Confession: I am beginning to dive into the world of barbell training. I was exposed to the barbell deadlift by a number of lifting coaches through Industrial Athletics, and since then, I have started to fall in love with picking a huge hunk of weight up and putting it back down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy about kettlebells and that will always be the case (I friggin love pressing and seriously heavy pistols), but this deadlift thing. . .it has attracted my attention so much that I now feel that I am in some weird weight-lifting love triangle between the bar and my beloved bells. What’s a strong girl to do?
In a recent conversation I had with our newest instructor, Dan Byrnes, I was talking about how a bunch of strong women at the Radiance retreat got together for an epic deadlifting session. Much to my dismay, I was unable to lift towards a max capacity due to the fact that my lats were ridiculously super tight (not making excuses here. that’s on me and I know better than to pull super heavy pull ups and then try to deadlift a lot within just a few days of each other. WHOOPS!). However, the weight I was deadlifting at the time that used to give me heck felt stupid easy. And when I say easy, I mean I probably could have thrown the bar into the air. WHAT THE HELL?! Is this witchcraft?
I mentioned this to Dan who had a similar “WHAT THE HELL!?” effect himself. It has been MONTHS since the man has even touched a barbell, and over the weekend during his trip back home to New Hampshire, he nailed a 405 pound deadlift without even training on the bar. No barbell training involved, just kettlebells. His previous max? 315.
Um … WUT?!?
I’ll let him explain this all himself.
“I haven’t done a deadlift in 3 months. That is to say I haven’t done any power or olympic lifting whatsoever in 90 days. The books authored by Pavel Tsatsouline and the blogs of kettlebellers across the world preach about the “What the Hell?” effect. It’s practically gospel at this point. At CrossFit Portsmouth, I took a little break from my kettlebell regimen to put the words of these preachers to the test.
I wrapped my hands around 315 LBS bar with a double overhand grip, and elevator up! The bar felt light. I slap on a few more tires for a total of 365, and with that same grip, I push the floor away and extend my hips forward. Heavy, but I can do heavier. Adding a few more tires brings the grand total to 385 LBS. Hands on the bar, shins vertical, hamstrings loaded, shoulders packed, spine neutral, big breath in, and elevator up! Oh no…elevator half-way up?? ***K! My grip fails, and the elevator plummets to the ground. I pace around the bar like a confused bear angry over a honeypot too high to reach. My body relaxes, I reset, tense my grip even tighter and begin to rise. But, again, my grip fails, and the elevator crashes. ***K! ***K! ***K! The honeypot still eludes the bear.
Justin — the Olympic and Powerlifting Coach (one of the best coaches I have ever had) — glances over at me, “Change your grip, dude.”
“What, like a mixed grip”
I do a little more pacing around the bar (my new ritual, hereafter known as the “Confused Bear”). I approach, mix my grip, take a big breath in, and up it goes. And it stays up…all the way. Hurray! I triumphantly wobble over to the board to check my previous one rep max. It says 315 LBS. I stare at it dumbly, and attempt to do the math. 385 is a 90 LBS increase from 315. What the Hell?! For me, the past 90 days have consisted of swings, get-ups, presses, and pistol squats. So, I guess the Academy goes to the one-handed swing. Why? Well, hip hinge and grip strength. Swinging a couple of 32 KG kettlebells around apparently makes you stronger. Good to know.
Then a few days later I tell Janelle about my…progress. She’s excited about my progress, but that shortly backfires when she texted me this:
‘Can you get a photo taken of you doing a deadlift? Send it to me for the blog. That would be uber helpful.’
Oh sh*t. I need to do it again. I have a haircut in an hour and I need to make the meatloaf. I hit the pause button, and run over to the gym again, which is conveniently located across the street. It’s empty, and I start to warm up. Kit, the newest CrossFit Portsmouth intern, comes down the stairs, so I recruit her for my First Annual Deadlift Photo Shoot. After a quick pull of 315, I’m ready for the main event. I feel good — really good. So, in the words of Emeril Lagasse, I decide to “BAM! Take it up a notch!” Let’s do 4 tires on each side: eight 45 LB plates total on the bar. I’m not sure how much that is, but it looks totally sexy. I ready my new camera lady, Kit, latch onto the bar with a mixed grip, and, once again, push the floor away from the bar. Perfect forum. The bar feels weightless (what the hell did I eat this morning??), and I lock out and hold to be sure Kit gets the beauty shots she needs. Done! I drop the bar, take a step back, and attempt to tally up the total weight. Ha! Math! Whatever! I break out the cellphone, and the Android operating system informs me that I just deadlifted 405 LBS. I just bested a one rep max by 90 LBS. Over 40 KG. I have a little cousin who weighs about 90 LBS. So I PR-ed by 90 LBS, 40 KG’s, or by one family member. Pick your favorite unit of measurement.”
THIS IS ABSOLUTELY #@$%^&* INCREDIBLE!
A couple of things to note here on Dan’s revelation of strength.
1). Notice the change in grip Dan made for this lift. At the Radiance Retreat Jen Sinkler gave us a run down on biofeedback and how certain positions and grips may work in your favor depending on how your built or how you feel on any given day. It appears Dan’s body favors the mix grip for the super heavy deadlift, and I would argue that has a lot to do with his own biofeedback. For more on biofeedback and lifting, go here. This also brings me to the second point.
2). Dan mentioned heavy single and double kettlebell swings really made the carry over into the deadlift. This is particularly interesting considering the hinge and the grip strength needed for the heavy swings themselves. Heavy kettlebell swings force you to hinge with precision and will demand proper contraction of your quads, glutes, hamstrings and abs to stabilize heavy weights. Dan can easily swing double 32kgs for reps now which demand a TON of leg and ab power. It also demands a super tight grip of those bells to ensure they don’t become trajectories ;). Seriously though, the tension you need for single arm heavy swings is insane, and it’s of no wonder that dialing in that particular body mechanic is what would have made for a sizable deadlift.
WHAT THE HELL!? THIS IS AWESOME!
Kettlebells aren’t just for intense training routines if you’re not into the barbell work. Kettlebells have proven to ENHANCE the strength of those that favor the bar, and sometimes so much so, those tiny hunks of iron lead to extreme strength gains for the hardcore lifter. At Primal Fitness Pittsburgh, we work with you from the ground up so you can master fundamental movement patterns and gain strength over the course of time. With a strong foundation and proper programming, you truly can exceed your goals and become a force to be reckoned with. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so you can set up a free consultation here at the studio. We offer customized programs for all of our clients to guarantee their success for the long term!
That’s it for today everyone! Now go forth and deadlift all the things! 😉
Master your instincts!