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Improve Your Lifts With Dead Movements

Breathe new life into your bench press and squat with dead movements.

In any commercial gym, you’ll see legions of half-squatters loading up barbells with weight they couldn’t possibly take through a full range of motion. That’s because most pressing and squatting motions work on an ascending strength curve, meaning the lifts are hardest at the bottom and easiest at the top. “Dead movements” are a great way to exploit this curve and build strength by accelerating movements from a dead stop at the most difficult portion of each lift: the bottom.

Pressing and squatting movements are reversible muscle actions, meaning you go down and up. Both have an eccentric (negative) phase, an amortization (switch from negative to positive) phase and a concentric (positive) phase. These phases make pressing and squatting function like a rubber band. Going down pulls the rubber band, while going up shoots it forward, as the elastic-like energy that’s stored during your descent helps you lift the weight back up.

Dead movements put an end to this free lunch. When your spotter shouts out a clichéd cry of “It’s all you!” during a dead bench press or dead squat, it really will be all you.

How It Works

Dead movements start with the barbell on the safety bars of a power rack in the bottom position of any pressing or squatting movement. To work your bench press, for example, simply place the barbell on the pins at any point in your range of motion, then perform a series of single repetitions, starting from scratch each time.

Since all your help — the assistive energy generated during the concentric portion of the lift — is gone, you’ll be training your body to achieve greater motor unit activation (MUA) from the bottom of the lift. There are a few benefits to be derived from this. First, you’ll increase your starting strength with this newfound ability to instantaneously recruit more muscle fibers. Next, you’ll increase your rate of force development (RFD) by producing muscular force much faster.

Practical Application

Here’s a three-week dead bench press training cycle that can also be used to increase your squat. It’s important to note that dead movements are a supplement to — not a substitute for — your regular bench press and squat training, so throw this cycle into your training only when you need a quick strength-building blast. Research has shown that dead movements expedite strength gains fastest when used cyclically for one to two months at a time. After that, you’ll need to go back to your regular schedule.

The percentages in this workout are determined by your one-rep max in the standard bench press and squat. In week three, you’ll try taking a new one-rep max, this time with the dead-stop exercises. Do singles with 80 and 85 percent, then work up in small increments until you find your dead bench and dead squat max.