I have recently been interviewing for new coaches to add to our staff and through the interview process I get a good understanding of the state of the fitness industry. This industry has a low barrier to entry and often times the learning stops after someone is certified. Very few trainers in this business really understand why they do something. Typically the answer is someone told them to do it that way. The human body is amazing in how it adapts to new stresses, so often any change can elicit a change in someone’s body if the change is big enough and consistent. However, understanding why the change takes place and how to manipulate the change is often lacking. If you start asking why 3 sets of 10, or why not 5 sets of 5 or 2 sets of 20 things start to breakdown. When training world class athletes (or exercise junkies) it takes a much greater understanding of the science at play or as I like to call the WHYS OF FITNESS in order to get the desired result! So that brings me back to the title of this entry.
Why would you do a deadlift over a squat if you take out the difference is the biomechanics?
All of our new coaches’ intern with us for a period of time until they are up to speed on our methods and have an understanding of the high level of training we want to deliver to our clients. We discuss with our coaches what makes a great coach vs. a mediocre coach. We conduct in house continuing education where we discuss the “whys” of strength and conditioning.
Deadlift vs Squat.
If you take out the bio-mechanics of the movement what are the primary differences? There is a thing called the stretch shortening cycle. What occurs is there is an active lengthening or stretch of the opposing muscle group that is immediately followed by concentric or shortening of the muscle to create more force. In a squat this Stretch Shortening cycle is occurring when you un-rack the bar and descend into the lift. All of the muscles are firing in order to hold the bar up and not collapse to the floor. As you descend there is an eccentric (negative) lift taking place where muscles are actively lengthening to hold the weight up as you descend. This energy is stored and released when you start to rise into the lift. In the Deadlift you start from a dead stop from the floor. Hence the name deadlift. They do not call it a dead squat. When your body starts a movement with no muscle tension their needs to be a high rate of force development in order to begin the movement upward because there is not eccentric load into a descent like the squat. This type of contraction is an important component in sport and should be trained. However, if you do not unweight the weight to the floor for each rep the Stretch Shortening Cycle kicks in for the deadlift as well and then will act more like a squat. How can you make a squat have a high rate of high speed muscle contraction like a deadlift and eliminate the stretch shortening cycle? Execute a box squat. This is why powerlifters like box squats. If you want to increase force production, lifts from a dead stop are great additions to bump your strength. You do your normal squat, but at the low end of the lift you sit on a box or bench so that you are unweighted and then proceed to rise from the seated position. This requires a huge amount of muscle contraction to execute the lift. (Note: be really careful of lower back integrity in a box squat and you will need a lighter weight than your normal squats). If you get creative you can incorporate this idea into a large number of other lifts.
The answer to these questions and understanding the science behind the answers is typically where the wheels come off in training today. If you are looking for the best use of your training time you better start asking why you are performing a particular exercise. Ask a trainer and you will be surprised at the answers or lack of answers. In many cases it is similar to when you were a child and your mom or dad did not have an answer so they said “because”. Intensity of a workout is oftentimes the smoke and mirrors and the “because “of poor training. Many trainers make a workout so hard that you will crawl out of the session and the perceived value will be greater so you will not ask why.
Developing higher levels of human performance is a dynamic process. There are so many variables that affect the progress of an individual that if a coach cannot answer the why, progress will slow dramatically.
Truth in Fitness,
Jacques DeVore, CSCS