How I Got Better at Deadlifting… Without Deadlifting

Epic Deadlift Pic
I am pretty sure this is what I looked like…

Last year, at the end of Fall Quarter, I stopped lifting weights. That is, I shifted to a primarily calisthenics oriented strength program. I still do weights workouts from time to time, primarily squats, cleans, and overhead press/jerks, but the bulk of my weekly training program is all high-resistance calisthenics training.

Yesterday I decided to do a 1RM (One Rep Max) deadlift workout, working my way up to 400Lbs in triplets, and then seeing how high I could go in singles without hurting myself.

When I stopped lifting last year I was maxing out at 425 Lbs. Earlier this year I did a similar 1RM workout and hit 465, a gain of 40 Lbs after several months of doing no deadlifting and very little barbell work at all.

Yesterday I hit 485 Lbs for one very solid rep. I think I might have gone for 500Lbs if the gym allowed the use of chalk, but they don’t and it isn’t safe to deadlift with a weak grip. Still, that is a gain of 60 Lbs in less than a year, without deadlifting. I was shocked and amazed. Not only am I stronger, but after that lift I have no knee or low back pain, and very little muscular soreness.

How do I account for this phenomenon? Well, I consider it a ringing endorsement of a high-resistance Calisthenics (HRC) training methodology. It has allowed me to make more strength gains in the last six months (including a gain of 20Lbs on clean and jerk, without training clean and jerk) than I have in the last two years. It has also allowed me to remain injury free. Apart from residual knee ache when the weather changes, (I attribute that to my SUT days on active duty) I am almost pain free. My lower back no longer hurts every day, my hips are more mobile and core is stronger.

That, I think is the heart of HRC’s effectiveness. The core of the program is the ” The Big Six” movements:

  • One armed pushup progression
  • One armed pullup progression
  • Pistol Squat progression
  • One Armed Handstand pushup progression
  • Hanging Leg Raise/Dragon Flag progression
  • Back Bridge progression

Every single one of these movements is geared towards generating the maximum tension that the body is capable of through not only the prime movers, but also in all the stabilizing muscles. In the case of the deadlift, working the pistol squat progression has built some freakish power in my legs, but also forces me to maintain total core tension in extremely vulnerable positions, e.g. at the bottom of a squat with my hips in full flexion. The back bridge progression works the posterior chain through its full ROM, from neutral to full extension, while L-sits and Hanging leg raises force it to maintain tension from neutral through full flexion.

Seriously? This is the epitome of shoulder strength.
Seriously? This is the epitome of shoulder strength.

Where do I go from here? I continue to work the progressions. I have yet to master the one-armed pushup and the one-armed pullup, although I am getting closer. I am light years away from the one-armed handstand pushup (I mean, seriously?!) And I have to ween myself away from assistance on the stand-to-stand back bend.

I am also adding in flags and holds from gymnastics style training, but that’s another story. As always, training is a way of life, not a destination.

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