The deadlift is one of the most empowering movements one can do with a barbell. Pulling strength is key to nearly every strength, power, and functional fitness movement, with many lifters always looking for the top tips and tricks to deadlift more weight.
I am here to offer you some words of advice, training and mentality tips, and ZERO shortcut tricks. It is important to understand that to deadlift heavy takes time, consistent practice, and dedication to all aspects of balanced training, nutrition, sleep, and stress management.
In this article, we will discuss deadlift programming, tips, and mentality shifts needed to pull 500lbs or more from the floor.
Below are some of the best programming practices one can abide by for most of their deadlift training.
One of the most popular forms of programming is linear progression. At the core, this is a linear increasing of volume and intensity over time, to have long-term success. Linear progression is basic on paper but does have some necessary components that many lifters often overlook. In this article, linear progression is discussed in more depth.
Lastly, many intermediate lifters may think linear progression is only for beginners, however many 500lb + pullers have done simple strength programs their entire life, and have had great success keeping things very, very basic.
Andre Crews deadlifting 571lbs at a photoshoot.
Conjugated Strength Training
Conjugated strength training was popularized by Westside Barbell and guys like Matt Wenning. The idea is to constantly vary the exercises and abilities often, so that you can minimize the effects of overtraining and keep the body gaining strength and muscle. Additionally, by constantly varying the strength lifts, you are able to make the training stress more transferable to other environments. This may mean playing more with pulling variations, bands, chains, fat bars, or entirely opting to perform other lifts outside the deadlift family; all can be very effective means of overall strength adaptation and progress.
Personally, as a weightlifter I perform clean deadlifts (up to weekly 3-5 rep maxes, without back breakdown) from deficits, resistance bands, and even reverse bands to stay fresh and strong.
High Intensity, Low Volume, Low/Moderate Frequency
While performing 10 sets of 10 deadlifts for hypertrophy, or doing countless repetitions in a WOD may on paper sound like a good idea for maximal pulling strength, they do have some shortcomings for developing serious strength. The ability to lift heavy things is a skill, one that the nervous system and brain regulate. Once a lifter reaches a point in their training, doing high volume (a lot of reps and sets) deadlifts with moderate loads (50-60% rm) can place high amounts of neural and muscular stress on the body. While this can be done during certain phases of training for hypertrophy, lifters must understand that they need to then start to increase intensity (load) while drastically decreasing volume and frequency.
While I am no means a deadlifting powerhouse, performing deadlifts on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for 3-5 sets of 1-4 repetitions at heavy loads can be enough for me to still progress in my strength without killing myself. Lastly, one must also understand the loading demands of the low bar/high bar squats, presses, rows, and other movements found in one’s training on neural and muscular fatigue.
While weightlifters are not first thought of as deadlifters, stop and think about the amount of powerful cleans and snatches that are performed at some of the highest peak power forces in all barbell sports. The ability to move 50-60% of you best deadlift with integrity, grace, and explosiveness will enhance your barbell speed off the floor, increase muscle unit recruitment, and enhance back positioning and leg drive.
Personally, my deadlift shot up nearly 80lbs in the past 1.5 years since I first started training seriously in Olympic weightlifting. Frequent high bar back squats, front squats, and heavy clean pulls/deadlifts have also done wonders for technically sound deadlift mechanics.
Impromptu 507lbs deadlift personal record (27lb increase) for myself after focusing on Olympic weightlifting since August 2015
Don’t Be a Hero
Having goals to deadlift 500lbs is admirable, but failure to have a plan is not. Too often people will go into the gym and deadlift, with no master plan or purpose, only to fail. What’s even more commendable is finding a deadlifter who is on a mission, one that clearly defines their day to day training purpose, calculates their actions, and is able to predict progress many weeks/months ahead. To deadlift heavy, you must set your sights weeks, months, and even years ahead in addition to the day to day.
Tips to Deadlift Better
Below are some tips that all levels of coaches and athletes can experiment with to strengthen their set ups, minds, and deadlifts. The below list is a collaborative effort from a few strong individuals I converse with on a daily basis, each with at least 500lbs deadlifts. Additionally, we all (I am included) have had to work hard to get where we are at, and are by no means strictly powerlifters and/or deadlift centric individuals.
