Deadlift Progression

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Deadlift Progression

The deadlift is peculiar exercise because it has the propensity to build massive strength and size, yet it can also hamper training when done incorrectly. I will briefly talk about the general procedure to increase the deadlift for a new trainee, talk about some ideas for the more advanced, and then open up the forum for what you may have done, seen, or read regarding advanced deadlift training.

Someone that is brand new to lifting will be learning technique in all of their lifts and will be able to deadlift every workout. How fast someone advances is individualized. Former weight trainees and athletes will lift more weight, thus they will reduce their frequency of deadlifting sooner than someone who has been sedentary. Factors that affect this are strength and density of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones; systemic recovery ability; genetic potential for strength; technique; present muscular development; and desired soreness. Regardless of how fast someone can progress, the question lies with whether they should. If the frequency of deadlifting has been low or non-existent, then the progression in weight should be gradual. If a former high school athlete works up to deadlifting 350 for reps on his first or second day, he may cause damage to muscles or tendons that could prevent him from even squatting in his next workout. The Bill Starr axiom Patience + Persistence = Strength is incredibly important with training and programming.

Regular Novice
After the honeymoon phase of deadlifting, it would behoove the lifter to shift to deadlifting once per week. This allows ample recovery time between deadlift workouts. Some trainees deadlift early in the week and find that it hampers their next squat workout two days later. Instead, consider deadlifting at the end of the week because the weekend provides one more day of recovery before the next training session. If deadlift training hasn’t consisted of one work set of five reps, then the trainee should switch to it here. One work set of five reps ensures that the intensity is high enough to be an adaptive stress, yet the volume is low enough so that you can still continue on your linear progression. This wouldn’t be the time for multiple sets of five or sets of five across; crippling the lower back with high volume or high intensity deadlifts will be debilitating to the overall strength improvement as well as ruining the next workout.

A good goal would be to increase the weight lifted by about 15 pounds. This increment will be steady and should continue advancing for quite a while. If there was a particularly difficult workout, then it wouldn’t make sense to increase 15 pounds. If the last workout was equivalent to warming up, then it’s probably safe to increase more than 15 pounds. Keep in mind that as you advance (in how you adapt to stress or how much weight is on the bar), higher increases will be harder to recover from. Just because it’s possible to make a large increase doesn’t mean you should (remember, hindering your next workout isn’t conducive to getting stronger — leave your ego out of it). When you are more advanced, you should have a good understanding of what your body can and cannot handle (although some people never learn this awareness and make stupid decisions).

Advanced Novice
Once 15 pound increments start to “slow down” (i.e. become increasing difficult each deadlift workout), then 10 pound increments will be in order followed by increases of 5 pounds. Depending on lifting schedule, the lifter can adjust his program to deadlifting every 10 days and continue making 15 to 10 pound jumps. The extra recovery time will allow the larger increases to still occur. When deadlifting slows down every 10 days, then it may be time to deadlift every 14 days. This is what I did with Chris when he progressed his deadlift from the mid 400s for reps to the mid 500s for reps. He ended up pulling 545×5 and singled around 600. The problem with deadlifting on that schedule is that the lifter only deadlifts twice a month. If someone is interested in general strength for a sport, this infrequency may not be enough to give their musculature the appropriate work. If someone is interested in powerlifting, this infrequency (and lack of heavier deadlifting) won’t be conducive to getting ready for meets.

Intermediate and Beyond
The track that a trainee has taken up to this point is dependent on their ability, goals, and schedule. They may have deadlifted once a week consistently and resetted several times, or they may have elongated their progression by increasing recovery time between deadlift workouts (also with resets). One method that someone can shift to is doing a variation of the 5/3/1 on their deadlift. This isn’t the same as literally doing Wendler’s program, but it takes the principle from it. In week 1, the lifter would do a medium-heavy work set of five reps. They wouldn’t try for a PR or a max set, but something that gives them some work. The next week they’d aim to increase the weight (perhaps 20 pounds), and do it for a triple. Again, it shouldn’t be a 3RM or a 10 on a rating of perceived exertion scale. The following week they’d increase the weight again and do a single. If the single was easy, then they could repeat it for another single, or add a bit of weight. The idea is to reduce the volume while increasing the intensity every week, so the last week shouldn’t exceed two or three reps. The fourth week can be a light deadlift day, or accessory day (e.g. RDL’s if they aren’t done regularly).

