Why the Deadlift is the BEST LIFT

by Al Myers

This is one of several 700 pound plus deadlifts that I did in powerlifting competitions through the years. This picture is from the 2002 NASA Natural Nationals Powerlifting Championships.

I know – this is a bold statement I just made.  But after years of training experience, I truly believe that the deadlift is the best exercise for building overall body strength and power.   I know there are people who would disagree with me on this  statement, and I’m sure they have their reasons, but let me explain my feelings behind this and then you can give your arguments! 

1.  Argument 1 – The Squat is the KING of LIFTS

Early on I thought the Squat was the KING of LIFTS (and I’m sure others think this as well), and the squat is  by far the best lower body exercise, but other than that the deadlift RULES.  Very little upper body muscles come into play while squatting compared to a deadlift.  The deadlift works EVERY MUSCLE – lower and upper.  A deadlift hits the thighs, hamstrings, lower back, upper back, and even the chest muscles.  Plus it works the forearm and hand muscles.  A squat doesn’t do that!  Just name a lift that works all the muscles like a deadlift does – I bet you can’t name one!

2.  Argument 2 – The Deadlift will make you slow

I know the “deadlift critics” will say that the deadlift will make you slow.  I just don’t believe that.  The “critics” are usually ex-Olympic lifters who favor the Clean & Jerk and Snatch and are poor deadlifters (mainly because they don’t like it and don’t train it).  Now – I’m not saying these two Olympic  lifts are not great lifts (they both make my top five), but for building overall body strength they pale in comparison to the deadlift.  The Olympic lifts are highly technical and unless you are training them exclusively you have a hard time maintaining the proper techique and ability in them.  Add in a little age and decreased flexibility, and both of these lifts are limited by your technique and not by your strength.  And by the way, I have seen several Clean and Jerks that were PAINFULLY SLOW – so don’t use the “explosive” argument with me.  Any exercise can be done in an “explosive manner”.  Just use less weight and increase your speed of execution! 

3.  Argument 3 – I don’t want to hurt my back

The argument of not wanting to hurt your back by AVOIDING the best back exercise known to man does not even make sense to me!  Exercise strengthens the muscles and prevents injury (of course you have to be training correctly, but that’s another issue).   Name one exercise that strengthens the back better than the deadlift??  Lots of money has been invested in machines that make this promise – but where are they now?  They come and go with different manufacturers but the deadlift remains.  That ought to tell you something.

3.  Argument 4 – I’m an athlete and not a powerlifter

I hear this all the time.  Just because the deadlift is one of the competitive powerlifts does not make it a BAD EXERCISE.  Several of  my Highland Game friends seem to think the deadlift is an evil lift and has no benefit to a competitive Highland Athlete.  Instead, they focus on dangerous  lifts like jump squats and lifts on BOSU Balls.  But I will tell you – STRONG IS STRONG, and if you want to be strong, you have to train to be strong.  And NOTHING makes you strong like the deadlift!  This translates to increased ability in ANY strength related sport.  I always loved the Caber Toss in the Highland Games the most, mainly because it directly reflected on who the strongest throwers were.  I always threw in the more advanced classes and at that level everyone was experienced, and everyone knew how to toss the caber.  It was always very apparent who the strongest throwers  were when it got to big cabers, because only the strongest guys turned them. Sure the weaker-strength caber tossers looked “picture perfect” with light sticks, but when things “turned ugly” with the big sticks all the weak throwers could do was make their pfiffers look pretty. Great caber tossers like Mike Smith, Jim “the Big Chief” McGoldrick, Ryan Vierra, and  Harry McDonald were BULL STRONG.  If the deadlift was contested instead of  the caber these same guys would have still been on top.

By now you can tell that I am a little partial to the deadlift!  But my feeling is that if I was given the choice to train only ONE LIFT – it would be the deadlift.   There is just not any other lifting motion as pure as deadlifting.  Men have been picking up things off the ground for years and the deadlift strengthens this basic physical function better than any other lift.  Of course, these are all just my opinions and I welcome anyone to debate these points on the USAWA Discussion Forum.

Mr. Deadlift – John Robert Peoples

by Dennis Mitchell

Bob Peoples with his amazing deadlift.

Bob Peoples was born Aug. 2nd, 1910 in Northern Tennessee. He stated that no one in particular started him lifting, and that he always admired men who were strong and that his father was locally noted for his strength. He started lifting his father’s 50 pound dumbbell and anything else that would give him a challenge. He lived on a farm and trained outside or in one of the out buildings. Eventually he moved to his own house and had a gym in his basement that was referred to as “The Dungeon”. Other than lifting, Bob’s favorite sport was horse back riding and he spent many hours riding the mountain trails.

