Dead lifting twice per week

A friend shot me a quick message asking my thoughts on the idea of dead lifting twice per week. I've been looking for some writing fodder, and really, who doesn't like to read and write about dead lifts?
; )    So I decided to type out a few thoughts here.


This person has worked consistently at the training program that I laid out for him, and it's more or less how I train. The program includes relatively heavy dead lifts, three to four work sets in the four to six rep range, performed once per week.

Hopefully this gives you some context of where he is coming from. But still, the question remains, "Why save all the joy and tears of dead lifting for only one day per week?'


...is my answer, in brief. Double up on the awesomeness! Dead lifting twice per week has the potential to help you progress in that lift more than doing it only once per week. But, in not-so-brief, there are some important points to consider, most of them having to do with the fact that IF you are training intensely and consistently on a well designed program, it's not advisable to keep adding  without taking other things away.

Don't do the exact same dead lift protocol. 

I wouldn't advise doing the same loading and rep range on the "other" dead lift day. Maybe do another dead lift variation (sumo or trap bar), do speed reps (that's crushing perfect form in explosive reps with about 60% of your top weight) or heavy singles or triples with no eccentric component (drop the weight from the top position if your gym/bumper plates can afford it). The potential for over training and injury is high if you get to the point of twice weekly grinding out multiple sets of heavy reps like we typically do on dead lift day.

Don't plan on squatting much. 

Part of the reason why I don't dead lift more than once per week is that I love to reserve some time and energy for dead lifts beastly cousin, Twenty Rep Squats. I've found that training these movements each once per week can get quite demanding on recovery ability. And if your squats or dead lifts are worth any thing, there's really no point (and some potential danger) in doing the other movement in the same workout. How are you supposed to seriously push the limit in 20 reps squats if your hips and back are fatigued from dead lifts? How are you supposed to dead lift even just your body weight when your legs are jello-ed from intense squats?

Always remember that long-term progress is not so much dependent on the amount of training that you can tolerate, but on the amount of training that you can recover from.

I tend to think that heavy squats compliment heavy dead lifts done on another day of the week, and vice-verse. But I don't think many intermediate and advanced lifters can improve on both of these for long before one movement must take a back seat (for that training cycle).

Rhythm is everything.

To end with a legitimate point of encouragement: the person who asked the question doesn't vary his training up every other week. He's established a rhythm of working brutally hard at a handful of exercises, and thereby has made a line in the sand for his body and his current abilities. He can tinker around with workout day, set, and rep schemes, keep it simple, and learn even more about what's truly best for his body and his goals just by paying attention.

That's exactly how I settled on my current training program that suits me just fine for now with relatively little time investment in training. Many individuals never get to the point of learning from this type of experimentation because they have no meaningful point of reference to begin with.


In praise of Farmer Walks

Never underestimate the value of Farmer Walks. Only in the last few years have they been appreciated for their relative safety and effectiveness in developing hip and core strength, leg, forearm, and shoulder stamina, and pure grit. Yes your back can handle it!  See below, but in most cases a properly controlled farmer walk is less risky than running or jumping. In farmer terms, carry buckets of water and feed is definitely less risky to the spine than prolonged sitting while tractor plowing. Chalk that up as another hit to industrialized farming.

Get off your butt and work the core!

In case you haven't heard, Farmer Walks can broadly be defined as the act of carrying something heavy until your legs throb and your forearms are about to explode. The legs are the prime movers while a fairly large load is held through the upper extremities, effectively working all the "core" stabilizers in between. For reference, a decent Farmer Walk is carrying your body weight for 3 or 4 "reps" of approximately 100 feet.

...If there were only a way to work all these muscles without

 placing shear and torsional forces on the spine.

Paleolithic cave painting depicting Farmers Walks
Who invented Farmer Walks? God. Or earth nature. Or maybe God through earth nature. One way or another we were made to be capable of dealing with gravity by lifting and carrying things. Really - it is well known that the spinal facet joints and discs deal very well with compressive load, and it's the shear and torsional forces that primarily cause degenerative changes.

