Finding your Deadlift

Strongman

Some people are just born to deadlift. I am not one of those people. I do not have the long arms or that trademark short torso owned by some of the genetically lucky deadlifters. When the weight is light and my arms are not nearly being dragged out of my sockets the bar ends up right up my crotch on every rep making each pull fairly long. This has in no way discouraged me but rather pushed me to put in work to learn what works best for me. Through this hard work I am on my way to building a reputable deadlift and can say with confidence I will one day be pulling in that 400kg (880lb) range.

Lets go back to the beginning of my competitive strength career. In 2006 after losing my zest for training at age 22 and having no competitive outlet I did some searching on the internet and signed myself up for my first powerlifting contest. At this contest with very little deadlifting experience (but lots of gym experience) I managed to almost pull 500lbs narrowly missing it on a technicality. Even though this lift did not count it sparked a fire in me and added to my confidence. At this moment I knew strength sports were for me. For four years I continued to compete in powerlifting slowly improving but never really finding myself and flourishing the way I had always seen it in my head. Over 4 years my conventional deadlift increased slight from 500 to a little over 600 and for me this was devastating. All of the hard work I put in and all I improved was 100lb? I tried many programs; sheiko programs, high rep programs, fancy programs from other great lifters of the past and still only 100lbs? This was like a kick in the face. How was I ever going to pull 800lbs plus at this rate knowing that I was fighting for long periods of time for every pound? This was very hard to take but at the same time I never stopped believing that one day I will be something when it came to strength sports. To this day that little voice inside tells me I will although I still have a long way to go I will get there.

My powerlifting career took me to 2010 when I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to train with some reputable strongmen here in Regina. This changed my life! I did my first strongman show in 2010 and I was immediately hooked. I sucked something terrible at first but I was hooked. Among 12 competitors I placed 10th and got my ass kicked by a handful of guys who didn’t even look like they lifted weights. This was very hard to take but after this contest I was hyper motivated to not embarrass myself the following strongman season. This meant working harder than I ever believed possible and also training the events every week no matter what. Over that winter I rarely deadlifted and it showed that following year. I was a way better strongman and starting performing much better but was left with a mediocre deadlift. I was lucky enough that I had made slight improvements in my pull just from focusing mainly on events but really the improvement was not significant. The next strongman season of 2012 the same thing happened although I focused more on deadlift leading into that season. A slight improvement but nothing to write home about. Real progress finally happened between the 2012 and 2013 seasons and this happened because I started to train my deadlift along side one of my training partners. He did things much differently than I had ever tried and it worked immensely. For me the trick seemed to be a combination of speed work done with very heavy band tension and also pulling from 3 inch blocks. Both variations loaded the top end of the pull. The speed work forced me to maintain tight form while all the while trying be as fast as possible against 200-400 pounds of band tension. The block pulls helped to strengthen my entire posterior chain which is so important to a great deadlift. Many times speed work was done from the blocks allowing for even greater poundages to compliment the ridiculous amount of band tension. You can’t pull big weights if you have a weak back and pulling from blocks fixed this for me. After following a program comprised of these 2 movements for the entire off season I went from a middle of the pack deadlift to top 3 and in many cases 1st place. From 2013 until now I have continued making steady progress in the deadlift just pulling a personal best 781lbs for a “Western Canadian deadlift record” in a full strongman show right after a grueling farmers walk event. I can say with certainty that I am now more than capable of pulling 800lbs putting me in reaching distance of that holy grail deadlift of 880lbs (400kg).

Below I will include a sample 3 week wave of a what I have done to train my deadlift. This is very similar to what initially worked so well for me. I will say I only train deadlift and squat once a week. My back does get other work from doing strongman events such as atlas stones, farmers walk, etc. During the strongman season, I will rely on just doing some light speed pulls week to week as my event training volume can get pretty high leading into contests.

*Note: For band tension I prefer the short deadlift bands. For this little simple sample program I would suggest these guidelines for tension. If you pull 400lbs or less use 50-75lbs band tension. If you pull 400-500 use 75-100lbs tension. If you pull 500-600 100-150lbs. If you pull 600-700 150-200lbs tension. 700-800 use 200-250lbs tension. For block pulls use 3-4 inch blocks. Preferably 3 inch.
Week 1

Speed Pulls from the ground with bands 8×1 at 50% of max.
Block pulls no bands 4×2 at 80% of max

Week 2

Speed Pulls from the ground with bands 7×1 at 55% of max.
Block pulls no bands 4×2 at 85 % of max

Week 3

Speed Pulls from the ground with bands 6×1 at 60 % of max.
Block pulls no bands 4×2 at 85% and 4×2 at 90%

Week 4

Deload
Speed Pulls no bands 8×1 at 60%

This program is only one way I have set things up to see success over the last couple of years. Many times I would make minor adjustments to help address what I felt was lacking in my pull. Give this a try and be sure to run it through in 2 or 3 times before testing if you have made progress. I hope this helps you as much as it did me. Thanks for reading and good luck with your training in the future.