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A Beginner's Guide to the Deadlift

A Beginner’s Guide to the Deadlift

Written by
February 19, 2015
Updated December 31, 2019

Onnit TplusJoe Defranco wrote a great step by step write-up on how to Deadlift. I’ll try to expand on it with this article. Deadlifts can be the most rewarding and the most frustrating lift.

How hard can it be? Just pick the bar up off the floor, right? Well, kind of. More so than the Squat oBench Press, overtraining the Deadlift can stop, or even reverse your progress.

Deadlifts will train a lot of the same muscle groups as the squat, but have the added advantage of training your grip, lats, and traps. There are two different Deadlift techniques you can use, and they will stress certain muscle groups differently.

Joe discussed a conventional Deadlift stance, with feet hip width. In powerlifting you are also allowed to use a sumo stance where your feet are nearly touching the plates and you grab the bar inside of your legs as opposed to outside of them.

Conventional Deadlifts will force you to use your low back, hamstrings, and even quads. Sumo Deadlifts will require more hip and glute activation. Both are great tools, regardless of your training goals.

Overtraining the Deadlift?

A Beginner's Guide to the Deadlift

In training, have you ever had the experience of squatting 135 where it feels light, then you come in the next week and 135 feels heavy? It all revolves around your CNS and your ability to recover.

The Deadlift is exactly what it says- a dead lift. There is no eccentric phase (lowering the weight). In a Squat or Bench press you start by lowering the weight, then you reverse the weight (concentric phase).

A Deadlift is a concentric only lift. For that reason it stresses your Central Nervous System (CNS) more than other movements. Also, the stress Deadlifts add to your posterior chain is extremely taxing on your CNS.

Long story short, most people will begin to see diminishing returns on their Deadlifts if they train it every week. However, there are ways to trick your body. Pulling Sumo one week and conventional the next is an option.

Varying the heights from which you pull can help with this as well. Standing on a plate, making the pull longer, aka a Deficit Deadlift, can increase the difficulty of the movement.

Placing the bar on blocks or plates at 2”-6”, shortening the range of motion, is another option. Finally, placing the bar in a rack and starting the movement from the middle of your shin or top of your knee cap is another alternative.

Beginner Deadlift Program

Sets x Reps % of 1 rep max Ex. 200# Deadlifter
Week 1 5×5 70 140
Week 2 4×4 75 150
Week 3 3×3 80 160
Week 4 5×1 50 100
Week 5 5×2 85 170
Week 6 4×2 90 180
Week 7 3×2 95 190
Week 8 3×1 100   200+


Intermediate Deadlift Program

Pull From Sets x Reps % of 1 rep max Ex. 400# Deadlifter
Week 1  The Floor 5×5 70% 280
Week 2    The Floor 3×3 75% 300
Week 3   The Floor 3×1 80% 320
Week 4    The Floor 5×1 50% 200
Week 5  Mid-Shin 5×5 75% 300
Week 6  Mid-Shin 3×3 80% 320
Week 7  Mid-Shin 3×1 85% 340
Week 8  Mid-Shin 5×1 50% 200
Week 9 Top 0f
5×5 90% 360
Week 10 Top 0f
3×3 95% 380
Week 11 Top 0f
3×1 100% 400
Week 12 Top 0f
5×1 50% 200
Week 13 3×1   100+%   400+

Advanced Deadlift Program

Style  Sets x Reps % of 1 rep max Ex. 600# Deadlifter
Week 1 Sumo 5×5 60% 360
Week 2 Sumo 4×4
8×1 30 sec
65% 390
Week 3 Conv. rest 60% 360
Week 4 Conv. 5×1 85% 510
Week 5 Sumo 5×5 65% 390
Week 6 Sumo 4×4
8×1 30 sec
70% 420
Week 7 Conv. rest 60% 360
Week 8 Conv. 5×1 90% 540
Week 9 Sumo 5×5 70% 420
Week 10 Sumo 4×4
8×1 30 sec
75% 450
Week 11 Conv. rest 50% 300
Week 12 Conv. 5×1 90% 540
Week 13 Sumo 5×5 70+% 420
Week 14 Sumo 4×4
8×1 60 sec
80+% 480
Week 15 Conv. rest 60+% 360
Week 16 Conv. 5×1 95+% 570
Week 17 Sumo 5×5 75+% 450
Week 18 Sumo 4×4
8×1 60 sec
85+% 510
Week 19 Conv. rest 50% 300
Week 20 Conv. test new max   100+%   600+
Casey Williams
Pittsburgh native Casey Williams previously played football at Division 1-FCS Bucknell University where he was nominated the 2010 NSCA All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year. He's relatively young in the powerlifting world, but has seen his share of success. In 2010 Casey set the all-time world record drug tested squat and total in the 220lb weight class. He holds multiple federation records, both junior and open divisions. His lifts in 2015 were an 810 squat, 540 bench, and 738 deadlift for a 2088 total, good enough for #2 in the world in the 242lb weight class.

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