Case Study: Speed Deadlifts

A case study by definition is a small experiment performed on a few individuals that produces a result that may be interpreted to a larger audience. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Before I bore everyone so deeply that they become sludge in their chairs, I’ll predicate this post by saying coaches and competitive weightlifters will benefit from this the most. I think that anyone could benefit from this knowledge, but that’s just my opinion.

In this particular case I was given the opportunity to, or more honestly instructed to, perform a study on powerlifting.  To be more specific I had to examine one popular lift – Deadlift. Let’s be frank though, what more could there be to understanding this lift? Bar comes up, bar goes down. It’s as basic as 2+2. This brings me to the actual purpose of the study. From this point on, anything that you see in quotations will be coming directly from my final report.

PURPOSE: “The purpose of this study is to examine changes in the deadlift 1RM after 6 weeks of speed style deadlifting intervention.”

During the investigation of this study I came to an interesting conclusion. Speed style deadlifts do not have to be fast.

“A speed style deadlift occurs when the athlete attempts lift the bar as fast as possible with a weight that is under 90 % of the 1RM to maintain the development of speed-strength(Nikolai, Petrovich). The force velocity curve (FVC) tells us that the greater the resistance, the slower the speed will be and vice versa (Cormie P). However, to improve RFD and the FVC, the athlete may only need to attempt to move the bar as fast as possible. Even if the bar speed is not a high velocity, speed-strength can still be improved (Behm D.G.)”

Mumbo Jumbo aside, a speed deadlift cannot consist of weights more than 90% 1RM, and they will consist as a speed lift as long as the lifter attempts to lift as fast as possible. It’s all about the mindset. That being said, programming a speed deadlift into workouts shouldn’t just consist of 90% efforts every week. To allow for progression a funnel method was used where the intensity increased while repetitions decreased excluding two workouts which consisted of much lighter weight and fewer reps.
Here is a graph showing the progression of intensity and reps.

The intervention started off by eliminating all other forms of pulling from the floor that were not speed related. Only speed deadlifts were allowed. After 6 weeks of grueling deadlift sessions the 1RM was retested. At this point in the post I want to ask you, the coach/athlete/interested-bystander, whomever you may be – What do you think happened to the 1RM?

Chew on your thoughts.

Before I move farther into the investigation I want to inform you about other measures that were taken. In the sport of weightlifting there are two important things that determine your skill: the numbers that you lift, and the numbers that you make on the scale. To ensure that an increase in bodyweight didn’t lead to increase in deadlift weight, bodyweight was measured and calculated into a relative strength formula.

“Body mass was taken on a calibrated scale before the initial 1RM and then before the final 1RM after the 6 week intervention. To control for any improvements in the 1RM due to weight increases relative strength will also be calculated (See equation 1). Both measurements were taken and calculated to determine if both the Absolute 1RM and the relative 1RM change, and whether or not they’re significant (p<0.05).

Weight lifted (kg)/ body mass (kg)                                                                                        equation 1”

This tid-bit of information will determine whether an actual increase in strength is independent of increased bodyweight – which did occur.

“A 4.3 kg increase in body mass was observed over the 6 week period when weight changed from 102.4 kg to 106.7 kg.”

Bodyweight increased due to a couple of reasons, the top two being hypertrophy and an uncontrolled diet. Lucky for us, there are no weightclasses in this study, only the unforgiving math formula of EQUATION 1. Which brings us to the very important information, 1RM max change. Now would be the time to place your bet on what you think happened.

“The deadlift 1RM itself increased from 238.6 kg to 254.5 kg (+15.9 kg). Relative 1RM increased from 2.33 to 2.38. Both absolute and relative strength increased 6.6% and 2.1% respectively. This study would suggest that incorporating speed style deadlift training may improve the deadlift 1RM in experienced powerlifting individuals.”

If that surprises you then you’re not alone, because it surprised me too. Like any good scientist you should be wondering, “why?”

DISCUSSION: “When performing the 1RM deadlift, speed is not normally associated with improved performance. A maximal effort force lift, such as the deadlift, should have limited velocity. The question posed by this study is whether or not training to improve RFD would also improve the 1RM… One obstacle that powerlifters have to face is the sticking point. A sticking point is an area of muscular or mechanical disadvantage where momentum is lost and the lift is prevented from being completed. For example, think of a lifter stalling on a lift halfway through the rep. Sticking points do not occur with submaximal loads, but rather when the resistance has the greatest mechanical advantage when compared with the muscle structure. A sticking point can prevent a load from being lifted even though other areas can handle it. In the deadlift, some lifters experience sticking points close to the floor while others experience them higher up. Improving movement speed could potentially overcome a sticking point by contributing momentum. If non-optimal speed exists during the movement, the disadvantages of the stick-point may inhibit a complete lift.”

Speed/dynamic effort movements serve more of a purpose than they’re given credit. All weightlifting athletes understand the struggle of the dreaded “stick point.” It’s that two inch area of the movement that crushes the hopes and dreams of so many. It’s the Voldemort to our Harry PR Potter. The Saruman to our 1RingtoruletheMall. By training the body to produce faster momentum, a stick point becomes a stuck point – it’s past tense, and doesn’t matter anymore.

As a coach or athlete this brief study should change the way you look at programming workouts, at least in the case of deadlifts. Start placing dynamic effort deadlifts into your training and watch your PRs start rolling in faster and faster. 

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.