    Well put!!! Thanks.

  9. Uncle Rico

    Thank you, John! That answered just about every nagging question I have been dragging to the gym for the past few months.

  10. Right on with the dead programming… I started following Collegiate CFFB in September and have seen improvements in my dead lift over my previous programming which was every week.

    Thanks!

  11. Sam

    Great post. Sorry but I am probably over thinking this here but what causes the deadlift to be more strenuous on the CNS than squatting? Before I go further le me preface by saying I know I recover better from squats than deadlifts, but a few things are running through my head. Heavy back squats have shown higher EMG ratings of the thigh hip and back musculature which to me implies a higher degree of CNS activation. But if I remember the image (not in front of me at the moment) it seems the deadlift was highly posterior chain dominant which might contribute to delayed recovery comparatively. Also it seems squats require a greater contribution of eccentric work compared to deadlifts (?) which would imply at first a longer recovery period…or maybe greater adaptation. Like I said, probably overthinking this. Have some more thoughts on this but can’t quite put them together coherently. Again, nice post.

    The CNS gets stressed from the pulling method. Your hands. By placing a heavy load in your hands and pulling away stresses the central nervous system in a vary different way than a squat. Also a pulling motion is very different than a pushing motion of a squat. – John

  12. D Ball

    Always to the point. I think the longer you stay hidden in the mountains the better your response is. Thanks!

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