Deadlifts: Dead-Stop vs. Touch-and-Go

The Debate

There is a fair amount of controversy about which style of deadlifting is best: Dead-Stop or Touch-and-Go.

Definitions

1.) Dead-Stop Deadlift (2 variations)
1a.) A style of deadlifting in which you let the bar come to a complete rest on the floor after every rep.
      Dead-Stop Variation 1: Reset Tension
            You reset your body tension & starting position after every rep.
      Dead-Stop Variation 2: Maintain Tension
            You maintain your body tension & starting position after every rep.

2.) Touch-and-Go Deadlift
2a.) A style of deadlifting in which you don’t let the bar completely come to a rest on the floor after every rep. Instead, the weight taps   the floor for a short moment between reps. 

Here is a video that demonstrates the 2 styles of deadlifting: Dead-Stop and Touch-and-Go. The video also demonstrates the 2 variations within the dead-stop style: Reset Tension and Maintain Tension.

The Role of Specificity

When people claim that there is a best style of deadlifting, my question is, “best for what?” In this article I assert that there is no “best” style of deadlifting, but rather there are styles of deadlifting that are better suited for developing specific kinds of strength. In the long-term perspective of strength programming, I believe that both styles of the deadlift should be utilized. When deciding on what style to use, you have to examine what aspects of the deadlift you are specifically challenging by using one style or another.

Advantage(s) and Disadvantage(s) of the Different Styles

Advantages & Disadvantage of the Dead-Stop Reset Tension

  • Advantage: Trains set-up technique better, because you have to reset your starting position and generate tension in your body before every rep.
     
  • Advantage: Trains speed off the floor better, because the weight completely settles on the floor after every rep.
     
  • Disadvantage: The most fatiguing style of the deadlift. When you reset after every rep, you completely lose any aid from muscle elasticity* and the stretch reflex**.

Advantages & Disadvantage of the Dead-Stop Maintain Tension

  • Advantages: Same as Reset Tension, but to a lesser degree. Since you maintain your starting position and body tension after every rep, there is less emphasis on set-up technique. However, your set-up technique is still significantly trained because you are focusing on holding your body tightly in the proper start position between every rep while the weight settles completely on the floor. Speed off the floor is also significantly challenged, but to a lesser degree because you get a little aid from muscle elasticity due to maintained body tension between reps.
     
  • Disadvantage: Same as Reset Tension, but to a lesser degree. Not quite as fatiguing. You get a little aid from muscle elasticity* and because you maintain your starting position and body tension.

Advantages & Disadvantages of the Touch-and-Go

  • Advantage: Trains bar path or “groove” better, because you are continuously moving up and down, constantly feeling the bar path. It’s easier to notice deviations in the bar path.
     
  • Advantage: Increases ability to perform more reps with heavy weight, because muscle elasticity* and the stretch reflex** aid the bottom portion of the lift.
     
  • Advantage: Increases time under tension, as the muscles of the posterior chain are under a high degree of load for the entirety of the set.
     
  • Advantage: Trains grip better, because you are always supporting the weight in your hands.
     
  • Disadvantage: Does not train speed off the floor well.
     
  • Disadvantage: Does not train starting position well.

While it looks like the touch-and-go style has a lot of advantages, they aren’t necessarily all major advantages. And while it looks like the dead-stop style doesn’t have many advantages, the advantages that is does have are very important. Breaking the weight off the floor, while holding yourself in a good starting position, is one of the most important aspects of deadlifting – if you don’t start the lift well, you can’t end the lift well.

*Muscle elasticity is the natural elastic-response that occurs in muscles after they are stretched; it’s like pulling a bowstring tightly back and letting it go. Muscle elasticity is a passive mechanism, which means it doesn’t require any extra energy on your part (free energy!). In the deadlift, muscle elasticity takes effect after you lower the weight and if you don’t let the weight come to a dead-stop; it helps you rebound from the bottom.

** The stretch reflex is an automatic muscle contraction that occurs when your muscles are stretched quickly. The stretch reflex is essentially your nervous system giving you a well-timed boost to your force production. In the deadlift, the stretch reflex takes effect after you lower the weight and if you don’t let the weight come to a dead-stop; it helps you rebound from the bottom.

How to Decide what Style to Use

When deciding on what style of deadlift to use, you must ask the question “What are the weakest parts of my deadlift?” Once you have the answer to that question, look at how it matches with the advantages and disadvantages of each style. In other words, train the style of deadlifting that specifically challenges your weaknesses.

A few examples:

  • If you are really slow in breaking the weight off the floor, train the dead-stop style, where it is harder to break the weight off the floor.
     
  • If you have trouble locking into the proper groove, train the touch-and-go style, where it is easier to feel deviations in the bar path.
     
  • If you want to stimulate hypertrophy in your posterior chain while limiting CNS fatigue, use the touch-and-go style, where you increase time under tension and can perform more reps while limiting CNS fatigue.

To get stronger, you have to first identify your weaknesses, and then challenge them specifically.

Some Things to Consider

Many people think that the touch-and-go style is just a way to cheat more reps and look stronger than you are (and I’m sure some people utilize it for that reason). However, why do many people assume that the deadlift must contain a pause between every rep as the norm? In what other exercises do people expect this? Pausing and letting the weight completely settle between every rep is definitely not expected in the squat, bench press, overhead press, chin up, or row. Why must the deadlift be trained in a fundamentally different way from most other exercises?

Yes, the deadlift has the word “dead” in its very name (implying the lifting of a dead weight). And yes, the deadlift is unique in that it begins by lifting a dead weight from the floor, at least for the 1st rep. But these reasons aren’t good enough to completely dismiss the benefits of the touch-and-go deadlift, which is a style of deadlifting that more closely resembles the way we train most other exercises (i.e. utilizing muscle elasticity and the stretch reflex). If you get hung up on the moniker of the deadlift, you are limiting potential training benefits. Each style of deadlifting clearly has unique things to offer.

In my own training, I’ve set PR’s in the dead-stop deadlift after using the touch-and-go style exclusively for 6+ months. That’s right, I did absolutely no dead-stop deadlifting, but my dead-stop deadlift increased. Why? It’s likely because the touch-and-go deadlift allowed me to train the deadlift heavy and frequently without inducing excessive CNS fatigue (this played a big factor in my overall program, not just the deadlift training). Touch-and-go deadlifting also offered a novel training stimulus, which my body responded well to. But of course, nothing works forever, and eventually my exclusive use of the touch-and-go deadlift lead me to a point where I had a big disparity between my strength off the floor and strength locking-out, as can be seen in the following video:

Now, I exclusively train the dead-stop style to work on my starting position and speed off the floor. For the record, it isn’t necessary to train just one style at any given time. For example, you could train heavy deadlifts using touch-and-go, and then include moderate weight dead-stop deficit deadlifts to make sure you are training your starting position and speed off the floor.

Bottom line: Each style of deadlifting has unique benefits. Let your specific weaknesses and overall program structure guide your decision on what style of deadlift to use.