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Dead Lifting: The Most Dangerous Way to Make Incredible Muscle and Strength Gains

  Nov 27th, 2012

Carrot Top After Getting JackedWhen it comes to building incredible amounts of muscle and strength, there are a handful of lifts that are unrivaled in terms of their overall muscle gaining and strength stacking abilities.


There are variations of these lifts that can be utilized, but squats, dead lifts, bench presses (when performed the right way), pull ups (weighted when needed), standing shoulder presses and power cleans will enable even the skinniest hardgainer to pack on some much needed muscle mass when consistently utilized.


While these lifts will get you jacked faster than Carrot Top on steroids, they’re also some of the most dangerous to perform.


Out of all the lifts listed above, the lift that leads to injuries more frequently than any other, in my experience, is the dead lift.


Add to this the fact that injuries stemming from dead lifting usually involve the lower back and you can see how potentially debilitating dead lifting can be.


So, what’s the answer?


Do you altogether avoid dead lifting, one of the best muscle building and core strengthening exercises at your disposal? Believe it or not, there are people out there who are scared silly at the prospect of injuring their lower back to the point that they won’t even consider dead lifting.


This is a tad bit extreme considering that nine out of ten dead lifting injuries are avoidable and are nothing more than a result of user error. The truth is, dead lifting form is difficult to perfect and it often takes months or years to get it right.


You can go to the gym and figure out how to perform a standing dumbbell curl with relative ease and little risk of seriously hurting yourself. But, if you go packing on the plates and pulling a barbell from the ground with reckless abandon and decrepit form, you’re guaranteed to wind up with an injury that will keep you out of the gym for longer than you care to consider.


Take this guy, for example:



I can think of no better way of describing that train wreck than a certain trip to the hospital that will likely take place sooner rather than later. If he hasn’t snapped his back, or had the barbell fall on top of him, it’s guaranteed to happen if he doesn’t get his form in check with the quickness.


The worst part is that he’s got at least two training partners encouraging this egregious attempt at a dead lift! If nothing else, this dude really needs to think about getting some new training partners.


Like most who wind up developing dead lifting injuries, he’s attempting to pull way too much weight and it has compromised his form to the point that it hardly resembles a proper dead lift. In other words, this is a recipe for disaster!


The good news is that I can provide you with a few simple tips that will enable you to immediately enhance your safety a hundred times over so you can ditch your fear of dead lifting and start packing on the muscle.


Before I move on… If any of you know the guy in the video, be sure to send him a link to this article. Please!


Adding Weight Too Quickly

No one likes to feel inferior. I get that.


When I got back into training, after a hiatus of several years, I hated feeling like I was the only guy in the gym that couldn’t squat two hundred pounds. To make matters worse, there were women squatting reps with more weight than my max!


It can be tempting to over-react and start putting an amount of weight on the bar that your body just isn’t ready for. Not only will this usually lead to slower long-term strength gains than adding resistance in slower increments, but more importantly, it will compromise your safety.


Hot Girl Working OutLook guys. I know it’s hard not to add another forty five pounder to the bar when there’s a hot girl working out within spitting distance. We all think an attractive female increases our strength by superhuman proportions, but it just doesn’t work that way.


Lift within your means and add weight when you’re ready, using your training log to tell you when it’s time to add another five or ten pounds to the bar.


Trying to pull an amount of weight that you’re not ready for will only compromise your form, which is the fastest way to injure yourself while dead lifting.


It’s imperative that you start light, work on perfecting your form and slowly ramp up the resistance. I realize it’s hard to be humble enough to work up so slowly, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by tweaking your lower back (or worse).


Don’t let your pride stand in the way of your personal safety. Your pride won’t matter much when you’re in your fifties and requiring the assistance of a cane to get around because twenty years earlier you decided to throw on a few extra plates to impress your training buddies or a hot girl training next to you.


Keep Your Chin Up!

This one really hits home for me. A couple of months back, while working up to my 5 rep max weight, I took my gaze off the ceiling and lowered my chin before pulling up on the bar. This caused my back to round and I felt my spinal erectors twinge.


Being the stubborn guy that I am, I forced myself to complete my remaining two sets by working through the pain and the next day I could hardly bend over to pick up my one year old daughter because of it.


If you’ve ever suffered a back injury, you know how frustrating they can be. Every movement you make seems to cause you pain, you can’t sleep at night because you can’t get comfortable no matter how you position yourself, you’ll be severely limited in your training (if you can even train at all), and the healing process is about as slow and drawn out as it could possibly be.


Worst of all, serious back injuries have the potential to haunt you for the rest of you life as they rarely heal 100%.


