The deadlift is probably one of the most productive exercises you can do. It works virtually every crucial muscle in your body, and is the ultimate test of strength.


Unlike the bench press and the squat, the deadlift is almost un-cheatable. In the bench press, you can bounce the bar off your chest, or arch so much it becomes a test of contortion rather than strength. In the squat, unless you descend to a bench, it’s hard to judge proper depth. And with both exercises, you’ll need super-attentive spotters if you push your personal limits.


In contrast, the deadlift is honest; you either lift the weight or you don’t. And no spotters are required – just put the bar down if your rep stalls.


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Developing a big deadlift will add lean muscle to your back, glutes, arms, and hamstrings. As the weight goes up, your grip will become unbreakable. While your deadlift improves, so too will your performance in all the other exercises, and all other areas of your life. Imagine how much easier pull-ups become when you can lift double your bodyweight in the deadlift. Heavy weights are, after all, relative.


But what constitutes a good deadlift? In powerlifting and strongman circles, the weights lifted by the athletes are literally mind-blowing, with the current best being 500kg by Eddie “The Beast” Hall being the biggest deadlift currently on record. However, for most people, deadlift performance compared to bodyweight is a much more useful indicator of success.


Rating your deadlift




Above average – 1-1.5 x bodyweight

Hitting your first ever bodyweight deadlift is a significant training goal, and means you can now call yourself strong. Every extra pound you add to the bar is an extra step toward getting bigger and better.


Good – 2.0 x bodyweight

A double bodyweight deadlift is impressive. Not that many people, male or female, reach this level of deadlifting, although many could if they trained hard and smart.


Great – 2.5-3 x bodyweight

Consider yourself the boss of the gym if you can hit 2.5-3.0 times your bodyweight. You might not win any national powerlifting competitions, but you’ll be able to hold your head high in almost any gym.


Building a bigger deadlift




Training to build a bigger deadlift is easy if you know what you need to do - the hard part is the training as weights will be heavy. You won’t get sore from this style of training like you would with your typical 3x10 strategy, but you will see fast rewards. There are three things you need if you want to build a bigger deadlift:


  1. Intensity – getting stronger means lifting heavy weights at or above 85% of your 1RM

  2. Frequency – if you want to get good at something, you need to do it more often

  3. Variety – to train the deadlift effectively, you need to include some useful deadlift variations in your program to avoid overtraining and stagnation. This variation principle also applies to sets and reps


Workout for a bar-bending deadlift




This workout is for exercisers who have good deadlift technique, and who are closing in or have achieved at least the “above average” strength standard. Those yet to reach that level should just keep on working their deadlift once a week and in conjunction with other lower body exercises.


There are two workouts to follow, which should be performed 3-4 days apart e.g. Monday and Thursday, to allow for adequate recovery. Ideally, do not program heavy leg or back exercises for the days before or after your deadlift workouts as there will be too much overlap.


Workout 1


  1. Deadlift

  2. Ramp up over 4-6 sets to a weight you can lift for five clean reps. Rest two minutes, and then do another set. Stop your set leaving 1-2 reps left in the tank. Rest again, and continue until you have accumulated 25 total reps. Increase the weight by around 2.5% every week or two.

  3. Paused deadlift

  4. Strip off 40% of the weight and perform three sets of six paused deadlifts. Lift the bar from the floor to knee-height, pause for 2-3 seconds, and then stand fully upright. Lower the bar back to the floor and repeat. This will increase lower back and hip strength.

  5. Leg press

  6. By now, your lower back will be fatigued, but you’ll still have some strength left in your legs. Load up a leg press with a weight you can lift 12-15 times. Taking as many sets as required, crank out 50 reps. Strong legs can help you deadlift more weight, especially when breaking the bar away from the floor.

  7. Leg curls

  8. Your hamstrings have two functions; hip extension and knee flexion. Deadlifts and squats take care of the first function, but the only effective way to address the second function is to do leg curls. Crank out four sets of 8-12 reps. Options include seated, standing, lying, or TRX leg curls.

  9. Calf raises

  10. Seated or standing, do four sets of 12-20 calf raises. Strong calves can help stabilise your lower legs during heavy deadlifts.


Workout 2


  1. Rack pulls

  2. Set the bar on pins or blocks just below knee height. Ramp up to a heavy set of 4-6 reps. Reduce the weight by 10-15%, and do two more sets of the same rep count. Increase the weight by around 2.5% every week or so.

    Alternatively, do deficit deadlifts standing on a 3-6 cm platform to increase range of motion at the bottom of the lift.

    If you find it hard to get the weight moving at the beginning of your deadlift, deficit pulls are for you. If, in contrast, locking out is the hard part for you, stick to rack pulls. If in doubt, alternate deficit and rack pulls from one week to the next.

  3. Speed pulls

  4. Using around 60% of your 1RM, do speed pull deadlifts where you focus on lifting the weight as quickly and explosively as you can. Do one rep every minute for 10 minutes.

  5. Reverse deficit lunges

  6. Working your quads, glutes, and hamstrings all at the same time, this exercise places very little stress on your lower back and is exactly what you need after all those deadlifts. Lunge backward off a 5-10 cm platform, keeping your front shin vertical and your torso upright. Do four sets of 8-12 reps per leg.

  7. Back extensions

  8. Using your bodyweight only, do four sets of 12-20 back extensions using whatever bench is available i.e. horizontal or 45-degree.

  9. Seated or standing calf raises

  10. Seated or standing, do four sets of 12-20 calf raises. If you did seated calf raises before, do standing calf raises today, or vice versa.

Follow this plan for 6-8 weeks, and you should soon hit a new deadlift record. Enjoy a week of light training, and then repeat the plan again.


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