The Big 3: The Deadlift


 

If you’re still new to the deadlift and are unsure about the nuances of good form please go back and read Getting Started: The Deadlift.

There’s a common question that comes up to strength coaches: “If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be?”  The answer is almost always The Deadlift.  The reason is that the deadlift is a whole body effort that requires strength and skill equally.  If you just muscle through a bad deadlift you’ll quickly hurt your back and be out of the game.  If you have perfect form but never practice pulling heavy weight then you won’t develop any further strength.

Your New Pull Day Routine

Every pull day you will perform:

  • 3 warm up sets of deadlifts
  • 3 sets of deadlifts
  • 3 sets of dumbbell bent over rows
  • 3 sets of pull ups (pull downs if you can’t do pull ups yet)

This routine is intended to be done once per week.  It’s possible for more advanced lifters to do it twice or more but at that point it may be better to implement a program designed specifically for advanced lifters.

To start off we need to calculate your bench press 1 rep max (1RM), this is the maximal amount you can lift for one rep. You can test for your 1RM directly but I only recommend this if you have at least 8 months of experience and a training partner. Alternatively you can use a weight you are more comfortable with and perform reps until failure and estimate your 1RM with a calculator, try to at least use a 5RM when using a calculator as the more reps it takes you to go to failure the more inaccurate the estimation.

The weight you’ll program for use will be based off of your 1RM.  You’ll have to take your 1RM and multiply by the corresponding percentage to find out what weight you’ll be doing.  You’ll likely end up with some numbers that you can’t actually put on a barbell like 193.175 lbs.  My rule is to always round down to the nearest multiple of 5.

Deadlifts: Warm up and Working Sets

Warm up sets

Keep warm up sets simple, too many times people get overly complicated in their warm up and it ends up being an entire workout in and of itself.  Rest 60-90 seconds between warm up sets.

  • Set 1: (35% 1RM) x 9 Reps
  • Set 2: (45% 1RM) x 7 Reps
  • Set 3: (55% 1RM) x 5 Reps

Working Set Progressions

One of the nicest things about a program like this is that you never going in not knowing what you’re going to do that day.  The annoying thing is that some days you’re going to feel like what you did wasn’t enough, when this is the case you need to walk away.  Programs like this rely on building up momentum to break plateaus, so not every day is going to leave you lying in a pool of sweat. Rest at least 2-3 minutes between each set.

Cycle 1

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set 1 (65% 1RM) x 7 Reps (75% 1RM) x 4 Reps (65% 1RM) x 7 Reps
Set 2 (65% 1RM) x 7 Reps (75% 1RM) x 4 Reps (75% 1RM) x 4 Reps
Set 3 (65% 1RM) x 7 Reps (75% 1RM) x 4 Reps (85% 1RM) x 3 EMOM Singles*

Cycle 2

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set 1 (70% 1RM) x 7 Reps (80% 1RM) x 4 Reps (70% 1RM) x 7 Reps
Set 2 (70% 1RM) x 7 Reps (80% 1RM) x 4 Reps (80% 1RM) x 4 Reps
Set 3 (70% 1RM) x 7 Reps (80% 1RM) x 4 Reps (90% 1RM) x 3 EMOM Singles*

Cycle 3

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set 1 (75% 1RM) x 7 Reps (85% 1RM) x 4 Reps (75% 1RM) x 7 Reps
Set 2 (75% 1RM) x 7 Reps (85% 1RM) x 4 Reps (85% 1RM) x 4 Reps
Set 3 (75% 1RM) x 7 Reps (85% 1RM) x 4 Reps (95% 1RM) x 3 EMOM Singles*

*EMOM Singles: Every-Minute-On-The-Minute Singles are done by performing a single rep, and resting exactly one minute before performing the next rep.

Heavy Lifting Tip: Doing multiple reps of deadlifts can get tough and people have a tendency to hold their breath and power through by bouncing the weight off the ground.  This actually makes it much harder on your body because your form starts to degrade.  Instead treat each rep as a single and completely let go when you reach the bottom of each rep, take a deep breath, and reset.  This will take longer but I promise you’ll be able to successfully complete more reps this way.

Accessory Sets: Bent Over Rows & Pull Ups

Accessory sets are very literal interpretations of their name, they are meant to help along with accessory muscle groups as well as the primary muscle groups.  For both of these exercises we are going to follow the Dropback protocol. This protocol is a handy way to self-regulate the amount of weight you should be using.  If you follow it strictly it automatically bypasses bad habits that come out of your ego.

Dropback Protocol:

  • With a drop back protocol you are given a rep range (e.g. 4-6 reps).
  • Start your first set with the weight you were last successful with.
  • If you can complete 4-6 reps with that weight for single set keep the weight the same.
    • If you can complete two consecutive sets at the upper limit of the rep range (in this case, 6 reps) then increase the weight.
    • If you fail to complete the lower limit of the rep range for a single set (in this case, 4 reps) then drop the weight to 85% of the weight you failed with and start the process over.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row 

  • Follow Dropback Protocol
  • Perform 4-6 Reps per side, per set.
  • Rest 60-90 seconds between sets
  • Perform 3 sets
  • A good rule of thumb: Many strength coaches state that you should be able to perform a bent over row with 25% of your deadlift 1RM.

Pull Ups/Lat Pulldown Machine

  • Use lat pulldown machine if, and only if, you cannot perform at least 2 strict pull ups (no kicking)
  • Perform 1-3 Reps per set
  • Rest 60-90 seconds between sets
  • Perform 3 sets
  • Add weight to pull ups by placing a dumbbell between your feet.  I like this method because it also requires the abs to be engaged.

Summary

Each deadlift training day you will perform:

  • 3 warm up sets of deadlifts based on your 1RM.
  • 3 working sets of deadlifts based on your 1RM.
  • 3 sets of 4-6 reps per side of dumbbell bent over rows.
  • 3 sets of 1-3 reps of pull-ups or pull downs.

Cycles 1-3 are intended to bring you to a new peak. Follow cycle 3 with a rest week before testing for a new personal record.