This set up would provide an undulating volume/intensity pattern for deadlift training, and give the lifter some rest at the end of the month. When I was first thinking about this programming idea, Gant was worried that the fourth week should be a total reduction in volume like the original 5/3/1. Gant is a proponent of reductions in training on a regular basis — and for good reason. Regular reductions allow your body’s recover capabilities to catch up with the stress imparted on it. This is relevant to casual* and older lifters**. However, younger lifters (<30 years old) who train seriously probably don't require this every four weeks. The reduction of deadlift stress in that fourth week along with the potential reduction of other lifts should be enough. This shouldn't have to be said, but if you are feeling run down or spread thin, then it's time to reduce your training for the sake of recovery — this fourth week is a perfect time for that.

The subsequent months of this 5/3/1 style of deadlifting should see more weight used on each day. The sets of 5, 3, and 1 should be higher than they were the previous month without overtraining. The lifter who can walk that knife’s edge will be rewarded with a progressing deadlift. This style of programming the deadlift can be altered to the lifter’s needs; 5/3/2, 3/2/1, and 3/2/2 are all valid. A more advanced trainee could even change the rep scheme depending on how many months out from a meet he is. Six months out could see something like 8/5/3 or even 12/8/6. Who cares? The idea is to adjust your training to continue making progress. The major difference with Wendler’s program is that I wouldn’t recommend the lifter to go for maximum reps on a given day; I’m merely just using the general rep scheme. Too many reps would increase the volume and ruin the effectiveness of a Texas Method or split routine style program. Remember that the 5/3/1 has less volume than a Texas Method, and that’s why going for max reps is possible and effective. Keep in mind that the entire program can be shifted to Wendler’s exact program for great success; everything I’ve written here is relevant to programming the deadlift on an intermediate style program where volume and intensity are manipulated weekly (like the Texas Method).

Open Forum
I gave just one example of how you can progress your deadlift beyond the novice stage, yet it isn’t the only way. I’ve asked a couple of readers with solid deadlifts to give their thoughts in the comments, so feel free to share what you have done for your advanced training. If you are deadlifting over 500 pounds then it would be interesting to hear what you have done, seen, or read about. If the training you share with us is only relevant to lifters on drugs, then please clarify so it doesn’t mislead aspiring deadlifters (in other words, if you mention Westside or equivalents, clarify who you’re talking about).

*Casual lifters are those who want to get stronger, but it isn’t their main focus in life. This is okay; you don’t have to be passionately married to a barbell. It’s better to be honest with yourself and say, “I like getting stronger, but it isn’t top priority in life, yet I will continue to train consistently to get stronger and more muscular over time for x reason(s).”
**This statement can also be applied to people of any age who are beginning to lift for the first time in their life. The high school and collegiate cross country runner’s body will be inept at dealing with the stresses of lifting continuously, and thus they may require more patience and slower increases in weight over time. Getting stronger is a process, and if your body has never done it before (or hasn’t in a long time), you must respect that fact.

61 thoughts on “Deadlift Progression

  1. Justin, great food for thought. I’m a deadlifting junkie who’s spent the last year trying to catch his squat up (currently at 375BS and 455 DL, but I hit 400 on DL with a 225BS).

    I’ve been trying to implement DLs with TM more intelligently, because working them in regularly (twice a week heavy) was hurting my recovery. Great post!

  2. I’m currently deadlifting on intensity day of Texas Method, I’ve been alternating between a 1RM and a 3RM, going to switch to 3RM/5RM in the new year after my December meet.

  3. BW up to 182lbs

    Deadlift PR 325×5, going to start DL’ing once a week at 10lb increases

    Made Chicken Fried Steak this week, and Guinness Beef Stew in the crockpot at home right now.

  4. bodyweight PR of 287!

    I’m about 20 weeks out from a meet.

    I remember seeing you 70s Big guys at USAPL raw nats in Denver. Nice lifting!

    I hate deadlifting, so I don’t really train it. I have deadlifted over 500 lbs in 2 meets with barely any deadlifting from the floor.

    Eat big, lift big.

  5. I take that back. This training cycle I’ll be doing speed deads around 50 to 60 percent each week on my accessory day.

    For my last meet cycle, I did heavy keystone deads right after squats on my heavy day.

  6. PR’d my 1RM clean this week on Monday.
    Old PR was 220# — and I mean OLD… I had tried and failed 225# probably a 15-20 times in the last 7+ months.

