Deadlift – Some People Are Built To Do It, Others Aren’t

The deadlift is among the most mythical exercises in the gym. Some do it and love it while others prefer to hold hands with Edward Scissorhands instead of deadlifting. That’s because deadlifting takes everything you have, if you lift heavy. Once you are an advanced athlete a heavy deadlift attempt may take two weeks or more to recover from. The main decisive factor when it comes to deadlifting performance is your structure. Some people are built to deadlift, others aren’t.

People Who Are Genetically Gifted Deadlifters

The most important part of being a successful deadlifter is having long, long arms. If you have long arms, consider the deadlift your lift. Long arms shorten the movement and you can start in a more upright position. As a result there’s less stress on the lower back and the lifter can move more weight.

When people with really long arms deadlift, the movement is close to a rack pull rather than a standard deadlift. Virtually any successful deadliter has/had really long arms.

Bob Peoples had long arms and is known as one of the best deadlifters.

Bob Peoples had long arms and is known as one of the best deadlifters.

Notice how the barbell is jsut above Lamar Gant's knees when he deadlifts. Long arms.

Notice how the barbell is just above Lamar Gant’s knees when he deadlifts. Long arms power.

Vince Anellow was also one of the best deadlifters and has really long arms.

Vince Anello was also one of the best deadlifters and has really long arms.

In short, long arms are the equivalent of short arms in the bench press – the range of motion is short and the lifter benefits by lifting more weight. It’s purely a genetic advantage. However, most good deadlifters are poor bench pressers.

Another beneficial structural element of a good deadlifting build is having short femurs. This also shortens the movement and helps you deadlift more. However, having long arms is way more beneficial and most people who are well proportioned and have long arms, also have long femurs.

Below you can see one of the deadlifting routines used by Lamar Gant. Most mortal individual would not be able to follow similar schedule once they’re world class strong. For him it was fine and he was able to recover from all the work.

Lamar Gant’s 8/5/3

Week 1: 5 sets of 8 with 70% 1RM
Week 2: 5 sets of 8 with 73% 1RM
Week 3: 5 sets of 8 with 76% 1RM
Week 4: 5 sets of 8 with 78% 1RM
Week 5: 5 sets of 5 with 82% 1RM
Week 6: 5 sets of 5 with 84% 1RM
Week 7: 5 sets of 5 with 86% 1RM
Week 8: 5 sets of 5 with 87% 1RM
Week 9: 5 sets of 3 with 92% 1RM
Week 10: 5 sets of 3 with 94% 1RM
Week 11: 5 sets of 3 with 96% 1RM
Week 12: 5 sets of 3 with 98% 1RM

Similar deadlift volume may look like a piece of cake when your deadlift is 225 lbs, but once you get over 2.5 times bodyweight and you ain’t naturally gifted, your back will hate you with all of its fibers, and may decide to abandon ship. It’s pure brutality.

Having A Strong Spine Helps Too

While the deadlift is a really safe exercise when done with proper form and hook grip/straps, not everybody can max out safely. Even the professionals will tell you that every third attempt at a powerlifting meet is a gamble, and you are never quite certain what will happen. Some people’s spines are just more susceptible to breaking.

In the image below you can see Vince Anello performing the so-called rounded back deadlift which is something noobs are not allowed to do ever. Despite common sense and the experts’ opinions, people like Anello and Bob Peoples, who also deadlited with a rounded back, did not suffer insane injuries from deadlifting in similar fashion.

Vince Anello deadlift with a rounded back camel style.

Vince Anello deadlifting with a rounded back camel style.

The whole point of using a rounded back is to shorten the movement even more. That’s why professional powerlifters were using this style to set records. Unfortunately or not, not everyone’s back was meant to handle such high pressure.

Note: There are plenty of legendary deadlifters who did not use the rounded back style. Ed Coan is one example. It’s not recommended to mess with this style, if you don’t have the needed experience.

Having Long Fingers Is A Gift From God 

Did you know that there are many people who were more limited by their grip strength than their back strength when performing the deadlift? One example would be Kirk Karwoski who had super short and small fingers/hands and had trouble holding the barbell during deadlifts. The guys with the best deadlifts always have long fingers and strong grip. If you can’t hold on to it, it does not matter how strong your back is.

A popular example of a deadlifter with really long fingers would be Ed Coan who is known for his deadlift and squat records.

Guys Who Were Not Built To Deadlift

People who truly suck at deadlifts are either too scared to lift or are genetically hurt when it comes to this particular movement. The main problem is having really short T-Rex arms. When your arms are really short, you have to bend over a lot when getting into proper starting position, and the range of motion is insane compared to what the long arms dudes have to deal with. Fortunately for those guys, they are usually good bench pressers. Natures gives, nature takes.

In conclusion

Whenever you see a skinny buck deadlifting heavy weights observe his structure. Most of the times the lifter will have really long arms and somewhat of a lanky built. Deadlifting heavy weights this way is easier, although it’s still pretty hard to do and requires just as much practice.

A good example would be Tom Martin who can be seen in the video below. He is not really skinny according to normal people’s standards, but he appears that way compared to other lifters.

Notice that the movement is quite short thanks to the length of his arms.

Happy deadlifting….or bench pressing!


  1. gilbert

    well kazmaier was great on the three powerlifts. maybe exception. big benchers like magruder arcidi . casey ans williams and moran yes were not amazing deadlifters.

  2. Matthew Alexander

    I have long arms, but then again I have long legs! But a short torso, which makes me an average build for the DL, but rotten for squat and bench.

    Even so I do Squats but hold the bar lower on my bask to keep the bar over the midpoint of my foot. Parallel to the floor( I could do lower-it may be more of a flexibility issue). so what if I can’t do as much as the guy built for it; it’s a demanding lift and works the butt and quads; the DL doesn’t as much.

    I can’t do the bench now because of a messed up shoulder but IF I could I would with a 4 inch block, and occasionally do a few sets without the block.

    There’s no excuse NOT to do DL. So what if you can’t pull as much as the other guy, make up for it in the other slow lifts. But the DL is the king, it shouldn’t be avoided just because of a weak ego. Think of the benefits it will doubtlessly give your other lifts!

    DL really takes guts and determination. Most guys in the gym have neither, really. Just a bunch of size queens; a lot of good big biceps will do you in a fight, or moving a piano up stairs, or dealing with multiple surgeries. What is their excuse?

    I have no respect for anybody in the gym NOT doing the DL, and heavy (whatever that is for the individual)! Why are you there? And please, the kettlebell swing if great but no substitute.

    And don’t get me started on how crappy the grip strength is of these pansies “lifting”. I’m recuperating from my third surgery now and I’m busy using the grippers here at the computer.

    1. Grant Morris

      You’re absolutely right about the deadlifts. More people need to do them no matter their proportions, life doesn’t have to be about a powerlifting total.

      Any type of proportion has it’s benefits and drawbacks, not only to a specific sport, but to all sports. If you have long femurs and long arms, you have an advantage in martial arts, running, basketball, and many others. Those who choose to be athletes and compete in sports should consider trying sports that their build will benefit in. For those who love weightlifting or powerlifting, but don’t have the most ideal genetics for these sports, should still train the lifts related to them. Doing lifts like the squat, bench, deadlift, and others will give you performance and health benefits in the sports you are suited for, and everyday life.

      Plus, anyone can compete at a powerlifting meet if they so desire. Even though you probably won’t get first, you still showed up and achieved YOUR best.

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