There’s a small trend in fitness, usually seen in CrossFit gyms, where someone performing a deadlift may simply drop the bar from the top of the lift. Usually this is done on either a max effort rep, or at the end of a high rep set. We teach our clients and our athletes to keep their hands on the bar, and return the bar to the floor in a controlled manner, so we frequently field questions from our members when they see people performing this bizarre practice of dropping the bar from the top. In this article I’m going to discuss five reasons why I think you should not drop a deadlift bar.
1. Eccentric Strength
Every muscle contraction has 3 phases: Concentric (the lifting part), Eccentric (the lowering part) and Isometric (the split second between concentric and eccentric where the weight is actually completely motionless). When most people think of “lifting weights’ they really only consider the concetric part. This is the phase where the muscle is contracting, and you are lifting the weights away from the Earth. Although most people don’t give much consideration to the lowering of the weights back to the ground, this is a very important phase of the movement. Being able to control the weight as you lower it, or decelerate the weight is usually the physical attribute that makes explosive athletes so impressive. Ever see a football player make a quick cut, or a basketball player fake someone out of their shoes, or watch a gymnast stick a perfect landing? That is eccentric strength at work.
When you drop a barbell from a standing position, you’re only training the contentric. You’re not training the eccentric. You may be wondering if it really matters on a single rep? Well if you can get stronger by doing a one rep max concetric lift, then you can get stronger doing a one rep max eccentric lift. So a single rep may seem insignificant, but it does add up over time. This is also compounded by the fact that training the posterior chain (low back, glutes, hamstrings) eccentrically isn’t as common as training other muscles eccentrically. I find that athletes usually have weak lower backs when it comes to maintaining position or controlling weights. Lowering deadlifts under control can help build that strength.
2. You Cannot Drop a Deadlift in Competition
In the sport of Powerlifting, where the squat, bench press and deadlift are contested, athletes must keep their hands on the barbell and return the bar to the floor under control in order for the lift to be valid. We try to maintain a competition standard for all of our members, even if they aren’t competing, and you should too. Having some kind of standard for your training maintains a certain level of quality of training. If you don’t have any standard to go by, it becomes easier to cut corners and simply go through the motion in training. Competition standards are a natural and sensible bench mark. It’s also not uncommon for people to later decide they may want to try their hand in competition, which makes the transition from general gym-goer to competitor much easier.
3. Time Under Tension
Time under tension, sometimes called TUT, is the amount of time your muscles are loaded. Generally speaking, the longer a muscle is under tension for, the bigger and stronger that muscle will get. When you drop a deadlift from the top, you’re cutting the time of that rep in half. It may not seem like much, but if you do that on every set, week after week, it will add up. Getting results from your training is all about consistent habits. Even if holding on to your deadlifts gave you a 1% increase in results, it would be worth it. Who wouldn’t want to be 1% stronger, or 1% leaner? It’s a small investment for a potentially significant reward.
While I would normally put safety much higher on a list of reasons why to do, or not do something, I think the risks of dropping a deadlift from the top are relatively low, but still unnecessary to take. The biggest concern is passing out. You will sometimes see people lose consciousness after (or even during) a heavy deadlift. This can occur due to rapid blood pressure and head position changes. When you lift a large load, your blood pressure increases (upwards of 2-3 times what would be considered normal blood pressure at rest). Sometimes people pass out due to extremely high transient blood pressure levels. Other times people pass out because after the lift their blood pressure drops too quickly, this is known as vasovagal syncope and can happen when straining or lifting. Both of these instances are usually uncommon, and tend to only happen when people are lifting perhaps a bit beyond their safe limits, however, it seems that suddenly deloading your body from hundreds of pounds in an instant by dropping the bar is an unnecessary action which could exacerbate your chances of passing out.
If you’re going to pass out, it’s probably slightly safer to do so from a bent over position rather than fully standing, as the distance you fall will not be as great.
I also encourage athletes not to drop the barbell whenever possible. Dropping a barbell from overhead such as in a snatch or jerk is a necessary risk, as dropping it is safer than trying to slowly lower it. The same cannot be said for a deadlift. I’ve seen people drop deadlifts and lose their balance and trip, drop the bar on a plate on the floor and have the bar ricochet back into them, or drop the bar onto a the foot of a rack and damage the equipment. While safety might be the biggest issue with dropping the deadlift from the top, it still remains on the list, because dropping the deadlift appears to have no clear advantage.
5. You Look Stupid
I hate to say it, dropping your deadlift just makes you look like, and a bit egotistical. I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeling empowered and badass by your workouts, in fact I love helping people discover that they are much more capable than they may have thought, but dropping the bar to me just seems lazy, or possible an attempt at an attention grab. I have heard the argument that it’s to save strength so you can go heavier, but this argument seems very flawed for me for two reasons:
- Most people drop their deadlifts on their last rep, so if you are done deadlifting, what are you saving your strength for?
- If you were really interested in being the strongest athlete you could be, you would be concerned with training your eccentric strength. In my 20+ years of training, I’ve never seen anyone who had a problem being too eccentrically strong.
We encourage our athletes and clients to leave their ego at the door. Training is all about being a little bit better than last time. If you’re training to impress other people, or feel the need to call attention to yourself, it may be time to reconsider your “why“.
Those are my top 5 reasons for not dropping a deadlift from the top. Do you drop yours? Do you have a great reason for doing so? We’d love to hear. Post your reason in the comments on YouTube, or send me an e-mail: Tony@Arkitectfitness.com