Deadlifts can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. They are a gut wrenching exercise and the ultimate test of strength.
The deadlift is popular because it is one of the most effective exercises – perhaps even better than the squat – and, of course, is one of the big three in Powerlifting.
However, deadlifts can leave you feeling like you are dead if done too frequently or intensely. The deadlift places much greater stress on the central nervous system compared to other back exercises such as the barbell row and power clean.
I didn’t really consider this phenomenon until I started recording some of my workouts to assess my technique. I noticed that the average deadlift can take more than several seconds to perform, while other movements take only perhaps a second to perform and most had a shorter range of motion. The Olympic lifts, the exception, are both a longer range of motion and also performed exceedingly fast.
There is definitely a power output difference that can be calculated for each exercise but it is already evident that deadlifts performed too intensely and frequently will fry out the nervous system compared to other exercises.
The only exception to this rule would be new lifters who still haven’t fully adapted neurologically to the movement. Beginners are potentially the only group that can get away from deadlifting as frequent as 2 or 3 times a week. Even squatting everyday wouldn’t fry your nervous system as bad as deadlifting 3 times a week.
The only other exception would be a specialty program designed to increase the deadlift which would require doing less volume for virtually every other body part.
Now using this theory we can assume high frequency training using short range and fast movements would be as effective as a conjugate to increase deadlift strength. The only variable that would have to be further isolated would be the power output of the said exercise.
Some obvious exercises would be shrugs, barbell cheat rows, power cleans, dumbbell rows, seated cable rows, and lat pull downs.
Some evidence supporting this would be the fact that many bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger could deadlift over 710 lbs raw and Ronnie Coleman could do doubles with over 800 lbs using a squat suit. These well-known bodybuilders didn’t specialize in deadlift training and in fact were more concerned with the lats.
In bodybuilding if you don’t have lats then just shut up about your lower back and deadlift. Wide lats are the big show piece muscle when it comes to back in bodybuilding. So these bodybuilders for sure didn’t become Mr. Olympia by specializing in the deadlift or they for sure would have some of the greatest deadlift records in the sport of Powerlifting.
So if you are having nightmares about your next back workout consider what your goal is. If you want a big back and are more interested in bodybuilding then you should train like a bodybuilder and use the deadlift an assessment tool rather than an exercise.
On the other hand, if you are more worried about your max deadlift then there is no way around the principle of specificity. You have to deadlift and learn to love it. There is no way around it.