The Deadlift Program for a friend

A friend of mine was looking for a new program for his deadlift. For the sake of this story let’s call him Tatanka. He is a solid deadlifter (has pulled over 600 at 198), with a good overall build for lifting, but not necessarily a deadlift specialist. Good work capacity and overall high motivation and intensity when training (only frequent lifter I know that literally never takes in caffeine). He also follows the 5/3/1 for his squat volume on Monday and pulls on Wednesday. This is important since the fatigue accumulated from lifting on Monday will affect his pulls on Wednesday, but we will program accordingly for that. The goal with the 5/3/1 on the squats is to follow a rotation where week 1 is 90% week, week 2 is 85%, week 3 is 95%, and week 4 is deload (Intensity rotation I picked up from Joe Kenn). So with that in mind here is the main movement programming I’m giving him for his heavy pull:

Week Style method Load reps sets Total reps
1 conventional DE >60% 3 10 to 12 30-36
2 conventional RE >70% 5+ 5 25-30
3 sumo DE >60% 3 10 to 12 30-36
4 sumo RE >70% 5+ 5 25-30


This is the general plan when outside of trying to hit a new 1RM or peaking for a meet. I cycle the two styles for him since he wants a different type of challenge, but still wants to have a solid base of strength. By hitting a speed week before a rep week you can work your technique and still not accumulate a huge amount of fatigue from this type of training. For the dynamic effort (DE) increase the load on your sets if your speed is good, or if you want to test yourself some. There is no point in turning this in to a true max testing session, instead aim to build both technique and power in it. For the repetition effort (RE) weeks build up in sets of 5 to a top set that you can take to failure (preferably only near failure) as both a test and indicator of progress. This rep plan is to get in the according amount of volume from the main movement, and after each month bump up your training maxes just like you would with Wendler’s 5/3/1 (I go 5 to 10 pounds a month).

If you want to peak some in general with your maximal strength this is the type of progression I will follow for two to three months before actually hunkering down and doing a true maximal strength month progression:

Week Style method Load reps sets Total reps
1 conventional DE >60% 3 10 to 12 30-36
2 conventional ME >75% 2 to 5 3 to 5 10-20
3 sumo DE >60% 3 10 to 12 30-36
4 sumo RE >70% 5+ 5 25-30


Assistance work

After the heavy work (which you can do some Olympic lifting beforehand if you want) I like doing Jim Wendler’s boring but big type programming where I take an assistance movement for the deadlift that is centered around your weak point. For Tatanka, I can’t think of a weak point other than tolerance of other people’s weakness (he doesn’t tolerate that well at all). So I would suggest deficit deadlifts for three months, RDLs for the next 3, and then snatch grips deads for the following three months all done for 5 sets of 10. Then picking a single joint or muscle group weakness exercise for another 5 sets of ten and ab work for 5 sets of 10. The full range of motion exercises are great due to less load needed to cause a hypertrophic response. Also, this large range will help with maintaining flexibility and mobility.


Really not a complicated program here, but it is what works well for me right now, and I think a few variations on this will help with his deadlift performance. At the end of the day his max strength is something that he always wants to have, but I like the ability to express that strength in more than one fixed motor pattern, so this is a way to set that up. Let me know if you have any questions and thanks for taking the time to read this.


Training to Cheer 3: Cheer Hard with a Vengeance

Why god am I writing another post on cheerleading? I blame it on an Isfort…

So the first post in this series was all about the basics of different requirements for cheerleading. The second post was all about the basic strength training program. Now this post is first going to answer a question that was posted on the second in the series and then talk a bit about the power training for cheer.

The question:


I have been very curious on this subject as of recent but in regards to training female flyers. Training guys for cheerleading seems pretty basic because one can easily compare it to college football linebacker (quick, strong, explosive). But with females (especially flyers) I feel like it becomes increasingly complex because you must account for weight increase. Yes making flyers stronger increases their body control and strength which in turns makes you a better cheerleader. But increase in strength, at a certain point, means increase in weight… which for a flyer isn’t (always) advantageous. Is there a cut-off for flyers or should flyers only ever focus on body weight exercises? Hopefully this makes sense. I would love to talk about it further with you.

