The Dead Lift Goal –The dead lift is a wonderful test of your ability to maintain a neutral spine while moving something off of the ground. The spine is most commonly damaged when moved from a neutral position (good, long torso posture) into one of extreme of direction, be that a forward rounding or a backward arching. If your deadlift is relatively weak, then your spine is relatively weak and is more likely to be injured in daily activities. Building proper dead lift strength improves your ability to avoid that forward flexion and limit risk of injury not only in the gym, but in life!
However, we can have a dead lift that is TOO strong and it hurts our back as well. Our dead lift should be approximately 25% greater than our back squat. If you have such a strong lift that you turn regular daily activities that should be squatting (like tying your shoes, or picking up a child) into more of a lifting/stooping action we can over-use, and thus abuse the back. Ever hear a coach tell you “your chest dropped when you stood out of the squat” or “your squat needs to be deeper”? You likely have a dead lift far stronger than your squat.
Why don’t we bench press? Why are you now testing it? – A topic for another article would be proper mechanics of the shoulder and safety of the rotator cuff. The summary is this: Where the arm moves, so too should the shoulder blade. Arm overhead for a press, get your shoulder blade up. Arm down at top of a pull up, so too should the shoulder blade go. However, a bench press is not a functional movement. It alters the movement of the shoulder blade to enhance pushing strength of our upper torso. In a proper bench press the shoulder blade does not move forward as we move the arm forward and overuse of this will create problems with the rotator cuff. We don’t often bench press in the gym because we work to more regularly train the movement of our shoulder blade as well.
There have been many field studies done to compare a close-grip bench press to other lifts; we use it as a comparison of upper body pushing strength relative to lower body and pulling strength. We regularly see individuals improve their bench press tests without ever bench pressing during their training.
The Close-Grip Bench Press Goal-In a comparison of upper body to lower body strength we would like your CGBP to be approximately 66% of your Back Squat. If your CGBP is higher than that, you have a stronger upper body than lower body, and vice versa. Best ways to improve upper body strength would be improved push up mechanics (STOP PEELING!!) and to progress in strength of ring push ups, bar dips and ring dips.
Upper and Lower Body Strength in Relation to Olympic Lifts – The olympic lifts are a complex, multi-joint, speed-oriented movement. They are VERY potent at improving a base of slow strength into speed strength (lift/squat/push/pull is slow, run and jump is fast). In essence, teach an ox to sprint!! With the complex movement, technique is paramount in both safety and progress; technique REQUIRES a balance of upper body strength to lower body strength. Legs too strong (CGBP below 66%) and you’ll have trouble catching the bar correctly and are likely to create injury to the neck and shoulders long term. Arms too strong (CGBP above 66%) and you’ll likely pull early with your arms and damage your elbows and wrists.
Many of us spend a good deal of time working to perfect our technique. Unfortunately, working to keep your arms straight when you perform a power clean will not get you a stronger squat, but a stronger squat (if that’s what you need) will give you a better power clean. Working to keep your shoulders elevated when you catch a snatch will not improve your upper body strength (if that’s what you need) but better pushing strength will improve the stability of your shoulder in the snatch. Want to improve your olympic lifts? Focus your training to ensure your back squat, deadlift, and CGBP are in a 100-125-66% ratio and you’re off to a great start!!