What Is Deadstop Training?
by Lee Boyce T-Nation
The strength training industry has come up with some pretty cool and innovative ways to pack on muscle mass and increase strength, with the above methods serving as prime examples.
Sometimes, however, it doesn't need to be complicated to make progress. Something as simple as pulling or pushing "dead weight" can help you blast through even the most frustrating strength plateau and get you on track to building muscle again.
A Quick Look at the Benefits
The primary benefit of deadstop training is that it shuts off the stretch reflex so that it doesn't offer any assistance during the hardest phases of the lift.
Some salty coaches will go so far as to say this is the best way to measure someone's "true" strength as it's just muscle against load – no assistance from the meddling stretch reflex or any other efficiency hack.
This is partly why powerlifting meets require a full stop during the bench, squat, and deadlift competition – to get an uncompromised assessment of true muscular strength in a given movement. No bounce off the sternum/hope I don't snap a rib technique allowed.
Another benefit of deadstop training is that it gives you a split second to re-establish your technique. On movements like the deadlift, you can physically readjust yourself between reps so that your pull happens from the best possible geometry.
Compare this to training with the stretch reflex where we typically see technique degrade with each successive rep. Better movement always yields better results.
Now, The Good Stuff
Deadstop training means coming to a full stop at the bottom of a deadlift, squat, bench press, and the like. However, when most lifters think of "deadstop training," they think of deadlifts and maybe a bench press movement.
That's no fun! Not to mention that in sports like football or even sprinting, aggressive pushing movements (blocking from the chest, pushing off the ground for a start) are required, meaning performing dead stops with your pushing and squatting movements can have considerable application.
The truth is, you can apply it to a variety of exercises, and in many different ways. Let's start with the most common applications before touching on the more obscure.
Not only are deadlifts awesome for adding lower and mid-back thickness and size, they're also an awesome way to improve overall force production and develop max strength. Adding a deadstop to the mix makes a "no cheating" exercise even more of a challenge as you must treat every rep like its own set because you take the time to readjust your technique.
Check out the video of my much skinnier self performing deadstop deadlifts:
Deadstop Squat Variations
Yup, there is such thing as a deadstop squat. Cutting off the stretch shortening cycle doesn't have to be limited to only the pulling movements – applying this technique to "push" exercises can be a great stimulus for muscle development and strength gains.
This is the most common deadstop squat variation. Let's forget all the propaganda about lower back muscle and lumbar spine injury – if you stay tight and don't "relax" at the bottom of a box squat, and you don't have any pre-existing conditions or use a box that's too low (taking away ideal pelvic position during your seat), you should be fine.
Here's the bonus: Using box squats with a wide stance allows for a more vertical shin position, meaning lowered knee stress and more glute and hamstring activation.
Bottoms-Up Squat (a.k.a. Pin Squats)
If you do have issues with your lower back or are just neurotic regarding box squats, then try bottom-up squats. They have the same deadstop effect on the muscles, without the bottom-end compressive forces that a box squat creates.
Since you get to rest the bar right down on the pins, you have the chance to give your lower spine a bit of a break while making any needed adjustments to your technique.
As you'll see in the video below, pin squats are also great for taller lifters since depth issues often plague us. Sometimes boxes aren't high enough to work with to get the right form, but setting up the pins at a level that suits you can be beneficial.
The cool thing is, when you follow up these variations with sets that do incorporate the stretch reflex (like typical full range squats), you'll have amped up your nervous system to recruit its fast twitch muscle fibers much more efficiently and get a hell of a lot more out of your workout.
Speaking of Pins
Using the power rack for deadstop training can work with upper-body work, too. Pin presses for both the shoulder press and bench press are fantastic options. As a tall guy, one reason I like pin presses is that it helps avoid the unwanted shoulder capsule stress that we long-armed lifters often must endure in the bottom range of a heavy bench press.
To mitigate this, setting up the pins a couple inches above chest level can be a huge benefit – not only will it be much more comfortable, but the slightly shortened range of motion usually means more weight can be lifted. Nothing wrong with that.
The same thing applies here. Focus on letting the bar settle on the pins before "bouncing" it up for another rep.
What about Floor Presses?
These are often used as a deadstop movement. The difference, however, between a pin press and a floor press (apart from the obvious) boils down to tension. During the "dead" part of the floor press, when your elbows are on the ground, you still need to maintain constant muscular tension. Otherwise, the dumbbells or barbell will fall down and crush your skull.
You don't get a break as you do in dead stop variations, so certain muscles (like the forearms and scapulae) will constantly be holding an isometric contraction – and as the set continues, your rate of fatigue will be faster than that of a pin press.
Long story short, if size and max strength is the goal, then these little things begin to matter. We want to get the most out of every rep.
Deadstop Pull-ups and Rows
Too many lifters perform their rowing and overhead pulling exercises with the stretch reflex. At times this can help increase muscle recruitment or rep performance, but often tapping into the absolute strength of the muscle fibers is what's needed.
Deadstopping your pull-ups offers a real indicator of your true pull-up strength and is more humbling than even performing weighted pull-ups.
As for rows, here's the Mountain Dog himself doing a set of deadstop single-arm rows:
Question of Recovery
The nervous system can take a beating with all this deadstop training, especially since deadstop training is typically paired with heavier lifting.
Knowing this, an easy way to incorporate this method without your neurotransmitters giving you the finger is to kill all your negative reps, where applicable.
In pressing exercises like pin presses and large lower body movements like bottom-up squats and deadlifts, almost "dropping" your negative rep can do your body plenty of good in terms of long term sustenance.
Just make sure you're not reckless about it – be in control when dropping the weight and ensure you still keep some tension on the bar or dumbbell.
Why is this helpful? The eccentric phase of a big lift is the part that's most taxing. One of the reasons Olympic lifters use bumper plates in training and competition is so that they can drop the weight and shirk the demanding (and dangerous) eccentric phase of repeatedly lowering heavy loads, saving themselves for the concentric movement.
By sparing our strongest muscle fibers the negative, we're keeping our nervous system at bay and can train with deadstops more frequently.
I'll concede there were no atoms split during the writing of this article, and I certainly didn't forge new ground in the strength and conditioning world.
Still, not everything you read needs to be the Newest And Greatest Information Ever. Sometimes all it takes is a proven old school trick that's been around for decades to break even the most stubborn plateau.
Try using these variations to shake up your routine and get your nervous system firing on all cylinders again. Let your weight settle to a dead stop so your gains don't have to.