Jeff Cavaliere put together a very thorough and well-informed breakdown of what, at first, seems like truly batshit insane advice from an elite-level powerlifter:
Now, like many of you, when I first heard the guy say that most people who aren’t doing deadlifts simply for the sake of adding weight to the bar, shouldn’t deadlift, my reaction was as follows:
But, I watched the video the whole way through and I think that Mr. Cavaliere makes some truly outstanding points.
Put simply, he is right. In every aspect.
He is right about the fact that a lot of athletes do not train for deadlifting qua deadlifting, and nor should they.
He is right about the fact that a lot of “coaches” for professional athletes have absolutely no bloody clue about how to teach proper deadlifting form.
He is right about the fact that there is a serious risk with deadlifting – IF you do it the wrong way.
And he is right that deadlifting is nonetheless a fundamental movement pattern that MUST be mastered for any man who is serious about increasing his strength and resiliency.
I write from the perspective of someone who regularly deadlifts 405lbs (mixed-grip with belt and chalk). It’s not actually that hard for me to do. Just this past Sunday I was in the gym and did a 1RM of 190Kg, which is just a smidge under 419lbs. And that isn’t actually my all-time maximum, which was, at one point, 215Kg or 474lbs. I lifted that while I was living in London, over 4 years ago, but I did it with pretty shitty form, so I don’t really consider that to count as a true clean rep.
I also write from the perspective of someone who has had severe back injuries from deadlifting. The very first time that I ever tried to deadlift weight was back in May 2011 or thereabouts – eight years ago, so that’s how long I’ve been doing this “lifting heavy shit” routine – and I had an excruciatingly painful back for a full week afterwards because I had no idea what the hell I was doing. The first time I ever tried to deadlift 445lbs was back in March 2012, and I did so with a rounded lower back which immediately resulted in a severe disc herniation that I aggravated a week later while trying to do squats. I was out of the gym for over a month as a result.
I have tweaked my back at least six times since August 2012, and every time it has resulted in a minimum of a week on the sidelines, unable to lift anything much heavier than a fork. So I know exactly what the big guy in that video meant when he said that the risk-to-reward ratio for athletes makes no sense.
It really doesn’t. When you are paid to perform, you cannot afford to be on the bench or off the field or out of the court because you messed up your lower back while lifting weights.
It is possible to play and fight and move through an upper back injury. I’ve done it. There is nothing pleasant about it, but an upper or even middle back injury is recoverable and you can work through the pain.
It is impossible to do anything when your lower back is jacked up. There is nothing short of limb that will set you back faster than an injury to your lumbar spine. And, as Jeff Cavaliere points out, your spine may well be flexible and separated into distinct regions, but it moves as a single unit, so that if your upper back starts to cave and collapse during a lift, your lower back WILL follow eventually, and you WILL get hurt.
Does that mean you should not deadlift?
Sure – if you want to be weak.
If you don’t, though – then deadlifting is quite simply the most effective way to build solid muscle mass and strength in a very short time.
You simply must know how to do it properly. And for that, you need to talk to a real strength coach who knows what he is doing. There are plenty of deadlifting training videos out there that teach you the cues necessary to achieve a solid, careful, well-managed deadlift that will keep your spine strong and injury-free.
The three fundamental powerlifting exercises – squat, bench, and deadlift – are considered nothing less than essential for a variety of other lifting routines, including Olympic lifting. If you cannot squat properly, for instance, then you are never going to be able to do the snatch or the clean-and-jerk – but those lifts also incorporate movement patterns used by the deadlift.
And the thing is… if you are taught the wrong movement pattern for those Olympic lifts, you are every bit as likely to rupture something or herniate a disc as you are with a deadlift.
The snatch, in particular, puts a tremendous load on the entire spinal column. If your lower back is weak or not managed properly during that lift, it will collapse, leading you to fail the lift and likely seriously throw out your back in the process.
You ain’t gonna be walkin’ that off, let me tell you.
Building muscles and being strong involve nothing more, and nothing less, than the simple and careful application of hard-won knowledge and techniques. It really comes down to this:
Learn how to lift PROPERLY.
Add weight (or reps or sets) with every workout – preferably the first, because this is the only way to get really strong.
Lift carefully on every rep, and pay very close attention to your form.
Take video footage of your lifts if you have to, from multiple angles, and get your form critiqued by lifters that you know and admire who are stronger than you.
Take time off to heal, rest, and recover when you need to.
Stretch out your lower back using a simple and effective warm-up routine that licensed physiotherapists like Jeff Cavaliere can teach you.
And, most importantly – get your ass in the gym and train.
That’s it. Now go forth and DEADLIFT.