Ryan Blanford
UC Cheerleader

This is a great question. Let’s start to pick this apart. Yes, flyers need to stay within a certain size (specifically weight) range in order to perform at their highest levels. Now, this performance will be increased if they can have higher levels of strength and power while maintaining the same size. If the flyer massively increases their body weight while also increasing their strength and power the net change of performance might be a decline. Now, contrary to some peoples thoughts you don’t wake up fifty pounds heavier after one day of training much less one year. In order to gain weight you need to take in more calories than what you are burning and stay consistent with this for long periods of time. I have friends and colleagues that have worked hard for years to increase their bodyweight only ten pounds, so don’t insult the hard work of others by saying you can “gain ten pounds in a week (of fat or muscle)”. So for flyers the big key is to make sure that their diet is synced up with the amount they are burning from their training. Another component for the flyers is to avoid the hypertrophy work (or minimize it). That means still working strength, but not worrying so much about lots of sets of ten repetitions. Once their muscles are the size they are aiming for working the strength side of the spectrum and still keeping a solid amount of prehabilitation in the program.

So the cut off for flyers shouldn’t be the amount of force they are producing in their training (can only lift so heavy, minimizing weights lifted) the goal should be more to think about maintaining a certain weight (body weight). Now Ryan is correct that at some point you aren’t going to be getting much stronger due to maxing out your strength at a certain bodyweight (can only have so much muscle at a certain weight) so I think of flyers as a kind of weight classed athlete (like wrestlers). The goal is to maximize strength at a given size and to maintain that size through healthy nutrition. Most female collegiate cheerleaders have probably never lifted weights seriously (squatting, pressing, deadlifting) so doing some barbell training for the four years they are collegiate cheerleaders will probably not be enough time to fully max out strength if they are cheering and focusing on other aspects of life (like having one).

Ryan, let me know your thoughts on this and if this is enough of an answer for you and I will be happy to add more to this.

So power training for cheer.

missouri state baskets
Example of power, basket thrown back at Missouri state by the grandfather or funk and John Lennon. Surprisingly didn’t have to work at all on the pseudonyms here.

What is power?

Power is strength with a time element. Meaning, your goal is to not just produce a large amount of force in a short period of time. A good example here is the difference between the vertical jump and a maximal deadlift. They both use the same basic movement pattern and muscles, but the time component for how quickly you perform the movement is hugely different between the two.

The nice thing about power when it comes to cheer, pretty much all of the power is being expressed in the vertical plane (straight up, so easy to mimic in the gym). Also, the training itself (for cheerleading) tends to help develop power. Stunting, baskets, and tumbling all work power and specifically in a way that carries over directly to the sport (duh). Now aside from direct sports training to develop power there a few more ways to help increase it in the gym. Using compound multijoint movements will have the greatest carryover and specifically in the planes of motion utilized will help even more so. The basic choices I use (you can youtube or google) is jumps (box jumps are a great choice), medball throws (vertical, and scoop throw), and finally the Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk and barbell snatch.

Your goal with power training is to aim for low repetitions and maximal efforts each time. This means sets of less than 5 reps (preferably three or less) and longer rest periods (one to five minutes, higher end for the heavy barbell movements). 10 to 25 total reps in a training session is a good place to start and doing this before your strength and hypertrophy work is the best way to go about it. By doing low repetition sets with adequate rest between each set you will be able to put maximal effort in to each set moving the load as fast as possible. The power you produce (and speed) will help carry over to your performance in how high you can throw your stunts and baskets. Doing the vertical jumping and throws work well for everyone and the Olympic lifts will carry over heavily to the bases that have to throw stunts. Keep in mind there is a huge difference between training maximal power and power endurance, power endurance is maximal speed for multiple reps (more than five each set).

