I increased my deadlift from low-300’s to mid-500’s and gained ~20 pounds of muscle, in 2 ½ years, using this program. I did it working full-time and with a newborn baby – it’s practical. I can deadlift 3x my bodyweight (540lbs @ 180) which is somewhere between “exceptional” and “elite” depending on which standard of strength averages we use for comparison. Nevertheless, I’m happy with my gains as a recreational lifter and you should be happy with yours too.
Some strength standard charts: Where do you stand?
I achieved this without injury, an unexciting but overlooked side-effect of strength training and perhaps the most relevant to readers of this blog…those who can’t afford getting hurt.
I list my stats not to impress but to inform of what you can expect from this program. I’m aware you don’t care how much I can lift. If you do care, it’s only to the extent that you’re interested in similar results for yourself.
Bottom line: If you’re interested in strength, size and Conan hormones, you should be deadlifting. If you need a pragmatic approach – this program worked for me. It’s geared toward realistic, convenient and sustainable gains, for the working man. Simplicity is key.
TL;DR – Program Overview
1. Deadlift once per week, for 3’ish months.
2. Begin with 12 repetitions. (1 top-set and 3 drop-sets)
3. Add ~20 pounds each week
4. Use specific accessory movements (listed below)
5. Decrease repetitions as the program progresses (10,8,6,5,3,2,1) to accommodate heavier weights
6. End program with a 1 repetition maximum PR (personal record)
7. Take some time off - try a different sport with newfound strength
8. Repeat the program – exceeding all prior repetition PR’s (aka – get stronger)
First Workout Overview
1. Warm up. (need to make a deadlift warm up video)
2. Select a weight you can deadlift 12 times with excellent form. This is your “Top Set”. Rest 2 minutes.
3. Reduce the weight on the bar by 10-15% and do another 12 reps. That’s a “Drop Set”. Rest another 2 minutes.
4. Do two more drop sets with additional weight reductions and 2 min rest periods.
***If drop sets are too easy, do one of 3 things:
A) shorten your rest periods to 1 min
B) lower the weight slower (4 second eccentric drops)
C) don’t reduce the weight at all – maintain top set weight for the entire workout
5. Do a few accessory lifts, the same way (top set + drop sets w/ 2 min rest).
Accessories: Deadlift row, Deadlift-stance Box-squat, Pull-ups, Jumps, Sprinting, Paused Deadlift. *accessories are, by definition, extra - do what you have time for.
Congratulations! Your first training session is complete. That’s 90% of the entire program.
Video explanation - https://youtu.be/Xr4_-ItGAIo
Example Program: Remember, these are rough estimations. Your program must be customized to your progress, motivation and most importantly, fatigue levels.
3 Phase Structure: Hypertrophy, Strength, Peaking
There are three phases to this program. Hypertrophy (first ~month) for muscle growth aka “bulk”. Strength (2nd ~month) for muscle strength (move really heavy shit, fast). Peaking (last 1-2 weeks) for putting your size, strength and nervous system together, to smash a successful and safe 1 rep max (ideally in a competition).
The first month or so is for growing as much muscle mass as possible (getting bigger). The best tricks for boosting growth are:
Slow eccentric contractions - lowering the weight slowly (3-4 seconds) - “1 alligator, 2 alligator, 3 alligator…”
Short rest periods between sets (1-2.5 minutes). *time yourself with your phone
High total volume of lifting. Maximize the total pounds lifted per week. The easiest way to do this is with moderate weights and higher rep ranges (12-6). In other words, lift a lighter weight for more total reps.
Ex. 225 lbs X 12 reps X 4 sets = 10,800 total volume VS. 355 lbs X 5 reps X 4 sets = 7,100 total volume
Despite the bar being 130 pounds heavier at 355, we achieve a much lower total volume because we can’t lift it as many times. Basically, lighter weights can be better for boosting muscle size.
A great example of these principles is comparing the legs of an Olympic lifter to a cyclist. Olympic lifters move HUGE weights, very fast, for low reps/low volume, with minimal eccentric contraction. Conversely, a cyclist moves relatively light weight (bodyweight), for thousands of reps (high volume/pedaling), with constant eccentric contraction.
***Perform accessory lifts in the same fashion***
As the hypertrophy phase ends, the intensity (weight on the bar) becomes too great to hit higher rep ranges (6-12). At this point, focus shifts away from volume and onto intensity. Decrease total volume by dropping the reps down (5, 4, 3, 2). Best methods for boosting strength are:
Lift violently - Explode off the floor through lockout.
Use “touch and go” reps with a slight, but not excessive, bounce off the floor (permits more intensity).
Fast eccentric contractions - lower the bar to the floor fast.
Increase rest intervals between sets to 5-7 minutes.
These four tips really just allow us to lift heavier weight. Intensity drives strength.
***Perform accessory lifts in the same fashion***
As the strength phase ends, intensity will be so great that we won’t be able to lift the bar for 2 reps. Total fatigue will be high, your muscles and joints will ache, and your strength and motivation will begin to decay. The best tips for recovering and peaking are as follows:
Reduce the weight to 70% of your 2-rep max from the final week of the strength phase.
Lower the reps to 1-3 and perform only a few sets per workout. These workouts should NOT generate fatigue, they should be refreshing and used to practice perfecting form and speed off the floor.
Spend less time deadlifting and more time warming-up and cooling down, stimulating blood flow and recovery.
Remove all accessory movements.
Recovery is everything: Sauna, Contrast (hot/cold showers) eat everything, sleeping a lot, deep tissue work (massage, foam rolling, light stretching, especially hips).
As fatigue is reduced, strength and motivation will peak. That’s the perfect time to hit a 1 rep max PR and be done with the program.
Max out day/Competition day/PR day
After a successful peak it’s time to max out and test your strength…put everything together. You can be conservative and go for a weight 5 pounds more than you’ve ever lifted or Hemo-Rage that shit, take a bunch of caffeine and try for a 40 pound PR. That’s on you to decide. I generally lean toward more conservative lifting.
Thanks for reading,
p.s. I’m working on a second article which details the accessory lifts, science behind the program design and fine tuning. Sign up for the newsletter and Ill send it out as soon as its finished.
p.s.s. If you have any questions,email or comment below. I love talking shop.