I have heard it said many times that the only lift that really matters is the deadlift, anyone who spends time around Adam & Damon Hayhow at Recomp HQ will hear this kind of talk regularly. I personally cannot speak highly enough of the positive benefits I have experienced in my own strength training journey from the deadlift. To this day, my main strength training ambition is to deadlift 300kg raw.
For anyone interested in further reading on ‘why every man should learn to love deadlifting heavy’, I would like to invite you to read my article. There is no more pure expression of physical strength than the deadlift, therefore it should be the centrepiece of every serious strength training program.
The benefits you will experience, as a fighter, from building a bulletproof posterior chain through the deadlift and its variations are too many to list here. Perhaps I will put together a separate article solely dedicated to answering the question, 'How does having a super-strong posterior chain benefit me as a fighter?' For now, assume that as a fighter it is in your best interest to be actively building the levels of strength through your posterior chain, in particular the glutes and lower back.
By no means am I suggesting that all fight athletes should be training to deadlift 300kg raw, but there is a time to build high levels of relative strength, and there is a time to learn to express that relative strength as speed, rate of force development, and power.
There are several accessory and supplemental exercises to support posterior chain development, and consequently a solid deadlift. Today I want to discuss the importance of building both, and walk you through a simplified exercise progression to make periodisation easier.
Learning proper movement patterns is something I take very seriously. I place a lot of value in progressing through the structural balance and GPP (general physical preparedness) cycles learning/relearning correct sequencing and engagement in preparation for heavy relative strength or speed/power cycles (where necessary). I recommend all coaches and athletes take the time to strip back their movement patterns to reinforce proper and full Glute engagement before venturing into the really heavy stuff. This is all part of the process of building a bulletproof posterior chain.
I would recommend starting with a basic periodisation model like Linear periodisation or Undulating Periodisation. Try to not overcomplicate things when piecing together your macrocycles, reverse engineer everything from the goal backwards.
So in progressive order, least neurally demanding to most neurally demanding, here is a list of posterior chain exercises. When periodised intelligently these can be the pathway to deadlifting dominance:
* The Lying Leg Curl - I treat this as a ‘remedial’ exercise, it is great for introducing a trainee to posterior chain work. The trainee has only one thing to think about, really only one major muscle is involved and isolated. Because this is not a very functional movement (you don’t perform too many movements in real life that look anything like this) the fresh trainee will not be able to walk properly for a few days after a challenging session on this exercise.
* Seated Good Morning - this is great for beginners to build the pathways and connections for engaging all the right stuff in the posterior chain, and building the foundation for much bigger things to come. Focus on neutral spine position, ‘feeling’ the Glutes involvement and engagement from the very beginning of the training cycle.
* Standing Good Morning - slightly more challenging than the seated version, standing creates the need to stabilise and balance, as well as increasing the potential range of motion and fully elongating the posterior chain musculature.
* 45° Back Extension - these machines are not the most common in commercial settings, however they are a great way to build on the engagement learned in the good morning. While simultaneously altering the strength curve, or the angle of gravitational resistance in this case.
* Horizontal Back extension - again, this builds on the 45° version while further altering the strength curve to a more challenging angle.
* Romanian Deadlift - the ‘RDL’ is a great way to build technical skill in hip extension at the top range of the conventional deadlift. Use this exercise to achieve full lengthening of the hamstrings at the bottom of the range, and learn to coordinate the sequence of explosive hip extension through the top half of the range.
* The GHD - the Glute-Hamstring Developer literally does what it says on the tin. This is a fantastic way to really isolate and target the Glutes through the movement. It also presents a good neurological challenge because of the two simultaneous force production processes happening. The hamstrings are used to try and pull the anchored feet towards the Glutes (knee flexion), while the Glutes are working to extend the hip, there is a lot going on in this seemingly innocent movement pattern. It may take a few tries to really get the hang of it, but it is worth it. This is a staple in all of my fight athlete programming.
* The Conventional Deadlift - here it is, my favorite. Do these. Do lots of these. Some athletes may not fit the orthopaedic profile for the Conventional or narrow stance deadlift, these folks may be better suited to the Sumo or wide stance deadlift instead. Either way, this should be the thing you get out of bed for every morning!
* The Snatch Grip Deadlift - finally, a more neurologically challenging version of the Conventional deadlift. As the great Andre Benoit once told me, “the snatch grip deadlift on a podium is the best bang for buck total body exercise, no exercise engages more muscle fibre than this”. Don’t try to perform this exercise ‘phase-for-phase’ or year round. One or two training cycles per year (depending on the goals) with this exercise should suffice for most fight athletes.