Add this training on top of your strength work and do it before it. This will help with your sports performance and can also help work as an extended warm up before your actual heavy strength training. Power training is the transmission for your car, your maximal strength is how big your engine is. Having a small engine with a great transmission is just sad, and having a huge engine with a transmission with only one gear is not efficient or effective. Your goal as an athlete is to optimize both.

Let me know if you have any questions on this post and thank again for taking time to read this.

High Jump or Pole Vault?

Gear in sport.

Drugs in sport.

On occasion someone will bring up the lifting gear or drug use in strength/power sports (steroids, growth hormone, cocaine, etc.) and here is my basic thoughts on the matter:

First and foremost, anyone that is brave enough to compete in general I respect. Anyone that is willing to possible shorten their own long term health (potentially at least) for short term strength gain (significant gain at that) is making a personal decision that should not be taken lightly. It is their choice, not mine, not yours. We can’t inflict our morality or lifestyle on others, but we all have our own reasons for doing what we do.

With that being said here is my basic thoughts on this (which will require the heavy use of metaphor); Natural (drug free) strength sports would be like high jumping and drug assisted lifting would be like pole vaulting. Both athletes must train hard and smart, most work methodically to get to a higher level, but at the end of the day pole vaulters can jump higher than high jumpers. They also accept more risk by jumping higher. (Do keep in mind that an idiot with a pole will still be out jumped by a high jumper and a high jumper that doesn’t train and only complains will never get any decent height at all.) I’m a high jumper and I’m ok with that. When people ask me about my thoughts on pole vaulters I will say “that’s impressive, but that’s not my sport”. I’m not that excited about those performances since that is not the game that I play. Another big part of why I do this (as in don’t do drugs), is I work with kids. I level with them about what those people do to jump so high so quickly. I want them to try hard, to attain the highest levels possible, but I won’t lie to them and tell them those folks did it drug free. Those athletes might not need to use drugs to hit the same numbers. A number of high level strength athletes have done bigger weights drug free (google Brad Gillingham) than many other athletes who were on.

I’ve also trained long enough to watch some people come up in the sport and have first-hand knowledge of when they first went “on” (term for started using steroids). The numbers they attained before then are forever their records as a high jumper, everything after that is pole vaulting. Good for them, not for me. My thoughts are if you haven’t trained hard for at least half a decade before you touch the drugs, you haven’t trained hard enough and long enough to ride the needle into elite. The other thought here is that if you work with people, especially if you train with other folks who aren’t on drugs be honest with them. Don’t lie to kids, they don’t know any better and often trust you.

I’ve seen people quote lifters that used drugs and were honest about it (I’ve had a number of honest conversations about drug use with lifters, I won’t name them, because I respect them) and remove the drug use from their statement as a means to help kids bulk up. This lifter (who I heard the quote firsthand) said: “I drink a gallon of milk a day, eat a sheet cake every night, and use D-bol”. This quote was convoluted to omit the drug abuse which is now a great recipe for diabetes in most kids. I understand the point of instruction, I just leave this realm as soon as lies are involved. When I grew up I genuinely thought all my heroes didn’t use drugs, was that naïve, yes, but I refuse to accept the fact that we should just lie to kids and use the ideas of “if they’re dumb enough to believe me that’s their fault”. Screw you if that’s your mentality (then again that is most of the supplement industry’s tactics). (I really went all Catcher in the Rye right there didn’t I?)

The key is after starting drugs you are now operating from a different deck of cards. Does this nullify everything you have learned and do with your training as useless? No, but research shows that using steroids and not working out will get you bigger arms compared to people that actually train for the same period of time. Some have referred to using drugs as having a second puberty and those of you reading that are male can remember how much muscle appeared in a matter of months after starting puberty. The longer you are on and the more cycles you do the bigger you will get, plain and simple. There is a lot of good research out there and reviews on the effects of steroid use. There still needs to be more work done in this area as far a side effect and useful health promoting application of it (read up on andropause if you’re interested).

The same argument stands for using bench shirts, squat suits, and deadlift suits except for it doesn’t go so preachy with the drug use at the end. At the end of the day it is a personal choice, I know mine in this matter and I respect anyone that does that style of lifting with whatever weights they attain. I just don’t waste my energy on comparing myself to either style of lifter. They have their way and I have mine, as for the true and correct way, it doesn’t exist (Soren Kierkegaard for the win).

