Spend enough time in the iron world and you'll encounter the nouveau strength training "authority" who loves to talk science, argue theory, and write countless articles and "out of the box" training programs: all without ever getting anyone – least of all themselves – stronger, bigger, or faster.
That's not coach Tim Henriques' world.
As an educator in the personal training industry, Coach Henriques' first core belief is that to be successful in this – or any – industry, you have to lead by example. Tim is an All-American powerlifter, strongman, armwrestler, and unabashed lover of direct arm work and barbell curls.
You can't argue with results and above all else, Henriques' programs are designed and field-tested to consistently deliver those results. But be warned, his work is not for those who enjoy talking about training; they're for those who love the training experience – the pain and discomfort of working hard, which leads to getting stronger, to getting bigger, and finally, reaching goals. In other words, getting better.
Tim calls this "training with purpose" and for him personally, the gym is Tim's sport, and he trains with just one purpose: to dominate it.
Who doesn't want a better deadlift?
In strength training circles, the deadlift is widely considered to be the single best test of a lifter's "brute" strength, and is just one of a handful of lifts that every iron aficionado seems to hold in high regard, irrespective of their various training philosophies.
The functional guys hold them in high regard (granted, they do it with a trap bar, but I won't hold that against them), while the Crossfitters like deadlifts so much they include it as part of their total. A deadlift of sorts is required at the start of all Olympic movements, so the weight lifters give them a respectful nod. And of course powerlifters and strongmen alike have devoted blood, sweat, tears, and years to this lift.
Even bodybuilders, often criticized for avoiding the "manlier" exercises, knew the deadlift would pack slabs of beef onto the elusive posterior chain long before the term "posterior chain" became a part of everyday gym vernacular.
In short, if you're any sort of lifter, you care about what you can deadlift, and I'm here to help that number go up.
One of the cooler things that I do in my spare time is coach a local powerlifting team called Team Force. My team recently entered the 100% Raw Single Lift Federation Championships in Norfolk, VA and I had six lifters compete in the deadlift. I'm proud to say that not one lifter missed a lift; we went 18 for 18 in the deadlift!
And don't think we were sandbagging our attempts: every lifter set a lifetime PR in that meet (even counting gym PRs), which was anywhere from 13 to 39 lbs. over their previous bests.
Some lifters were novices, but not all were – in fact, the most advanced lifter of the bunch made some of the best progress (he added 34 lbs. to his lift), and he even dropped a weight class in the process!
After seeing the results of this program on my team, I'm now ready to share it with you.
When training the deadlift – and when training legs for strength in general – I believe simplicity and consistency are essential. However, don't think I'm going to suggest doing 3 sets of 10 for 12 weeks; there's some serious progression built into this program.
The simplicity of this program ends on the paper – in other words, while the workout may be a snap to wrap your head around, be prepared to suffer a bit in the gym.
I like to say, "Glory on the platform doesn't come to those not willing to pay the price." Your ass, hamstrings, and entire posterior chain will be writing some serious sweat and effort checks.
For this program, you'll be training legs and erectors one day a week and that's it. You pick the day; when the rubber hits the road, it doesn't matter. You should be able to fit this into whatever routine you're currently using, although it's a dedicated leg day and I don't expect (or want) you to do much else on this day.
These workouts are usually about an hour long in terms of lifting, but my lifters would often perform about 30 minutes of foam rolling, stretching, and dynamic warm-up to start the session.
The routine we used was as follows:
- Monday: Chest and Back (Lats)
- Tuesday: Legs and Lower Back
- Wednesday: Abs (core) and Conditioning
- Thursday: Conditioning
- Friday: Shoulders and Arms (with a bit of extra chest)
Any core freaks in attendance can add in additional core work on Monday and Friday if so desired.
The original plan was to do four or five lower body exercises on leg day. The primary goal was to improve the deadlift – there were no squats contested at this particular competition – yet many members of my team are full powerlifters, so going any time without squatting simply wasn't an option.
I also believe that for the vast majority of lifters, particularly in the beginner or intermediate stages, training the squat has a positive effect on the deadlift. You need strong legs to drive the weight off the floor, and what better way to build stronger legs than to squat?
This is a 12-week workout program (mesocycle) that's broken down into three 4-week long blocks (microcycles). The final week (week 13) is a pre-competition week. Each week you're doing something slightly different and when a new microcycle begins, there's a more significant change.
Again the end goal of this program is to increase your 1RM in the deadlift, although it would likely be effective at increasing your squat 1RM concurrently.
This is the classic full squat, aligning with the form suggested in Mark Rippetoe's classic book, Starting Strength. If all you care about is your deadlift (you selfish bastard) or if you have some knee problems or other issues, then 3/4 squats can be effective, although everybody on my team did the standard full competition squat (IPF depth).
Warm-up sets are not included so typically include 2-5 warm-up sets to prepare you for the work sets listed.
Partial Squat and Hold
This is a concentric squat (rack squat) where you set the pins at the bottom of your sternum. Perform 3 sets of 3 reps. Go fairly heavy on this one.