Surely humans have been Farmer Walking since well before there was such a thing as farmers. In fact, Farmer Walks are THE origin of the concept of progressive overload. The story goes that Milo of Croto trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox. At around 600 BC, he won 6 Olympic victories, dominated multiple wrestling meets and other events, and led the Crotoniate army to victory over Greeks from Sybaris.

How's THAT for some positive outcomes?? 

Does that story make you want to pick up non conventional objects and carry them around? [What, is it only me?] It also makes me a bit bitter how Arthur Jones convinced everyone that his sit-on, muscle isolation Nautilus machines are superior to free weights. I get the concept and cool physics principles involved. But I think Arthur would be rolling over in his grave if he saw all the soccer dads and moms and businessmen and women who sit on these things but absolutely cannot control quality functional movement with their own body weight. Nah, never mind. He'd be happy to cash in.

Variable resistance cam + isolation of muscles = huge and strong = NOT
Practically speaking
Do you know what happens when we structure such simple, old school methods with periods of work and recovery? We feel and look good, and become physically fit to handle what life has in store.
The Pope loves Farmers Walks
I would suggest with carrying 25% of body weight in each hand for 50 feet. Take deliberate strides but do not lunge and do not take little pp steps.

Nothing beats Farmer Walks as a workout "finisher." Just imagine what it would be like to skip the 10 minutes of ab machine, the various crunches and leg raises, and the 20 minutes of elliptical? Conditioning, strengthening, and cardio can all be had with less than half of that time invested in Farmers Walks. You (literally) won't be up for many activities that involve being upright after a series of intense Farmer Walks.


If you have sensitive feet (history of plantar fascitis etc) and load up with Farmer Walks on cement, you may have some issues, especially if your shoes are subpar. So do these in good supportive shoes and build up slowly.

Farmer Walks do not lend themselves well to commercial gyms, or anywhere there tends to be a high density of protruding metal and oblivous-to-their-surroundings-people wearing ear buds and staring at themselves in the mirror.

A friend and I once tried Farmer Walking in a Golds Gym, just for fun. There were odd stares, inadvertent near hits to the privates, and multiple awkward stop/starts near the water fountain. Should I ever again find myself in a commercial gym, I promise to lay on the floor or sit down on a machine and exercise in one place like a good little gym rat.

But I dare you to try a quiet, well controlled Farmer Stroll in a Planet Fitness. Let me know how it goes for a free, uh, T-shirt. Or something. Seriously, I will give you an original Bonny Lane Club shirt from my anti gym.


the best thing to do when your back goes out

I'm guessing that it went something like this:

You reached or twisted quickly.
You went to pick something light off the ground.
You lifted a heavy couch, sack of birdseed, or barbell, with or without good form.

Immediately or shortly thereafter, you experienced a dagger in or just below the spine. The pain went from nothing to searing. You held your breath. You swear that a vertebrae must have broke right in two. You didn't want to think about thinking about moving.

You, my friend, have thrown your back out. I've been there. On more than one occasion. What exactly is going on in there? It's difficult to say exactly what tissue is at fault. But we can make a few basic assumptions with some degree of confidence.

First let's try to define what kind of injury we are dealing with:

-There was a relatively abrupt onset of symptoms.
-The quality of the pain was sharp and intense.
-There was no numbness, pain, or weakness down either leg.
-The mechanism of injury was due to spinal flexion - like bending forward, prolonged sitting, poor lifting technique, or over striding while running. 

When this is the case, we are most likely dealing with one of three things:

-Strained muscle, tendon, or ligament. With these you can almost always palpate (touch or point out) the site of injury. The pain is very consistent, just like when you pull a hamstring or hip flexor after sprinting in the cold. Maintaining a rigid brace of the spine when you move often increases the pain because this places demands on the stabilizing muscles that are in question.

-Stress fracture. This is fairly rare but it happens. This pain is also very consistent, increasing with almost all loaded movements (standing on your feet). Almost all unloaded movements (laying down and sitting) cause minimal pain, though transitions back to sitting and standing will be difficult.

