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    Default The Four Criteria

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    by Michael Wolf

    Using The Four Criteria as a logical starting point with solid presumptive status, while paying close attention to both how post-Novice lifters in general respond to training as well as how any one specific post-Novice lifter responds to training, gives us with a very useful framework and set of tools to program effectively for continued increases in strength, demonstrated by PRs, over the long lifetime of a lifter.

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    Default Assistant exercise chart for the criteria

    I was thinking about this a few weeks ago before the article came out and started to make a chart as to which assistant exercises match which criteria to better explain why the big lifts are the absolute best. Just sort of a thought experiment. Where the parent exercises made all three criteria, the assistant and ancillary exercises only made one or sometimes two criteria. It was something like this,

    Parent exercises (fit all criteria): Deadlift, Squat, Bench, Press, Power Clean, snatch.

    Full/effective ROM:
    Chins
    incline bench ?
    close grip bench ?
    LTE
    RDL/SLDL
    Barbell rows
    Any dumbbell variation of the parent/assistant exercises
    Push ups
    Front squats

    Most muscle used:
    Chins*
    incline bench*
    close grip bench*
    LTE*
    RDL/SLDL*
    Barbell rows*
    Any dumbbell variation of the parent/assistant exercises*
    Push ups*
    Kettlebell swing(not sure about this one, itís not a great exercise but wanted to include it to see where it would fit)

    Most weight:
    Partials/overloading exercises.
    Rack pull
    Halting Deadlift
    Shrugs
    Pin press
    Box and rack squats.

    So the repeaters between the first and second criteria were either upper body exercises with limited lower body muscle, thus not using as MUCH muscle as possible. Or they were light pulling exercises. Not sure where to put the front squats. The most weight criteria was all limited ROM overload exercises. Iím sure I missed some ideas but would love feed back or improvements.

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    Default The Four Criteria and the Deadlift

    I have a question regarding the criteria in regards to the selection of the deadlift. One could get more range of motion through the defecit deadlift or the snatch-grip deadlift. An individual could also lift more weight from a rack or blocks. So why was the conventional deadlift from the floor selected rather than one of the variations that I mentioned? I am sure I am missing something, such as an effective range of motion, or that rack/block pulls do not utilize as much muscle mass.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicholas Rega View Post
    I have a question regarding the criteria in regards to the selection of the deadlift. One could get more range of motion through the defecit deadlift or the snatch-grip deadlift. An individual could also lift more weight from a rack or blocks. So why was the conventional deadlift from the floor selected rather than one of the variations that I mentioned? I am sure I am missing something, such as an effective range of motion, or that rack/block pulls do not utilize as much muscle mass.
    You're on the right track. In some cases, optimizing for one criteria negatively impacts the others in a meaningful way. Such as the lack of ROM in rack pulls or lack of weight in the deficits as you point out. Or going 9 inches below parallel in an ass to grass squat - longer ROM, but the word effective is in there for this, because that ROM in the case of general strength training isn't effective, as it requires musculature to relax and thus contribute less to the movement. Not to get too far into the weeds, but it's reasonable to suggest that rock bottom front squats may have a place in the program of a competitive olympic lifter, at very least as a form of practicing the skill of catching and standing up a heavy clean caught at the very bottom.

    Anyway - when we have the optimization of one criteria that negatively impacts one or more others, we look for the form that will do the best job of optimizing all four in aggregate. For example, low bar squats to just below parallel = most muscle mass over longest effective ROM in a way that allows us to use the most weight and thus get stronger, compared to any of the actual alternatives (this "compared to what?" theme keeps popping up in my writings, doesn't it?). Quarter squats allow more weight but so completely nullify the first two criteria that we toss them out. ATG squats use more ROM but reduce weight and muscle mass used significantly, so they don't optimize the four criteria in aggregate.

    The DL/Rack Pull/Deficit DL example is actually an interesting one, because it's the only one of the main SS lifts where "full ROM" is dictated by something outside human anatomy. All other lifts are started and finished based on anatomical relationships. The DL starts where the bar happens to float off the floor based on the size of the plates the manufacturers decided to make. It is locked out based on human anatomy, but the starting height of the barbell isn't dictated by anatomy like the other lifts are (though the way we actually set OURSELVES up AROUND the bar is, in fact, based on anatomy and physics).

