Why Deads Are Overrated

TAGS: tapered waist, underdeveloped lats, back width, trap size, erector size, back development, increase size, deadlifts, Just Sayin', back training, Skip Hill, bodybuilding

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Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. I mean, who else in their right mind would have the Rice Krispies (read: old man balls) to spew such blasphemy on one of the top powerlifting sites on the internet?

I haven’t been hated on in a while, so let’s get to it. But first let’s establish something that I feel is quite important, yet I totally understand that anyone who disagrees with me won’t care about: I am referring to BODYBUILDING, not powerlifting. I get that this will matter to only a few of you and that I will be reminded that you have no idea how elitefts has managed to tolerate my idiocy for almost the last four years that I have written for them. If you can find it in your soul—your black soul—hear me out, and at least read this in its entirety. THEN you can post shitty comments about how retarded I am and that I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about.

There are bodybuilders with great back development that pull deads regularly. I am keenly aware of this, and I will agree completely with this statement.


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There are bodybuilders with subpar back development that pull deads regularly. If you cannot agree with this statement, we can’t be friends.

I will concede that deads are not useless and that they will absolutely contribute to increased size and mass of primarily the erectors and traps (notice I said “primarily”). The question becomes this: What part do deads play in the overall development of the back musculature in relation to bodybuilding?

If you have weak erectors then deads might be a nice addition to your back-training protocol. If you want to push your strength up and the ability for your core (I like to use that word because it is typically hated by people who deadlift) to stabilize big weights for bent rows, squats, etc., then deads might be a nice addition as well.

However, deads do little to nothing for lat development. Those who focus on deads as their primary focus for back work will typically end up with weak back width and weak or underdeveloped lats.

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Placement of deads in a bodybuilding routine (programming) also becomes an issue when they are placed first or early in a training session. If you are busting balls—and deadlifting should be ball-busting—you typically end up with very little in the tank to give to the exercises that follow deads. You know, the ones that actually contribute to overall back development as a bodybuilder. Good luck rowing through a full range of motion with heavy weights, and good luck even doing heavy lat work after pulling big weights for deads. Logic should dictate that if deads are a part of your workout, they should probably come after isolation work so that isolation work is not jeopardized and the back workout can be completed with deads for an almost “pre-exhaust” type of situation. Doing it this way, the deads push the fatigued muscles of the back even further after full range-of-motion isolation work (isolation relative to limited range-of-motion when doing deads).

Now is probably a good time to reiterate what I said earlier. Deads aren’t useless; they are just OVERRATED for bodybuilders.

I watched a couple guys in their late 20s last night at the gym pulling deads for numbers I have not ever pulled in my life, and yet their back development was not what mine is. I am sure I have trained longer than they have, yes, but you need to keep in mind that my back isn’t even that good — certainly not one of my better body parts for the last 25 years I have competed. I have pulled deads for maybe a combined total of five years of my over 30 years of training. And to answer the obvious question: No, my back did not improve when I was pulling deads.

Am I the only example? Hell no. And it is important to ask yourself, for those that do have good back development and pull deads all the time, did the back development come from deads (full back development) or was their back so genetically predisposed to great back development that they excelled at exercises like, let’s say, deads? More directly: Does Johnnie O Jackson have a great back because of deads or because he was so genetically predisposed to great back development that when his Momma said, “Go with your strengths” (as most mommas do), he did just that, and pulled deads for record poundages?


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Steve Kuclo started his bodybuilding career pulling deads and got away from them in later years for safety/injury reasons (potential risk vs. reward). Phil Heath, I doubt, has ever pulled a dead in his life. I say that because I knew him well and saw him train on a frequent basis from his younger bodybuilding years until he started winning Sandows. Not only does he have a great back, but he also brought it up from NOTHING without doing deads. Early on he was told repeatedly that he would never turn pro due to his weak back development, and look where he is now, without doing deads.

One more caveat to consider from a bodybuilding perspective: Very few people who pull deads for big weights have small, tapered waists. Before you scream and yell at me with your one or two examples, I said “very few.” There are always exceptions, but most guys who pull big numbers for years have a very thick and “untapered” midsection. Even if you were able to grow your back to the point where you added six inches of width, is that a fair trade if you add four inches to your midsection? I say no; you might disagree.

Listen, this isn’t a deflection. I would do deads if I could, simply for stabilization strength and support of my spine. I have terrible back/disc issues that don’t allow me to do them anymore — not even light. My issue with deads isn’t that they don’t work, but that they are overrated and too much emphasis is given to them for FULL back development. If you want to use them in your bodybuilding repertoire (I’m going full French today), at least put them later in your back workout, or even at the end, so that you can give 100% to the full range-of-motion exercises that will benefit your back development so much more.

And for those that simply read the title and don’t bother to read anything else before going straight to the comment section: You’re easy – just like your mom.

Xoxo, MUAH! Just Sayin’.

Image courtesy of Jeffrey Sygo

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