I’m not going to waste your time or mine rehashing the benefits of deadlifting and why you should do it.
If you’re reading this you already know the deadlift is
arguably the single best exercise for building strength, power, and lean, hard muscle while burning a mountain of calories, decreasing body fat, and improving performance.
If you want a complete (and free) guide to deadlifting technique, progressions, variations, and benefits go HERE.
If you want to learn my 3-step system for constructing the ultimate deadlift workout pay close attention and don’t let your mind wander because this short article will show you exactly what to do.
Who the Hell am I?
My name is Jordan Syatt — nice to meet you — and I’m one of the few people in the world who can honestly say I’ve deadlifted 4x my body weight.
You can watch me do it (530lbs at a body weight of 130lbs) HERE.
I’m a small guy at 5’4″ and only 130lbs but I’ve never subscribed to the whole “bigger is stronger” mentality that impregnates the world of powerlifting.
“Big Isn’t Strong. Strong is Strong.”
I’ve competed in the 132lb weight class for the past 6-years and in that time frame built my deadlift from a max of 250lbs to 535lbs.
In March of 2012 I hit my first ever 3x body weight deadlift (405lbs at a body weight of 132lbs) and now I use that same weight for speed work.
I tell you all of this not to impress you but to impress upon you that I’m not some half-baked keyboard jockey sitting in a bean bag chair in my mom’s basement making shit up to dupe you into thinking I’m an expert.
I don’t have time for that.
The majority of my time is made up of coaching real people and helping them get unforgettable results in the shortest time frame possible.
The rest of my free time is spent training myself, writing for my Inner Circle Members, travelling, and flipping through Tinder.
At least I’m honest.
Anyway, enough about me. I told you I was going to share my 3-step system for constructing the ultimate deadlift workout.
Now I’m about to make good on that promise.
Constructing the Ultimate Deadlift Workout
Your 3 Step Guide
The Ultimate Deadlift Workout: Step 1
Maximum Strength Development
This is the easiest part to understand so I’m not going to spend an overwhelming amount of time discussing it.
If you want to pull a metric ton of weight off the floor you need to spend a hell of a lot of time practicing lifting heavy weights.
Simple as that.
Obviously there’s more to it (which I’ll detail below) but never forget your principles: if you want to get strong you need to practice lifting heavy weights.
As for specifics, here’s what I recommend.
For the deadlift specifically (not the squat, bench press, etc), you should only train it heavy 1-2x/week and that’s the absolute most.
Any more than that and I can pretty much guarantee your strength will quickly stall out (and probably start to decline). Not to mention, you’ll dramatically increase your risk of injury.
Beginner Lifters in this article are classified by a deadlift 1-rep max (1RM) of anything less than 2x body weight and they should deadlift heavy 2x/week (i.e. Monday and Friday).
Intermediate/Advanced Lifters in this article are classified by a deadlift 1RM of anything over 2x and 3x body weight respectively. And they should deadlift heavy no more than 1x/week.
“Heavy” is an ambiguous term so now I’ll explain my “heavy deadlift” parameters when constructing a deadlift workout.
Heavy Deadlifts in this article constitute anything between 80 – 100% 1RM.
My deadlift has always responded best to lifts in the range of 87% – 93% 1RM, but anywhere between 80 – 100% 1RM is a solid range to work in.
As for sets and reps…
Sets & Reps
3 x 3’s (3 sets of 3 reps) are “the nectar of strength” and my personal favorite set/rep scheme but not your only option.
Several of my best set/rep schemes for a bullet proof deadlift workout go like this:
- 3 x 5 @ 80-85% 1RM
- 4 x 4 @ 83 – 87% 1RM
- 3 x 3 @ 87 – 93% 1RM (my favorite)
- 4 x 2 @ 92 – 95% 1RM
In the context of a 4-week training program, it might look like this:
- Week 1: 3 x 5
- Week 2: 4 x 4
- Week 3: 3 x 3
- Week 4: 4 x 2
Having said all of that, it’s worth repeating the basic principle: if you want to get strong you need to practice lifting heavy weights.
Simple as that.
Spend less time worrying about the “perfect” set & rep scheme, and spend more time challenging yourself to lift heavy(er) weight with great technique.
Do that and I guarantee your deadlift will soar far above and beyond what most people could ever imagine.
The Ultimate Deadlift Workout: Step 2
Unquestionably the single most overlooked component of building an elite deadlift, improving power output is a crucial part of my ulimate deadlift workout system.
But before I dive into the nitty gritty let me show you why explosive power is so damn helpful for deadlifting.
Let’s say we have two lifters — Lifter A and Lifter B — going head to head trying to deadlift 600lbs.
Lifter A was able to quickly accelerate the bar off the floor and finish the lift without a hitch (pun intended). But Lifter B was slower to get the bar off the floor and could only get it to his knees before failing and dropping the weight.
The question is…
Why were both lifters able to produce 600lbs of force (they both got 600lbs off the floor, right?) but only one was able to lock it out?
The answer is several-fold but most importantly…
Despite both lifters being able to produce the same amount of force, Lifter A produced more force in less time which helped him get the bar off the floor without as much of a “grind.”
And if you’ve ever grinded (ground? no clue what the right English is) through a heavy deadlift, you know the faster the bar comes off the floor — and the less you have to strain — the easier it’s going to be to finish the lift.
