To Top

Dead Wrong?

If you’ve been stubbornly continuing to deadlift despite injuries just because you believe it’s the only path to a better back, maybe it’s time you stopped blindly heeding that directive.

The deadlift has been lauded as the king of back builders, with a most impressive list of bodybuilding champions crediting it for building their killer backs. Mr. Olympia winners Franco Columbu and Samir Bannout were both adept at pulling prodigious amounts of tonnage from the floor, and Lee Haney and Dorian Yates included it in their recipes for wondrously thick wingspans. But it wasn’t until Ronnie Coleman came along and made the move legendary with his 800-pound deads just weeks away from the ’01 Mr. Olympia contest in his watershed training video “The Unbelievable” that bodybuilders everywhere suddenly rediscovered what had previously been the least popular of the three powerlifts, behind bench presses and squats.

Many take as fact the idea that outstanding back development cannot be achieved without deadlifts. As we all know, however, whenever there’s a rule, someone will come along who proves to be an exception. At the ’07 NPC USA Championships, a relative unknown named Ben White dominated the superheavyweight class en route to sweeping the overall title, putting him in company with past USA champs like Flex Wheeler and Chris Cormier. White was packing loads of thick muscle all over, but his back in particular spelled “game over” for his competition.

His has all the qualities that bodybuilders strive for in a back: width, thickness and crazy detail. The shocker came when White started getting some press and revealed that deadlifts played no part whatever in building that amazing back. “I tried it a couple times, and it felt like a very dangerous exercise to me,” he says. A former bench press champion with an official lift of more than 700 pounds, White also met his share of powerlifters who had chronic lower-back injuries they attributed to deadlifts, and that cemented his decision to avoid the movement. Ask him if you can build an awesome back without deads, and White is quick to affirm that you certainly can. “Hard work on chinups, barbell and dumbbell rows, cables and machines will give you all the back development you need,” he asserts. “It’s all about stimulating the muscles, and there are many ways to do that besides pulling a bar off the ground.” 

You could argue that White was able to construct his cobralike back without deads thanks mainly to his exceptional DNA, but if that were true, you’d also have to concede that someone like Ronnie Coleman is just as genetically gifted. So if White could build an awesome back without deadlifts, odds are that Ronnie could have too. 

Should you deadlift? If it’s a safe movement for you, by all means do it. Not all of us are structurally suited to deadlifts. Dave Henry, who has a hell of a back himself, never felt he was built for them. I know that every time I’ve reached any reasonable amount of strength on deadlifts, inevitably my lower back has gotten hurt. 

If you’ve been stubbornly continuing to deadlift despite injuries just because you believe it’s the only path to a better back, maybe it’s time you stopped blindly heeding that directive. If deadlifts aren’t a safe and productive exercise for you, go ahead and lay them to rest. IM

—Ron Harris

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in Back

  • Massive Gains From Head To Toe

    A total body overload plan for virtually guaranteed hypertrophy. By Sarah L. Chadwell, NASM-CPT   Broscience states that lifting heavy junk...

    Sharon OrtigasOctober 13, 2017
  • Pre-Exhaust Training

    Improve your form, keep your body balanced and continue progressing. By Heather Neff, CPT   Have you tried pre-exhaust training? Though...

    Sharon OrtigasOctober 5, 2017
  • Better Off Deadlifting

    The deadlift has stood the test of time because it works all of your muscles. By Sarah Chadwell, NASM CPT  ...

    Sharon OrtigasOctober 2, 2017
  • Rise To A New Level With Laterals

    Lateral raises will push your delts and upper body to new heights. By Sarah Chadwell, NASM CPT   Every man wants...

    Sharon OrtigasSeptember 15, 2017
  • Grow With The Flow

    Try these night-time high-rep sets to induce rapid muscle growth. By Tony Estrada   Let’s face it: If this article supported...

    Sharon OrtigasAugust 28, 2017
  • Do More Work

    Initiate growth by jamming more reps into fewer minutes in the gym. By Team Iron Man   PQ: This program takes...

    Sharon OrtigasJune 14, 2017
  • The Mechanical Advantage

    This relatively painful intensity technique can lead to rapid gains in size. By Vince Del Monte This month I want to...

    Sharon OrtigasApril 14, 2017
  • Back Attack

    Unleash your inner beast with a smart and technical program that mixes hypertrophy with functionality. By Mike Carlson   Everyone loves...

    Sharon OrtigasFebruary 6, 2017
  • The Pull Pattern

    Training the back and biceps together is the perfect amount of growth-stimulating stress and recovery. By Mike Carlson   Patterns abound...

    NMI DevOctober 12, 2016