Bill Starr had the best comment about bodybuilders who have lots of size but lack strength and power: They’re no more than physical abominations’facades, fakes’for muscle equals strength, and if a person doesn’t have sufficient strength to back up those showy muscles, he’s a joke. That might sound harsh to all of you who believe that size and shape should prevail over strength, but it’s the truth. Those who don’t want to believe it are afraid of hard work, afraid to do the brutal exercises that build powerful lower-back, leg and hip muscles.
When it comes to developing functional strength and awesome pulling power’the type of power required to do real work’the deadlift stands above all other exercises. Rarely, however, do you see lifters and bodybuilders performing the types of routines that build the deadlift. Many powerlifters find it the hardest of the three lifts, so they focus instead on their benches and squats. And bodybuilders don’t think that the deadlift has much to offer them, so they avoid routines that work their lower backs and hips and focus more on the showy muscles of the back, the lats.
Another problem is that when trainees start working the deadlift hard, they find that their numbers actually start to regress. Why train it when it’s going to go down, not up, right?
Well, it’s time to change all of the above. In the following discussion I’ll unlock all of the keys to building a big deadlift and outline a routine that incorporates those tips. Use the program as described, and there’s no reason you can’t have a bigger, stronger and more powerful back’one that’s even stronger than it looks.
Tips for Building a Hu-u-uge Deadlift
There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to boosting this lift. Most of it comes from the fact that trainees in America still use a bodybuilding-style routine, one that revolves around multiple sets and reps, with the repetitions performed using the same cadence; for example, two seconds up and two seconds down. Unfortunately, that type of training does little to promote speed strength, a.k.a. explosive power, or maximum output strength. Here are some tips for designing a routine that solves those problems.
Make it dynamic. When you hear people talk about dynamic work, they’re referring to speed, or explosive, training. You build speed strength by doing numerous sets of low reps with a fairly light workload’50 to 60 percent of one-rep max seems to work the best. If you use a weight lighter than that, the load isn’t heavy enough. If your load starts to hover around 70 percent, then the weight doesn’t move fast enough to increase power output significantly’unless you’re just using singles.
Dynamic work is very important for the deadlift, probably more so than any other lift. Why? It’s very easy to overtrain the movement pattern on the deadlift when you constantly use heavy weights.
The best exercises for building speed strength on the deadlift are, of course, the deadlift and the full squat performed with a wide stance to stress the glutes, hips and hamstrings to the fullest.
The best set-and-rep scheme for speed training seems to be eight to 12 sets of two to three reps. Each rep should only take 1 1/2 to two seconds to perform’no longer than it takes you to max out on a heavy deadlift.
Train heavy or go home. If you want to make gains in strength training, you absolutely have to train heavy. If you’re not willing to do that, you might as well pack it up and head for the house because you’ll never be strong.
When I say heavy, I mean heavy. Heavy sets of five reps should be about as light as you go on your core exercises for your heavy day. You want to use a lot of triples, doubles and, yes, singles.
The reason most lifters don’t get the results they expect from ultra-heavy training is that they perform the same exercise for the same numbers of sets and reps all the time. If you do three sets of three reps of regular deadlifts at every workout, you’ll never see great results, no matter how recovered you are or how much protein you’re eating. The trick to avoiding a plateau on your heavy training is to change sets and reps or change exercises. Which brings me to the next tip.
Variety is the spice of training. In the countries of the former Soviet Union, primarily Russia and Ukraine’the two countries that absolutely dominate world competition in powerlifting’they threw out old-style progressive-resistance training a long time ago. No matter how well the athletes ate or how much assistance they received from pharmaceuticals, they could only add so much weight to the bar for so long. Their secret was variety’and lots of it. Sometimes they’d change exercises, although it was always a variation of a classical lift, and often they’d simply change the loading parameters of their exercises, otherwise known as the sets and reps.
Remember this: The more advanced you are, the more variety you need. While beginners can use the same routine for a couple of months and still see good results, intermediates need more variety, and advanced athletes need an even greater level of change. As a rule of thumb, make some type of change to your routine once every three weeks.