Lumbar stress fractures are seldom related to forward bending activities. They occur more commonly from extension overload, over arching, where the spine repetitively or traumatically undergoes compression with backward rotation (as when running, jumping, and tackling with a weak anterior core and/or tight hip flexor muscles).

-Disc derangement. As the years roll by and I manage hundreds of people with lower back pain, I'm almost certain this is the likely culprit for backs that "go out" during and after flexion based activities. Keep in mind that not all disc herniations cause referred pain to the lower extremities. It is well known that tears within the disc material (with no herniation displacement at all) and small to moderate disc herniations may give a sharp or intense pain without pressing on the nerves that go down to the legs. 

The pain is almost always increased with forward bending and prolonged sitting because you are reproducing the mechanism of injury. But otherwise, the condition is fairly inconsistent. Sometimes there's no pain at all and you're like, "whew, smooth sailing!" Then, just when you let your guard down and go to put the milk back in the refrigerator, **BAM** you're shot by the sneaky sniper.

With all things considered, here's the ironic kicker. Whether your abrupt, severe, non-referred lower back pain is due to a disc injury or a muscle/tendon/ligament injury, you should treat it nearly the same way. The absolute best things to do in the short term are as follows:

1. REST. Lay off it already! No, literally, lay flat on your stomach or on either side and take it easy. One way or another, you literally have injured tissue. There's no manipulation or particular exercise that's going to make it heal quicker in the short term. You can try some gentle press-ups and ice. Massage and modalities like electronic stimulation and ultrasound may alleviate muscle pain for a short while. But the main thing you need to do is quit nagging it and give it a chance to heal.

Press-ups are often indicated in the instance of acute, flexion-based back injury.The mullet is not.

2. Ice is usually best in the first few days. But truly I say unto you, with back pain there are no hard and fast rules. When I experienced acute lower back pain, ice made me feel stiff and a hot shower was almost miraculous. If you tolerate anti-inflammatory medications, take them. Nobody is impressed with anti-medication heroics. Taking a moderate dose of Advil for a few days never killed anyone.

3. Avoid flexion/bending activities. I have found that in the acute phase of lower back pain, most people underestimate the importance of staying away from the type of movement that stirred up the issue in the first place. Avoiding slumped sitting and the recliner chair posture is critical.

To be clear, avoiding flexion means NOT standing and reaching to your toes. It means NOT kneeling and pushing your chest to the floor. It means NOT laying on your back and pulling your knees toward your chest. All of these stretches cause lumbar flexion and you should not do them!

(Sorry for the caps but you would not believe the number of people with flexion-based back pain that continuously and persistently do flexion based stretches, likely provoking their symptoms or keeping their injured tissue from healing).
Do nothing crazy. Really - lay off the back.

Yes, all the flexion type stretches do indeed stretch tight muscles. But it also reproduces the exact movement pattern that got you into trouble in the first place! The relief of stretching those muscles will be temporary at best. At worst you will further aggravate or progress a disc problem.

So technically, these three things to do when your back goes out are actually non-doing things. And in the immediate short-term, that's exactly what the doctor ordered to allow time for healing. But after 3 to 5 days, you need to get moving. You need to DO some things and still be careful to avoid doing others.


By the numbers, you probably will get better with this simple advice. You will naturally take it easy, partly because you can't go hard, partly because you will be more cautious. For a while. But did you know, also by the numbers, that chances are that after you improve and get back to what you like to do, you will experience a more severe episode of similar or progressive symptoms in the future? The last I read on this topic, there is a 90% chance that symptoms will return, and they are usually progressive in nature. What once was a disc tear will have progressed to a full blown disc herniation with sciatica, and you won't be trying to call that a simple muscle strain.

Above all else...

Given the grim statistics on the natural progression of acute, localized lower back pain, let your personal episode of misery serve as a warning. Once you rest and ice and be very careful to avoid forward bending movements, it's time to get active. There are plenty of things you should be doing to mitigate or altogether avoid the natural progression. But that's another essay!

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