Your Guide to Programming the Deadlift

by Jordan Syatt April 16, 2014

Today’s guest post comes from none other than world renowned strength coach, and author of the brand new 2 x 4 Maximum Strength Program, Bret Contreras. 

One of the leading researchers in the field of strength and conditioning, Bret has drastically influenced me and my coaching methodologies.

In light of the release of his new 2 x 4 Maximum Strength Program, Bret graciously agreed to write a guest post outlining specific instructions to help you program your Deadlift for the best results possible.



Your Guide to Programming the Deadlift

In the world of strength training you have the deadlift…and then you have all the other exercises.

What I mean is the deadlift is the only lift that has its own rules. Take a look at all of the popular powerlifting routines and you’ll find that nearly all of them have the lifter squatting and benching more frequently than they pull.

Strong people have figured out that if you try to deadlift too heavy and too often you will either stagnate or hurt yourself.

What then is the optimal dose of deadlifting?

Obviously this will depend on the lifter but there aren’t too many lifters who can pull heavy twice per week all year round. Trying to squeeze in 104 heavy deadlift sessions into a single year is recipe for disaster. Go ahead and squat or bench heavy twice per week but, with the deadlift, I believe the optimal approach is to go with the light/heavy method.

Light/Heavy Method

With the light/heavy method you’re going to have one sub-maximal training session per week and one maximal training session per week. The maximal session will be performed three days after the sub-maximal session, allowing for four days of recovery from deadlifting after the heavy session. Step one will involve picking your sub-maximal approach and step two will involve picking your maximal approach.

Sub-maximal Session

With the sub-maximal session, you want to pick one of the three methods listed below and also your deadlift variation.

Superstrict Method

Load the bar up to 60-80% of 1RM. Use such strict form that the load actually “feels” heavy. Perform 3 sets of 1-5 reps.

Pause Method

Load the bar up to 60-80% of 1RM. Pause at strategic points during the lift for a 3-second count.

For bench: pause at the chest.

For squats: pause at parallel

For deadlifts: pause 1 inch off the ground.

Perform 3 sets of 1-5 reps.

Explosive Method

Load the bar up to 60-80% of 1RM. Perform the movement with compensatory acceleration (i.e. keeping the load under control but ramping up in speed throughout the range of motion). Perform 3 sets of 1-5 reps.

Maximal Session

With the maximal session, pick a set and rep scheme and go for a personal record (PR). My favorites are:

  • 3 sets of 5 same weight on each set
  • 3 sets of 3 same weight on each set
  • 3 sets of 1 same weight on each set
  • 3 sets of 5 ascending weight on each set
  • 3 sets of 3 ascending weight on each set
  • 3 sets of 1 ascending weight on each set

With ascending weight, you’re really going for an all-out max set. This gives you 6 PR options per exercise variation. Make sure you pause for a brief moment and reset after each repetition. This makes the set more difficult but it’ll build more strength.

Deadlift Variation

With each training session you’ll need to pick your deadlift variation. In general, you will need to decide upon:

  • Stance width: conventional, semi-sumo, sumo
  • Barbell: traditional bar, hex bar (only conventional stance is conducive to hex bar)
  • Range of motion: deficit, standard, block, rack


There you have it! An sample week would look like this:

Monday: Pause Rep Hex Bar Deficit Deadlifts: 3 x 3 @ 70% of 1RM

Thursday: Sumo Deadlift: 3 x 1 with progressively heavier weight leading up to a new PR.

Remember to use very strict form in training. If you’re going to use slop, save it for a meet (yes, you should decide upon a competition and start prepping for it – the sport of powerlifting kicks ass).

Also remember to de-load regularly. Some coaches like to have an easy week every 3-4 weeks, others every 4-6 weeks. Listen to your body and know when to pull back on the reigns and when to push the pedal to the metal. 

If you want to optimize your strength training and take it to the next level, you’ll love Bret’s 2 x 4 Maximum Strength Program. On sale through this Friday, it’s currently available at an incredibly low introductory price.

2 x 4 (2)

Want to Learn How to Lose Fat and Build Muscle?

Then take this free gift. Seriously, take it. HURRY.

    THE SF INNER CIRCLE Members-Only Content

    From Jordan Syatt, Every Month




    Recent Posts

    How To Do A Proper Deadlift

    Have you ever thought that maybe you think deadlifting is bad for you because maybe you don’t know how to…

    Read This

    Deadlifts vs. Squats

    I think it’s time we all get on the same page regarding deadlifts vs. squats. There are so many contradicting…

    Read This

    How To Lose Weight Without Counting Calories

    “Jordan... PLEASE tell me how to lose weight without counting calories!” I hear this question all the time and yes…

    Read This

    How To Stop Binge Eating

    You want to know how to stop binge eating? Ah, right. That’s probably why you clicked on this blog post.…

    Read This

    How to Do Your First One Arm Pushup (Or 10 in a Row)

    Read This

    7 Intense Travel WODS: 15min or Less and Minimal Equipment

    Travel WODSToday I'll show you how to burn fat & build muscle while travelling without a gym. At the end…

    Read This

    101 “Silver Strength Bullets” to Build Strength & Burn Fat Fast

    "Silver Strength Bullets" are my weekly shortlist of quick, actionable bullets to get you stronger, leaner, and performing at a higher…

    Read This

    New Deadlift Drill for Advanced Lifters: Cable Lumbar Extensions

    Before the internet shits itself because I'm rounding my back, this drill is not for beginner lifters or general fitness…

    Read This

    Rapid Fat Loss: It Actually Works Pretty Damn Well

    They get a bad reputation -- especially among some of the fitness goo roos -- but rapid fat loss protocols actually…

    Read This

    The MOST Common Deadlift Mistake Women Make (And How to Fix It)

    I chose this as the feature picture -- not because she has good technique -- but because she's making the same deadlift…

    Read This