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Thursday 140918 - Rest Day/Open Gym

Rest Day/Open Gym Reading

Can We Talk About Dropping Deadlifts? by Lisbeth Darsh

This article sparked a little buzz in the VIP Lounge earlier (thanks Susan!) and since I know a few of our members aren't regulars on the Facebooks I thought I'd share my thoughts here.

To drop or not drop your deadlifts, that is the question. Historically, dropping a successful deadlift was never an acceptable thing. The main reason? Iron plates. Only in the last few years with the increased awareness of CrossFit/bumpers/Rogue Fitness has it become more and more common to find a gym to do deadlifts in which had anything other than iron plates. When that was the case, you wouldn't drop a deadlift for the same reasons you wouldn't drop a clean & jerk or snatch with iron plates: it's a great way to bend your bar, break your floor, and create one of the most obnoxious sounds known to man. Now that bumper plates and rubber floors are much more common, is there a reason other than protecting the equipment that you should return your deadlift to the floor?

One line in the article said in defense of lowering a deadlift, "Do you dump a back squat in the bottom and count it as a PR/PB?" That's probably not a fair argument because as most Sanctifiers should know, deadlifting starts with a concentric (raising) movement while a squat starts with the eccentric (lowering) phase. Getting to the bottom of a squat and then dumping the bar only showed that you could lower the weight, not stand it back up. In a deadlift (and pull-up for that matter) you pick the weight up first so do you need to demonstrate your ability to lower it back to the ground? Probably not. However, you can lower it back to the ground, every time. It's basic physiology.

Check out this graph...

Ok, so we've got force production along the vertical axis and velocity along the horizontal. Remember that a muscle can do one of three things when it contracts: lengthen (eccentric), shorten (concentric), or not change it's length at all (isometric). Let's go back to the squat for a visual. When you lower your squat the muscles are lengthening which is an eccentric action. At the bottom of the squat before you change direction there has to be a period where no movement at all occurs (sometimes it's longer or shorter depending on if we're doing pause squats or not). The muscle is still contracted but not moving; that's an isometric contraction. Then as you stand up the muscle shorten which is a concentric action. The vertical blue line in the graph (v=0) represents when there is no velocity, meaning no movement, and therefore represents the isometric phase of the lift or contraction. On this graph velocity increases as you go either direction horizontally from that blue line.

Now let's look at the force side of the equation (this will be fun). According to the graph, when is muscle force production the greatest? It's not when the muscle is shortening or when you're lifting something. It's actually when the muscle is lengthening and you are lowering the weight. That should make sense in reality. Take the back squat again. We've all tried going for a max, were able to lower (muscle lengthening) the bar under control, but couldn't stand up with it (muscle shortening). Clearly you had enough strength/force to lower the bar under control (otherwise it would've completely crushed you), but couldn't produce enough force to raise it. The take home point is this: you can always lower more weight than you can pick up or lift.

Back to the deadlift, the muscle actions happen in reverse order from a squat: shortening first as you pick up the bar then lengthening as you lower it. Therefore, if you are able to pick up your deadlift, physiology tells us that you can lower it back to the ground under control. Yes it'll be hard and awkward. I didn't say it'd be easy, just possible.

But just because you can lower your deadlifts, should you? In my opinion, 95% of the time for most people, yes. As long as a muscle is producing force, whether lengthening or shortening, it can be stimulated to get stronger. By not lowering the bar to the ground you miss out on an opportunity to stimulate more strength development. "What if I'm maxing out and testing my deadlift rather than training it?" That's a fair question. In that case it's a barbell etiquette thing and a mental I'm-strong-enough-to-not-only-pick-this-bar-up-but-lower-it-too-so-get-off-me thing. You just look like you know what you're doing when you lower it back to the floor. You look like that lift didn't surprise you and you're ready for the next one. That's a good state to be in.

What's the 5% of the time when you can drop a deadlift? Part of the 5% would be if you're in a competition doing multiple reps and you're extremely fatigued and you have to "grind" your way through a few remaining reps. Physiologically, eccentric movements are more damaging to the muscle than concentric. If you eliminate the eccentric action it could spare you some soreness the next day (probably not though if you're really pushing it). We as coaches will let you know if you're ever in that situation.

The other 5% of the time would be if you're in a competition where there's lots of money on the line that you could win and the fraction of a second that you save by dropping the bar could mean the difference between winning or losing said money. Let me know if you're ever in that situation.

And just so you know I practice what I preach, here's my last deadlift PR of 510...

Yes, when the bar is about 2 inches off the ground I do open my hands. That's because it is a maximal load for me, I'm dropping it fast (check out the far left of that force-velocity curve above) and I don't want it to bounce back up into me and jar me because of the bumpers. If they were all iron I could drop it that fast, they wouldn't bounce, and I could hang on the whole time. If you hit a PR and drop the bar from 2 inches off the ground none of us coaches will make a stink. Although if you do hang on the whole time you'll get extra brownie points from us.