Bob was quite strong and was never a 97 pound weakling. When he started lifting he could deadlift 350 pounds and clean and jerk 160 pounds. At first he followed no set system of training as he was unaware that there were actual training systems. Later he followed the advice given in the different lifting magazines.

Much of his equipment was home made, although he did have a Milo Duplex Barbell set. He would use 50 gallon drums that he would fill with rocks. Later he added a Jackson International Olympic set with plenty of extra plates. He was unhappy with his progress in the Olympic lifts. As a middle weight in 1937 he did a 150 pound press, a 160 pound snatch and a 205 pound clean and jerk. It was at this time he started to experiment with different training ideas and is credited with making the first power rack.

Bob’s most outstanding lift was the deadlift, and in 1940 after winning the Tennessee State Olympic Lifting meet he made an official deadlift of 600 pounds, which was a “Southern” record.

Bob’s progress was interrupted by some health problems and during the war years the demands on farmers limited his training. However by the time of the Tennessee State championships in 1946, Bob was doing quite well and won the light heavy weight division with a deadlift of 651.25 pounds at a bodyweight of 175 pounds, which was a world record, beating Jack Hope’s record of 624.25 pounds. Later that same year at a show put on by Bob Hise, Bob lifted 700 pounds, only to find out when the bar was weighed it was 699 pounds. The newspaper photographer missed photographing the lift so Bob did it again so he could get the photograph. Later that year he did break the 700 pound barrier with a lift of 710 pounds. He did not get official credit for this lift as it was not weighed, as was the rules at that time.

Bob’s top deadlift was 728 pounds at a body weight of 178 pounds. He did all his lifts with an overhand grip, and of course at that time there were no power suits.

Other outstanding lifts that he made included deadlifting 500 pounds 20 times, a deadlift off of high blocks of 900 pounds, a 530 pound full squat, a 300 pound bench press, alternate standing press with a pair of 130 pound dumbbells, and cleaning a pair of 110 pound dumbbells for 10 reps.

He is in the U. S. Power lifting Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and the Upper East Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He was also very active in local civic and political issues.

Bob was married for 53 years to Junta Wills People. They had one daughter. Two grand daughters and one great grand daughter. Bob passed away in 1992.

The Fulton Dumbbell Deadlift

by Al Myers

Al Myers performing a One Arm Fulton Dumbbell Deadlift with 170 pounds at Clark's Record Day.

One of the lifts I did last weekend at Clark’s Record Day was the Fulton Dumbbell Deadlift.  I wanted to do this lift to point out a mistake that was made in the new Rule Book and found by Dale Friesz.  Despite the extensive review process of the new Rule Book, I knew mistakes were still possible and here is one.  Thanks Dale for finding it!

The Rule for the Deadlift – 2 Fulton Dumbbells should be this:

The rules of the Deadlift – 2 Dumbbells apply except the dumbbells used must have handles of 2″ in diameter.  No knurling is allowed on the handles.  The maximum diameter of the plates used is 18 inches.

Previously, due to a typo, it stated that only 11 inch diameter plates could be used.  This typo happened  because the Inch Dumbbell Deadlift does require a maximum diameter of 11 inch plates, and the rule for this lift is close to the Fulton Dumbbell Deadlift in the Rule Book.  Once again, copy and pasting created a problem for me!!  The reason for the Inch Dumbbell Deadlift requiring maximum 11″ plates is because the original Inch Dumbbell was a globe dumbbell, and the rule was written to best simulate the original Inch Dumbbells size using a plate loaded dumbbell handle.  This mistake will be corrected in next years updated Rule Book.

Now for the story on how the Fulton Dumbbell got its name….

Back in the early 80’s at a odd lifting meet in Liberal, Kansas, meet director Bob Burtzloff included a thick-handled dumbbell deadlift in the contest.  This dumbbell had a smooth 2 inch diameter handle.  Wilbur Miller, the “Cimarron Kid” and Kansas lifting legend,  was the hands on favorite to win this event.  Wilbur has huge hands with long fingers and was very rarely beaten in any lifting event that involved grip strength.  But this day was one of those rare days – when a young farm boy from Nebraska by the name of Kevin Fulton pulled off the upset! Upon Fulton’s winning – Bill Clark announced that this lift would be forever named the Fulton Lift.  This eventually lead to the naming of the 2″ bar as the Fulton Bar along with the Fulton Dumbbell.  As for Wilbur – upon the finish of the event he went back to the warm-up area and proceeded to pull more on this lift than he did in competition.  He went home knowing that he may not have won the event on this day,  but with the satisfaction of knowing he would next time!