Dropping the Deadlift for BJJ/MMA?
Deadlifts are a critical part of my early strength programs, there are not many lifts aside from the squat so formidable for building full body strength. Strength past a point for non lifting athletes is a game of diminishing returns this becomes very stark with the deadlift. Now before you ask me DYEL? and proceed to hang me by my underwear from the nearest squat rack hear me out.
Worth the chase?
As a male athlete gets to around double bodyweight deadlift or female achieves 1.6-1.5 x Bodyweight deadlift I start to decrease the amount it appears in my programming. Now I don’t drop it completely, if we have the luxury of a long off season we may add the conventional deadlift or a speed variant into our programming. Deadlifting is key for powerlifters as absolute strength is their sports specific training, but numbers are meaningless when your job is choking and knocking people out for a living, numbers are nice but they don’t win fights! I’ve mentioned before how the skill ceiling for combat sports is ridiculously high and focusing too much one variable invites ruin for the fighter.
So what is bad about deadlift?
To quote Mike Boyle “The deadlift is an extremely taxing lift on your nervous system, hips, and back. Flexion, torque, and compression, as mentioned above, are big back offenders. It isn’t easy to deadlift heavy loads well. It’s much easier to deadlift heavy than to deadlift well. I know that every morning when I get up.” The stronger you become the harder making gains on deadlift inevitably becomes, ask anyone who pulls 3 x BW or more how long it took them to go from 2 x BW to 3 x BW (Ignoring the internet Konstantinov’s).
I deal with mainly fighters and grapplers, their hips, low back and legs take an absolute thrashing in their regular training, especially if they are an aggressive guard player or someone who does a lot of cage mashing. This is also accentuated in the 12-8 week run up to a fight, often I will take out deadlift when competition season is approaching or higher velocity peaking (deadlift is a fairly slow lift) is needed for a fight. We also have to pay respect to things like training, age, anthropometry (long limb lifters are generally better deadlifters), injury risk before we try and jam people into a deadlift shaped hole. This rings true for all exercises to some extent.
The need for posterior chain strength is essential however, so we have to look for variation that allow us to achieve enough stimulus to achieve adaptation but allow athlete to do what is most important sports training. My personal Choices, Romanian Deadlift, Zercher Good Morning and Snatch Grip Deadlift/Snatch Grip Rack Pull. The Romanian deadlift in particular is particularly useful, often we will drop conventional deadlift but continue romanian deadlifting and see improvement in deadlift when we switch back to it. If you don’t know how to romanian deadlift then watch this video.
“Its going to be a rough time, when any exercise has an eastern european name” – MMA Pro Sean Carter, romainian deadlift aficionado
This is not a suggestion to stop deadlifting especially for novices and people who need to get stronger for sport. Once you reach a certain level of training maturity once a strength base has been established, chasing more may not necessarily be better. Beat up hips and lower backs will thank you for giving them periods of reprieve. Usually focusing on other portions of speed/strength spectrum often we do see improvements in absolute strength lifts like deadlift and squat.
This is an ongoing series of articles from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through