Ask Greg: Issue 99
Greg Everett

Mauricio Asks: Just thought I'd ask about something I can't seem to get a good answer on thus far (and have just been experimenting with myself): How would you recommend one go about training to increase their max Deadlift auxiliary to training the Oly lifts? This would of course have the bonus contextual wrench of doing CrossFit WODs, but let's for the moment assume that the programming is intelligent and the athlete is not regularly monkey stomping themselves into high volume submission. The best I've heard so far is:

1) Squat more often (tried this, but high bar back squat seems to only push your deadlift slightly above it)
2) Do some low volume heavy DL singles more often (am currently experimenting with)
3) Don't worry about it, just squat and focus on oly and you'll be fine (not terribly confident with the amount of heavy DLs in CF competition)
4) ?

Thanks. I'm hoping to drop in on a Saturday soon!

Greg Says: The CrossFit is the problem in all of this because even saying “intelligent” programming doesn’t tell me much. No one who does CrossFit thinks their programming isn’t intelligent; if they did, they wouldn’t be doing it. The basic answer is that if improving the deadlift is your primary goal, you have to program around that rather than trying to work the deadlift into everything else.

Yes, squatting will help your deadlift in the sense that it will make you generally stronger and specifically make your legs and back stronger, but you do need to deadlift if you want to improve your deadlift. I would say that squatting is a given in any program that isn’t completely worthless, so that’s not really helpful. If you’re already squatting regularly and your goal is to increase your deadlift, the advice “squat more” doesn’t make much sense to me. If for some strange reason you have to increase your deadlift only through squatting, you can add pause squats or squats from low pins to work on the actual separation of the bar from the floor in the deadlift.

Assuming your weightlifting program includes snatch and clean pulls, you can add deadlifts of some type on those days. This can be anything from snatch and clean deadlifts, to conventional deadlifts, probably on a clean pull day, to partials to focus on your weak point in the deadlift. In any case, make sure your deadlift training aligns with the rest of your program, that is, the intensity and volume changes along with everything else.

Ultimately you need to identify WHY your deadlift is not where it needs to be. Is it grip? Is it a weak back? Is it weak legs? What exactly the problem is will dictate how you correct it, and how well you can address the problem within your current program versus redesigning your program entirely around the deadlift.

Cliff Asks: I am 49 and have just started Oly lifting about six months ago. I know I am past oly-lifting prime, but am intrigued with the oly lifts and want to be as good as I can. As an older athlete, is there anything on which you would have me focus? Any particular exercises, number of workouts a week, etc?

Greg Says: The biggest limitation for most older lifters is mobility. Inflexibility will not only make performing the lifts well impossible, but it will increase the abuse your body takes because you will be constantly in less than ideal positions which stress the joints more and likely not be as smooth and fluid, again adding to the beating your body takes with each lift. Make mobility a priority, and commit to thorough warm-ups.

The older you get, the more slowly you recover from training, but how well you recover is very individual, so there’s no way for me to tell you how much volume or frequency will be right for you. I would recommend starting conservatively at three days per week and adjusting from there depending on how you’re doing. A beginner is a beginner at any age, so I’d recommend the same thing for you that I’d recommend for any beginner in terms of exercises and program design, adjusted to accommodate a potentially reduced ability to recover from training.

You can get a couple ideas on programming in this article and this blog post.

Edward Asks: I’m 44 years old and gone from 86kg to a lean 70kg. My progress has been based on Paleo (ish) diet and strength and conditioning training using the TRX and some free weights, along with cardio. I am now reaching a point where I need new goals, whereby I still incorporate suspension training, but include work to gain more muscle, power and endurance. How do I get started in cross fit training and incorporating Olympic lifting into my life? I am a keen learner, but want to start sensibly in looking for a foundation to work from and up to… and preferably, no injuries. My sport is also tennis.

Greg Says: The best answer is to find a good coach to work with daily. Since you’re writing me, it’s probably safe to assume this is not an option available to you. Or possibly you’re just trying to avoid it. If the latter, I would strongly encourage you to do it.

Your foundation should be your strength and weightlifting training. I don’t mean to beat up on TRX or similar training methodologies, but that is not something I would consider strength training. It can be a nice way to get supplemental work, but it’s not a foundation for anything but more TRX training. You need to become proficient in the back squat, front squat, overhead squat, deadlift, press, and push press first and foremost. If you’re solid with these exercises, you will be able to pick up just about anything else related to strength training and CrossFit.

Find a basic strength training template using the basic lifts, like a classic 5x5 program, and start slowly adding circuit conditioning workouts after your strength training. How to program these is not really something I can tell you quickly here, but as a start, you can simply do the exercises you’re currently doing with TRX in a circuit fashion to start building a base for future CrossFit workouts. Pick a new exercise from the CrossFit pool every couple workouts to learn and incorporate. Be patient and learn it correctly and don’t blow yourself out day one doing a thousand reps.

When you feel comfortable, find a local CrossFit gym that has good coaches who care about program design and care about their clients’ safety and progress. Work with them for a least a month or two if you prefer working out at home or on your own to get a feel for how it’s done. If you’re reasonably intelligent and observant, you’ll be able to pick up enough in that time to create workouts for yourself just fine.

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