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Building The Deadlift

German Volume Training

By Gavin Laird.

Much has been written about the immense value of the deadlift to the trainee who wishes to develop maximum size and strength throughout his body. Much less has been written about the actual nuts and bolts of building a big deadlift, and that is the subject matter of this article. A big deadlift translates as big thighs, powerful hips and erectors, a well muscled upper back, large biceps....the list goes on and on, and while many people are aware of this, the deadlift remains a rarity throughout the gyms of the world. Why is it that so few people deadlift? Lack of knowledge? Fear of injury? Frustration with lack of progress in the lift? If any or all of these sound like reasons you haven't been deadlifting, then read on.

Lack of knowledge about a lift usually breeds fear of that lift. If you become technically proficient at a particular movement, the fear of injuring yourself usually completely subsides and is replaced by a healthy caution and respect for the movement but also a high degree of confidence regarding its performance. This is the best state of mind for the beggining deadlifter when he approaches the bar. Confident and focused, aware of the danger but safe in the knowledge that sound technique will protect him. As for specific instruction regarding the performance of the deadlift I suggest you seek out an experienced powerlifter for a demonstration. It is so much easier to learn by watching someone perform a lift correctly than it is to learn correct technique from words on a page. If this is not possible then pick up a copy of Stuart McRoberts weight training technique book and get your instruction their. Either way, first learn how to deadlift, then apply what follows to build the deadlift to a respectable level.


When seeking increases in the deadlift, most people fail simply because the work that they do in the gym has no transfer to actual deadlifting strength. They fail because (outside of the deadlift itself) they do very little work that correctly works the musclature involved in deadlifting. Leg extensions do not build leg strength for the start of the pull. Hamstring curls will not build stabilising strength in the back of the leg. Concentration curls will not build forearm and grip strength. And so it goes on. The reason the routine outlined here will greatly increase your deadlifting prowess is that the movements here will all act to improve some part of your deadlift. It is possible to train many movements that help the deadlift without overtraining the deadlifting musclature, it just requires a little thought. What one has to consider is the following question. What movements will build strength in the correct musclature, and in the correct plane of motion, for the strength transfer to affect my deadlift? The answer is simply this. The movements that most mimic the dealift will have the most carryover to it. Movements that do not mimic the deadlift in some way will have no carryover to the deadlift. This is the nuts and bolts of training. Speceficity. In order to achieve a goal, you must work in a way that enables that goal, not one that hinders it. This is so obvious and yet the proliferation of small deadlifts the world over is testimony to the fact that so few people take it into consideration at all.


Real, productive assist work for the deadlift builds a routine like the folowing one.

Day 1
Squat 3 x 5
Deadlift Specific Leg press 2 x 8
Stiff legged deadlift 3 x 5
Barbell Shrugs 3 x 3
Weighted sit up 2 x 5

Day 3
Bench Press 3 x 5
Close grip press 2 x 5
Calf raise 2 x 10
Barbel Curl 2 x 5

Day 5
Clean from the floor 3 x 3
High pull from the floor 3 x 3
Wide Chinups 3 x 5
Leg raises 3 x 10

Day 9
Deadlift - chosen rep scheme.
Partial deadlift from the rack 5x 1

Day 13 is day one repeated.

The only time you don't work the deadlift in this routine is on day 3 which is given over to pressing movements and calf / bicep work. Every other exercise in this scheme works the muscles involved in the deadlift.


There are a fair few things in this routine that merit further explanation. The first is "deadlift specific" leg presses. For these you need a 45 degree machine leg press machine. The only difference between ordinary leg presses and this exercise is in the position you assume when you set up to press. Set your feet the exact distance apart they are at the start of your deadlift. Adjust the back support pad until our back is at the exact angle it is at the start of the deadlift. Now press as deeply as you can without your back coming of the pad, and explode from the bottom position. This mimics the push of the heels in to the ground at the start of the deadlift, and encourages bar speed at the start of the movement. It is the bar speed you generate from just of the floor to just below the knees that often determines whether or not you will lock out a big deadlift. 90% of missed deadlifts I have seen have been lost at the knees due to insufficient bar speed off the ground. This isn't a license to engage in jerky, yanking movements at the start of the deadlift however. Just a license to develop a powerful pull off the floor. The cleans, high pulls, shrugs and partial deadlifts should all be performed with the same grip spacing and foot placement as the regular deadlift. Again, this encourages transfer of strength gains to the regular deadlift. The leg raises on day five are performed lying on the floor with a dumbell between the ankles if it is neccasary to increase the resistance in order to keep the reps down to 10. Keeping the buttocks, upper body and head on the ground, and the knees locked, raise the ankles to around a 45 degree angles with the floor then lower slowly back to the ground. This is a great exercise for hip and lower abdominal strength, which is vital if the deadlift is to be completely locked out.


You will have no doubt noted that there is no set and rep scheme for the deadlift. As the majority of the heavy assist work is for reasonably low reps, I would reccomend a low rep approach to the deadlift with viable schemes being anything from 5 sets of 5 down to 2 heavy singles. I personally get best results with singles in the deadlift as I can focus all my attention on one perfect rep. I often work up to 10 singles in the deadlift, all of them being around 90% of my max, but I have seen equally good results in others from other set and rep schemes so I have left it to the discretion of the reader what scheme they wish to put to use. Please do not take this as a license to perform 40 sets of deadlift with 10% of your max. Be reasonable in your choices or you will not progress. All that remains to be discussed is the chosen method of progression. I personally start each cycle light (70% or so of max effort for the given sets and reps) and then add 5 - 10 lbs per time to the big exercises and 2.5 to 5 pounds per rotation to the smaller ones. As i get closer to my maxes I break out the little plates and just add a pound or two whenever I can. This means it often takes 12 weeks or so before the work is really getting hard, but the plus side of this is that I have built up a huge gaining momentum by this time, and my performance of the exercises is inch perfect because I am in a well established "groove" for each of the movements. For these reasons I suggest you progress in a similair manner. Start light and get a feel for the movements then add a little iron every week till the bar is bending. If you get your quotient of reps on the first set of a given exercise but miss your rep count on the following sets, then leave the weight where it is until you complete the full count of reps for each set. This is a painstakingly slow way to add weight, but you will probably almost never burn out. I have had cycles of this nature last 6 months or so, with the last three months being full of progress and the first three serving only to gain momentum. I am quite sure you could progress for longer if it were not for the mental boredom of doing the same thing for so long, so give the long cycle approach a try.


We all know these, but so few of us really put enough effort in to the day to day factors of building muscle. Eat a high quality diet rich in whole foods and adequete in protein. Take a good multivitamin every day and perhaps extra vitamin C and E, to the tune of 2 grams and 400 iu respectively. Get a good sleep every night and lead the lifestyle we all know is condusive to gains in size and strength. Avoid stress wherever you can and seek to surround yourself with positive people and experiences. These are the things that really build strength, both mental and physical. How much strength? Well, I have pulled a 660lb deadlift following this routine, despite being 6 feet 2 inches tall and having a 6.5 inch wrist. If you find yourself in a similair genetic predicament to mine, then I suggest you do what I did for nearly four years. Its written above