In this post I want to briefly explore the idea that the deadlift is a special lift in regards to programming. It seems in modern powerlifting the deadlift is supposed to be harder to recover from and produces more localized and systemic fatigue than the Squat. I personally do not believe it to be inherently different than the Squat in regards to how it should be programmed. The following are my musings on the matter:
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
One of the most common arguments that the deadlift is different is that it’s harder to recover from because of the amount of musculature used is so great. Conversely another reasoning is that the deadlift is specifically so fatiguing to the low-back that it needs to be “babied” for fear of affecting performance across other lifts. Whatever the reasoning used the recommendation is usually for a lower frequency of deadlifting than the Squat.
I think this sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that the deadlift is inherently harder to recover from and subsequently train it with less frequency you never give your body the chance to adapt to a higher-frequency. Therefore, a lower frequency will be more fatiguing than if you trained it with more frequency.
Squatting Is The Priority
Another aspect to this deadlift disparity is when lifters make the Squat the priority. Part of this may be due to the influence from geared lifting, the squat inherently gets more out of equipment than the deadlift. Mostly due to the eccentric aspect. Another possibility is the difficulty of breaking a heavy bar off the floor. The Squat starts and ends in a standing position, aided by the stretch reflex. In the deadlift there is no stretch reflex (at least not to the same extent) and therefore it might psychologically feel like a more difficult lift. This could be another explanation as to the preferential treatment of the Squat.
Most powerlifters that train the Conventional deadlift with any regularity round their back to some extent. It’s very difficult to keep the back completely neutral and rounding affords some advantages with respect to speed off the floor. The weakness then shows up at lock-out. The lifters back is rounded and so to fully lock-out they need to extend their low-back. This concentric back movement may cause some damage and subsequent soreness. I believe this also contributes to this idea. The deadlift may seem to present more DOMs to individuals who round their back.
One Final Note
I want to be clear about one point. I’m not arguing that you should train the deadlift with more volume and frequency if the amount you’re using is working. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to train it harder if that’s what you need to do to continue making progress. And at some point, you will need to deadlift more to deadlift more.
I would love to hear any thoughts you may have on the topic.