- Get under the bar, assume squat position, stand up with the bar and hold it locked out for 6 seconds.
- Lower the bar to the racks, pause for one-second, and repeat.
This is your classic leg press; just make sure you're using a full range of motion (femur parallel to the platform or below, at the bottom). Some purists knock the leg press, but I believe as long as you're squatting and deadlifting at the same time, this exercise can make those lifts go up. Also, nobody that I put on this routine is a spectacular leg presser (which to me is a 1,000+ lbs. full ROM), so they all just needed to get stronger and bigger legs, and this will help achieve that.
- Take a shoulder or shoulder and a half width stance, toes slightly out, and rock it out.
Negative Leg Press
Use the same form as above but now you use a 10-second count on the lowering phase, hold for a 1-second pause at the bottom, and then press it up normally (by yourself, don't use a spotter for that). Be prepared for some pain on this one.
This is an elevated deadlift. For this particular plan we use a height of 18" as measured to the ground from the top of the bar. Each rep should touch the safety bars every time. However, I don't recommend you stop and pause the weight; just lightly touch the bars and then explode back up. Focus on driving with the hips and squeezing the glutes at lockout. You may not use straps, but you can use an alternated grip and will probably need to.
Front Squat Iso Hold
This exercise has been described by Bret Contreras as a great upper back stimulator so I decided to try it.
- Place the bar on the pins in the squat rack (about bottom of the sternum height).
- Squat the bar up in the front squat position, and then hold that position for 10 seconds in the warm-up set, followed by 30 seconds in the work set.
- Just perform one rep each set and only one work set per day.
I got this idea from Vince Annello when I was reading about his deadlifts (he made my 700 at 198 look like a warm-up). He liked these, so I figured I'd try them out on the team and it was met by rave reviews.
- Set the bar up in the squat rack or on some place you can remove the pins; it should be just below lockout.
- Lift it up, step back if necessary, and then perform a slow negative-only rep (on the lowering phase) – 6 seconds minimum, 10 seconds maximum.
- Pause for 1 second on the ground, and then explode up.
These are always done for singles on the work sets. I like to stand on some rubber mats to slightly increase my working ROM (an additional 1.5-2" in total). Don't use straps!
Glute Ham Raise (GHR)
Get on the glute ham raise and go. Most people do these with their knees behind the pad, which is okay, but if you really want to blast the hamstrings put your knees on the pad. Be prepared to watch your numbers drop rapidly along with some serious next day soreness.
Deadlift on Mats
This is your standard deadlift but using the same mats as you used with the negative deadlifts. You can either use touch and go or pause reps for these, whatever your preferred style is. Shoot for competition form here; no straps allowed.
Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
This deadlift places particular emphasis on the erectors, glutes, and hamstrings. In the RDL, you can bend your knees but they should not move forward; you do this by shoving your butt back. A good visualization is to imagine trying to maximize the distance from your chin to your tailbone.
These are to be performed with relatively light weights for higher reps and shorter rest. Try to be explosive: go down to about mid shin, focusing on maintaining/maximizing the arch in your lower back, and then drive up and pop the hips.
Your hips should hit the bar at the top and the weights should jiggle a bit like a fitness chick's tushie in the offseason. See the video below for a demonstration, minus the fitness chick.
Note: I'm expecting you to use a pronated grip (double over) and you can (and probably will) use straps. Do sets of 20 without an extended rest period (<4 minutes) and you'll get a massive conditioning effect. This will help build your lockout power for the real deadlift.
Negative Seated Leg Curl
Here we're going to use the seated leg curl machine; you can substitute in the prone leg curl if your gym is weaker than clock radio speakers and that's all you have.
We're just doing one work set; each rep includes a 6 second negative phase and don't rush it. Don't be afraid to start relatively light on this, each week go up about a plate on the machine and see what you can get up to. Strong hamstrings = good deadlift.
Note: No warm-up sets are given in the workouts so include 1-5 warm-up sets (usually 2-5 for the main exercise and 1-3 for the assistance stuff) to properly prepare for the work sets.
In the following workouts, along with the prescribed percentage of 1RM values I've also given you an actual weight based on one of my lifters (he started this program with a 345-pound squat max and a 485-pound deadlift max.)
Suffice it to say, the listed weights are NOT the loads I expect you to use; it's merely included as an illustration to help you make sense of the program. Use the 1RM percentages to calculate your training loads.