    I was working with a buddy who is bit bigger and stronger than I am so after 185, 205 and 215, he went to 225. We both missed it twice. Went back down to 220#, I hit it, he missed. I went up to 225# and hit! Next set I hit 230#!!!

    So happy to finally get over the hump on that one. especially given the fact that I have mostly switched to slow lifts and haven’t worked on OLY lifts much at all.

    ohh – and I clean “split” style because I am too old and slow/inflexible (injuries) to get under the bar in squat.

  7. I’ve been out of the gym for a couple weeks as I relocate myself but I did PR by carrying a 90lb box from IKEA up two flights of stairs by myself. Picking it up was the easy part, carrying it all that way with my girly upper body strength more difficult.

    I have managed to locate a gym with squat racks that allows chalk fairly easily though, and its right by work. Very exciting!

  8. BW: 95kg
    Deadlift: 180kg for 4 doubles, All went up nice and fast.
    Back in august, that was my 1 rep max which I pulled at my first meet, doing a deadlift only meet now in 3 weeks, hoping for a 210kg+ deadlift.

  9. My deadlift progression has been far from a normal person’s deadlift progression. I was able to deadlift 315 pounds my first time training it, and had no structure to my training for about 2 years after this. In this time I was able to take my deadlift from 315-545 just trying to hit a 5rm 3rm 2rm or 1rm every single deadlift workout which I did once a week.

    After this I did Coan Phillipi which is the best deadlift only routine you are going to find. It teaches you about the most important aspect of deadlifting (speed) and also has you do so many deadlifts that your form becomes very on point. I gained 30 pounds off the routine and 2 weeks after that I hit a PR of 585 @ 175 (I’m 5’10 so yes I was still very skinny, I’ve since resolved that)

    After that I went back to the old style of training of attempting heavy weight all the time before I experimented with mini coan-phillipi blocks with 1 heavy double followed by speed work each week, I took this to around a 675 deadlift.

    I then did some Sheiko blocks and peaked with the 9 week Russian cycle, I ended up tripling 675 tng, but missing 716 at lockout in the competition that ensued. There was also the huge factor that high volume deadlifts were completely ruining my squat workouts two days later, so this also had to be remedied.

    In the next 13 weeks I deadlifted 4 times, no weight above 660, and no only 1 work each time. I focused entirely on my squat, and ended up deadlifting 705 in a competition after this cycle.

    After that I finally found what actually works for me. After talking with a great coach he advocated that deadlifts are very unique in the way that after the first rep all subsequent reps are considerably different lifts, especially for a touch and go deadlifter like myself. So since February I have only deadlifted in singles. I do large workouts of 5-20 singles with varying intensity of deadlifts.

    Generally, deadlifts are the one lift where raw lifters will miss it at different places. You either blow it off the ground and can’t lock it out or if it breaks the floor you’re bound to finish the lift.

    Your assistance training should be built around which type of lifter you are. If you are an off the floor dynamo you should spend most of your time working your lockout, so after I do my deadlift singles I work on heavy rack pulls for sets of 2-3 or RDLs for sets of 4-8. I also swear by tons of upper back work because the last bit of a deadlift has a lot to do with how strong your upper back is. You don’t see the Trappasaurus Rex Brent Kim mising deadlift at lockout now do you.

    If you are a slow off the floor deadlifter then you are probably going to want to focus most of your training after singles around speed pulls. Practicing large force generation off the ground is the best thing for you. I’d do a lot of speed pulls, stiff leg deficit deadlifts and such if I had this problem.

    Deadlifts are the best.

  10. No PRs because I took a week off from last Wednesday until yesterday, when I went back to the gym. I tied my OHP PR: 130 3×5.

    This was my first layoff of more than 3 days since the first week of June. I decided to take it since I’d added like 100 pounds to my squat during that time and was starting to get sleep disruptions, dreading going to the gym, and that depressed feeling mentioned in Practical Programming. It was a good decision. I feel better now.

    Thanks for this deadlift information. I’ve been doing the Stronglifts program (basically Pendelay 5×5), except now I do 3×5. So squatting every workout, deadlifting every other. I deloaded on squat, bench and OHP three times before switching to 3×5, and am probably coming up on my first deload since doinig 3×5. Yesterday was the first time I ever missed a deadlift attempt, but I’m positive it was due to lack of sleep and bad diet the previous three days (I timed my week off knowing this was going to happen). I’ve always deadlifted every other workout, so once every five days. I’ve always figured as long as I’m increasing the weight there’s no reason to reduce how often i deadlift. My current deadlift is 330 lbs. I’m 5’9″ 189 lbs with low body fat. My goal is to compete next May, hopefully at 198 lbs. I want to deadlift 400+ by then. Should I consider switching to only deadlifting one out of every three workouts to prevent overtraining, or keep on going since every five days seems to be working?

