Deadlifting is one of the key exercises for a strong, functional body. It engages the entire posterior chain and mimics lifting something off the ground.
I unfortunately bought into the sensationalist bullshit that deadlifting is bad for you. (Deadlifting, like squats, is only bad for you if your form sucks.) So I never did this keystone exercise for the first 12 years I was working out.
Fortunately, in 2015, I changed my mind. Enough people I respected in the industry—Kelly Starrett—Pavel Tsatsouline—my friend Brendan—swore by deadlifting to convince me to give it a shot.
That was good. But I was still over a year away from seeing light at the tunnel’s end.
I let my fitness slip. Like many people in long-term relationships, I got lazy. It happens.
Worse: We were in a mutually toxic relationship. A lot of it had to do with money. I couldn’t afford to live on my own (with her) and she, justifiably so, didn’t want to support a 24 year-old man-boy.
Consequently, I wasn’t eating enough. At my biggest bulking phase I weighed 242. My normal weight is between 200 and 215. At one point in 2015 I weighed just over 170.
The combo—laziness and undernourishment—was terrible. We worked out twice a week. I was convinced Pavel’s 5X5 time-under-tension method would save me. Bullshit. My muscles atrophied. I looked like a bobblehead.
So I made the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. I left my best friend—the woman I loved—knowing it was truly the best for both of us.
(What I learned was this: When you know in your gut something must be done do it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.)
In May 2016 I moved back from the East Coast to live with my mom in suburban Chicagoland.
I started eating more—the weight came back quickly. In fact, I got chubby. By the end of the month I had a gym membership to the local LA Fitness.
I started lifting 3 days a week and playing basketball another 3 days a week. The flab tightened.
But something was still wrong. My deadlift numbers—reppin’ 135—stayed the same. I was frustrated and confused. I was putting on some decent muscle. Why was I stuck at pulling one plate?
I decided to get some expert help.
My friend Brendan has set a world record in deadlifting. He has over a decade of experience as a Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. He looks like Wolverine and acts like Deadpool.
In short, Brendan’s a badass.
One day in late June I asked for his advice when we were hanging out.
He said, “Let’s see you squat.”
I squatted. That is, I attempted to squat. I got maybe 6 inches down and stopped. That’s as far as I could go.
“Dude,” he said, “that’s as far down as you can go? You’re tight as shit. Without weight you should be able to go ass to grass.”
He then demonstrated what a healthy squat looks like.
“So what should I do?” I asked.
He said, “I got you.”
Later that week Brendan trained me. Luckily (for this reason, anyway) I had just started working at LA Fitness, so I was able to bring a guest with me for free.
After I got my body warm by doing 10 minutes on the bike, we did foam rolling and stretching.
That’s it. Foam rolling and stretching. And it was the best—meaning beneficial—workout of my life.
Self-myofascia release is the technical term for foam rolling. I bring it up because it precisely describes the goal of foam rolling. You (self) are getting your soft tissue (fascia) to chill out (release).
Essentially you’re looking for pain points in your muscles. Healthy tissue does not hurt under compression. When you find a pain point, hold the foam roller in place while relaxing as much as possible. Your body will instinctively tense up; however, after about 30 seconds your body has an overriding instinct to release the tension.
It feels incredible. The momentary discomfort is well worth the resulting pleasure and increased mobility.
That day Brendan had me foam roll my calves to start. Next was the VMO (the teardrop-shaped muscle on the inside of the knee) and adductors. Next came the IT band (a cord-like tendon that runs from your hip to the knee on the outside of your upper leg). We finished the foam rolling portion by hitting the quads.
This took about a half hour. Each muscle had multiple clumps of nasty scar tissue. The scar tissue accumulates from putting the body in positions it’s not designed to be in. Namely sitting. It hurt like hell but felt almost euphoric afterward.
The workout concluded with stretching. Quads, hamstrings, and calves. Now that the foam rolling had relaxed the muscles they could more easily be stretched.
If you sit for even a couple hours a day (who doesn’t?) chances are these spots are super tight. It’s almost inevitable. The body adapts to how you use it. Sitting causes these muscles to become tight and shorten.
By the time we finished I had a good sweat going. It wasn’t glamorous. I hadn’t curled a plate or put two plates up over my head. But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a great workout.
Last came the ultimate test. A re-test. Brendan said, “All right. Let’s see you squat now.”
I squatted. Like actually squatted. I got at least 4 times more depth than when I tried a few days earlier.
I saw the light.
Since that day I’ve went all-in on mobility. Prioritizing mobility smashed the floodgates open. It’s how I was able to go from being stuck at deadlifting 135 pounds for over a year to reppin’ 315 in only 7 months.
If you’re serious about getting stronger—and more functional in the process—I recommend you give it a try. View it as an experiment. If you don’t notice a significant difference in 2 weeks, ditch it.
1. It’s important to seek out and learn from people who are know more about a subject than you. That one session with Brendan saved me countless hours of further frustration. Learning from others is clutch.
While you probably can’t train with Brendan in person, you can still learn from him. Check out his company’s YouTube channel, Confident Posture, for invaluable tips on how to improve your body.
2. Mobility is critical. Becoming more mobile can help you smash through strength plateaus while promoting healthier movement.
Foam rolling is a key component of mobility. While it’s not glamorous and can be painful, it will improve the lifts and exercises you like doing. It’s the foundational work necessary—the dirt required—to build a better body.
It’s so important that I’m creating a series of instructional YouTube videos on foam rolling. The first one, “How to Foam Roll Your Calves,” is live.
I hope this article, Brendan’s channel, and my videos bring you value. I hope you experiment with foam rolling and discover its awesome power. Most importantly, I hope it leads to a happier, healthier you.
Thanks for reading.