Deadlift: Training the Push and not the Pull?

Have you ever had one of those ah-ha moments?  You know, the moment where something hits you and you either consider yourself a genius for realizing something awesome, or consider yourself and idiot for not figuring it out sooner.  Maybe an instant comparable to the one Hillary Clinton had when she figured out why a blue dress had been drying in Bill’s office for a week (FYI-that’s probably not how it happened). 

Last week I had one of those moments.  I was on my way to the gym to pick up heavy things and put them down, and wham!  A snap at the synapse and I had an epiphany about deadlift training.  While others may consider the existential questions like whether to eat at Subway or McDonald’s, I am doomed to constantly contemplate to make heavy things succumb to our will.  But I digress…

Here’s what hit me, what if training the drive portion of the deadlift took precedence over the pull?  I have to be honest, this thought didn’t just hit me out of left field.  Over the past month I have been consulting with my buddy Joe Giandonato on my programming and some beautiful things have come out of it.  I also had the chance to pick Tony Gentilcore’s brain about his deadlift training in April when I visited Cressey Performance.  Both of these guys are ridiculously smart, so when they say stuff I pay attention. 

Tony and Joe both talked about using movements like Anderson Half Squats, Zercher squats from pins and front squats to train the deadlift.  I had always been a fan of using front squats in my deadlift training, but the other two never really crossed my mind.  Then, as Red Thunder and I sped toward destination weight room (I drive a 2004 Saturn Vue and his name is Red Thunder, I can see you turning green with envy) I realized why Joe and Tony talked about including those movements in deadlift programming; to train the drive instead of the pull!

But Todd, the deadlift is pulling movement what is all this talk about drive?  That’s what you just asked.  My reply? Well, it is also a movement that requires a lot of leg drive to achieve that initial surge off of the floor.  Generate enough initial drive and the pull throughout the rest of the movement becomes much easier.  Of course, there are a lot of other aspects to training the deadlift, such as solid upper-back training (check out my article on upper-back training for deadlifts here), but great leg drive will get you far.  Also, think about your regular deadlift training.  It probably consists of good mornings, reverse hypers, back extensions and glute ham raises.  Don’t you think your body might be ready for something new?

So, why movements like Anderson Half Squats and Zerchers off of pins?  The reasoning is relatively simple, but comes from great minds like Tony, Joe and Bret Contreras.  Like the deadlift, when doing Anderson Half Squats and Zerchers off of pins your hips are above your knees throughout the entire movement.  Using these movements allows you to train for the leg drive necessary for the deadlift without over-training the deadlift and burning out your nervous system.

Awesome, so what does a Anderson Half Squat or Zercher Squat off of pins look like and how do we program them in.  First, check out these videos for great examples of how to do them:

Anderson Half Squat (courtesy tonygentilcore.com):

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Zercher Squats off of Pins:

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Programming these two lifts is pretty simple.  I like to use them either as a max effort exercise (either for a 3RM or 1RM) or as a first assistance exercise, hitting reps between 3′s and 8′s.  As an example, during my last training cycle I used Anderson Half Squats as my second exercise (programming help courtesy of Joe Giandonato).  Here’s how it looked:

Week 1: 3 x 5 (ascending)

Week 2: 4 x 3 (ascending with one back down set)

Week 3: 4 x 5 (ascending with the last two sets completed at the same weight)

Week 4: Deload- 4 x 3 @ 60% of heaviest weight used

Cut back on all the pull training for your deadlift and program in some of these drive focused exercises, good things will happen to you.  I’ve heard of 3 people that implemented these lifts and they found 5 dollars on the sidewalk soon afterward.  That could be you!

Get Stronger,

Todd (4383)

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Todd Bumgardner

M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger

Todd Bumgardner

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