    P.S. I’m really hoping epic city transit beard man shows up this month.

  11. –Sorry forgot to ask: do I need to alternate which hand I supinate to prevent an imbalance? Since switching to mixed grip a couple months ago I always supinate my left hand. I’m right handed if that matters.

  12. Nice article!

    No PRs for me…actually, kind of…went to Seattle’s Zombie Convention and met Bruce Campbell. :P

    If anyone(Justin) can tell me what I’m going right/wrong with my squats!? I feel like I am letting my knees come forward too much when I get down in the hole. This vid was 365, but I do the same thing with 315, 405, doesn’t matter. Kick hips back more? I feel like my technique is holding me back a little…

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  14. Good article. Lots of information to digest for a old casual lifter. I do have some strength goals, but I don’t want to live at the gym. I may have to rethink my dead lift schedule. I’m staying sore for 2-3 days after a workout.

    Another bench PR 190lb, 5-5-5. On my way to 205! I think limiting the metcons and including weighted dips has made quite a difference in this lift. I struggled for a long time to do 185.

    Slowed my progression on squats, while making sure I get my hips below my knees.

    Squatting and dead lifting paid off in a soccer game this week. Me and a larger opponent both put our foot on the ball going in opposite directions. He thought he would force possession by muscling the ball past my foot. I ended up getting the ball past his foot.

  15. Here are some videos I’ve been meaning to post for a while, for the ladies worried about “bulking up.” The first one is of my fiancée, Corrine, squatting 242 raw for her third attempt at her first PL meet in March, setting a California state record. The second is of her deadlifting 242 (her second attempt). She totaled 600 (DL 248 and BP 110). She competed at 118 lbs. I’m hoping I can talk her into another meet in 2011 (after our wedding).

  16. Sorry if you guys have talked about this somewhere else, but I was wondering where you guys stand on using the sumo vs traditional stance? I like the sumo because as far as build goes I have a long torso and short legs; additionally I’m primarily an O-lifter and am concerned about preserving mechanics. Any comments on the sumo style as it relates to strength development, muscular demand, etc?

  17. @binl:
    Sumo is great. I’m a tall lifter with long levers but still love sumo. I find doing it a lot screws with my mobility though so I’ve been hitting conventional lately. Switch it up.

    5/3/1 Comment:

    Remember the max reps set in 5/3/1 doesn’t mean you go to max every workout. You do AT LEAST the prescribed reps, more if you feel like your body can handle it/needs it.

    Pick your battles.

  18. I had an exellent last 2 weeks
    BW: Back up over 200 consistently

    Bench Press: 215×4
    Press: 155x 2
    Power Snatch: 150×1, had more in the tank too, but limited myself to only 3 attempts. The 3×5 Hang Power I’ve been doing has really really helped and I’m no doing it linearly each week.
    Weighted Pull-ups: 40#x11

    Also my pudenal nerve injury is very slowly starting to get better. Wil be able to start squatting again hopefully by mid-late December

  19. @binl

    Kendrick Farris regularly conventional DL’s

    If you’re worried about mechanics just do clean DL’s from the floor to just before the 2nd pull (keep torso/shoulders over bar at the top) and RDL’s

  20. It’s been a while since I had anything to report.

    In the past week I finally squatted 455 x 5 after working my way back up from some illness / possible overtraining. Taking things a little slower now to pace myself.

    Also deadlifted 460 x 5 and that felt pretty good.

  21. new PR. SQUAT – 405 lb x 1… but at the same time, fucked up my lower back on the way up.

    Anyone have any tips on how to rehab a back injury resulting from squatting? I would gretly appreciate it.

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  23. I will be following this discussion with interest. I am not quite qualified to advise anyone on this yet, as I just pulled 495 at 173 this past week. But my DL training is far from what I usually see recommended. I started out pulling 165×8 with about a 150 squat at 130. I stopped pulling for touch-and-go reps around 225×8. I stopped pulling for rest-pause reps when I was getting mid-300s for 5-8 reps. Ever since, I have pulled singles only. Heavy singles, light singles, one max single, lots of singles – I do it all. I tried pulling from a deficit for a couple of months and it didn’t do anything for me, because I had to change my form to get lower. Ditto for rack pulls: they feel good but I don’t get much out of them other than the experience of handling a heavier weight.

