Deadlift: To Stop or To Go

Every time I teach the deadlift, a particular question comes up: whether to perform “stop reps” or “touch and go” reps during sets.

As I start to answer the question, I first explain the benefits and disadvantages of each approach. I then ask a few questions: What are your goals for the deadlift? What are you trying to accomplish with this movement?

With the explanation of these two styles of deadlift reps and the answers to the aforementioned questions, we can properly discuss which style the lifter should perform.

Deadlift: To Stop or To Go

But First, Why the Deadlift Is Different

Most movements start with an eccentric component immediately followed by the concentric portion. This helps to enable the stretch reflex phenomenon that assists the athlete in going from the eccentric to the concentric contraction in a split second. This, in turn, allows the athlete to come up with the weight in an efficient and expedient matter.

But the deadlift is a unique lift in comparison to most barbell movements. It starts with a concentric-heavy movement from the floor and finishes at the top, locked out in a vertical plank position. This is how the movement usually looks at most gyms that I go to.

But what about those who want to perform touch-and-go reps? How do they do that? And what does that change about the eccentric and concentric portions of the deadlift?

One of my answers to the question of “how” is technique. Both at the SFL Certification and in your own gyms, technique must be learned first. And second. And third. Once you have earned your technique badge, then it’s okay to bring in the touch-and-go rep (also simply known as “go reps” or “to go”).

So first, let’s discuss the “stop” deadlifts and then explain how the “go” deadlifts differ.

Deadlift: To Stop or To Go

Deadlift: To Stop

These are the deadlifts I have done for 90%+ of my training career. They make the most sense to me and they are the closest to what I do in my powerlifting career: walk up to the bar, set-up, pull it, lock it out, then use gravity to pull it down. If I am doing reps, then once the bar is on the floor, I set up for the next rep and hit repeat. That’s it!

Ah, but there is more! Here are what’s up with each rep:

  1. Each rep is its own rep. Meaning: From the point of view that the rep starts at the floor and finishes at the top, and with no eccentric lowering part to get the barbell back to the floor (let it fall!), this is true.
  2. Each rep has its own life. Meaning: Even though you are doing 5 reps, each rep is its own animal, from start to finish. The set-up, the pull, and the drop are all separate for each rep. Yet they combine to form a set when done.
  3. Each rep has its set-up. Meaning: Each rep has its own start, middle, and end. Prior to each start, there is a quick set-up, getting the body ready for the pull. This allows both the body and the mind to reach deep inside to get ready to pull the weight off the ground—each and every rep.
  4. Each rep can be modified from the previous one. Meaning: Every time you set-up for the next rep, you can change from what you did the rep before. For example, if you wish to change your grip on the bar, do it. If you wish to change your stance, do it.

Deadlift: To Go

These are the deadlifts I have done for <10% of my training career. Even though I don’t do them very often, they still hold a purpose for me, especially near the beginning of a powerlifting cycle. Usually my sets with these don’t exceed 5-8 reps and are done with approximately 70-80% of 1RM. Occasionally I will go as high as 85% of my 1RM, but that doesn’t happen too often.

When doing these, you walk up to the bar on the ground, get set-up, and pull to the top. At the top, instead of just allowing gravity to get the bar back to the ground, you do something different—you lower the bar in similar fashion as you lower yourself in the squat.

The bar speed will make a medium-speed descent to the floor, but instead of allowing the bar to land on the floor with all of the weight behind it, you simply touch the floor, and proceed on to the next deadlift, back up to the top. At the top, while loaded, take a breath while staying tight, brace, and lower the bar down to the floor, touch, and rise again.

Deadlift: To Stop or To Go

This type of deadlift is very similar to the barbell military press we do at the SFL: the first rep is a concentric-only lift, then the succeeding reps are eccentric and concentric style lifts. It differs from the “stop” deadlift in that you change the point at which you cycle movement. In the “stop” deadlift, you start each rep at the floor. In the “go” deadlift, once you lock out at the top of the lift, then that becomes your starting and end point.

Here is what is up with each rep:

  1. Each rep is part of a set. Meaning: You are supposed to do 5 reps. You do the first rep, lock it out, then proceed to touch the floor, and immediately come back up and lock it out again. Hit repeat until you are done with the fifth rep. After locking out the fifth rep, you can either set the weight down as fast as you wish (since the set is done) or you can set it down as if you were going to go right back up with it.
  2. Each rep needs to look like the rep before. Meaning: One of the bad things about go reps is that the first rep looks great, but with each succeeding rep, the form of the athlete gets worse. Don’t let this happen! Stay tight and focus on starting the rep from the top, not at the bottom.
  3. Each rep softly touches the floor. Meaning: Touch the floor softly before going back up. Touch the floor as if you were doing a touch-and-go bench press rep. Be gentle, and then be ready to explode on the way up!
  4. East rep has its own spinal component. Meaning: As the set moves forward, it will become harder and harder to maintain proper spinal alignment. This fact is one of the main reasons most people don’t do this style of deadlift. Keep your spinal alignment. Period.
  5. Each rep needs perfection. Meaning: Using this style of deadlifting means your technique needs to be spot on. Spend a long time with stop deadlifts before adding the go version to your training stable.
  6. Each rep adds to your volume, but that’s it. Almost. Meaning: When doing go deadlifts, please understand that if you will be training for a 1RM down the road, it will be very hard for you to extrapolate from your best 5RM go deadlift what your 1RM stop deadlift will be. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the go deadlift to train for a stop deadlift, but what it does mean is this —use the go deadlift as a tool at the early part of your training, get super strong with it, then move on to the stop deadlift. This is, of course, if you are training for an eventual 1RM or something like it. If that is not the goal, then use away with the go version!

Deadlift: To Stop or To Go

So, to Stop or to Go?

Using these two types of deadlifts is very important to your overall development. Whether you are an athlete getting ready for the rigors of competition or a 68-year-old student who wants to be able to pick up your grandchild, using the deadlifts as described above can help you increase your strength.

Each style has its own benefits and uses. It all depends on what your goals are and how you wish to achieve them. Remember, pull hard, pull often, and pull strong!

Dr. Michael Hartle
Chief SFL, Master SFG
Dr. Michael Hartle is not only a chiropractic physician, but he is also the Chief SFL and a Master SFG Instructor with StrongFirst, a board-certified Clinical Nutritionist (DACBN), a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (CCSP), a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and an Active Release Technique (ART) provider since 1995.  

Raised in the frozen tundra known as Minnesota, he once lived in Hawai'i while his father was stationed at Pearl Harbor during Vietnam. He has been practicing in Fort Wayne, Indiana for the last seventeen years.

A nationally-ranked powerlifter, who has won several national titles with USA Powerlifting, Dr. Michael is also the Chairman of the Sports Medicine Committee of USA Powerlifting (USAPL). He was the Head Coach of the USAPL World Bench Press Team for eight years, winning the 2004 World Championship Team Title. His best competition lifts are 705lb squat, 535lb bench press, and 635lb deadlift with a best combined total of the three lifts of 1,840lbs in the 275lb weight class.  

For the last seven years, he has been playing semi-pro football, defensive tackle, and loving it! His football team, the Adams County Patriots, won the National AA Semi-Pro Football Championship in 2008! He treats, trains and advises to all kinds of patients, from babies to the elderly, from youth athletes to NCAA student-athletes to professional athletes. He also coaches junior high football and track and field, volunteering his time for the last twelve years. He has three sons who keep him busy with their personal endeavors, including hockey, baseball, football, lacrosse, track, and field and of course, academics.  

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