I have heard the statement that, “the dead lift: there is no substitution.” And while I agree with this statement because literally there is no substitution for this activity, there is no substitution for sport, or a specific activity – the dead lift, then, becomes secondary.
If you compete in sport, or have an activity you prefer over structured exercise in a gym, then that activity should be the focal point of energy. While sport specific activity needs to be the larger portion of focus, gym work does assist in making a better athlete, or individual of sport. The deadlift strengthens the posterior chain, as well as the hamstrings, which for a sprinter is highly valuable – unfortunately, for a seasoned cyclist the dead lift does not benefit them to the same degree, if at all; this is not to say that cyclists will not benefit from a stronger back or hamstring, but it is safe to say that each sport will require a different function of the lift. A track runner will benefit from very heavy dead lifts in a higher volume to develop proper pulling power as he/she pulls him/herself down the track quickly. A cyclist will benefit from having a structural lower back, as well as upper back to support the body position that is maintained for hours at a time.
Every person could benefit from the deadlift, but different sports call for specific loads, and volumes of this activity. It is the job of the coach/trainer to develop the correct load and volume of gym work that will benefit each person of different sports. This is the tricky part of training different individuals for sport. Why is this tricky? Well, because every person has a different ability, comes from a different background, and each sport calls for a different level of intensity and specific endurance.
For example, I (Chase Evans) run short distance track – specifically the 100 m, and 200 m dash – this sport requires a tremendous amount of special strength in all three disciplines of powerlifting. The bench press allows me to sit comfortably in the blocks with structure and confidence. The squat allows me to drive out of the blocks with power for the first 30 or so meters. The dead lift allows me to pull myself from 30 meters to the finish. While I may not emphasize super heavy efforts during the entire season of sprinting, I do emphasize increasing my ability in each of these lifts during what would be considered my preseason training. The gym will specifically allow my body to develop structure, as well as muscular strength that will (hopefully) transfer to speed later on in the season. Specific strength for sport comes from a gym, but will never make me a stronger sprinter if I do not practice sprinting in a larger dose with a large amount of intention.
Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum is long distance running (anymore running longer than a mile is considered distance to me): 5k-50+kilometers. Those that chose to run long distance require a tremendous amount of muscular endurance. While a super heavy set of 6 repetitions of the dead lift – or any lift for that matter – will be beneficial for a sprinter, it will not be beneficial for a distance runner. Distance runners typically carry much less muscle mass, and have very little tolerance for large volumes of stress in the posterior chain, so we chose to mimic the work done on the road or trail with a high volume of light resistance work – never will we have a distance runner focus on heavy lifting.
Over the passed few years lifting heavy has become a byproduct of a new sport that requires everyone to gain as much strength as possible. This has clouded reality for most people in a gym setting. Lesser do I hear, “I want to better myself for my purpose,” and I hear more of, “I want to find my max squat.” While finding a maximal effort squat (1RM) is a function of a strength cycle, it is not at all relevant to someone that has not spent a significant amount of time under a barbell. More often than not I recognize that some idiotic conversation took place at work and these people brag about lifting heavy – this conversation just confuses people’s reality that do not need to be lifting heavy.
At Vitality, we chose to support the people that have endeavors outside of the gym in a manner that allows them to complete their given objective better.