By Dain Soppelsa
Since I started lifting, my deadlift has always been my nemesis. My squat and bench consistently improve, but my deadlift has always been stubborn. After a couple years of using the Westside method, which consisted of a rotation between a squat, a deadlift movement and a type of good morning, I found myself stuck with a sub 600 pound deadlift. I had missed 600 at least three meets in a row. I was getting frustrated and after a few discussions with my training partners, we decided that I should try doing good mornings every other week instead of once every three weeks. The thinking was that it would improve my back strength and in so doing, I would break through the 600 pound deadlift barrier.
When I began this experiment, I was alternating between a standing good morning for 1-5 reps and a chain suspended good morning for 1-3 reps. I also went belt less every other week in an attempt to build up my core, which we thought would help my deadlift too. Right off the bat it was a lot of fun. The weights seemed to go up every week and my back was definitely getting stronger. I figured this approach was bound to pay dividends when it came to my lackluster deadlift.
After a short time, I stopped worrying as much about my technique. I mostly just wanted to lift as much as I could during each workout. I started letting my butt come down lower and I started rounding my back over. My good morning was looking more like a squat/good morning hybrid. I was still feeling the exercise in my lower back, so my training partners and I agreed that a little slip in form would be fine because I was still improving my back strength.
My squats were definitely going up from the good mornings. I was feeling stronger all the time, except for my deadlift. Once a month, when it came time to deadlift on max effort day, I felt like I was bound to see some carryover from all the back work. The problem was that I wasn’t seeing deadlift progress. I was extremely frustrated by this and started questioning what I was doing. My training partners managed to talk me into staying the course because these things take time. So, I continued doing the good mornings twice a month.
I ended up sticking with my plan right up to a meet I had planned on competing in. On the day of the meet, I was chatting with Craig Gallo, who was a great lifter from Michigan. He actually held the world record squat in the 308 lbs weight class for a time in his hay day. I always tried to pick his brain knowing that he was a stud. While talking with him about his training, he asked me how my training was going into this particular meet. I couldn’t wait to brag to him about my 800 pound chain suspended good morning. The only thing was that he didn’t give me the reaction I was looking for. He actually laughed at me. He told me that there are no good morning contests, it only matters what you squat, bench and deadlift. I was actually a little pissed off by this, but after I missed another 600 pound deadlift that day, I knew he was right.
I ended up seeking out advice from some new training partners after the conversation I had with Craig. Sure enough, they agreed with what he had told me and that I was barking up the wrong tree trying to fix my deadlift issue by doing more good mornings. I ended up training with those guys regularly and I did finally get that 600 pound deadlift. My problem was that my technique was wrong. My previous training partners didn’t know enough about correct deadlift form to help me execute it correctly. My back strength was never the issue. It was my technique. It turns out it doesn’t matter if you have a strong back if your technique is off. You can’t use the strength you have if you aren’t in a position to do so effectively.
I learned some valuable lesson from all of this. For starters, I am truly lucky that I didn’t injure my back doing all those good mornings with bad form. Many people struggle with remembering that you will get more out of an exercise when performed correctly, even if the weight is considerable less. I was no different. A person is also much more likely to hurt themselves when sacrificing form to lift more weight.
Another important lesson learned from this experience; it’s great to have a plan, but you shouldn’t keep doing exercises just because they make you feel strong while you’re doing them. Honestly, from what I know now, if you are great at something, then you should probably be doing something else. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but when you stink at an exercise, that means that muscle group needs work. Weaknesses don’t just take care of themselves on their own. You have to address them.
If what you’re doing doesn’t improve your main lifts, then you should stop doing it. It’s good to give yourself enough time to see if an exercise is going to help you, but don’t just do it forever. Once something ceases to be productive, then it’s time for a change. It’s up to you to figure out what that change is. Whether it’s a coach you need, or new training partners, if you want to succeed, then you need to do whatever is necessary for you to consistently improve. I am very lucky that I had no serious injuries, other than some muscle tears over the years. I am also very lucky to have been introduced to the 10/20/Life principles, so that I can remain as healthy as possible for the rest of my life. It’s like Brian Carroll says, you only get one body, so take care of yours.
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