    So, granted that the height of the plates that results in how far off the floor the bar sits is somewhat arbitrary, but my own experience teaching thousands of people to deadlift, as well as our collective experience coaching and observing people deadlifting, is that the gigantic vast overwhelming majority of humans can pull the DL in a straight line over the mid-foot, with a back set and held in rigid extension, from that height. Like 99.9% or something. Whereas once you start getting into deficits, the percent of the population's ability to do so reduces immediately. Obviously if you looked at the microscopic level, sure you could lower the height of the barbell 1 micrometer, and it wouldn't make a difference. But in terms of the reproducible-by-human-standards and reasonable-to-machine reality of barbell and plate manufacturing, where the bar sits at the bottom of the DL still represents an extremely reasonable place to call it a "longest effective ROM" and to be the parent/main version of the movement, with deficits and rack pulls being derivative variations used when a lifter gets to a sufficiently advanced place and there's a logical case for departing from the parent version.
    Last edited by Michael Wolf; 04-23-2018 at 10:39 PM.
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    Thanks for the reply, Michael!

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Wolf View Post
    So, granted that the height of the plates that results in how far off the floor the bar sits is somewhat arbitrary, but my own experience teaching thousands of people to deadlift, as well as our collective experience coaching and observing people deadlifting, is that the gigantic vast overwhelming majority of humans can pull the DL in a straight line over the mid-foot, with a back set and held in rigid extension, from that height. Like 99.9% or something. Whereas once you start getting into deficits, the percent of the population's ability to do so reduces immediately. Obviously if you looked at the microscopic level, sure you could lower the height of the barbell 1 micrometer, and it wouldn't make a difference. But in terms of the reproducible-by-human-standards and reasonable-to-machine reality of barbell and plate manufacturing, where the bar sits at the bottom of the DL still represents an extremely reasonable place to call it a "longest effective ROM" and to be the parent/main version of the movement, with deficits and rack pulls being derivative variations used when a lifter gets to a sufficiently advanced place and there's a logical case for departing from the parent version.
    That makes sense.

    A few follow-up questions:
    If an individual did not possess the flexibility to deadlift from the standard height (let's assume that you determined that he has the kinesthetic sense to extend his spine), would it benefit him to increase his flexibility to allow him to deadlift from the floor, or would he benefit more from getting stronger at the lowest rack/block that he could pull with a rigidly extended back (let's assume that he has no desire to compete)? And if it would benefit him to increase flexibility for the specific purpose of a longer effective ROM to get generally stronger, why stop at the standard height rather than some other arbitrary marker aside from the convenience of plate manufactoring? We know that the most muscle mass is utilized in a low bar squat just below parallel, and that, even if an individual could keep everything from relaxing, there isn't a whole lot of benefit from increasing the ROM beyond that point. Is this the same for the deadlift? If there really isn't a whole lot of benefit from increasing the ROM beyond the standard deadlift height, then are there not better variations of the lift to program for intermediate and advanced lifters? (That final question is inspired by your mention of the deficit in the article and Matt Reynold's praise of the deficit.) You must not program deficits in most intermediate and advanced lifters very often. Correct?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicholas Rega View Post
    If an individual did not possess the flexibility to deadlift from the standard height (let's assume that you determined that he has the kinesthetic sense to extend his spine), would it benefit him to increase his flexibility to allow him to deadlift from the floor, or would he benefit more from getting stronger at the lowest rack/block that he could pull with a rigidly extended back (let's assume that he has no desire to compete)?
    The lack of flexibility to DL from the standard height is not something I have observed. What I see is either 1) the person lacks sufficient conscious control of the erectors to extend them in that position, so they can get extended from higher up but not with their hamstrings tugging at the distal pelvis as hard as they do at the bottom of a full DL (not common but see it occasionally) or 2) a rare anthropometric outlier with super long legs or outrageously short arms (very rare but they do occur). In the first case, going to the lowest point they can get into extension, and lowering it over time works every time (for me at least, so far). Since it's not a flexibility issue, I see no need to work on flexibility here.