So before you even think about tensing up your core and initiating a single dead lift rep, first pick a spot high up on a wall or even on the ceiling to fix your eyes on and keep them there. This will keep your chin up and prevent your back from rounding while pulling the bar upward.


It can be easy to forget to keep your chin up – especially when you’re amping yourself up in preparation for a heavy set. And, as I recently found out, it only takes one weak moment to put you out of commission for a couple of months.


Bar, Meet Shin

Beginner dead lifters almost all make the mistake of pulling the bar from the ground while it’s six inches or more out in front of them. This can feel natural and like it provides greater pulling leverage, but it isn’t and it doesn’t!


The bar should be either touching your shins or no more than an inch away from them before starting the lifting progression and the bar should remain extremely close to your body throughout the entire concentric portion of the lift.


Scraped Shins from Dead Lifting

When the bar is out in front of you more than an inch you’ll be forced to bend over the bar and your lower back will have to endure a high level of strain under flexion. This is never a good combination!


Having the bar resting against your shins will allow you to keep your back erect from start to finish. This also sets you up to be able to maximally draw upon the strength in your posterior chain, which is where your dead lifting power ought to originate.


Some people are quickly turned off at the prospect of dead lifting with the bar so close to their shins because the first time they try it they wind up leaving the gym with numerous cuts and bruises.


This can be avoided by taking a few simple preventative measures. I don’t have the time to get into it here, but here’s a great article from Mehdi of Strong Lifts that will help you keep your shins from getting shredded: 5 Ways to Eliminate Shin Scraping on Deadlifts


Bent Elbow Nightmares

Dead lifting with bent elbows is less common among beginners and will usually become more of an issue as you grow stronger and begin using a mixed grip to allow you to maintain your grip under a heavy load.


Andy Bolton Using Mixed GripA mixed grip, for those that are new to the term, simply refers to gripping the bar with one hand pronated (palm down or in) and the other supinated (palm up or out). When using a mixed grip, most people prefer their dominant hand in the supinated position, but whichever orientation is most comfortable for you is fine.


A mixed grip allows you to hold more weight for longer by not relying predominantly on thumb strength in both hands to grip the bar. The supinated hand uses all four fingers to support the bar, allowing you to easily compensate if the thumb on your pronated hand begins to tire.


While this is a great technique for helping you maintain your grip with heavier weights, the biceps of the arm using a supinated grip can tear if you attempt to pull the bar from the ground with your elbows bent.


I have yet to meet someone who could curl as much as they can dead lift. My personal 5 rep max barbell curl weight is about 30% of my 5 rep max dead lifting weight, which is pretty typical, in my experience.


When you dead lift three times your curling weight with your elbows bent, guess what happens? Your biceps are strained well beyond their capacity and it’s only a matter of time before you tear your biceps or develop a case of tendonitis.


Before pulling up on the bar (using mostly your posterior chain, not your arms), make sure that your arms are as close to fully straight as possible. Anything more than a slight bend is a recipe for disaster.


Dead Lifting Doesn’t Have to Be Dangerous

Dead lifts are a prime lift for gaining core strength, overall power and muscle mass. If you avoid them, you’ll be cheating yourself!


Dead lifts can be performed safely, but you need to know what you’re doing. It isn’t a lift that you can teach yourself, or one that you’re going to perfect in a matter of a week or two.


Start with light weights that you can handle with very little effort and work on your form, first and foremost. Then, slowly increase the resistance.


If you notice your form becoming compromised, drop the weight back down. Dead lifting more weight than you can handle by using shoddy form isn’t helping you much anyway.


Practice keeping your chin up, using a mixed grip, lifting with the bar as close to your legs as possible and keeping your back erect.

 Andy Bolton's Deadlift Dynamite

Remember to push your butt towards the ground, while bending your knees and keeping your back erect, before initiating the dead lift. Your dead lifting power comes from your posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes), not your lower back.


This article is by no means an all-inclusive manual for proper dead lifting form. That being said, implementing these tips will greatly reduce your chance of injury by eliminating the mistakes that lead to more dead lifting injuries than any others.


If you’re looking for a complete, comprehensive manual for safely building massive amounts of strength and size using the dead lift, I recommend grabbing a copy of Andy Bolton’s Deadlift Dynamite.


Andy is a six-time world champion power lifter who’s dead lifted over 1,000 pounds in competition. I can think of nobody better to teach you all the ins and outs of dead lifting than Andy.


I said it above, but I’ll say it again: dead lifting is absolutely essential, but it’s not something you can safely teach yourself or learn quickly on your own. Unless your goal is to take a ride to the E.R. in the back of an ambulance, you’ll have to take your time, learn from someone who can teach you everything you need to know, and spend the time working on perfecting your form.


There are no shortcuts when it comes to dead lifting. Well, no safe ones anyway.



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