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Is it a good idea for older lifters to do deadlifts?

ironmanmagazine.comQ: I’m 48 years old. I just got into serious weight lifting about three years ago. Do you think it’s a good idea for older lifters to do deadlifts?

A: Not only do I think it’s a good idea; I think it’s a great idea! Deadlifting is hard work, but the benefits for mature lifters are tremendous.

First of all, some people never consider the hormonal effect of weight training. Our hormone output has an amazing effect on not only our physiques but also how we feel in general. The two exercises that elicit the greatest hormonal response are the deadlift and the squat. They have a tremendous hormonal effect because they involve such a large cross-sectional area of muscle. When you pull a deadlift off the floor, you are working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, lats, traps, rear delts and forearms—just to name a few. Basically, almost your whole body is involved, and that elicits a fantastic hormonal response that is extremely anabolic. What you want is elevated testosterone and elevated growth hormone—and deadlifts give you both.

When I have clients who have never deadlifted before, I usually start them with what I call partial deadlifts—I think some people call them Romanian deadlifts. I came up with the idea for partial deadlifts years ago, when I was training six days a week and each bodypart twice per week during contest prep. My quads were so sore that deadlifting off the floor was agonizing. So I decided to deadlift in the power rack just from the knees up. That took my quads out of the equation and enabled me to lift some really heavy weights, greatly improving my erectors, hams, lats and traps.

When I started doing personal training, I found that beginners had difficulty maintaining proper form from the ground to the knees. Starting with partial deadlifts helped strengthen all the muscles that are required to perform full deadlifts. And it teaches them to feel and maintain the so-called flat-back position.

If you haven’t deadlifted before, I suggest about eight weeks of partial deadlifting. If you can do it in a power rack, set the pins just below knee level, and you won’t have to walk with the weight.

Start with a slight bend at the knees—absolutely do not lock out your knees. With your legs lightly contacting the bar, poke your butt back and arch your lower back before you start pulling. Pull smoothly with the bar just skimming your thighs until you’re fully erect. At the top of the movement tighten your thighs and glutes and pull your shoulders back. Your whole body should be tight at this point. Lower the weight under control, still skimming your thighs on the way down. Remember, keep everything tight!

After a couple months of strengthening with partial deadlifts, you can move to deadlifting off the floor. The more difficult part is getting from the floor to knee level in good position. Good technique is of the utmost importance, especially for mature lifters. Never sacrifice form for weight.

Start with your feet at hip width with your toes slightly turned out. Grasp the bar at shoulder width, and just think of your hands as hooks—your arms should not bend at all before or during the deadlift. Grab the bar and drop your hips only low enough that you can start with your back arched. Push smoothly through your heels, moving the bar straight up. When the bar clears your knees, it should gently skim your quads, just as it did in the partial deadlifts. Lower the bar back to the floor, then reset everything before you pull the next rep.

Many people will bounce the bar off the floor after the first rep. For younger lifters that may be okay, but what I typically see is lifters slipping further out of the correct form on every rep. For people our age I recommend that you perform each rep with perfect technique. Failure is the point at which you can’t maintain the arched, or flat-back, position for another rep. If your lower back is starting to round, don’t do another rep. Rounding the back not only opens the door for injury, but it also reinforces the bad technique in your brain for when fatigue sets in. Good technique is paramount for training longevity, and that’s what keeps us young.

I like to do my deadlifts on back day. You definitely want to have a couple of days of separation from your leg workout. If you’re just getting started with deadlifting, begin with just two sets of eight to 10 partial deadlifts the first workout. The next time move up to three sets. By your third workout you should be fine to add a fourth set. Continue with four sets of eight to 10 reps for eight weeks.

As you get stronger, add weight in five-to-10-pound increments. After eight weeks of partial deadlifts you should be ready to pull your deadlifts from the floor. When you start deadlifting from the floor, follow the same protocol—only do two sets the first time, and then add a set at the next two workouts.

Here’s a sample back workout with full deadlifts. This routine will add slabs of beef to your back, traps and hamstrings:


Deadlifts (from the floor)

warmup 1-2 x 10

work sets 3 x 6

Partial deadlifts 2 x 12

Pulldowns 4 x 8-10

Seated cable rows 3 x 8-10

One-arm DB rows 3 x 8-10


Give deadlifting a try, and let me know how much it improves your physique.

Train hard and eat clean!

Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at Click on Blogs in the top menu bar. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to [email protected]. IM

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