NATURALSTRENGTH.com – Old School Weight Training Strength Strongman Power Vintage Bodybuilding: Deadlifts In The Grass


     I was going to title this article “Deadlift Variations,” because it’s basically about different ways to provide variety to doing deadlifts.  However, the song “Grazing In The Grass” has been playing in my mind ( thank you Sirius XM) and I thought that it would be a nice title for a Deadlift article.  Incidentally, the version to which I am referring is the one performed by The Friends of Distinction, although the instrumental version by Hugh Masekela will work just as well.

     Over the years, I’ve written several articles pertaining to the Deadlift.  There are several reasons for this.  To begin with, the Deadlift was my favorite competitive lift.  There used to be an old saying, “The contest doesn’t start until the bar is on the floor.”  At most contests, the deadlift was always the portion of the meet with the most drama.  Many times, a contest would be won or lost depending on who was the better deadlifter.  Sometimes strategy would come into play, but, for the most part, the simple fact that the deadlift was a basic test overall body strength, the stronger lifter would win the meet by virtue of pulling more weight off the floor.

     Additionally, I’ve always found the deadlift to be fascinating.  This may sound strange, because it is certainly not a “glamorous” lift.  One need only look at the strained expression on someone doing a limit deadlift to realize that the deadlift is certainly not glamorous.  It’s not a very technical lift, although it is far more technical than most people realize.  I guess a better way of phrasing this would be to say that the deadlift does not require years of technique like a Clean and Jerk, for example.  

     There is no need for any special equipment, either.  You do not need a squat rack, power rack, or bench.  Spotters are not necessary.  All you need is a good bar, some weight, and a lot of desire.  A willingness to work hard would also be beneficial.  Because that’s what training the deadlift is all about:  Hard, heavy work.

     It is because of this hard, back-breaking work that you will feel as if you were run over by a truck after a heavy deadlift workout.  If you were to go to a typical commercial gym, you will find any number of pumpers and toners doing set after set of curls, pushdowns, or other baby exercises.  These yo-yos usually stand out, for all the wrong reasons.  But you can easily spot the person who lifts heavy.  It is the “look of power” which Dr. Ken so accurately described years ago in The Steel Tip.  A Lifter who has devoted a lot of time to heavy pulls from the floor will have a certain capacity for brutally hard work.  He/she relishes the beat up feeling following a heavy deadlift workout.  It’s hard to describe in words, but unmistakable in recognition. You will know it the day ( or days ) after.

     For a while, I was using my thick-handle trap bar for my deadlifting.  It is one of my favorite movements.  But as much as you may enjoy doing something, the body needs change in the form of variety.  Even if you are feeling good physically, mentally you may need to change things up to prevent from going stale.  For some reason, I’ve always found it easy to burn out on deadlifts if I don’t give myself proper recuperation between workouts.  Also, if I do too many sets, it will catch up with me in the form of overtraining.  Perhaps it is because of the lift itself.  The bar is on the floor, motionless.  Unlike the Squat, or Bench Press, there is absolutely no movement or momentum to stimulate movement of the weight.  I think for that reason, it is necessary to approach the bar with a positive mental attitude.  I always try to think of the great Soviet lifter David Rigert where he was quoted as saying “When you are alone with a great weight, you must be very, very brave.”  But this constant, relentless psychological battle can take toll.  You can only psych yourself up so many times in training, especially when you are doing the same movement repeatedly.  This is why I’ve tried to incorporate some form of variety in my deadlift workouts, while still dedicating myself to training hard and heavy.  

     In previous articles, I’ve talked about Dumbbell Deadlifts, and also doing Deadlifts off a block ( deficit Deadlifts), as well as partial Deadlifts.  Most of the time, I do them in the comfort of my living room/gym.  However, with the arrival of Spring, and the accompanying warm weather, I decided to take my workouts outside.  And instead of using a bar, trap bar, or dumbbells, I decided to use a piece of equipment that I’ve had for a long time: my Farmer’s Walk handles.  

     I originally purchased these handles about 25 years ago from Drew Israel.  Each one weighs 70kgs ( 154 Lbs.).  These are definitely not implements to be trifled with in any way.  Because I keep them in my shed, and because I didn’t feel like hauling them to my deck and back, I decided to do my Farmer’s Deadlifts in the grass.  Due to their heavy weight, they are a perfect workout all by themselves.  The low position required to pull them from the ground with no weight makes for a great range of motion.  

    I also have a supply of 25 Lb plates for the purpose of increasing the poundage.  Yes, the range of motion is decreased slightly, but not by much.  And the added weight makes for a challenging movement.  One thing that I didn’t account for was the ground being soft on the days after it rains.  April showers bring May flowers, but they also cause your weights to sink into the ground.  Perhaps larger plates would prevent this from happening, but the increased diameter would decrease the range of motion even further.  Yes, this is a quandary experienced only by those of us who are dedicated to our beloved Deadlifts.

     In all seriousness, using the Farmer’s Walk handles is an interesting variation.  It’s kind of a cross between dumbbell Deadlifts and trap bar Deadlifts.  Can I stand on a block and create a deficit?  Perhaps.  But right now, I’m content to use these implements as a means of doing Deadlifts without a bar or conventional dumbbells.  

     Incidentally, if you are doing any sort of Deadlift, I recommend that you not use a belt.  I’ve discussed this before, and I firmly believe in the value of training without any sort of lifting aids.  This is something that I first learned while training at Bruno’s many years ago, and I have never wavered in this opinion. 

     While I’m on the subject of lifting aids, I can’t rightfully discuss their use without mentioning something that never ceases to amuse me.  I’m referring to the numerous videos that are posted by people claiming to be “raw” lifters.  Now, I have nothing whatsoever against raw lifting.  I even competed in a few raw contests in the past.  But what passes for “raw” today leaves a lot to be desired.  I’m talking about people wearing wrist wraps, knee wraps, elbow wraps and lifting straps.  If you are bench pressing with wrist wraps and elbow wraps, then you are NOT lifting “raw.” Likewise, if you are deadlifting with lifting straps then you are NOT a raw lifter.  From the looks of these “figure eight” straps, it appears as if you don’t even have to wrap your hands around the bar to pull it off the ground.  But what always leaves me feeling puzzled are the people who use an axle ( or thick bar), strap their hands to the bar and deadlift it off the ground.  Somehow they feel it is a grip feat worthy of recognition.  What a joke.  What’s the sense of using an axle if you’re just going to use artificial means of attaching your hands to the bar?  I fail to see how that is impressive.

     Now that I’ve finished ranting, I would like to say that I will continue to train outside, and that includes incorporating my Farmer’s Deadlifts into my routine.  Naturally, there are many movements which can be done outside, and since we are only in the month of May, I’ve only scratched the surface insofar as outdoor training is concerned.



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