    In the latter case, first I take their lifting shoes off. That usually solves the issue by lowering the height of their hips by ~3/4" inch. If that isn't enough, sumo may be called for. I'll note that I have seen this less than 5 times in the thousands of people I've taught to deadlift. Usually taking the shoes off is enough.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicholas Rega
    And if it would benefit him to increase flexibility for the specific purpose of a longer effective ROM to get generally stronger, why stop at the standard height rather than some other arbitrary marker aside from the convenience of plate manufactoring? We know that the most muscle mass is utilized in a low bar squat just below parallel, and that, even if an individual could keep everything from relaxing, there isn't a whole lot of benefit from increasing the ROM beyond that point. Is this the same for the deadlift? If there really isn't a whole lot of benefit from increasing the ROM beyond the standard deadlift height, then are there not better variations of the lift to program for intermediate and advanced lifters? (That final question is inspired by your mention of the deficit in the article and Matt Reynold's praise of the deficit.) You must not program deficits in most intermediate and advanced lifters very often. Correct?
    Since flexibility is not the issue, I'm not sure the rest of your question follows. I'm also not sure how you reached your conclusion at the end of your comment. Maybe you could clarify if I'm not interpreting it correctly, but here's my best shot:
    In the squat, we don't use deeper than just below parallel low bar squats as a variation because the increased ROM has no utility to the general strength trainee. Less muscle mass is used, your low back is prone to relax which increases back tweak risk. Additionally less weight is used. And since the bounce out of the hole is the sticking point for exactly zero lifters ever, if there's a utility to weak point training (physiological or psychological), this ain't it.

    Whereas the deficit DL done properly with a rigidly extended back, does not utilize less muscle mass. It actually requires that some of the relevant muscle mass - the quads - be used more, without anything else relaxing and any other muscle mass being used less. It requires the entirety of the musculature used in the DL to be used over a greater ROM, and puts you in a mechanically disadvantageous position right off the floor - which is a failure point for many, so arguably provides a good assistance lift for someone who misses right off the floor. So there are some potential arguments in its favor, whereas the arguments for using a deeper squat to increase the ROM are not very good, IMO.

    Your question/comment seems based on the premise that there isn't benefit from the increase in ROM that the deficit provides. While I don't think it's absolutely proven that that's incorrect, there's enough anecdotal evidence to the contrary that - like the article says about the four criteria themselves - I'm comfortable using a presumption in the deficit's favor as one of several useful DL variations, without assigning it any magical powers or being an absolute necessity that anyone do.

    I do have some of my lifters do deficits, though in my own lifting when I tried to do them they tended to tweak my back so I stopped a while back.
    Last edited by Michael Wolf; 04-25-2018 at 12:21 AM.
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    Thanks for the reply, Wolf!

    Iím not sure where exactly I came to the conclusion that flexibility is the cause of not being able to get an extended back at the bottom of the deadlift. Thank you for informing me that it is most likely a weak back as the cause. Also, I now see how deficits can be advantageous as an assistance lift.

    Since you admit that there arguments in favor of the deficit deadlift fitting the four criteria (possibly better than the conventional), could you elaborate on the arguments against the deficit as a better fit of the criteria?

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    As I tried to imply in the article, good variations of all the lifts tend to fit the four criteria pretty well, just not as well as the main/parent variant. In the DL/deficit discussion, as in many, if we try to break things down to the microscopic level and make 100% absolute statements based solely on that granular analysis, we don't get anywhere - that's why I wrote the article and discussed presumptive status, to which we apply the practical results of what we see happening as well as potential other relevant analyses.

    The deficit DL uses more ROM and essentially the same muscle mass. But it uses less weight, so it's not the most basic, fundamental way to get stronger. Why not rack pull, where we can use even more weight? Because we lose BOTH muscle mass and ROM. Hence, the DL is the parent movement.

