Full deadlifts create big gains all over

Ron Harris

Dead-On Results

For several years now Iíve been an advocate of half, or rack, deadlifts. I first learned of that variation from Mike Francois, one of the best pros of the mid í90s, who was known for having a back that rivaled Dorian Yatesí in width and thickness.

Done either in a power rack or on a deadlift platform, they were nothing more than deadlifts in which you lowered only to the knees rather than all the way to the floor. Theoretically, doing them that way took the legs and lower back mostly out of the exercise and turned it into a power movement for the lats and traps. A major attraction for those of us with fragile egos was the fact that you could also handle a lot more weight. I donít think I ever pulled more than 405 off the floor for a few reps, but there was a time when I could do a good set of five or six reps with 675 in the rack deadlift.

I convinced myself that it was a better exercise and did them for years. Then a series of events led me to begin questioning the wisdom of doing just half the range of motion. First was seeing the Ronnie Coleman training video ďThe Unbelievable.Ē Ronnie, who has the best back in bodybuilding right now and possibly of all time, does several sets of heavy deadlifts from the floor, culminating in more than 800 pounds on the bar for two full reps to lockout. Then I began talking with a few of the newer pro bodybuilders like Victor Martinez and Johnnie Jackson, who make deadlifts a staple in their back training. They both have outstanding back developmentóespecially 220-pound Johnnie, who pulled an official 814 pounds in powerlifting competition. Neither would ever consider doing just half a deadlift.

After all that, I realized my poor technique on full deadlifts had caused me to mistakenly assume they werenít working my back as well as the half deads. I used to simply squat down with a fully upright torso, in effect doing a squat movement but holding on to the bar rather than having it on my back. Iíd switch to pulling with my back only after the bar passed my knees. Johnnie explained to me that the correct way to start the lift is with your torso bent over so that you pull with both your lower and upper body simultaneously.

Lo and behold, I gave it a try, and it finally felt right. To my surprise, I actually found myself looking forward to back day just to do them. My ego has taken a huge hit because the weight Iím using is nothing compared to what I was doing before, but I donít worry because now I know Iím doing the exercise right and reaping its full rewards.

I would never have done half bench presses or half squats, but for some reason I let myself think that half deadlifts were fine. Now I know better, and I hope you learn from my experience too. I have a feeling we have some serious back thickness waiting to sprout.