The deadlift has achieved status in the world of strength and lifting that few other movements have. It’s a feat that is tested in multiple strength sports, including powerlifting and Strongman. It’s role as a main developmental movement put it front and center in the training programs of just about everyone, from bodybuilders and Oly lifters to linebackers and track athletes. It was one of the earliest feats in lifting culture and it’s simplicity and accessibility has since made it a unifying test of strength across all fields.
The fact that it is utilized by everyone also creates a lot of controversy over what a ‘real’ deadlift is. Everyone will pull in a slightly different fashion and will judge strength around those specific standards. Bodybuilders always use straps and will generally favor touch and go work for high reps. Powerlifters abandon straps, strictly judge their technique according to their federation’s rule book while valuing feats at a single rep above anything else. Strongmen pull on a host of different implements at different heights and thresholds, often wearing suits and utilizing hitched lockouts to move the most amount of weight and they almost always pull with straps.
And what if you’re none of these? What if you’re a guy who likes lifting and posts a set that you are proud of on IG or a Facebook lifting group? You better brace yourself, because the comment warriors are coming.
One of the biggest points of contention is with ‘bounced’ reps, or ‘touch and go’ reps. See, the deadlift usually starts from the ground and breaking it from a dead stop (it’s a ‘dead-weight-lift’, after all) is part of the challenge. But every rep after that, whether it’s to build volume in a training cycle or establish a winning number in strongman contest, is made easier by the fact that you load into the weight first. The purists think that every rep should be a ‘dead-weight-lift’ and, where deadlifts for reps are contested, it almost always is. But even in training, lifters aren’t spared scrutiny from the fanatics.
I will never forget an exchange on the old strongman forum, “Marunde-Muscle”, a hub where complete amateurs could interact casually with the best in the world. Derek Poundstone frequented the forum and had posted a video of a typical strongman training set: a touch-and-go set of deadlifts with straps, a suit and a hitch. His feat? 800 for 9.
A local Middleweight Pro chimed in on the thread with, “I counted one deadlift and 8 bounces”. Internet violence ensued.
Bounced reps in deadlifts don’t benefit from the weight actually bouncing off the floor (drop a loaded bar and see how high it bounces), but rather from stretch reflex. The muscles lengthen as the weight lowers before instantaneously freezing, redirecting the weight back up as a make-shift trampoline would. It’s no different than a bench or squat; the movement is always easier if you move through the eccentric first. If you are skeptical, set the bar on the pins and attempt either movement from the bottom position; you will be humbled.
Now, the thing is that stretch reflex doesn’t dissipate immediately but actually hangs around for a few seconds. In the video, I talk about how I exploit that to maximize how many reps I can get in a contest that demands a dead pause in between each rep. I can let the weight load me into my tightest position, not unlike a spring, maintain tension for a 1 or 2 count, then blow up back into the weight with much more efficiency than the first rep. I can repeat this for long sets, clipping off more reps than I would have been able to do if I went loose and let the stretch reflex dissipate.
Is the spirit of a deadlift that it should be dead-stop? Maybe, but that’s an arbitrary standard that is only meaningful in a contest. As I just explained, reps immediately challenge the ‘dead-stop-ness’ of the deadlift anyways and the increased intensity/density that touch-and-go reps require if they are to be exploited makes it a different animal. Personally, I like strongman for the very reason that it exposes athletes to different stressors. It’s what makes the podium uncertain and maintains a sense of ‘sport’ that powerlifting lacks.
On the other hand, if you allow for complete exploitation without any checks, you do risk challenging the spirit of the sport or minimizing the effectiveness of a training stimulus. The fight against the temptation of letting ego dictate your decision making is the Sisyphean struggle all lifters must endure. So, for training purposes (or simply for evaluating how impressive we think an IG feat is), we should still probably have a line in the sand.
Here are two examples of shameless ‘touch and go artists’; Chris Duffin and George Leeman. I feel perfectly fine calling them out as that because they are also both world-class deadlifters. I believe their egos will survive.