12 Weeks to Resurrecting a Stale Deadlift
Vince Gironda once said, ‘Are you on a training program, or are you working out?’ and the great powerlifting coach Louie Simmons wrote, ‘No attitude is working out, and a killer attitude is training’a big difference.’ In other words, if you work out haphazardly, your results will be haphazard. With that in mind, I want you to faithfully adhere to the following training program. Do it right, and I guarantee you’ll get great results. Thirty-to-50-pound increases on the deadlift are not uncommon.
This 12-week program involves two phases. Perform phase 1 for six of the 12 weeks but not consecutively, and do the same for phase 2, as follows:
Weeks 1-3: phase 1
Weeks 4-6: phase 2
Weeks-7-9: phase 1
Weeks 10-12: phase 2
This phase has you doing two workouts per week. One is a light day, where the emphasis is on speed and hypertrophy, and the second is a heavy day, which focuses on absolute strength and maximum power. You perform the first workout, wait three days and then do the heavy session. So you’d train on Monday and Thursday, Tuesday and Friday or Wednesday and Saturday.
Speed deadlifts 6-8 x 2
Select a weight that’s approximately 50 percent of your one-rep maximum. Perform the reps as fast and explosively as possible. After the first rep let the weight pause on the floor for a couple of seconds before doing the next one. Rest no more than one minute between sets.
Seated good mornings 3 x 12
Sit on a flat bench with a barbell across your upper back. Bend forward until your forehead touches the bench.
Stiff-legged deadlifts 1 x 20
The 20 reps should be as hard as possible, but use good form.
Hyperextensions 3 x 20
Reverse crunches 3 x 20
Supersetting these two movements should create quite a burn in your lower back and abs. Supersetting helps to raise your work capacity, creating a more capable and in-shape lifter.
Wide-stance squats, deadlift lockouts, stiff-legged deadlifts or good morning squats 5-6 x 1
Work up over 4 to 5 progressively heavier singles to one to two sets of maximum-single attempts. The last set or two should be all-out maximum attempts at a weight that you’ve never tried before.
Wide-stance leg presses 2 x 5
Using a very wide stance with your toes pointed outward and hanging off the platform, go as heavy as possible.
Box squats 2 x 8
Using a box that’s set below parallel’meaning lower than your thighs when they’re parallel to the floor, squat down and sit on the box. Relax your hip muscles for a brief moment before trying to explode back to lockout. This exercise is very good for building explosive power at the start of the deadlift.
Hanging leg raises 3 x 20
Take very little rest between sets and concentrate on getting a good burn in your abs.
For this phase you train less frequently and increase the volume at each session, performing just one workout per week for the deadlift, as follows. This is a trick I stole from the Bulgarians, who used to train at a very high intensity for three weeks, followed by three weeks of less intense workouts.
Deadlifts 3 x 8, 5 or 3
Perform these in conventional style. On weeks 4 and 10 do sets of eight, on weeks 5 and 11 do sets of five, and on weeks 6 and 12 do the triples. Box squats 8 x 3
Perform these explosively, using 50 percent of your one-rep maximum on the conventional squat. Superset
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 6
Pause squats 3 x 6
These two exercises will put the ache in your hamstrings, hips and lower back. Use a heavy weight on all three supersets, one that allows you to barely get six repetitions. On the pause squats make sure you squat ass to the floor, using a narrow stance to really stress your lower back at the bottom, and pause for a count of two.
Ski squats 2 x 5
It’s hard to beat this exercise for a finisher. You won’t be using weights at first. With your back against the wall and a fairly wide stance, squat down about one-third of the way and hold there for 15 seconds. When the 15 seconds are up, continue the squat to halfway down and hold for another 15 seconds. Repeat the pattern twice more, at two thirds of the way down and at the bottom position. Return to the starting position and repeat for four more reps. One more set after that, and your lower body should be just about fried.
Reverse crunches 3 x 20
When you’re through with these, the workout’s over and it’s time to head to the house.
Summing It Up
There you have it: a fantastic routine for the next 12 weeks that’s sure to make your stale deadlift rise from its grave. Give it a try, and you should be pleasantly surprised at the results. IM