Thanks to Andre Crews (205lb CrossFit athlete with a 571lb deadlift), Julio Gutierrez (170lb movement ninja with a 525lb deadlift), and myself (195lb Olympic weightlifter with a 507lb deadlift); all conventional style.
Respect Every Weight
“Treat 135lbs like 315lbs, and 315lbs like 135lbs.” Learning to set up, brace, and attack every lift with integrity and speed will set your nervous system into auto-drive, and can help you maximize your set up and pulling capacities.
Julio Gutierrez with a routine 507lb deadlift.
Set Your Feet
Without firm footing, you are doomed. When setting up, take the time to bolt/nail/screw your feet into the floor. Make sure to have three points of contact with the floor (heel, midfoot, and big toe). I often think about gripping the floor with my whole foot and toes, like talons of an eagle grabbing its prey.
Squeeze Into the Lift
Bracing, squeezing, getting compact; they all relatively mean the same thing. Once set up, loading your legs and torso down into the start position can really help lifters understand the idea of complete tension development. I typically envision loading a spring (my entire body), which should be done in a vertical fashion, gradually increasing tension throughout the entire system as one deepens their starting position towards the barbell. Once set, explode and grind through the heavy weight, unleashing your force through the floor and driving the traps and chest up.
Never Stop Pulling
Heavy deadlifts move slow, especially through one’s sticking point. A lot of lifters don’t know how to grind through, staying tight and not rushing hip extension. When you hit that sticking point (assuming its below the knees) you need to stay over the bar and drive through the floor (see next tip) maintaining a rigid back. If your sticking point is above the knee, you need to stand the fu$% up and punch the barbell with your hips.
Drive Your Feet Through the Floor
Many lifters fail to maximize their entire leg strength and power when deadlifting. While the deadlift is a hip dominant movement, strong knee extension off the floor and at lock out is critical to bar path and rigidity throughout the lift. Staying balanced over the entire foot with a slight preference for the heels will allow for maximal quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings force output and bigger lifts.
The mentality needed while preparing, performing, and reflecting upon your deadlift performances must also be at the forefront of awareness. Below are some key mental notes one should make when reflecting and performing the act of deadlifting.
Strength Takes Time
Regardless of what online fitness gurus may tell you, strength acquisition can take years, maybe even a lifetime. Instead of focusing on solely a number, set your sights on continual progress, with the understanding that many steps (no matter how small or parallel they may be) will keep you moving forward, hopefully injury free.
While your enthusiasm is commendable, you lack of preparedness can lead to injury rather than PRs.
Lift with Integrity
There is nothing worse than seeing people deadlift with horrific form, only for them to tell me they can’t get better at deadlifting, OR, they were progressing but got hurt. Instead of chasing numbers and/or likes on you Instagram account, lift moderate to heavy loads with consistent technique and speed. While I am an Olympic weightlifter, many deadlifters could benefit from this mentality. Strength, speed, and integrity over time will minimize debilitating injury and keep you moving in the right direction.
As discussed in the above section, treating every weight with equal respect and awareness is not only ideal for maximal speed and strength development, but it’s also the right thing to do…
Don’t Rush the Lift
Never, ever rush your set up, bracing, or pull. There is a difference between attacking a weight and pulling through a movement vs freaking out at a sticking point, rushing the next phase(s) of a lift, and throwing the mechanics and body posture off. Learn to stay rigid and powerful through the sticking point, and grind!
Stay tight, keep pulling, and never rush through to finish.
Don’t Be Afraid
Some of the best deadlifters, when asked what is one of the best mental tip to give lifters who are attempting to pull heavy…it simply to not be afraid. Self-doubt, fear on injury or failure, and/or hesitations are all signs that you should not attempt a lift. While you need ot listen to your body and mind most of the time, if the environment and risks are in your favor, and you have adequate prepared for this movement, you just need to brace, lift, and finish.
There are no shortcuts to deadlifting heavy. Too often lifters rush the process, only to end up getting hurt, learning poor technique, and stalled progress as time goes on. Many lifters also fail to recognize the intense demands that deadlifts place upon the system, especially as you get stronger. Resisting the urge to continually stroke your ego will save your back, increase your strength, and potentially get you to your 500lb deadlift goal, and more.
Lastly, this goes without saying, to truly maximize one’s deadlift, you need to squat often and keep you training balanced. Deadlifts are such a small part of ones overall training regimen.
Featured Image: @martsromero in Instagram