Barbells

A Deadlift Primer-Then and Now

“There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift! – Jon Pall Sigmarsson proclaimed at Pure Strength 1987, while holding a 1005 lb axle in his hands. ”— Beck, Kalle and Ison, Trey. “Deadlifting through Time”

Who are the kings of deadlift?

Deadlifts are an awesome feat of strength, when a large amount of weight is pulled off of the ground, you can’t help but be in awe. Lifting heavy things in some form has played a part in human culture from “Antiquity and the story of Milo of Croton … [the] legend [that] trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox[1]  to the “Man-stones”[2] of Scotland.

Sometimes ‘cultish’ and sometimes significant lifting heavy things is an important aspect of our culture, a great place to see some of that history is the Stark Center at The University of Texas. I believe with the rise of CrossFit and the ensuing fitness culture has invigorated the resurgence of the once ‘cultish’ lifts back into mainstream. The use of machinery for deadlift training has furthered the sport.

Who does deadlifts?

Deadlifts are currently one of the contested lifts in Powerlifting, the other two lifts are the bench press and the squat. The first “Powerlifting meet was held in 1964 by Bob Hoffman and the York Barbell Company.” Prior to that, the deadlift was considered an odd lift and not contested in any formal fashion. More specifically it was a show lift and one of the most prolific showmen was Hermann Goerner. Hermann Goerner was a German that entertained in circa the 1920’s[3] Note: having a strong back is highly important for deadlifting.

Hermann Goerner deadlifts with two fingers!

Goerner “is unofficially credited with an 830lb conventional deadlift.” However, this is not what Goerner is most known for “but [for] his…. [lifts of varying grips]. These records include a 728lb double overhand pull, a 595lb pull using only two fingers on each hand and the most famous of all a 727lb deadlift using only one hand that still stands as a record today.

Consider GNC’s premier test of grip strength the GNC Grip Gauntlet-which tests three lifts;

  • rolling thunder,
  • the blob,
  • crush grippers

The current record for the rolling thunder which closely resembles a one-handed deadlift except with a thick grip is 332 lbs. According to Guinness Book of World Records Goerner still holds the world record for one-handed right hand deadlift of 727.5lbs.[1]

Strength historian David Willoughby called this lift,

“the greatest documented feat of bodily power ever performed.”

Following in Goerner’s footsteps was another deadlifting great; Bob “Tennessee Hercules” Peoples.

The farmer from Tennessee

Bob Peoples was a farmer from Tennessee that “lifted 725lbs in 1940 at the age of 40 and a bodyweight of 180lbs” consider the current raw record for the same weight class was set in “1984 by the Ed Coan with a weight of 766” (Drug Tested) and at a much younger age of 21.

What is surprising about Peoples was not so much his strength but rather his unique deadlifting style. Peoples lifted with an “overly round upper back and [had a] preference for pulling with what he described as ‘empty lungs.’” To make this feat of strength even more impressive was the fact that Peoples built and trained with equipment he built while operating a full-time and profitable farm.

Today’s deadlifters borders on superhuman and the supernatural; people are deadlifting over half a ton, and regularly deadlift into the 800’s. The methods have remained relatively unchanged; so why the massive increase in weight?  I can on stipulate on the possible reasons with a modicum of certainty and those improvements can be attributed to a number of things, most revolutionary of course would be PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs, i.e., steroids), the second would be the equipment; more specifically the suits used by some powerlifters. What is most exciting about our current time is the resurgence of raw lifting, which has a greater accessibility and for me personally is more exciting.

Nothing but strength will get heavy sh*t up!

No matter how much things change there is still one simple truth and that is there is still only one way to pick up something heavy and that is will a heck of a lot of strength and will power.

There are two primary styles the conventional style-feet shoulder width with hands outside of the feet, and the sumo-style-feet essentially outside of the hands.

Gripping the barbell is generally done with an alternate grip, though some utilize a double overhand grip with a hook grip. There is geared lifting and raw lifting as seen here by Benedikt Magnusson.