Why I’ve Started Teaching People the Deadlift With the Axle

April 16, 2018

I have not had my axle for very long. I just picked up a pretty good one from Sorinex. You can find it here (full disclosure, I am not affiliated in any way with Sorinex, just showing you the one I decided on): https://sorinex.com/product/sorinex-fat-bar/. I have been looking at them for a while but have just never been impressed with the typical axles on the market. They are nothing special (which is ok) but they all seem to be kind of the same powder coated after thought product. It is really too bad because I think most people don’t understand what they are missing by not having one. 




The world of strength training, particularly the strength training sold to the masses, can be very barbell driven. This is fine. Barbells are ubiquitous. You can go to about any 24 Hour gym and find a barbell and some plates. The other nice thing about barbells is they allow you to overload the system and create a big stimulus and adaptation that you just can’t get with dumbbells or machines if you are really looking to add strength and mass. 


Here is the rub. Nothing in the real world is hooked to a barbell. Things you pick up will rarely be the exact diameter of a bar. Things you pick up probably won’t flex and they weights won’t spin around to keep the bar still. You are likely going to have to grab things with an open hand grip and learn to engage the muscles of your hips (hamstring, glutes, and quads) to pull and push. You also need to learn the signals your body is giving you around hand strength and if you should pick something up or not. If you are competing in powerlifting and looking to be world champion of the world in the deadlift, than yes, you are going to have to pick up over a thousand pounds. If you are a regular guy working in his yard, a 350-400 pound deadlift will be sufficient. Anything beyond that, find a friend to help you. Here I am hitting 312:




This is where I have really started using the axle bar with patients and people who have never deadlifted. I have started to gravitate towards it for a couple of reasons. Number one, the typical axle is not nearly as heavy as a standard barbell. The one I have is 32 pounds and can be loaded to 450 pounds. If you really think about it, I will never run across a single person that needs to deadlift more than that and if I find a person who can deadlift 450 pounds on a two inch diameter axle, they are plenty strong. 


The axle becomes self-limiting. You are only going to get as strong as your hands. I am looking at this from the perspective of working with people in a clinical setting. There are many longitudinal studies that show a correlative relationship between hand strength, lower chances of back pain, and increased longevity. I also want to note that a month or two of axle deadlifts will be great for a barbell athlete. If I can force them to grip as hard as they can (which is accomplished without me saying anything when using sufficient load on an axle), they will get better lat engagement and better reflexive trunk stiffness. When your grip is being challenged, your nervous system is really going to start firing to prepare your body for a big load. If the grip is too challenged, your brain will shut down power to your extensors and you won’t be able to lift it. This makes it safer to learn on the axle because they won’t try and lift anything their body isn’t prepared for. This isn’t as quick on a barbell. Many times a person won’t have their grip start to slip until they are already well into the lift. With an axle, the feedback is much more immediate and people don’t get into as precarious of positions. 


It also seems to be less intimidating in some weird way. Many of my patients have these preconceived notions around a barbell and barbell training. This is why I typically start with kettlebell deadlifts, they just seem to be easier for people to wrap their head around. I can just have them start picking it up with a couple of rubber ten pound plates. This is a whopping 52 pounds. This may seem insignificant to someone reading this blog, but it might be the most weight a patient of mine has ever lifted off the ground. If I get them in the right positions and they are gripping hard, it may also be the most they have lifted without feeling pain. These are big deals to a person that has been injured or feels like they can’t get over a chronic back issue. This is why I feel the axle is going to have an important place in my work with people. It helps people create a lot of the tension and stiffness necessary to move a load without me having to coach. Anything I can do to allow a person to figure things out themselves through feels with some trial, error, and feedback is a big win. 


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