One of my friends is a successful bodybuilder and powerlifter. Currently he is focusing on his powerlifting performance. To start he is probably the greatest self-taught athlete I have met. There is a neurological concept known as “mirror neurons”, which is that people can watch someone perform a movement and then after just watching someone can do it themselves. This guy is one of those people who can currently squat over 700 lbs. and still do a back flip (which he taught himself to do). He is an incredible athlete, we wrestled once and he shot in on a single leg so fast that literally in the time it took me to sprawl (meaning throw myself at the ground to try and squash him as he did so) he was able to keep running underneath me and get on the other side of me before I hit the ground. I’ll always remember getting up and spinning around and there he is standing ready to shoot in again (he’s also taller than me), insane.
Another thing about him is his incredible work ethic. The first three times my wife met him she asked: “does he always puke?” This is because he came over to my apartment complex and we pushed the prowler. So getting him to work hard is not an issue. The issue with him instead is to make sure that we don’t train maximally, but we train optimally. So even though there will be a list here, the goal is to just try one or another element for a few weeks and then test how it worked at his meet. Then if it didn’t work add in some new elements before his next meet.
So enough gushing about his athleticism. He is currently chasing a 700+ lbs. deadlift. Now, he has a great body for strength sports, but no real gifts for the deadlift (i.e. long arms like I have). After chatting on the phone for a bit it seems his weak point is breaking the bar off of the ground. Meaning if he can get the bar off the ground he can finish the lift. He trains lower body about three times per week with a squat day, deadlift day, and a volume day (bodybuilding day). So my goal is to give him some exercise ideas to put in to his current training that will hopefully get him to break that barrier. So here are the exercise ideas for each day:
Seated box jumps: Between each set of heavy deads have him sit on a box that is between 12-18” and jump up to a box. Aim for either 10 sets of 1, 5 sets of 3, or 8 sets of 2. Aim to jump to a challenging box, but no need to go too crazy off the bat. Think start with a week of 5×3 and on week three do the 10×1 as a peaking cycle. Before each jump relax your legs on the ground and shoot hard from the start. (Part of my reason for putting this on here is to see him put videos of himself doing these since I’m sure his box height will get pretty crazy pretty fast.)
Deficit deadlifts – pull when standing on a one to two inch block and work up to a 3-5 RM (at most) making sure to pause the bar on the ground between each rep.
Pause deadlifts – the goal here is to stand on a one inch platform and pause the weights just slightly off the ground for about 3-5 seconds and then lift the bar. Think set up strong and use your legs to just break the bar off the ground and hold/find your strongest position at that point. Do this for sets of 5-10 reps (2-4 sets). Do this after your main pull movement.
RDLs – sets of 5-10 with either one top set or up to three heavy sets. With his flexibility the goal will be to do this on blocks so he can get a huge range, might even want to do this with his sumo stance (if he wants to compete sumo) otherwise use the same stance as he uses with his conventional deads.
GHRS (glute ham raises) – These will be done with a bar on the back or holding on to a heavy weight infront of the body. Goal here is sets of 6-10 and 3-5 sets of it. Try and push the poundage each workout on this. Feel free to put this on your leg volume day. If this gets too easy then switch this to Russian leg curls.
Reverse hypers – Don’t just do this movement for speed, but try to do it deliberately slowly on the concentric and eccentric (sets of 10-20 reps). It will be humbling, but it will help with massively increasing your strength in this area. Do this on the days that are the farthest from your heavy squat or deads day so your low back can recover before you pull heavy again.
Ab wheel work – do this for sets of 10-20 reps and throw a weight vest on or plates on your back if this gets to be too easy.
Hanging leg raises or GHR sit ups: add weight accordingly. Perhaps use ankle weights or hold a medball for the leg raises and use a weight plate for the GHR sit ups.
This will come with some different choices depending on what he is looking to compete with stance wise in the deadlift. If he wants to compete his conventional deadlift use these two:
Olympic stance pause squats – place the bar high on your upper back and use a narrow stance. Sit down to parallel or below parallel and pause for three to five seconds and then fire up hard out of the hole.
Front squats – pretty straight forward here. Just front squat the weights.
For the sumo deadlift go with these options:
Wide stance Anderson squats – set the bar on the rack or hanging from chains at about the height of your belly button or waist line. Then squat underneath the bar get in to your wide stance position and from there squat it up. This sucks very badly.
Cossack squats (sometimes called lateral lunges) – throw a chain on your upper back or a barbell and just alternate legs doing wide stance lateral lunges. Your goal is to not stand up between each rep, but keep switching back and forth from one side to the other. This is more aiming to improve your mobility than anything else.
Further note on squat choices: You can just use the safety squat bar for either movement since it pretty much destroys worlds in my opinion. In that if you build that movement it tends to carryover to just about anything that you try (or at least it has in my world). Give it a shot if you like. Also, using the Bulgarian split squat (BSS) for high reps (sets of 10 reps) tends to give good carryover in my recent training experience, but it is meant to be trained for more hypertrophy than maximal strength. (Bulgarian split squat is where you put your rear foot on a bench and do a movement very similar to a lunge. I’m a fan of doing it with either a barbell in the front rack or high bar position, or use heavy dumbbells for it.
Quick example on the programming side:
|Week||Seated jumps||Deficit Pauses||RDLs||Leg raises||Reverse Hypers|
|Week 2||8×2||Add weight 3×4||5×10||Add weight 5×15||3×15|
|Week 3||10-12×1||Add weight 3×3||Shoot for 10RM||Add weight 5×10||3×12|
|Week 4 Deload||3×5||1×5||2-3×10||5×10||2×20|
|Week||Olympic Pause Squats||Front Squats||Ab wheel||BSS||GHRs|
|Week 2||4×5||3×6||Add weight 5×15||3×12||3×10|
|Week 3||5×5||4×5||Add weight 5×10||3×10||3×8|
|Week 4 Deload||2-3×5||2×5||3-5×10||2×15||BW 2×12|
All of these movements can be modified to fit his needs. I’m just trying to come up with some ideas to help with the start of the bar off of the floor. Keep in mind his technique (from what I’ve seen) is sound, so this is all about fixing weak points. When your technique is solid your goal then changes to find out what part of the range of motion that you are not as strong on. Folks with great leg strength can start about any weight off the floor on the deadlift, but can have difficulty locking weights out due to not enough back strength to finish. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and good luck to my friend with his training for his competition. If you have any questions or anything you’d like me to add please just place a comment on this post.