Written on June 19, 2008 at 10:30 am, by Eric Cressey
Q: What BASIC methodology did you use to get your deadlift up over 600? Did you deadlift heavy, do similar exercises like pulls from different heights, or use different exercises like good mornings and rows?
A: I have used a lot of different ones – and things changed as I got stronger and stronger.
Early on, like everyone, my deadlift went up no matter what I did. I actually laugh at some of the silly stuff that I used to get my pull up to the 300-350 range. I was training six days a week, doing sets of 20, 5×5 workouts, lots of leg curls, you name it. Not the brightest stuff in the world, but when you’re untrained, it all works.
Pushing things to 400 took a lot more dedicated work in lower rep ranges (3-5) – and without a bunch of goofy accessory work. This got me to a 430-ish deadlift by the time I got to graduate school in the fall of 2003.
In that first year of grad school, I played around with a ton of stuff – everything from clusters to wave-loading (which I don’t think did anything) to straight sets, to 8×3 type-stuff. I hit 484 in the gym around March of 2004, and in my first meet (June 2004), I pulled 510 on a fourth attempt at a body weight of 163. So, I guess you could say that in my first dedicated nine months of powerlifting, I put about 80 pounds on my deadlift. I flat-out blew the “conventional” strength-training induced gains from previous years out of the water at a time when progress was supposed to be slowing.
It was about this time that my buddy Steve turned me on more to the Westside school of thought – and I also made some great friends at the meets I did. The summer of 2004 – when I was on campus in Storrs just working with athletes, reading a ton, and training – was a great summer for information exchange and trial and error. Over the 2004-05 school year, I really started hitting max effort days and dynamic effort days. In July of 2005, I pulled 567.5 at a body weight of 161. So, there’s another 57.5 pounds in a year.
After graduate school, I started training at South Side Gym in Stratford, CT alongside some great lifters. Every session was a mix of crazy efforts and information exchange in an awesome environment. It’s when I really started pulling more frequently: twice a week, in most case. It was without a doubt the best training year of my life, and I detailed some of the training ideas I implemented in an article called Frequent Pulling for Faster Progress. Speed deadlifts made a huge difference for me not only because my bar speed off the floor increased, but also because they allowed me to practice technique without always pulling heavy and, in the process, breaking down. By the time I left South Side at the end of July 2006 (moved to Boston), I had hit a 628 deadlift. Now, I’ve pulled 650 (although it isn’t really the main focus anymore).
I really never did much good morning work until I was already pulling mid-to-high 400s. For me, the good morning wasn’t nearly as effective as deadlifting or squatting; I guess specificity holds true again, as I got really good at good mornings. That said, it likely has to do with my body type, as I’m a long-limbed, short-torso guy who already is very strong in the lower back relative to the legs. Guys who have more squat/bench-friendly builds (short limbs, long torsos) generally respond really well to good mornings.
I am a huge believer that lots of rows not only kept my shoulder healthy, but helped my deadlift along. Chest-supported rows seemed to have the best carryover, in my experience.
Yes, I have done my fair share of rack pulls. I don’t think that they directly help the deadlift as much as people seem to think, but they are a fantastic way to make lifters comfortable with heavy weights. Here’s a photo from back in 2005 of a 705×5 rack pull from just above the knees. It’s certainly not for the beginners in the crowd, but pushing the envelope is necessary sometimes for getting to the next level. I wouldn’t recommend this for the overwhelming majority of lifters and weekend warriors – so don’t be stupid and try it at home.
They’re also great for building up the upper back – particularly when performed with a snatch grip.