Finnish Deadlift Secrets
By Sakari Selkäinaho
Through out the years, the deadlift has been our ”national sport” here in Finland. World records have been broken since the early 70´s. What makes Finns pull so much, what is their secret ?
I took a look and after collecting training information of many new and former greats, here is some background and information.
# 1 Genetics
To be able to lift alot, you have to be a talented athlete. Most of the guys have long arms and legs. You could see middleweights pulling over 200 kilos the first time they saw a power bar. But that´s only a good start. The best deadlifters in the late 70`s and early 80´s had two things in common. Most of them had a background of hard labour, like lumberjacks, construction workers, farmers or something similar. They carried, lifted and dragged for their living. That laid a perfect background for deadlift training and very often ensured a hard grip too. The second thing was olympic lifting background, they had pulled alot before their powerlifting career. Raimo Välineva held Scandinavian records in olympic lifting and was able to clean 330 pounds with straigth legs. He had World records of 688 in 148´s and 716 in 165´s in early 80`s. When weightlifting had the press it was more a pure strength sport as now when speed and tecnique are more critical.
Many of the new lifters have some type of athletic background from other sports. Ismo Lappi, 338,5 kg deadlifter in 165´s, has thrown javelin over 75 yards and ran 100 meters in under 11 seconds in his teens. He is fast and explosive enough to deadlift big.
# 2 Squatting for the deadlift
All of the former record holders and many of todays too, squatted with a narrow stance. This had two advantages. First, it served as an excellent special exercise for deadlift. Many trained the squat three times a week. Twice backsquatting and once front squatting. The other back squat could be a highbar session.
Other squat exercises were something like lunges, or step squats, using bar on back. These were done sometimes a box under front or back feet, varying how it hits glutes and hamstrings. A 8-12 inch box under back feet hits the upper part of glutes quite hard.
Many used different stances. The narrow stance highbar was the most common but many, like Taito Haara, Reijo Kiviranta and Hannu Saarelainen, squatted with 3-4 stances.
During the last years, the box squat has become very popular in Finland. Janne Toivanen put it in practice by hauling up 804 in `96 IPF World´s in Austria. Many have followed. Ano Turtiainen started using the box and now pulls over 859 in every meet he enters. Ismo Lappi, the new WR holder in 165´s in IPF, does box squats as assistance. Veli Kumpuniemi stated that if would have known how to use a box in his prime he would have lifted alot more. How much more? He tore his hamstring while trying 804 in the 181´s back in 1981. He hit 822 ( 373 kilos ) in a national before that weighing under 190 pounds. All his hamstrings could handle he hauled up. He never really recovered but wanted to send his compliments to Louie Simmons for this exellent exercise.
# 3 Deadlift variety
Many still train the deadlift two times a week. In the early days, it was not rare to deadlift three times a week. Veli Kumpuniemi, the only man we call Mr Deadlift in Finland, trained deadlift sometimes four times a week. Here´s some pulls to use:
Deadlift standing on the block. Many used 2-6 inch block and pulled standing on it. That has been a pull used very often. Many did these for 3-5 reps using conventional style even if they ulled sumo in meets.
Straight leg deadlifts. These were done off floor or using a block under feet. There were two styles. Some pulled with a bent over style, rounding the lowerback. Some, like Janne Toivanen, Ismo Lappi and Ano Turtiainen, pulled in a romanian style with arched back and pushing glutes to rear. With a round back, most used only 40-50% for high reps like 10´s or so. For the romanian style, some go quite heavy. Janne Toivanen hauled up 4x661 from an 4 inch box and Ano Turtiainen has done 5x727 off floor.
Olympic pulls. These were done many times as a warmup or speed work before the deadlifting. High pulls, raw cleans, raw snatches were the most common. The old school did some pulls with straight legs like Russians.
Pulls with a snatch grip. This has two variations too. Some pulled the weight all the way up and some just up to past knees. These developed tecnique by forcing you to keep shoulders in line and it´s a good one correct tecnique.
