Although the deadlift has lost favor among bodybuilders and strength coaches in recent years, there is no question that it is a great exercise to develop the glutes, hamstrings, quads and traps. Perhaps it was considered too dangerous, perhaps some thought there were more effective ways to accomplish the same goals, or perhaps (and this is probably the primary reason), the deadlift is simply a brutally hard exercise! I’m going with the last excuse, but for those who want to accept the challenge and see what the deadlift can do for you, I have just the thing.
What I’m about to share with you is a 12-week program designed to make exceptional gains in the deadlift. The workouts are only twice a week, but starting on week 7 you’ll be training twice a day – I suggest you make one of those days a Saturday to ensure they get done. Saturday is ideal because if you have to miss that day, you can simply do it on Sunday. If you can’t make the commitment to follow this schedule, this program is not for you.
The program is divided into four phases, as follows:
Phase 1 (Weeks 1-3): Accumulation 1
Phase 2 (Weeks 4-6): Intensification
Phase 3 (Weeks 7-9): Accumulation 2
Phase 4 (Weeks 10-12): Peaking
Follow the workouts in the order presented, as each cycle builds upon the previous one. At the end of phase 3 you may think you are overtrained, but your strength will be realized when you taper during the last phase. The guiding principle here is “Fatigue masks fitness.”
Phase 1, Weeks 1-3: Accumulation 1
This phase could be considered general physical preparation. Its purpose is to prepare your body for the upcoming training cycles. In this phase the posterior chain will be trained by using shorter rest periods – to build work capacity – and by varying points in the strength curve. The repetitions are not excessively high, because a big 1-rep max is the main goal in week 12, so you’ll need to lift heavier loads. To ensure quality work and full recovery, you’ll train two times per week, alternating between workout A and workout B.
A1. Lying Leg Curl, Ankles Plantar Flexed and Pointed In, 5 x 6-8, 4010, rest 10 seconds
A2. Seated Barbell Good Morning, 5 x 6-8, 4010, rest 10 seconds
A3. Atlantis Reverse Hyperextension, 5 x 8-10, 2012, rest 10 seconds
A4. 45-Degree Back Extension, Snatch Grip with Barbell, 5 x 8-10, 2012, rest 3 minutes
A1. Lying Leg Curl, Ankles Plantar Flexed and Pointed Out, ¼ rep at top, 5 x 4-6, 5011, rest 10 seconds
A2. Standing Barbell Good Morning, 5 x 6-8, 4010, rest 10 seconds
A3. Horizontal Back Extension, 5 x 8-10, 3012, rest 10 seconds
A4. Clean-Grip Barbell RDL, 5 x 8-10, 3110, rest 3 minutes
Phase 2, Weeks 4-6: Intensification
With the introduction of deadlifts in this phase, the training frequency for the posterior chain will be reduced to just one session per week. This will allow greater recovery from workout to workout, which in turn will allow a greater volume to be tolerated within the single weekly session.
For the paused deadlifts, the pause is to be taken 2 inches off the ground in the concentric range for 2 seconds. Expect to be shaking feverishly during the pause. If you don’t feel like your legs are having a seizure, you’re not using enough weight on the barbell.
A. Paused, Snatch-Grip Deadlift on Podium (pause 2 inches off the ground for 2 seconds in the concentric range)
Week 4: (8,8,8,6,6,4), 4121, rest 4 minutes
Week 5: (7,7,7,5,5,4), 4121, rest 4 minutes
Week 6: (7,6,6,5,5,4), 4121, rest 4 minutes
B. Standing Barbell Good Morning with Cambered Bar, 5 x 8-10, 4010, rest 2 minutes
C. Glute-Ham Gastroc Raise, 4 x 8-10, 4010, rest 90 seconds
Phase 3, Weeks 7-9: Accumulation 2
Consider this phase “controlled overtraining.” The first 6 weeks of this program were designed to get you ready for this phase, which I consider the bread and butter of the 12-week deadlift cycle. In this cycle, the clean-grip deadlift will become the “star” exercise, as it is what you will be testing in week 12; but don’t worry, there will still be plenty of training variation.
You will train four deadlift workouts per week utilizing twice-per-day training, which provides for increases in volume, frequency and intensity over the previous phase. Please leave at least two or three days between sessions to facilitate recovery. Although the load will be heavier than it was in the last phase and the reps will be lower, this is still considered an accumulation phase because of the high overall volume.
A. Clean-Grip Deadlift
Week 7: 8 x 3-5, 30X0, rest 4 minutes
Week 8: 9 x 2-4, 30X0, rest 4 minutes
Week 9: 10 x 1-3, 30X0, rest 4 minutes
A. Snatch-Grip Deadlift from Blocks (bar at mid shin), 5 x 4-6, 51X0, rest 3 minutes
B. Seated Barbell Good Morning, 4 x 6-8, 4010, rest 2 minutes
A. Clean-Grip Deadlift with Chains
Week 7: (5,5,4,4,4,3), 30X0, rest 5 minutes
Week 8: (5,4,4,3,3,2), 30X0, rest 5 minutes
Week 9: (5,4,3,2,1,1), 30X0, rest 5 minutes
A. Clean-Grip Deadlift from Rack Pins (just above patella), 5 x 4-6, 30X0, rest 3 minutes
B. Atlantis Reverse Hyperextension, 4 x 6-8, 2014, rest 2 minutes
Phase 4, Weeks 10-12: Peaking
The purpose of the Phase 4 cycle is to drastically decrease the volume and frequency from the previous cycle while still maintaining a high intensity. This allows for peak performance during your 1RM test in week 12. You will train the deadlift only once day per week during this phase and should use your free time to do whatever you can to maximize recovery (such as ART, massage, contrast showers, Epsom salt baths or yoga). Here is your peaking cycle:
A. Clean-Grip Deadlift, 20X0, rest 6 minutes
Week 10: 3 x 2 @ 90 percent of your previous 1RM
Week 11: 3 x 2 @ 80 percent of your previous 1RM
Week 12: DESTROY YOUR CURRENT 1RM!
B. 45-Degree Back Extension, 2 x 6-8, 3011, rest 2 minutes
Again, don’t be fooled by the relatively low training frequency – this is a brutally hard workout. But the results are worth it!