Q: This might seem like a strange question, but on deadlifts, how slow/fast should I lower the bar? 

A: This is actually a great question, because unlike most lifts, you have a lot of options in terms of lowering the bar:

  • Open your hands and simply let the bar fall to the floor (only with bumper plates of course).
  • Let the bar fall to the floor, while keeping your hands on the bar
  • Lower the bar under control (speed can vary depending on goal).

Like many training questions, I tend to look at this in terms of cost/benefit analysis. When you look at the 3 options I presented above, each has distinctive benefits as well as costs. Lowering a heavy weight slowly has great strength and muscle-building advantages, but at the cost of generating a lot of fatigue. Simply dropping the bar (or lowering it quickly) produces much less fatigue, but also is less effective in terms of adaptive stimulus.

If you’re a powerlifter training for a competition, I’d start with slow/controlled eccentric phases early in your training cycle, and then gradually progress toward lowering the bar quickly and finally, dropping the bar altogether as competition nears. This way, early on, you’ll maximally develop hypertrophy and strength, and then later, when you start lowering the weights faster, you’ll still maintain those adaptations while you reduce fatigue heading into the meet.

If you’re more interested in physique training, I’d place a much bigger emphasis on lowering the weight slowly, like you would so with any other lift (at least most of the time). It’s long been known that the eccentric component of the repetition is largely responsible for the total results you’ll obtain from weight training, so don’t just drop the bar after each deadlift just because you see powerlifters doing it!

Q: If all I care about is muscle growth, do I really need to also work on strength (by doing low rep/heavy weight sets)?

A: While I do think it’s possible to grow a lot of muscle while never going lower than about 8 reps, there may be a few advantages to (at least occasionally) doing lower reps — say, in the 3-6 range.

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In fitness coaching circles, there’s a recurring discussion about how to best help clients achieve their fat-loss goals, and it basically revolves around the relative effectiveness of two different dietary approaches:
1) The “indirect” approach to controlling energy balance. With this approach, you seek to create an energy deficit by adopting various behaviors and habits that should (and often do, by the way) lead to a hypocaloric state without needing to actually measure, document, and manipulate calorie intake as well as expenditure. One example of such a behavior might be to avoid all processed foods, which tends to make most people eat fewer overall calories.
2) The “direct” approach, where calorie intake (and optimally, expenditure as well) is carefully measured and monitored. When using this method, while specific food and/or behavioral recommendations are sometimes made, the primary and often sole objective is to ensure an energy deficit by carefully controlling the variables involved. The most commonly-known example of this method is the eating philosophy called “flexible dieting” or “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM).
Both approaches are valid in the sense that they target the attribute of food that needs to be considered in fat-loss contexts — calorie content. But in this post I thought I’d do a comparative analysis of these two methods, and ultimately arrive at some practical recommendations about which approach might be best. 
As a starting point for this discussion, I think it might be instructive to ask “Why on Earth wouldn’t you just count calories? After all, that way there’s no guessing, and you get right to the heart of the problem.
And yes, that’s the advantage of the direct approach — instead of doing things that are likely to lead to an energy deficit, you do things (i.e., measure calories) that guarantee a deficit. And that’s a compelling advantage to be sure. But this benefit comes with a cost: people don’t like to weigh, measure, and document the food they eat, for a few different reasons:

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Your Questions, My Answers: Consistency, Warm-Ups, Bench Press Grip

March 3, 2017

NEW Q&A Column! This month, I’m starting a Q&A column which I’ll publish every other Monday. I’ve always liked the idea of Q@A’s, because they are both practical and relevant. I hope you all enjoy this new feature, and if you’d like to submit your questions for an upcoming column, please post them in the comment section of […]

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Shoulder Pain From Bench Presses? Employ These 5 Strategies

January 18, 2017

Taken as a whole, weight training is surprisingly safe compared to other physical activities. That said however, there are 2-3 very common injury/pain issues that lifters commonly suffer, and perhaps the most common issue, especially in males, is shoulder pain stemming from the flat barbell bench press exercise. The reasons why benching hurts your shoulders is the […]

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A Beginner’s Guide To Fat Loss

January 11, 2017

So you’re carrying around more bodyfat than you prefer, and you wanna get rid of it, but you’re confused because you see so much conflicting information and advice out there in the media, and from people who purport to be experts on the subject (maybe trainers, nutritionists, and/or people who have managed to lose weight themselves).   This post is my […]

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A Quick Lesson In Adaptation: The Importance Of Variety

December 28, 2016

              I’ve recently shared an important programming insight with a few of my online clients, and thought that it was sufficiently valuable to share with all of you here: The longer you perform a given “program” (a specific weekly training split, including exercise menus, set/rep targets, rep tempo, etc), […]

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5 Things I’m Doing To Improve My Training

November 16, 2016

I’ve always thought of myself as being not so much open-minded, but rather “active-minded,” and this especially pertains to my exploration of training and nutrition. While it’s important to have a certain level of stability in your habits and practices, it’s equally vital to have the flexibility to alter your trajectory in the face of […]

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Toward A Personal Philosophy Of Fitness: Make Your Own Rules

November 2, 2016

While it’s true that most of us pursue our chosen fitness path because we (rightly) assume that doing so will make us healthier, happier, and (as coach Mark Rippetoe once famously quipped) “harder to kill,” I’ve got news for you: You can live a very long, healthy, and happy life (and many people have done so, trust me) […]

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Phase-Specific Training Strategies

October 19, 2016

              A lot of lifters have a tendency to assume that the only difference between strength and hypertrophy training comes down to the amount of weight on the bar (and how many reps you can lift that weight for). While there’s a kernel of truth in this assumption, if […]

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Quick Tip For Pissed-Off Joints: Do Stuff That Hurts LAST, Not First!

October 12, 2016

Ever notice how when an exercise hurts, it’s more likely to be the first exercise in the workout? Think about it — if you’re a powerlifter, your bench is more likely to be a source of pain than say, rows or triceps extensions. If you’re a weightlifter, your snatch is more likely to hurt than […]

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