Tip: Advanced Tactics for Advanced Deadlifters

To improve your deadlift, use a combo of strength-skill work and progressive range of motion training (PRM). Here's how.

Strength-skill refers to doing submaximal sets with heavy enough weights that it does feel heavy, but not so much that it taxes the CNS or hurts your form. A typical example is doing most of your work in the 70-80% range, not anywhere close to failure (3-5 reps per set), and doing plenty of sets. Consider that "heavy practice" and focus on perfecting technique, positions, and bracing.

PRM consists of using partial ranges of motion on the deadlift (pin pulls) with the weight you're aiming to reach at the end of your training cycle. Here's Ben Bruno demonstrating a pin pull from mid-shin (he's using a wide snatch grip, but you can use whatever grip you prefer):

Every 2-3 weeks you increase the range of motion (using lower pin settings in the power rack). The goal here is not to max out on the partials, but to get your body used to handling maximal loads.

Pushing the deadlift hard is the most taxing thing you can do in training. Except for the Olympic lifts, it's the lift that has the greatest neurological demand. If you push it very hard either by maxing out (or doing too much work at 90% or more) or going close to failure (up to a point where you're grinding the weight up) you'll negatively impact recovery, which could affect the next one or two workouts.

Only those who are structurally built to deadlift or have an amazing tolerance for heavy work (high dopamine sensitivity, very high serotonin level) can do unlimited work on the deadlift regularly. That's why I like the strength-skill method on the deadlift. It allows you to work on technique and improve the neurological factors involved.

But the deadlift is a highly psychological lift and you need to practice handling heavy weights. Strength-skill work will get you stronger, but you need to practice handing maximal weights to be able to readily transfer that increased strength to a max effort performance.

This is where the PRM method comes it. It allows you to get your body (tendons, GTOs, muscles, skeletal system), brain (CNS efficiency), mind (getting used to the feeling of maximal weights) and technique (bracing) ready for the big weights without the same neurological cost as maxing out.

Here's How To Do It

First you train your deadlift using the strength-skill approach. Then you do ONE set using the PRM approach with your target at the end of the cycle.

Now select that target weight appropriately. If you deadlift 315 don't expect to deadlift 500 or even 405 in 9 weeks. I recommend planning for a 7.5 to 10% increase for a beginner or low intermediate, 5 to 7.5% increase for an intermediate to low advanced, and a 2.5 to 5% increase for an advanced lifter.

In that one set you do as many technically perfect reps as you can, not going to failure. The goal isn't to burn yourself out, it's to get your body used to handling that load.

It would look something like this:

Phase 1: Two Weeks

  • A. Deadlift: 5 x 5 at 70% of 1RM
  • B. Pin pull from just above the knees: 1 x max reps at 102.5 to 110% (goal for the end of the cycle) of the full range lift

Phase 2: Two Weeks

  • A. Deadlift: 6 x 4 at 75%
  • B. Pin pull from the knees: 1 x max reps at 102.5 to 110% of the full range lift

Phase 3: Two Weeks

  • A. Deadlift: 7 x 3 at 80%
  • B. Pin pull from just below the knees: 1 x max reps at 102.5 to 110% of the full range lift

Phase 4: Two Weeks

  • A. Deadlift: 5 x 1 at 85%
  • B. Pin pull from mid-shins: 1 x max reps at 102.5 to 110% of the full range lift
    You can add one assistance exercise to fix a weak point.

Do this once a week. The deadlift is one movement that doesn't need to be trained often. But you should do a second session during the week targeting the key muscles in that movement.

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.