There has been a debate for a number of years about the effectiveness of the powerlifts (bench press, squat, deadlift) at improving power. The thought has been that while these lifts increase maximal strength, they are performed too slowly to train power adequately. Powerlifting proponents, especially with the advent of training with chains and bands, have argued this is not the case. Swinton et al, in the November issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research conducted a study looking at the deadlift exercise and came up with some fascinating data on the deadlift that may require that this argument be reevaluated.

The authors had 23 experienced subjects (powerlifters and rugby union athletes) participate in the study. On average, the athletes weighed 107 kilograms and deadlifted 227 kilograms. In other words, these athletes are deadlifting more than twice their body weight.

The athletes performed two testing sessions. During the first session, athletes maxed out on the deadlift. They then performed a single repetition at 30%, 50%, and 70% of their 1-RM at maximal velocity.

During the second session, the athletes performed repetitions at 30%, 50%, and 70% of 1-RM at submaximal velocity. After this, they performed maximal velocity repetitions at 30%, 50%+chains equal to 20% of 1-RM, then 70%+chains equal to 40% of 1-RM. Two repetitions were performed at each weight.

Subjects performed the lift on a force platform and had each lift filmed.

Many of the results are what you’d expect:

• As the weight increased, the velocity of the barbell decreased. The velocity was greatest at the maximal velocity trial with 30%+chains (at 2.2 meters per second).

• For the submaximal velocity trials, peak power increased as the resistance increased. For the maximal velocity trials, it was greatest at the 30%+chain load and decreased as the weights increased. Peak power for the maximal velocity trails was more than double that of the submax trials for every resistance except 70%+chains.

• The acceleration phase for performing the lifts with chains is greater than the submax conditions.

The velocity information is fascinating. These numbers exceed some of the velocities seen in the second pull of the snatch and clean as well as the drive of the jerk exercise. This suggests that the deadlift can be performed in an explosive manner to train for athletic power.

Now, there are some challenges with this study. First, the athletes studied are able to deadlift double bodyweight, which means that they have some skill on the exercise. It’s unclear if the results can be transmitted to other athletes. It is actually likely that there needs to be a strength base present before advanced training tools, like chains, can be effective. Second, the athletes self-selected “submaximal” and “maximal” velocities. Without standardizing the submaximal velocities (i.e. lift at 70% of maximal deadlift velocity, etc.) it makes it difficult to compare the results across lifters and to apply them to a larger pool of athletes. The final limitation that needs to be kept in mind is that this is not a training study. In other words, this study is not looking at the effectiveness of X number of weeks of training the deadlift with chains on power. It’s a snapshot in time and this needs to be kept in perspective when reading about it.

Swinton, P.A., Stewart, A.D., Keogh, J.W.L., Agouris, I., and Lloyd, R. (2011). Kinematic and kinetic analysis of maximal velocity deadlifts performed with and without the inclusion of chain resistance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(11), 3163-3174.