    What I do is pick several “rep” ranges – in quotes because these are all actually singles – and pull 2-3 times every week. Usually I choose between a max single, a near-max single, five singles around 95%, ten singles around 90%, 15-21 singles around 85%, and a warmup-only day (work up to 80-90% x 1). On rare occasions I will drop the weight below 85% and do 30 or more singles. I aim to break a PR on at least one of these “rep ranges” every week, but I don’t do any given rep range twice in one week. This adds periodization and progression into the scheme. I find that just rotating the rep schemes intelligently and taking easy (warmup only) days lets me keep pulling heavy and often and keep adding weight to the bar.

  24. Great article! Its a perfect casue on my Deadlift reached a PR of 425! It’s still low for my BW of 275 but I dont do deadlifts often, a problem I am correcting.

  25. Hey guys, been reading the articles and posts for awhile now. Great article on deads btw. Had a great day and kicking back beers to celebrate!!

    BW 215
    Deads 395×5
    PRd on squats today: 405×1 FELT AWESOME!!!!

    Thanks for all the great stuff to keep a guy’s head in it!!

  26. New to posting, but not to the site. Love it, guys!

    I’ve been hitting PRs every week for the last 5 weeks.

    BW 170
    SQ 335X5
    DL 370×5
    Bench 245×5

    I had to cut my week short due to a cold and potential intercostal tear. Should be able to hit it hard on Mon.

    I’ve been on and off Madcow (Bill Star variation) for quite some time. I can’t give it up.

  27. My wrist is finally feeling much better and I have been able to do some cleans and handstands on the floor.

    No lifting PR’s as it was a 5/3/1 light week. But with the healthier wrist I did a free standing handstand pushup. It’s the sort of stunt I’ve been asked about since I learned a handstand long ago so it feels nice to finally do one without falling down.

    I am going to start cleaning all my press sets starting next week.

  28. the armpit hair is coming in nicely and i’m pretty sure it’s making me stronger already.

    cool PR that i’m pretty excited about: got my first real full-depth dip with no assistance! it’s funky because i’ve been able to do strict, unassisted pull-ups for some time now, but could never pull off a true dip.

    i am quite proud of this PR. my next goal is to do dips on rings. my long term goal is a muscle up on rings.

  29. WOW… I just tried out the 2 sets of good mornings and halt-deadlifts.. 75 reps each.. and i can feel the pump in my lowerback like they mentioned in the article..Its feels like this is exactly what i needed cause the exercises are working the exact area where it got injured… thank you very much for the article ThunderThighs.. i appreciate it very much..

  30. Well, thanks to Glen Pendlay I finally learned how to snatch correctly today, on a deload week that’s as much PR as I’ll get but I’ll take it.
    Meet last weekend, went 187/120/230 for a wilks pr in the 90kg juniors…but no real PR’s.

    My deadlift did well on 5/3/1, going from 440 to 505 in 6 months or so, on a steady diet of good mornings (among other things)

    At the gym I train in (mostly single ply powerlifters) there’s an interesting variety of approaches- some do 5/3/1 or something like it, some guys just wing it, many do a sheiko or similar routine. None of the regulars (that I know of) do a “westside” style program.

    But a couple themes are that:
    -Most train it fairly frequently, 2-3x a week
    -Many don’t go too crazy on the intensity, they do most of their work around 70-85% and go heavier when it’s time to peak

  31. Great discussion, sorry I missed it. I probably shouldn’t be giving anyone advice, since I only recently deadlifted 507, but I’m currently in the “less is more” school. I moved my deadlift from 465 to 507 in a couple months by doing heavy squats Texas Method style and one heavy posterior chain assistance for a couple of sets each on Monday and Friday (heavy KB swings, good mornings, GHR), then changing to a different exercise when my progress on that slowed. Probably not the best way I could have gone about it, but it worked okay for me.

    Anyway, my only PR from yesterday was the farmer’s walks I did at the end of the workout: 225lbs each hand, for three trips of 20ft.

    Which reminds me of a question for you, Justin. I belt up for all my work sets on barbell exercises now; do you recommend also using the belt for strongman exercises?

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