I enjoy talking about this topic with folks from time to time. I know a few lifters that battle with the desire to use drugs to gain an edge. I also know a few that use them and due to the legal issues around them can never be fully transparent about their use. I just want to put this idea out there and hopefully a few of you folks out there can gain a little from it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you are natural or otherwise, good for you. The key is at the end of the day you are training, you are putting in the work. We can all respect one another for that fact. I like the effort more now at this stage in my training (results are nice too). So have fun and get after it whether you high jump or pole vault. Either way you are stepping up on the runway and going hard to fly high.

I deserved this one
This is what happens when you talk out the wrong orifice. 

Training to Cheer 2: The Cheerening

Ok that title wasn’t a word, but I’m going to see this through a bit more. So the previous post on this talked about the basics needs of the sport. The goal with this one is to start to outline the training program. This includes exercise selection, frequency, loading, and progression. This will hopefully make sense and I’m going to throw in a number of my thoughts and ideas in this as I lay it out. If you have questions please feel free to comment below and I will try and answer it accordingly. Also, don’t get upset if I don’t use the exact muscle groups (latissimus dorsi, anterior deltoid, blah, blah, blah). I’m writing this for cheerleaders after all (hi EKU team, please use this).

Starting Off

Right now (March 2016) for a team that will be competing in January the focuses of training are on gaining muscle mass and building some strength. The athlete themselves should be practicing their sports skills (stunting, tumbling, etc.). I’m going to aim this towards an athlete that has not done much weight lifting in the past, or at least they haven’t done a true total body strength program before. Exercises will be selected for having the greatest degree of carryover (transfer to sports performance) starting off with a more general sense and then escalating to being very specific (generally mimics the movement pattern in a manner that carries over to a wide variety to patterns (think squat carries over to any lower body movement, but the lateral lunge is more specific to lateral movement)). So with this context in mind here is my basic exercise selection with these athletes:

Squat: This is a lower body movement which involves your trunk and for the most part neglects your arms (boo hoo), but having greater strength here will transfer to not only greater toss power, but also stability for holding stunts and pyramids. The squat can be done in a number of varieties (back, front, overhead), but for the sake of a beginners program the back and front squat will be programmed for. The advantage of doing the barbell variety of this movement is that you can use a greater load. With a greater load you can apply a greater stimulus (amount of stress) this in turn can cause greater improvements in performance. How strong should you be here, well for guys I like to aim for twice bodyweight and ladies one and a half times bodyweight. A big key to keep in mind with squats is range of motion. Bros can have issues with actually sitting all the way down, and once the weight gets heavy it is easy to start to cut depth. Your goal is to descend (with good posture) to the point where the top of your knees is as high or higher than the crease of your hip, you could also think of this as the top of your thigh is parallel to the floor. Bigger range of motion here with good technique allows you to apply a larger stimulus to the muscle and will help with sports carryover since you will not only have better strength, but be able to transfer that to a higher degree since you are used to working in bigger ranges.

Yeah being strong helps with cheerleading regardless your gender. Crazy stuff happens in it.

Military press (standing press): Due to the great degree of overhead strength needed in cheerleading is this movement of pushing the bar overhead is very important. By doing this with a barbell (bilateral) you are able to use a greater load which in turn helps increase the stimulus. By doing this movement while standing on your own two feet (standing up) you are going to not only train your shoulders and arms, but you are going to increase your trunk stability and lower body stability. If you don’t believe me try and press something overhead that is heavy standing on one foot (don’t say this is your flyer). Goal here is full range of motion and aim to press your bodyweight over head or a bit more than that if you are male, if you are female then aim for three quarters of your body weight. Also for all pressing work, I’m a fan of taking a narrow grip in that your pointer fingers are just outside the smooth part of the bar in the center.

Overhead strength, it comes in handy. Also notice how the mid-layers in the back (catching a full up 2-2-1) have to work hard to hold the top girl in the air.

