This weekend I managed a 200kg Deadlift for the first time. It’s by no means an impressive feat or a high number in terms of the Deadlift, but for someone like me who’s been lifting less than 2 years working on all round strength I have to say I’m very happy about it and after slowing down and taking a moment to reflect on my lifting progress I’m even proud of where I’ve gotten to.
In all flat, boring honestly, getting here hasn’t been difficult, but nor has it been particularly easy and the unexciting reality is that I’ve pretty much done the same thing since the early days and relied on nothing more than simple consistency and fixing any broken links in my chain to progress. Ultimately, no matter what the popular YouTube video titles or fitness industry will try to have you believe with fancy marketing and aggressive phrasing, everything in fitness is pretty simple, pretty easy and, at least from the outside, pretty boring.
With that said, there are some things I wish I’d known sooner, some things that greatly helped me and some general advice I’d like to pass on to anyone who may find it useful. First off, here’s a quick background.
I’ve been lifting for 1 year and 8 months now. I entered a gym for the first time in my life at age 31 with the New-Year-Resolution crowd in January 2017 and started doing Squats somewhere around 3 months in. I quickly progressed in Squats and still feel like I have somewhat of a genetic advantage for the squat in particular- perhaps it’s because I’m Scottish that I’m predisposed towards a short & stocky frame, strong bones and strength, or perhaps it’s because of my love of Oats (Oats & Squats are like Peanut Butter and Jelly) or maybe it’s just that I’m a bit of a short-arse. Whatever it is, the Squat has always been my best lift and was always ahead of the Deadlift for me, though I will say that’s in large part because I didn’t start Deadlifting until a good 8 or 9 months into lifting, mostly because I was loosely adhering to Arnolds Golden Six for almost a year, which is a minimalist routine lacking in a lot of areas, particularly the Deadlift. I reached 180kg x5 on Squat just last week and I haven’t tried a 1RM for a while but I’d guess it’s probably on par with my Deadlift just now, which means this is the first time my Deadlift number hasn’t been lower than my Squat, but again that’s mostly because I’ve focused far more on Deadlift than Squat in the past 2 months and had I been doing both in equal measure I reckon my Squat would still be a good 20kg more than my Deadlift.
After adding the Deadlift somewhere around November 2016- I started at somewhere around a 60kg Deadlift, usually something like 3×5, I quickly progressed up to 150kg by April 2017 with little trouble, mostly because my legs were already strong from Squats (which, for reference, probably went from 120kg to 160kg within this same time period).
In the very early days form was a big issue and something that helped me greatly. Watching YouTube videos and practising in front of a mirror helped me improve somewhat but it wasn’t until I found Joe DeFrancos Video on Deadlift form that I really knew what I was doing. This video is fantastic because it’s ultra simple and minimalist while giving you enough to get a good grip, grip width, foot stance, head and chest control and a great starting position with one or two simple cues.
After reaching 3.5 plates (160kg) on Deadlift I found it difficult to maintain my grip for more than 3 reps and made my first mistake-
I watched some YouTube videos and read some reddit posts and got the idea that avoiding things like chalk and straps was the better choice because relying on those would stop me from improving my grip strength. I spent another month or two adding farmers walks and still failing to grip much more than 150kg for 3 reps. Eventually I relented and made the intelligent choice to buy lifting straps and instantly added 20kg to my Deadlift. I was progressing again and have been adding close to 10kg per month since then.
To recap and surmise, the biggest and best advice I can give from my limited experience progressing on Deadlift is-
- Take the single cue of pushing against the inner side of your eblows with your knees when you’re new- this will keep you right most of the time and propel your form quick.
- Adding things like Romanian Deadlifts, Sumo Deadlifts or other variations will help you progress but not as much as simply doing more standard Deadlifts alone (unless you’re particularly weak somewhere). Do more Deadlifts to do more Deadlifts.
- Stick with whichever grip works best for you. Early on (less than 100kg) this means double overhand for most. Once this isn’t enough (for me that was at 100kg->150kg) you’ll probably want to use a mixed grip. Once mixed grip doesn’t cut it any more (for me this is 150kg and upwards) lifting straps are not to be avoided for ego reasons.
- If strength is your goal, 3×5 is enough, but lift as often as your body and diet will allow if you want to speed things up. For me this is 2.5x per week with Squats 2.5x per week also, alternating between medium and heavy days to give myself more time to recover.