Good. On we go.
Power Development Made Easy
There are numerous ways to improve explosive power and rate of force development (broad jumps, box jumps, kettlebell swings, etc) for the deadlift, but my personal favorite is speed deadlifts – also known as “dynamic effort” deadlifts.
Most lifters (especially coaches) wayyyy over complicate speed deadlifts and make them out to be some advanced and mysterious form of dark deadlifting sorcery only understood by a select few.
But it’s really not that complicated.
Here’s how to do it.
My deadlift improves the most with one speed deadlift session every week but some of my clients do better with two.
It all depends on the individual. But here’s a neat little trick to keep up your sleeve — pay attention.
Regardless of how many speed deadlift sessions you program into your training cycle, a quick and dirty way to get more speed work in is to make ALL of your warm-up sets as fast as possible.
But that doesn’t mean blast through your warm-ups with minimal rest between sets. It means during your warm-up sets you should actively try to move the bar as quickly and explosively as possible on every rep.
Here’s the deal.
Speed is a skill and improving explosive power has less to do with how fast you’re physically moving and more to do with your conscious INTENT to move as quickly and explosively as possible.
With me so far?
And because speed is a skill it’s not just something you’re going to be good at on your first go-around.
No, you’re going to need to practice and practice often.
The best way to do that?
Beginner Lifters should NOT have a dedicated speed deadlift workout. Rather, they should just use their warm-up sets as dedicated speed work and focus on maximal strength in both sessions.
Intermediate/Advanced Lifters should include one or two speed deadlift sessions every week in addition to using their warm-up sets as speed work as well.
This is where most people royally screw themselves so I need you to read very carefully.
Speed deadlifts are NOT supposed to be heavy and you are NOT supposed to strain through these lifts.
They are supposed to feel light.
Like, “Is this even doing anything?” kind of light.
How light, exactly? I’ll tell you.
Intermediate Lifters should use anywhere between 60 – 75% 1RM.
Advanced Lifters should use anywhere between 40 – 60% 1RM.
Sets & Reps
The best way to program speed deadlifts is lot’s of sets made up of very few reps.
- The more reps you do in a set the more likely your technique is going to break down. By keeping the reps low you don’t have to worry about fatigue and can instead focus on using perfect form.
- Power is a skill that is most improved when you’re fresh without fatigue. So, again, by keeping the reps low you limit your fatigue and allow yourself to focus on producing as much force as possible on each and every rep.
My personal favorite speed deadlift set & rep schemes are:
- 6 x 3 @ 60-65% 1RM (20-45 seconds rest between sets)
- 8 x 2 @ 65 – 70% 1RM (20-45 seconds rest between sets)
- 10 x 1 @ 70 – 75% 1RM (20-45 seconds rest between sets)
Note: these numbers are for intermediate lifters. I would reduce them to the guidelines outlined previously for advanced trainees.
The Ultimate Deadlift Workout: Step 3
Target Your Weakness
The final step in my ultimate deadlift workout system is to target your individual weaknesses.
I could write about this for days (but I want to save most of it for my Inner Circle Members in an upcoming edition) so I’m going to keep this section brief and to the point.
Generally speaking the two most common “sticking points” for the deadlift are off the floor or just above the knees (at lockout).
Each one could be caused by any number of possibilities so below I’ve listed my personal favorite “quick fixes” for each sticking point.
Weak Off the Floor
Deficit Deadlifts force you to work through a larger range of motion (ROM) so when you go back to regular deadlifting you’ll feel like you’re pulling from a raised surface. These are, without question, my personal favorite deadlift variation.
To do them properly, elevate yourself onto a slightly raised surface (anywhere between 1/2 an inch to 2 inches) and deadlift from here. Do NOT use a deficit larger than 2 inches – I don’t care what lifter you saw doing 4″ deficit pulls on YouTube. It’s a stupid idea.
Here’s a video of me doing deficit deadlifts (with a pause) so you can see how I set it up.
Speed Deadlifts teach you to get the bar off the floor as quickly and explosively as possible. And, as you know, the faster you get the bar off the floor the easier it will be to lock out.
Romanian Deadlifts are a personal favorite variation for myself and my buddy Adam Pine (who deadlifts well over 700lbs). Not only are they very “deadlift specific” but I honestly don’t think there’s a single other exercise that’s better for simultaneously strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, erectors, and upper back.
Here’s a video of my Sumo RDL so you can see how it’s done.
Weak at Lockout
Block Pulls allow you to work through a shorter ROM so you can overload your lockout and handle more weight than you could deadlifting from the floor.
To do them properly, elevate the weight onto a slightly raised surface (anywhere between 1/2 an inch to 4 inches) and deadlift from here. There’s absolutely no good reason to use a surface higher than 4 inches UNLESS your mobility is so bad you need to reduce ROM that much to use proper form.
But if that were the case you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.
Here’s a video of me doing block pulls from 4″ mats.
Pause Deadlifts force you stay tight throughout the entire movement and, aside from block pulls, are my favorite drill to build a strong, powerful lockout. The deficit video posted earlier shows me doing paused deadlifts as well but just in case you missed it you can watch HERE.
Speed Pulls are good for everyone. I don’t care where your individual weakness is…if you can train your body to get the bar off the floor as quickly and explosively as possible you’re going to deadlift a hell of a lot of weight.
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Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.