Deadlift Program for National Record

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There’re a lot of different ways to build a big deadlift. There’re thousands of different programs and tons of different exercises to choose from. Each program and each exercise comes with its own strengths and weaknesses for any given athlete.  Calier Woolam has found “body english” rows to be extremely helpful. Pete Rubish has found weighted hypers to be extremely helpful. Some swear by RPEs – others just go with percents of their 1RM. We got people maxing out every single workout – others max out once in six months. The program I highlight here has been the most effective in my personal experience. It increased my deadlift to the point where I now hold a national deadlift record in the American Powerlifting Federation (APF) and am continuing to use it as i pursue a world record.

Ed Coan has best articulated this position on unique training effects (2:05 – 233):

I spent a lot of time idolizing some of the famous deadlifters and putting their recommendations on a pedestal. I went so far as to alter my deadlift setup depending on who I was interested in. Dan Green’s setup involves the iconic two swoop “mock” reps before the actual start. Calier Woolam’s setup involves just one accelerated dynamic swoop from complete rest. Stefi Cohen, on the other hand, has a more static start with very little swoop.

It took some time but eventually I realized that while their programs and setups had worked super well for them, that didn’t necessarily mean their methods would work super well for me. I have my own unique strengths, weakness, proportions, and leverages which means I had to figure out which movements and programs actually worked best for me. Without further ado, here’s the plan that ended up working best for me after years of experimenting with a whole slew of programs and exercises:

Day 1: Deadlift Focus

  • Sumo Deadlift
    • 4×4, Heavy as possible with good “non-grinding” form
  • Speed Romanian Deadlift
    • 3×5, Heavy as possible with good “non-grinding” form
  • Volume Romanian Deadlift
    • 4×10, Heavy as possible with good “non-grinding” form
  • Weighted Chin Up
    • 3×3, Heavy as possible with good “non-grinding” form
  • High Volume Accessories (Hamstring Curl, Dumbbell Rows, Facepulls, Lateral Raises, Curls)
    • 4×10, Lighter eccentric-focused form

Day 2: Squat Focus

  • Bench Triples
    • 5 x 3, Heavy as possible with good “non-grinding” form
  • Squat Reverse Pyramid
    • 4-6, 6-8, 8-10, Heavy as possible with good “non-grinding” form, drop 10% set-to-set
  • High Volume Accessories (Bulgarian Split Squats / 1L Leg Press)
    • 4×10, Lighter eccentric-focused form

Day 3: Bench Focus

  • Bench Reverse Pyramid
    • 4-6, 6-8, 8-10, Top set same weight as triples from Day 2, drop 10% set-to-set
  • Squat Triples
    • 5×3, Same wight as top set from Day 2
  • High Volume Accessories (Overhead Press, CG Bench, Pushdown, Kickbacks)
    • 4×10, Lighter eccentric-focused form

Obviously, progressive overload is the name of the game here. Once any of these sets are doable with good “non-grind” form for all sets and reps, it’s time to up the weight by 5 lbs. Then simply iterate and watch the strength gains accrue over time.

You’ll lift three days per week. You will squat and bench on two days of the week, with one day focusing on bench volume and the other day focusing on squat volume. And the third day will be deadlifts, meaning you’ll only deadlift once per week, preferably on a day you’re not sore. I’ll usually throw in some low-intensity, steady state cardio on 1-2 of the non-lift days (e.g. 20 minutes stairmaster speed: 10).

On deadlift day, the rampup to working weight is critical. On one hand you don’t want tire yourself out before you reach working weight, but you also need to be primed and ready for your working weight. I think it’s difficult to have “too many” warmup sets, but easy to have “too many” warmup reps. None of the warmup sets should be a grind. I recommend at least 5 warmup sets before starting the working weight 4×4. In addition, I recommend tapering your reps as you get closer to working weight. And don’t forget to keep those rest times at least three minutes – this is powerlifting! Lastly, if you belt up, I recommend belting up the last set before working weight.

Here’s what my warmup sets and reps would look like if my working weight was 385:

  • 135 x 5
  • 205 x 4
  • 245 x 3 start chalk
  • 285 x 3
  • 325 x 2
  • 355 x 1 belted
  • 385 4×4

Next comes the accessories. I’ve found the Romanian variations to be the most useful, which could just speak to my own lockout weakness. If you struggle off the floor, see this article for my own inflection points and experience with breaking the floor. You’ll notice the combined use of heavy, Romanian speed lockouts (belted) and light volume lockouts (no-belt). With these, I really focus on squeezing the glutes at the top. If my sumo working weight was 385, then I’d use ~305 for the speed Romanian and ~255 for volume Romanian. The progressive overload principle also applies to these and following accessories.

This could just be correlation as opposed to causation, but next, I do think weighted chin ups have played a big role in my deadlift progress. You’ll notice it’s pretty simple here – just 3 sets of 3. Form is hard to screw up – lean back a little to activate your back, use a dip belt, no kipping, near-full range of motion, and you should be fine. For a benchmark, I weigh right around 135 lbs and I do my weighted chin triples with ~85 lbs right now.

Afterwards, you got the much higher volume bodybuilding-esque movements. They still revolve around the hamstring and back – you can rotate them and select the ones that align most with your goals / weaknesses. My delts have always been an “aesthetic” issue, so I’ll usually throw those movements in for the fans. Sometimes, calves – no, not really. On a serious note, if you notice that your upper back is the weak link on deadlifts, focus there; if you notice that your hamstrings are the weak link, focus there.

This isn’t a replica of any existing program out there, but it is influenced by various existing programs I’ve completed: most notably, Boris Sheiko’s #29 and Reverse Pyramid Training as described in Greg O’Gallagher’s Kinobody program. Sheiko’s program introduced me to 1. benching and squatting on the same day and 2. using bench as a warmup for squat. Greg’s Kinobody program introduced me to 1. reverse pyramid training and 2. weighted chin ups.

After re-reading this, I guess the program could double as a powerbuilding routine since it’s got the ultra-heavy powerlifting moves and the high-volume bodybuilding sets. Feel free to use the program for whatever you want – just please practice proper form and don’t get injured! If you’re planning on competing or going for a big deadlift PR, read more for those specific posts.


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