Push press is a slight variation to the military press where now you initiate the movement with leg drive (try and jump it up) and then finish the movement to lockout with your arms. The reps and sets will stay the same, just use a slightly higher weight than what you use on the military press. Do still try to control the weight down.

Deadlift: This is picking the bar off the ground. This trains not only your lower body, but your torso (specifically your back) and your grip. This is important not just for getting greater force production ability, but in the sense that it helps you build muscle that protects you. Having stronger hands not only helps for your ability to lift more weight, but it adds to your ability to hold on to stunts where your grip isn’t optimal, along with increasing the strength of your connective tissue. Having a stronger upper back allows you to hold a shoulder stand more comfortably, but also a stronger neck is related with a lower risk of getting concussions and that is very much so a real problem for cheerleaders.

Incline Bench Press: bench press just with an incline. I’m really not excited about talking about benching, but it helps with maximal force development. You are laying down so it easier to press maximal weights since you have extra stability compared to standing up with the weight on your own two feet. Feel free to do incline push-ups instead here if you just need more strength in general.

Pull ups: they are awesome, and everyone should do them. Grab the bar and pull your chin over it. The grip choice here is yours, just do what you want. You can also use assisted pull ups if your strength is not there yet. So the why here, turns out this gets you stronger arms and forearms which is important for stability and importantly controlling people down. Aim for higher reps here.

Bodyweight low rows (aka fat man pull ups): this is where you grab the bar set about waist high with your feet on the floor and pull yourself up, this builds your upper back and arms. Same programming as you do with the pull ups, but this will be easier. If it is difficult to do this with your legs straight then do it with your knees bent.

Dumbbell row: This is another pulling movement to bring the weight to your sternum building your back and your arms. Goal here is to work in sets of ten and aim to get up to rowing a dumbbell that weighs at least half as much as you do.

So with these starter exercises we come up with three training days each week. The goal here is to train every other day and then take two days off at the end of the week. Each training day will be a total body day as a means to get in quality work frequently. Move your weight up whenever you get a chance (when your technique is good and you are hitting more quality reps on the movement than you had before).

Weekly set up for a beginner:

Day 1: Squat

Military Press

Body weight low rows

Day 2: Deadlift

Incline Press

Pull ups

Day 3: Front Squat

Push Press

Dumbbell Row


So this brings us to sets and reps. When you first start off, GET SOMEONE TO TEACH YOU THE CORRECT TECHNIQUE. Initially starting off on ingraining correct technique working in sets of 5-10 reps will be best to start for only 3-5 real work sets (warm up first to real weight, aka when it starts feeling hard). Once you feel comfortable with the technique go and follow a simple linear progression. This for a beginner, is take one month where you work in tens until you are no longer able to increase your max weight on your final set. The next month sets of 8 reps, then 5 reps, then maybe one month of 3 reps sets. Once you hit your peak or test your lifting max drop back down and do it again (take four months to build up again). Following progressions on your heavy movements like written by Jim Wendler in his 5/3/1 is a great choice, along with Chad Wesley Smith’s Juggernaut training programming.

Assistance Work

Notice the program is pretty bare, your goal would be to add in some assistance according your needs (or arm work for vanity). Your goal with your assistance work is to build some strength and preemptive work to minimize your risk of injury. I would suggest picking some ab movement for stability (planks) and then something for actual flexion (hanging leg raises). I would also pick some external rotation/upper back work to keep the shoulders healthy (google face pulls or band pull aparts). Back extensions or glute ham raises are a good choice to do also. Pick one or two exercises to do at the end of your workouts and rotate them each day.

Wrap Up

So this was the basics of setting up your program for getting better as a cheerleader when it comes to strength. Take the time to try the program if you want, and let me know how it goes. Also, look at your own program and check your own exercise selection for what carryover it may or may not have. I’ll start working on the power (Olympic lifts and plyometrics) or conditioning piece next (because why not). Let me know if you have any questions or any adaptations you would want me to outline. Thanks again for taking the time to read this.