Partials. Hannu Saarelainen did partials on knee level, just moving the bar from below to above the knee. The bar traveled 8-10 inches in the area where the leveridges were the poorest. He did high reps with rather light weight. He tried to get speed too to overcome the sticking point as fast as possible. By consentrading on weakness enabled Hannu to pull 765 in 242´s with quite poor leveridges for deadlift. Rack pulls and pulls where the bar is on blocks are common, although they do not benefit as many as you could imagine.
Hack deadlifts. Many long armed lifters were able to pull with the bar behind their back. This form of deadlift developed the leg drive and helped to get the bar off floor.
# 4 Tecnique
Veli Kumpuniemi stated that if his foot stance was half inch off, the bar stayed on floor. And Veli was ranked rather a power puller than a tecnique expert which he was too. The conventional deadlift was always mostly back work. But the sumo pullers were sort of split in two categories. People like Raimo Välineva and Hannu Malinen, the 1988 IPF World champion, used the hips alot. Raimo Välineva was the developer of the style maximized hip drive in sumo deadlift. Lifters with extreme tecnique had quite a difference between sumo and conventional deadlift. Ari Virtanen, the little brother of Jarmo had one of the best tecnique I have ever seen. Every weight he got off floor he finished too. Ari´s best conventional was around 570-580 and he pulled 677 with sumo in `91 World´s. Pirjo Savola, the European Record holder in 123´s with 446 said she has a best conventional of 360-370 range.
Sumo lifters with a strong back, like Veli Kumpuniemi, Janne Toivanen and Aarre Käpylä locked out their legs way before extending their torso. Aarre Käpylä, who pulled 10x661 via conventional too, got the most out of his hips by keeping his legs almost straight. Jarmo Virtanen, an eight time IPF World champ, used the tecnique.
People used to think that Jarmo Virtanen was just very talented and had good leveridges. They couldn´t be more wrong. He had many things on perfecting the tecnique. Once he demonstrated the difference between relaxed and flexed shoulders. By dropping shoulders and using sumo, the distance was 12 inches shorter than using conventional with flexed upper body. He stressed the importance of being relaxed while deadlifting .
You should climb to tree from bottom. Most advised to learn to pull conventional first, then switch to sumo. Reijo Kiviranta, Kullervo Lampela and other conventional style greats stressed two key points. The is to push your knees over the bar in the start position. This brings the hips closer to bar and makes the leveridges better. The other thing was to turn feet out. This helped the lockout and enabled specially the bigger lifters to use their hip muscles.
# 5 Basic strength and GPP
Like mentioned in beginning, many early day deadlifters did physical labour which laid good background for training heavy and often. Olympic lifting was an aid too.
Many of todays lifters don´t do any other physical work than train with weights. So the GPP has to come from somewhere else. Janne Toivanen did an extra workout six times a week, early in the morning. He did abs, side work and sometimes lower back work together with some aerobic training and streching. His training program would kill most people, but he found a way to back it up. Ismo Lappi does the same type of workouts too. It keeps the bodyfat low and aids recovery.
At the moment five or six our strongmen pull 800 pounds or more. They have long competitive season when their weight training is mostly for conditioning and recovery. Their training is one form of conjugate method. They carry,drag, lift stones and flip tyres and cars using the same muscles that are important in deadlifting. Jukka Laine did 804 in september ´98 and had deadlifted twice during the summer. All he did was the event training and many meets. Jouko Aholas deadlift stayed in the same range with no deadlift training at all. He used a short cycle to peak and succeeded with 853 in meet. Janne Virtanen and Juha Räsänen both pull over 800 too, 837 is their best in training but either of them haven´t attented in any meets so far.
# 6 Assistance work
Most supplemented their training with wide variety of assistance exercises. Two key muscle groups were upper back and lats and the abs.
As you noticed, I ranked Mr Deadlift, Veli Kumpuniemi as a strenght puller. Here´s why. What do think about chins with up to 200 pounds for 5-6 reps, bent over rows using 400+ pounds or doing one arm rows with 185 pound dumbell for 8-10 reps ? It was usual stuff for him and it was assistance work, not something he shot for.
Weighted chins are quite common still but the variety is wide. Ano Turtiainen likes to do lat pulls with different handles, and low pulley rows. He does chest supported and bent over rows too. Many do shrugs every now and then.
