Exploring “Deathlifts”

deathliftsIf you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been exploring deadlifts among other strength training barbell exercises. Since I didn’t do cardio yesterday (Leg Day), I was wondering just how many calories I might have burned off with resistance training alone?

It’s amazingly difficult to find this answer. MyFitnessPal.com only counts cardio as burning calories. A number of Google searches yielded nothing until I found the MapMyFitness.com Calorie Calculator. You can input your vitals (height, weight, gender), search for a specific activity, enter the duration, and the Calories Burned are displayed.

Problem: When selecting Stiff-legged deadlifts, I’m supposed to put in a number of hours, minutes, and seconds of performing the activity. But I count lifting in terms of reps, sets, and amount of weight.

I put in five minutes and the calculator spat out “55 Calories Burned”. I’m sure that’s horribly inaccurate, just as the food/calories calculator at MyFitnessPal.com isn’t particularly revealing either. It’s just a guide and its major utility is to raise my awareness of what I’m eating and how much. I suppose to get more benefits from MapMyFitness.com, I’d have to create an account, but then I’d have to keep track of two online fitness apps.

I’m pretty sure, given the duration and intensity of yesterday’s Leg Day, that I managed to burn more than zero calories, and I hope on the order of hundreds of calories, but there’s no way to get even a semi-accurate picture, at least not without devoting a huge amount of time to the effort.

On the other hand, when searching for “benefits of deadlifts,” I came across an article called “10 Benefits of Deadlifts You Probably Never Knew” at Lifehack.org. Among other things, author Michelle Kennedy Hogan wrote:

Alwyn Cosgrove, a personal trainer and fitness author, recently wrote about a study where: “Overweight subjects were assigned to three groups: diet-only, diet plus aerobics, diet plus aerobics plus weights. The diet group lost 14.6 pounds of fat in 12 weeks. The aerobic group lost only one more pound (15.6 pounds) than the diet group (training was three times a week starting at 30 minutes and progressing to 50 minutes over the 12 weeks).

The weight training group lost 21.1 pounds of fat (44% and 35% more than diet and aerobic only groups respectively). Basically, the addition of aerobic training didn’t result in any real world significant fat loss over dieting alone.”

Lifting weights and resistance training will burn more fat than just dieting or dieting with cardio exercise alone.

Photo credit: t-nation.com

That’s not specifically targeting deadlifts, but it does seem to indicate that resistance training plays a big part in weight (fat) loss, even more than diet and cardio alone. Of course, it’s only one study, so it would be helpful to see what multiple medical/scientific sources say on the matter.

I’ve received some input stating that older people probably shouldn’t do squats and deadlifts, but what’s the wider view? As it turns out, there is no consensus. Ironman Magazine and Hashi Mashi both say that it is safe and helpful for older people (40s and 50s) to deadlift, but Fitness.com says deadlifts are a “non-starter” for almost anyone over 40. However, in spite of the dangers deadlifts are supposed to represent, Bodybuilding.com tells us:

It is relatively risk free and safe to perform. With the deadlift, there is no risk of getting pinned under a maximum lift (as with the squat and bench press), and provided form is correct, will not unduly stress any of the major joints.

I guess it depends on your point of view.

Well, not entirely. Even supporters of doing squats and deadlifts heavy issue caveats such as the one I found at Rebel Performance:

It tends to get attacked in the media for being dangerous, and you often hear statements like:

“Oh, whatever you do don’t squat and deadlift heavy. You’ll probably blow a disc out of your back and shoot it across the room.”

Granted, this statement carries legitimacy if:

You don’t know how to perform the lift correctly

You don’t move well enough to perform the lift correctly

You use too much weight because you’re stubborn and don’t know how to check your ego.

I’d be willing to argue this holds true for just about anything though. If you go out for a run and have poor running form, are obnoxiously tight, or run for too long, you will probably injure something. Yet we see people running with poor form all the time, and complaining because they have knee or low back pain.

I’m learning how to perform these lifts mainly from videos, so I don’t have anyone to watch me and correct any mistakes in form I may be making. I have to trust that I can judge by my own reflection how to correct and improve my form.

The “too much weight” thing has me a little concerned because it’s tough for me to decide what’s sufficiently challenging while not crossing the line into something dangerous. Yet, from yesterday’s experience (actually, I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon, so for me, it’s still “today”), I’d have to say that so far, I’m hitting pretty close to the mark as far as estimating a good amount of weight to work with (more on that below).

Interestingly enough, the same source also says lifting heavy promotes optimal hormonal response, bone growth, and joint stability, all elements that seniors who exercise are striving to active and improve.

The trick is to use correct form and not go too heavy or at least not to go really heavy too fast.

leg dayTo revisit this issue, I again used the Bodybuilding.com One-Rep Max Calculator. Since I did a warm up set of hack squats at 110 lbs for 10 reps, I put that data in and got a One-Rep Max (1RM) of 147 lbs. The Rebel Performance article recommended a strength training routine, such as a 5×5, lifting somewhere between 85-95% of your 1RM.

For me, that would be between 125 and 139.7 lbs. And, as I recorded in my previous blog post, the heaviest weight I used for hack squats was 140 lbs for the last 2 sets out of 5 working sets. That seems pretty accurate.

Since I know that doing 5 reps of straight leg deadlifts at 180 lbs was challenging, I used the calculator to figure out my 1RM for that exercise. It’s 203 lbs. Between 85 and 95% of the 1RM is 172.5 to 192.9 lbs. So 180 lbs is probably just about the right amount of weight and I could go about 10 lbs lighter next time if I wanted to play it safe.

Since the Plate Loaded Leg Press was such a chore after doing hack squats and deadlifts, I decided to see if I could get a better handle on what weights I should be using. I knew that I could do 8 reps at 270 lbs and I really struggled to do even 5 reps at 340lbs.

Plugging the 270 lbs figure into the calculator, I came up with a 1RM of 335. Wow! 85 to 95% of my 1RM for the Leg Press is 284.5 to 318.3 lbs. At least after doing my barbell work, it looks like I should back off such a heavy weight and try between 280 and 300 lbs for Leg Presses next time.

In other words, I should take my own advice and not be stupid.

Oh, I spotted the “Deathlifts” comic at the “Lift at Work” (lyftapajobbet.com) blog, so thanks for that. The original source is Sir.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

Chinese Proverb


4 thoughts on “Exploring “Deathlifts”

    1. That would be terrific, Michele. I see some couples at the gym who always work out together, even at 5 in the morning. Taking a forced break away from working out today. Have to take one of my sons to the airport.


  1. Hey James,
    Thanks for the shout out man! Let me know if there’s anything we can do to help you on this journey.

    James from Rebel Performance


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