Home Blog 5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs

5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs

Written on November 18, 2012 at 7:42 am, by Eric Cressey

When my first book was published back in 2008, a lot of people were surprised that I included speed deadlifts, either because they felt too easy, or because they didn’t think that deadlifting that wasn’t “heavy” couldn’t be productive. Interestingly, when their deadlifts invariably shot up after completing the four-month program, nobody was questioning their inclusion. With that in mind, I thought I’d use today’s article to outline my top five reasons for including speed deadlifts in one’s strength training program.

First, however, I think it’s important to outline what a speed deadlift is. Simply take any variation of the deadlift, and perform it at a lighter percentage: 35-80% of one-rep max (1RM) for sets of 1-5 reps. The higher the percentage, the lower the rep scheme, and vice versa. Examples include 8x1 at 80% of 1RM, 6x3 at 50% of 1RM, and 4x5 at 35% of 1RM. It’s possible to add chains or bands to the exercise, too, if you have access to them. You would rest anywhere from 30s to 120s between sets.

The most important factors, however, are perfect technique and excellent bar speed.

The bar should feel like it is exploding off the floor straight through to lockout.

Now, let’s get down to the reasons you might want to include it in your program.

1. Technique practice

I’ve coached a lot of deadlifts in my career, and people tend to fall into one of three categories:

a. Great technique (~5% of people)
b. Great technique until the load gets heavy (~60% of people)
c. Terrible technique (~35% of people)

In other words, 19 out of 20 people’s technique will go down the tubes as soon as the load gets heavy, so they might as well work on technique as they gradually build the weights up.

When you first took driver’s education class, you didn’t go straight for 65mph on the highway, did you? Nope, you drove around a parking lot, and then headed out for some back roads with very little traffic. Deadlifts are the same way; master the easy stuff before you get to the advanced stuff.

2. Improved bar speed off the floor

Imagine two lifters, both of whom are attempting 500-pound deadlifts. Lifter A puts a ton of force into the ground quickly at the start, and the bar jumps off the ground. Lifter B puts the same amount of force into the ground, but it isn’t applied as quickly, so the bar comes off a bit more slowly. Which lifter is more likely to complete the deadlift? My money is on Lifter A. Bar speed off the floor matters, and that is a very hard thing to teach at higher percentages of 1RM.

What you have to realize is that explosive strength (also known as rate of force development) is dependent on the INTENT to apply force rapidly (lift quickly), not the actual bar speed. An isometric muscle action can be explosive even though the bar doesn’t actually move; just imagine an elite deadlifter pulling against a bar 500 pounds heavier than his 1RM. He’s still applying a lot of force to the bar – and doing so quickly – but the bar isn’t moving. Take a look at my missed deadlift at the 2:12 mark of this video, as an example. You’ll see the bar bending, even if it isn’t moving; there is still force being applied. Advanced lifters get that.

The problem is that less experienced lifters don’t appreciate that you can be explosive in an isometric action; they have to have the feedback of the bar moving fast to teach them that they’re actually being explosive. And, that’s where speed deadlifts can be a great teaching tool and practice mechanism.

3. Power development

In an old installment of The Contreras Files, Bret Contreras did a great job of making a case for submaximal conventional and trap bar deadlifts (30-40% of 1RM) as potentially being as valuable as Olympic lifts in terms of the peak power production, in light of some recent research.  I think we all still have questions about this comparison, as the Olympic lifts require an athlete to apply force for longer (greater ROM) on each rep (allowing for greater carryover to athletes), and more seasoned Olympic lifters may be able to demonstrate higher power numbers simply from better technique.  However, the important takeaway message with respect to my article today is that submaximal deadlifts can, in fact, be a great option for training peak power - and I'd definitely recommend them over Olympic lifts for folks who don't have a qualified Olympic lifting coach available to teach technique.

4. Double extension is probably safer than triple extension in older, uncoordinated, inexperienced exercisers.

I'll probably get some nasty comments for this point; oh well.

We know that as people get older, the age-related loss in power is a huge deal.  So, training power is important for not only folks who are trying to get stronger and more athletic, but also folks who just want to preserve power for quality of life purposes.  I'd love nothing more than to be able to do loads of jumping, sprinting progressions, and Olympic lifts with a middle-aged population, but I'm just not sure that's a good idea in light of the number of degenerative Achilles tendons there are in the crowd, and how poorly many folks move.  These are exercises toward which we can build, no doubt, but early on, double extension exercises for training power can still be beneficial. 

I think this is one of many reasons that kettlebell swings have become so popular; they allow you to train power via double extension with a lot of the same benefits as the aforementioned modalities, but more safely.  Speed deadlift variations can work in much the same way: double extension, compound exercise, plenty of opportunity for power development, and less risk.  Eventually, when you want to start to introduce some eccentric challenges and triple extension, skipping drills, uphill sprints, and sled sprints are all good ways to do so gradually.