The lifters in the early 80`s or late 70`s trained abs with flat or incline sit-ups using weight many times. Side work was done using a short bar or dumbell. One other thing they did was one arm deadlifts. They stressed the stabilizing muscles alot too. Today a variety of leg raises, pull down abs in lat machine and abs done in a ab machine add the number of exercises alot. One thing that has become popular last years is the ab wheel. Most lifters do it on their knees using plate on their back, it targets the abs more insteadt of hip flexors.
As you see, the low back was trained pretty much with the main exercises, squats and pulls. The older school did also good mornings, mostly after squatting for 5-10 rep sets. Then they became a forgetten exercise until last years. Ano Turtiainen went way over 700 pounds using bands and two sets of chains as an extra resistance during his preparation for WPO semi´s. The other thing many did and still do is back extensions. These are usually done with a bar on back. Rauno Rinne used these regularly and pulled 799 in 220´s.
# 7 Jarmo Virtanen´s deadlift secrets
Jarmo Virtanen, who many consider the best powerlifter ever in Europe, was great in the deadlift. He was an exellent squatter too. Here´s some things behind his success.
In his youth he trained both powerlifting and weightlifting at the same time. He also trained other sports like football and has always done some sort of physical labour. His GPP has always been high. A lot of different squats and deadlifts insured a high SPP level. A nine time IPF World Champ did lifts like highbar, front and squats with different stances. He deadlifted with both conventional and sumo, he estimated that he may have done little more conventional work than sumo. Sometimes he used the snatch grip too. One of his deadlift variations was sumo off an 1 inch blocks. He sometimes went quite high on these, 694 was his best.
He pulled conventional sets where he stopped the bar before it hit the floor to develope static strenght and tighness in the start position. When using sumo, he always did every rep as the first one. Jarmo said that bouncing the bar off is a waste specially in the sumo style. He developed speed by high pulls. He did not extend his hips in the weightlifting style. He continued the pull with upper back and traps to the navel level.
He had a picture perfect tecnique, specially in the ´80s when he hasn´t hurt hips thigh. He developed that by squatting with an ultra wide stance, sometimes he used a Smith-machine to be able to squat as upright as possible. He practised tecnique with no weights in front of mirror. It was his routine every day for six months. As far as assistance go, he did alot of ab work but has never done good mornings. He felt they make you too stiff. He stressed the importance of being relaxed, specially in the upper body area and feeled it was crucial for getting better leveridges in the deadlift and squat too.
Jarmo never really maxed out in the gym and usually stayed under 300 kilos in training. He was great competitor. In 1988, in our national record breakers in the biggest ice hockey venue at the time, he hauled up 358 kilos twice but dropped it just before down signal. With torn hand, he came back and pulled it again just to loose the grip again before the ”down” command. Year before, when lifting in 75 kilo class he was on a roll. In the World´s in Norway he opened with 677 and went to WR 333 and pulled it nicely. Then he attacked twice to 340,5 kilos ( 750 pounds ) but the grip was his nemesis. Before he got the grip problem fixed, he hurt his outer thigh. There was, and still is, some scar tissue that is pressing to nerves. With the grip he had in `90s and the better tecnique and flexibility of `80s he would have gone a lot more. Many times I have wondered why his squat went up 20 kilos but the deadlift stayed the same. Believe it or not, he never got the best out of him in the deadlift. A 815-826 deadlift and 900 kilo ( 1984 pound ) total where something he capable of but never achieved.
We have had lots of great pullers and powerlifters and we had Jarmo Virtanen. He is one of a kind. One sign of his true sportmanship was this interview. He has always willing to help anyone whether it is training, coaching or giving seminars.
Being a no class deadlifter myself, I have given this alot of thought. Reijo Kiviranta, the 1981 World Champ in 242´s put it together nicely by saying that the one who lifts the most has trained the most. After reading this article, you can get a picture what he meant. There is no secrets at all, just pure hard work. It´s the cold hard truth. If you want to finish on top you have to be a good deadllifter. So it´s time for some deadlift labour, good luck !