|Exercise||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Squat: Actual||205x8 (4 sets) 2:00 rest, 255x2||225x8 (3 sets) 3:00 rest, 275x2||245x8 (2 sets) 4:00 rest, 295x2||175x8, 205x5, 235x3, 265x8, 315x2|
|Squat: %1RM||60% x 8 (4 sets) 2:00 rest, 75% x2||65% x 8 (3 sets) 3:00 rest, 80%x2||70% x 8 (2 sets) 4:00 rest, 85%x2||50%x8, 60%x5, 70%x3, 75%x8, 90%x2|
|Partial Squat and Hold||3 reps + 6 sec hold each one (3 sets)||+ 20 lbs on each set (+5%)||+ 40 lbs on each set (+10%)||+ 60 lbs on each set (+15%)|
|Leg Press||270x20 (2 sets) 2:00 rest||270x20 (3 sets) 2:00 rest||270x20 (4 sets) 2:00 rest||270x20 (5 sets) 2:00 rest|
|Rack Pull: Actual||315x8 (4 sets) 2:00 rest||345x8 (3 sets) 3:00 rest||375x8 (2 sets) 4:00 rest||285x8, 325x5, 365x3, 405x8|
|Rack Pull: %1RM||65%x8 (4 sets) 2:00 rest||70%x8 (3 sets) 3:00 rest||75%x8 (2 sets) 4:00 rest||50%x8, 60%x5, 70%x3, 80%x8|
Note: The rack pull is based off of the 1RM Deadlift.
|Exercise||Week 5||Week 6||Week 7||Week 8|
|Squat: Actual||235x5 (4 sets) 2:00 rest, 275x1||255x5 (3 sets) 3:00 rest, 295x1||275x5 (2 sets) 4:00 rest, 315x1||155x8, 205x5, 255x3, 295x5, 335x1|
|Squat: %1RM||70%x5 (4 sets) 2:00 rest, 80%x1||75%x5 (3 sets) 3:00 rest, 85%x1||80%x5 (2 sets) 4:00 rest, 90%x1||50%x8, 65%x5, 75%x3, 85%x5, 95%x1|
|Front Squat Iso Hold||135 x :10, 185 x :10, 225 x :30||135 x :10, 225 x :10, 265 x :30||135 x :10, 225 x :10, 305 x :30||135 x :10, 225 x :10, 285 x :10, 345 x :30|
|Leg Press 10:1:1||360x10||410x10||460x10||510x10|
|Negative Dead on 4 mats 10:2:1||365x1, 365x1, 365x1||365x1, 365x1, 395x1||365x1, 395x1, 425x1||365x1, 405x1, 455x1|
|Negative Deadlift: %1RM||75%x1, 75%x1, 75%x1||75%x1, 75%x1, 82.5%x1||75%x1, 82.5%x1, 87.5%x1||75%x1, 85%x1, 92.5%x1|
|GHR 6:0:1||3 x 3||4 x 3||5 x 3||6 x 3|
Note: The tempo prescribed on leg press, negative deads, and GHR begins with the eccentric and then progresses to the isometric and concentric.
|Exercise||Week 9||Week 10||Week 11||Week 12||Week 13|
|Squat: Actual||255x3 (4 sets) 2:00 rest 305x1||275x3 (3 sets) 3:00 rest, 320x1||295x3 (2 sets) 4:00 rest, 335x1||205x5, 245x3, 285x1, 325x3, 350x1||205x5, 205x5, 245x2, 285x1|
|Squat: %1RM||75%x3 (4 sets) 2:00 rest, 87.5%x1||80%x3 (3 sets) 3:00 rest, 92.5%x1||85%x3 (2 sets) 4:00 rest, 97.5%x1||60%x5, 72.5%x3, 82.5%x1, 92.5%x3 102.5%x1||60%x5, 60%x5, 72.5%x2, 82.5%x1|
|Dead *: Actual||Off||395x5||435x3||475x1||Off|
|Leg Press||540x AMRAP||570x AMRAP||600x AMRAP||630x AMRAP||180x12, 360x8, 450x8|
|RDL: Actual||205x20 (3 sets) 2:00 rest||225x20 (3 sets) 2:00 rest||245x20 (3 sets) 2:00 rest||Off||Off|
|RDL: %1RM||40%x20 3 sets||45%x20 (3 sets)||50%x20 (3 sets)||Off||Off|
|Seated Leg Curl 6:1:1||180x8||195x8||210x8||225x8||165x8 no neg|
Note: The deadlifts are performed while standing on 1.5-2" of mats. The RDL is performed using straps and is based off of the deadlift 1RM.
This program is set up so that Week 13, the final week of the program, is your pre-competition week and the competition would be on Saturday or Sunday of that week. I generally feel that you should plan to max out10-20 days from your last heavy deadlift day. Here's how to do it:
25%x8 (135), 45%x5 (225), 65%x1-3 (315), 75%x1 (365), 85%x1 (415), 95%x1 (455), 102.5% (495), and assuming the previous set goes well, 105-110% (510-530)
If you're advanced (3+ years of regular deadlift) I'd be pleased with a 2.5-5% increase. If you're an intermediate I'd be pleased with a 5-10% increase. If you've only been deadlifting for a few months this probably isn't the ideal program for you.
Whether you're a strongman, bodybuilder, powerlifter, or just want to have an ass that pops out in 3D when you wear your new spandex Tron costume next Halloween, there's no reason to be afraid of some basic, heavy pulling.
Nor does it have to be complicated. I mean, the program is all laid out for you; it's been tested, and it works. Now it is time for you to do a little self-improvement and rock it out.