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Strength Training with 2 Exercises

For athletes interested in skeletal health and performance a certain degree of variability in training is necessary to promote maximal long term adaptation.  In addition to the modulation of volume and intensity, incorporating a complimentary exercise into to your staple program of deadlifting is recommended for the following reasons:

  • Provides heterogenic loading forces through the skeleton

  • Promotes muscular balance and joint health

  • Improves balance, body awareness, and general athleticism


Heterogenic loading
Bone strength and density are improved to a greater extent when exposed to forces that are applied from variable directions and at different rates.  Researchers refer to this as a heterogenic loading pattern and may in part explain why the lower legs of basketball and squash players are significantly stronger than long distance runners.


To counter the musculoskeletal imbalances that often result from the performance of sport specific movement patterns, strength exercises may be selected on the basis for their capacity to optimize musculoskeletal balance and posture.  As Dan John has stated, “The body is one piece”, and that “All training is (or at least should be) complimentary”.  This is especially true for individuals that are skeletally immature or fragile including adolescent athletes or adults with low bone mass.


Typical examples include swimmers with excessively rounded shoulders and road cyclists and rowers with limited spinal extension.  In selected populations of subjects, strengthening protocols have been shown to improve postural alignment, joint stability, as well as reduce both pain and injury risk.


Additionally, the judicious use of complimentary exercises may be effective in overcoming specific weaknesses that act as limiters to total body strength development.  For example, grip and upper arm weakness are oftentimes deadlift limiters for athletes with extensive running and cycling backgrounds.  In these cases, pull ups (or a similar exercise), with a variety of grip and hand positions are an effective means to increase upper body strength to a level that leads to greater deadlift (general strength) development.


In the absence of a postural abnormality or specific strength deficit we generally recommend a vertical or horizontal pressing movement to compliment the basic deadlifting routine.  Exercises that we often suggest include the following:

  • Overhead press

  • Lateral press

  • See-saw press

  • Floor press

  • Press from a bench or ball

  • Push up variety


Standing exercises that require you to clean the weight before pressing provide more return on your investment as the spine and lower extremities benefit from both the loading and stabilization requirements.  However, for athletes that have inadequate transverse (rotational) plane stability or weakness it is difficult to beat push ups or planks performed on a therapeutic ball or one of the single arm push up varieties. 


The basic tenets of a strength program designed to improve bone mass and function remain unchanged when using two exercises.  Important points to remember include:

  • Frequency of each exercise should be > 3 times/week

  • Intensity should be > 6-8 RM level

  • Improvements can be made with as little as 5 repetitions per day

  • Rest periods between sets should allow for full or nearly full recovery between sets (> 2-3 minutes)

  • Never train to the point of exhaustion or failure


Exercises can be performed on the same or alternate days.  Below are sample weeks for a program that consists of two exercises; the deadlift and the see-saw dumbbell press.  On days that you will be performing both exercises, they can be performed during the same session or at different times.  For example, on Monday the deadlifts could be performed in the morning and the presses later in the day.  If both exercises are to be performed during the same session, they may be performed in a linear (one exercise follows the other) or parallel (alternating) manner.  Both short and long term recovery appear to be improved with the latter strategy; most likely as a result of what neurologists describe as the law of reciprocal inhibition.     



Deadlift (3 sets of 3 repetitions)
See-saw press (2 set of 4-6 repetitions)

Deadlift (1 set of 4-6 repetitions)
See-saw press (1 set of 4-6 repetitions)

Deadlift (2 sets of 4-6 repetitions)
See-saw press (3 sets of 3 repetitions)

Deadlift ladder (6 total sets of 2, 4, 6, 2, 4, 6 repetitions)

See-saw press (5 total sets of 3, 5, 3, 5, 3, repetitions) 

Deadlift (1 set of 4-6 repetitions)
See-saw press (1 set of 4-6 repetitions)


As we have discussed, long-term adaptation is probably improved by a certain degree of variability in the training program.  If you are considerate of following the basic training principles of intensity and recovery feel free to mix up the sets and repetitions in a purposefully random manner.  When in doubt it is much better to do a bit less on any given day in terms of the total number of repetitions and to preserve your ability to push the amount of weight lifted as well as the frequency of sessions per week.  As we understand the frequency of exercise and intensity level are far more important determinants of muscle and bone strength than the number of repetitions performed during a single session.  Attempt to minimize fatigue from day to day as much as possible.  A tested principle of strength development is to perform as much quality training while minimizing fatigue. 

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