Both of these guys love their bounced reps on working sets because of the absurd numbers that setup allows for. Less informed lifters think a set of 5 or 8 corresponds to a 1 rep max the way a similar feat in a squat or bench would and those blurred lines are a big incentive for biasing towards bounced reps (as an aside, I see Duffin’s bias as egregious based on his counting of partial reps in training; it’s obnoxious).
If it’s a particular type of overload you are after, fine, but don’t delude yourself that the one rep max calculator is going to work the same way.
Notice the degree of exploitation by a dramatically shortened range of motion. They both use spaghetti bars that allow for a ton of slack to be taken out and they both like to tap the outside plates on the ground. The bar doesn’t return to it’s initial position but rather 4-6 inches higher. Match that with the trampoline effect and you have found a way to increase rep capacity by up to 100%.
Don’t mistake my analysis for ‘Hater-ade’; I’m just trying to compare apples to apples here. Understanding these differences is important for predicting training effect, ranking performances and evaluating progress. As an example, look at Martins Licis running through a set of deadlifts at 816lbs and compare to what you saw from George and Chris.
Now, all of these guys are among the best pullers on the planet. More so than trying to rank their pulls by how ‘impressive’ they are, I’m interested in how the potential training effect differs.
Martins is know for having great mobility (for anyone, but especially a WSM winner) and for utilizing a lot of control and range of motion in his training. During one of my stops at the Training Hall, I was commenting to Odd Haugen how one of his deadlift for reps that he posted was one of the most impressive things I had seen. To paraphrase, he said, “It’s all the Romanian Deadlifts he does; every time he squats, he does RDLs, slow and controlled.” There’s no doubt that the long term developmental effect of full, controlled movements contributed to his consistent dominance at the highest level.
But Chris and George are different lifters. Their priorities involved powerlifting and social media posts (probably not in that order). The fact is they didn’t need to display excellence over such a wide variety of bars, setups and thresholds. And there is no doubt that their development was influenced by perfecting their most optimal setup and exploiting it to handle as much load for as much work as possible. It is not an invalid approach to training.
The thing is, shorter ranges of motion increase incredibly fast in the short term compared to longer ones and that effect can be compounded when bar momentum is introduced. This is obvious in Duffin’s rep feats, as the movement gets reduced to a short ‘hips back, hips forward’ motion that shifts the training stress to the top 1/3 of the lift. Even if it is a comically advantaged movement, being able to knock off 675 for 20 in that setup no-doubt contributed to his development into an objectively world-class deadlifter.
My recommendation here is to keep both tools in your back pocket and be deliberate with when you use them and for how long. Dead stop reps should make up the majority of your rep work, since those who ONLY pull short reps with plenty of bounce will find themselves unable to perform outside of those parameters. Those who drill dead-stop reps will always be able exploit touch and go with a little bit of practice, as my 102% for 5 is a testament to
High rep sets, as in 10 or higher, will probably benefit from a bit of bouncing unless you are training to go double-digits in a deadlift for rep contest. Touch and go is also fantastic for giving you a kick in the ass. Really, your glutes will be on fire if you aren’t used to it and the result is a newly reinforced lockout. Exploit this effect by keeping your change of direction tight (you should strive for a similar position at the start of each rep) and accelerating into a forceful lockout. Don’t go limp at the bottom and yank out of the hole; strong lockouts come from strong starts.
In a base-building phase, touch and go can make up most of your work. If you are worried about losing a step in your start, you can implement a ‘heavy/light’ approach that features dead stop for the lower reps and touch and go for the higher reps or use a ‘top set/backoff set’ structure that saves the bounces for lighter down-sets. Heavier, strength-specific phases can use them in a similar way, as they allow for serious overload on alternate days or after your ‘specific’ deadlift work. I do recommend limiting them if your weakness tends to be off the floor.
Experiment with them and see how the effect compares to other tempo, paused or deficit work. And, if you’re brave, post the results on social media.