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Background

I've been deadlifting for about a year at home and have managed to have a 1RM of 405 lbs (more than twice my body weight). Because I had no intention of disturbing my downstairs neighbors, I never drop the weights; I always put it down carefully. Obviously, this was very tasking for me (and I think it contributed to my low number)

Fast Forward

I now train in a commercial gym with a free weights section. My observation of most patrons deadlifting are:

  • A lot of them drop the weights after lifting. This causes some noise. For some, the noise is so annoying that other patrons usually avoid all the machines around the area. Weirdly enough, the gym employees don't seem to complain. So, on one of my sessions, I decided to drop the weights; (I guided it down, but not as I used to do at home). Unsurprisingly, I wasn't as tired as I used to be. Because I'm unfamiliar with the noise, I had to put some rubber mats under the weights to reduce the noise made.
  • More than half of the deadlifting/squats patrons use a belt. They are using belts for low weights (less than 200 lbs for squats, 250 lbs for deadlifts). Because I began deadlifting with the StrongLifts program where using belts was discouraged (unless you're lifting about 1.5 times your body weight) because it allows patrons to use bad form, I usually feel like talking to the patrons.

Questions

  • First, is it possible to efficiently deadlift without dropping the weights? I don't want to be that guy who makes noise (or damages equipment)
  • Second, is there a good reason to wear belts while deadlifting/squatting with low weights? I was fortunate to have a good foundation when I started and this site also helped me a lot. So, if there's no benefit for them, I don't mind talking to some of them about it.
  • Belts can be useful to aid in bracing the core after fatigue sets in (I use one sometimes after hitting a daily max on the back-off sets). For pure efficiency, no, one cannot deadlift efficiently without dropping the weight. That being said, it technically requires very little energy to guide the barbell down without it slamming. There are some people too that believe that introducing an eccentric part to the deadlift can help it improve ('slowly' lowering the bar). – Alex L Sep 15 '15 at 2:14
  • I love banging weight around, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest when it comes from other people. In fact I kind of dig it because usually it means someone lifting heavy which is hard. You hear hammers at construction sites, you hear weights banging about in the gym. Nothing wrong with either. – Eric Sep 15 '15 at 7:31
  • I always viewed that you have to pick it up, as part of the lift, so you should have to be able to put it down in a controlled manner too. It is common courtesy to other gym users (who are not all there to power lift) and causes less stress on the weights. – user001 Sep 15 '15 at 10:43
  • @user001 it can be hard to drop 500lb "in a controlled manner". It's also dangerous as you're doing deadlift negatives at that point. Further, if you start Olympic lifting you'll be tossing weight from a complete overhead position. It's just a part of strength training. – Eric Sep 15 '15 at 16:16
  • And there is generally a dedicated area for such lifts, minimising damage to the weights (and muffle noise). Look around at the people making the most noise, generally not the high weight group – user001 Sep 15 '15 at 18:04
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Taking your questions one by one:

(1) The eccentric portions of lifts are known to both cause more soreness and be more prone to injury. Combined with the extreme weights that are lifted during a deadlift, it creates a lot of incentive for people to neglect the eccentric phase and just drop the weight. It is good to note however that in a competition setting, you are supposed to control the weight down (and not slam it), not slowly but in a controlled manner. If you are worried about damaging the equipment, I would ask someone working in the gym whether the plates and floor can handle it - some are built for this kind of treatment while others are not. Otherwise, your rubber mat solution is probably enough.

So to answer your question, it depends on what you consider "dropping" the weight. Spending too much time putting the weight down will hold you back, but there is a middle ground behind slamming it down and lowering it softly.

As a final note, some famous deadlifters (namely Ed Coan and Richard Hawthorne) are known for focusing part of their training on that particular part of the lift, so you might not have been wasting your time as much as you think.

(2) You don't have to wear a belt; but it does help bracing by allowing an increase in intra-abdominal pressure (you push your belly against an external resistance, which creates IAP more easily), thus making the lift safer provided you learn how to use it properly. It's not just a "put it on, gain 5% on your lifts" situation. Greg Nuckols has an excellent article full of references on the topic on his website, Strengtheory. It's a long read but it's worth it.

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  • Excellent answer, welcome to fitness.stackexchange.com. – Eric Sep 15 '15 at 16:33

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