Written by: Kevin Cann
As a coach, understanding how each lift affects recovery is also important when writing programs. The bench is the easiest to recover from, the squat is the next easiest, and the last is the deadlift. What makes the deadlift a tougher lift to recover from then the other 2?
I think it lies in the biggest difference between the deadlift and the other 2, it requires a lot more grip strength. The hands are very unique. The small muscles of the hand contain over 200,000 neurons. We use our hands to learn a lot about our environment.
The hands are one of the densest sites of neurons in the human body. This means that we get a lot of strong reflexes coming from the hands. For example, if we touch something hot we will pull our hands back quickly before the pain is even felt.
Once we experience that reflex, we learn that the thing that we touched can be hot and we know to proceed with caution in the future. This allows us to travel through our environment safely. There is a major benefit to keeping our hands healthy.
One thing that deadlifts do more than the other lifts is they rip our hands apart. They cause physical damage to the palms of our hands, right where the majority of those neurons are located. This is going to send a signal to the rest of our nervous system that we need to rest and recover.
Our nervous system is not going to be happy doing a lot more work. Our body is going to want to shut things down so that we can recover. Attacking another intense workout the day after ripping our hands apart is going to be difficult, especially if we need to hold onto things. This is the nature of the beast for the strength athlete, but there are a few things that we can do to minimize the damage to our hands.
For one, we want to make sure we are gripping the bar correctly so that it will not roll in our hands and take some skin with it. We should grip it in our palms just below our fingers. Our hands will be tighter around the bar in this position and less rolling is likely.
We also need to make sure any calluses we have are level with the skin. A nail file can file them down and get them to skin level. This leads to less chance of the callus getting caught and torn off. Lastly, the bar that we use can make a difference.
I have a Texas Powerbar with some really bitey knurling. I do not use this bar to deadlift with as it tears my hands apart. Instead I use a slightly thicker bar to work grip strength, and one with less intense knurling. I feel that this has helped my recovery from deadlifts and has made my following training day that much better.
On top of the deadlifts tearing our hands apart, they also tire out our grip, and this is a big deal. Grip strength is a good indicator of stress levels. In fact the research has shown that grip strength is actually correlated with testosterone to cortisol ratios. The better our grip strength, the better our hormonal profiles. The weaker the grip strength, the higher the oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been identified as a key contributor to muscle atrophy. At the end of the day it is this oxidative stress that ages us and eventually leads to our demise.
This reason is probably why grip strength is a good indicator of mortality. The weaker the grip strength, the higher the chance of death. These are all important reasons why everyone should be doing deadlifts and carries in their training programs.
I am not a big fan of powerlifters using straps because you cannot use them in competition, and grip strength is usually a debilitating factor in the deadlift. This is why there are more 1,000lb squats than there are deadlifts. Grip strength becomes a limiting factor.
However, there may be times when using straps may be appropriate. For example, this came up in conversation with one of the lifters at TPS. This lifter has a 700lb deadlift at 198lbs. His program often calls for him to work up to a heavy single, double, or triple, and then to perform some back off sets.
Perhaps in this situation he would work up to the heavy set for the day without straps and then perform the back off sets with straps to save his grip, which in turn would save his nervous system a bit for the next training day. When you squat and pull over 700lbs at 198lbs, saving your nervous system becomes important.
If you have a bodyweight squat and deadlift, I would not suggest using straps. As a novice lifter it is unlikely you are truly draining your nervous system in training. You haven’t learned how to engage maximal motor unit recruitment yet, and building grip strength is very important.
The moral of this story is to take care of your hands. If your hands are torn up from a previous training day then it may be best to not deadlift again. Use a bar that isn’t super aggressive with knurling, and make sure the bar placement in your hands is correct. From there monitor your grip strength for recovery.