    The above analysis is, I believe, clearly correct on the macroscopic level. If we move the bar height to a 3 inch deficit, or rack pull from just below knee, the advantage of ROM and weight, respectively, are clearly cancelled out by the disadvantage in the other criteria enough so that they shouldn't be the main lift.

    Where your Q becomes interesting, and is really more a matter of convention than absolute knowledge, is: What if we moved the bar down 1/8 inch lower, or raised it 1/8 inch higher? At the microscopic level (I know 1/8 inch isn't literally microscopic, I just mean in the general sense of very small changes to the starting point): does a tiny bit more ROM performed by pulling from what we'd now call a 1/8 inch deficit outweigh the advantage of a tiny bit less weight? Does it even cause less weight at all, or does it allow the same muscle mass and weight used? Does the extra ROM make any positive difference at all? Or, by raising it 1/8 inch, we can ask essentially the same Qs.

    To which I don't know the answer, and suspect no one does, because if there is any difference at all, it is likely to be so minute as to not be worth discovering and trying to convince the plate manufacturers to change their specs and castings, so is relegated to pointless speculation on the internet.
    Last edited by Michael Wolf; 04-27-2018 at 11:22 AM.
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    Reviewing our conversation, I believe I have come around to what you are saying.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Wolf View Post
    Whereas the deficit DL done properly with a rigidly extended back, does not utilize less muscle mass. It actually requires that some of the relevant muscle mass - the quads - be used more, without anything else relaxing and any other muscle mass being used less.

    So, granted that the height of the plates that results in how far off the floor the bar sits is somewhat arbitrary, but my own experience teaching thousands of people to deadlift, as well as our collective experience coaching and observing people deadlifting, is that the gigantic vast overwhelming majority of humans can pull the DL in a straight line over the mid-foot, with a back set and held in rigid extension, from that height. Like 99.9% or something. Whereas once you start getting into deficits, the percent of the population's ability to do so reduces immediately.

    I do have some of my lifters do deficits, though in my own lifting when I tried to do them they tended to tweak my back so I stopped a while back.
    So the defecit DL is like lower than parallel squats. There are some individuals who can squat lower (not necessarily ATG) than what the SS methodology prescribes without relaxing any of the musculature, but the majority of the population will not be able to do this. There are individuals who can pull from a deficit keeping an extended back, but, again, the majority of people (though, not quite as overwhelmingly as those who cannot squat extremely low) will not be able to do this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Wolf View Post
    [Deficit DL] requires the entirety of the musculature used in the DL to be used over a greater ROM, and puts you in a mechanically disadvantageous position right off the floor - which is a failure point for many, so arguably provides a good assistance lift for someone who misses right off the floor.
    Because there are a lot more individuals who can pull from a deficit, and pulling from a deficit puts someone at a mechanical disadvantageous position from the floor, the deficit DL can be used as a good assistance lift for those who fail to get the weight just above the floor and can keep there spine extended and injury free.

    Am I understanding everything correctly?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Wolf View Post
    Where your Q becomes interesting, and is really more a matter of convention than absolute knowledge, is: What if we moved the bar down 1/8 inch lower, or raised it 1/8 inch higher? At the microscopic level (I know 1/8 inch isn't literally microscopic, I just mean in the general sense of very small changes to the starting point): does a tiny bit more ROM performed by pulling from what we'd now call a 1/8 inch deficit outweigh the advantage of a tiny bit less weight? Does it even cause less weight at all, or does it allow the same muscle mass and weight used? Does the extra ROM make any positive difference at all? Or, by raising it 1/8 inch, we can ask essentially the same Qs.

    To which I don't know the answer, and suspect no one does, because if there is any difference at all, it is likely to be so minute as to not be worth discovering and trying to convince the plate manufacturers to change their specs and castings, so is relegated to pointless speculation on the internet.
    Yes, I agree that it is pointless to speculate the effectiveness of the different ROM at a microscopic level. I was more interested in the difference of inches, to which I believe I have gotten my answer.

    Thanks for taking the time to educate me, Wolf!

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