5. A way to train squats and deadlifts on the same day without feeling like poop.

Heavy squats are hard, and so are heavy deadlifts.  Doing both on the same day is brutal - and it can increase your injury risk in training.  Accordingly, powerlifters need to lower the intensity on one of the two if they want to get in plenty of quality work on both.

On this front, a training approach that worked really well for me during my powerlifting career was two have two lower body days per week, and break them up as:

Day 1: Squat for Speed, then Deadlift Heavy
Day 2: Squat Heavy, then Deadlift for Speed

Speed deadlifts allowed me to train bar speed, pull frequently enough to enhance technique, and get girls to like me - all without feeling like poop.  It was a win/win situation.

Speed deadlifts aren't the be-all, end-all of training initiatives, but then again, nothing is for everyone at every time. One thing that makes them unique is that they yield benefits to beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters - but for all different reasons. Try incorporating them here and there in your training and I think you'll find them to be valuable.

For more deadlifting tips, I'd encourage you to check out our free newsletter opt-in offer. When you sign up (no charge), you'll receive a detailed 9-minute video tutorial and three-part follow-up series on the deadlift. You can sign up here:


28 Responses to “5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs”

  1. The Market Wizard Says:

    What about Bret Contreras who has now said he doesn’t do dynamic DL’s anymore, but instead heavy kettlebell swings. Have you tried that, and what do you think about it?
    It might work well for those who aren’t optimally built for the deadlift like you are, with short torso and long limbs. For the people with a longer torso the deadlift takes a lot out of your lumbar spine muscles and might be hard to recover from. KB swings might give the same benefits with less recovery time?

  2. Eric lagoy Says:

    Awesome post. You learn about power, rate of force development, strength velocity curves, etc. in school, buts its tough sometimes to see how it applies in the weight room. The old “lift slow be slow” phrase I used to hear at CP still rings in my head when I do speed work. And in the general population, if your not an athlete, you probably rarely try to move as fast as you can.

    I would add one more reason I love speed deadlifts, I feel like 5 or so singles of speed deadlifts at a 50-60% range sets my mind up for that explosiveness I want as I approach a 1RM. Lts me know I’m trying to move as fast as I can even if the bar speed slows as the weight goes up

  3. MattR Says:

    Very good post. With a new work schedule that talks up an extra 3 hrs of my day everyday, my training schedule is struggling. I’ve been looking for a way to do back-to-back days on the weekend without killing my back, etc, and I’m definitely going to add speed work on those days. Thanks!

  4. Robert Says:


    What is your opinion on the 4 days a week squats experimented by Mr.Gentilicore on T-nation?

    I am a pitcher in the offseason, i am by my first week and everything feels great.

    I am an avid foam roller.

  5. Aravind Says:

    What was the bar you used in the squats and what was the reason for using it? I ask because I have a shoulder issue which prevents me from supporting the bar either in front or back squats.

  6. Eric Cressey Says:


    It’s a giant cambered bar. The less abducted/externally rotated position is easier on my bum shoulder.

  7. Eric Cressey Says:


    I think it’s a bit much. Not something I would advocate for a pitcher, as there are other things on which you need to focus.

  8. Eric Cressey Says:

    I still like kettlebell swings, too. I think the advantage of deadlift variations is that you can use a greater load, and more people have barbells than kettlebells.

  9. Andrew @ KickSpeed Says:

    Some serious bend in that bar at 630! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. Brian Says:

    How would you incorporate this into a baseball offseason program? Do the speed deads and speed squats as you get closer to season (pre-season or spring training)? Would you go back to heavy or stay at speed during in season?

  11. Eric Cressey Says:


    I’d only use it sparingly in a baseball training program because power development is better trained with med ball throws, plyos in the frontal/transverse planes, sprinting, agility work, and jumps. This exercise is more suited to general fitness folks and powerlifters than baseball players.

  12. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Andrew!

  13. kedric Says:

    Hi Eric,

    After your recommendation to pick up deadlift dynamite I picked up a copy.

    Great stuff, but in it it recommends deadlifting with slightly flared shoulders(upper back rounding) even on lighter loads.I know you constantly cue for upper back tightness,what are your thoughts on this?


  14. Daveprunedale1 Says:

    This is an important post for older experienced lifters, such as myself (43). I can lift pretty much the same amount of weight and sometimes surpass lifts I did in my twenties. The problem is that it takes twice as long to recover. Some worouts, I feel like I’m being lazy and will go 90% on deadlifts and squats. Then my lower back and hams will be screwed up for nine days! Could you possibly post some atricles on athletic traing for middle aged population. I feel lost sometimes!

  15. Drew Massey Says:

    “What you have to realize is that explosive strength (also known as rate of force development) is dependent on the INTENT to apply force rapidly (lift quickly), not the actual bar speed.” This should be sent to most high school strength coaches, as most are still chasing numbers which leads to technical breakdown/injury. Good research out there on the intention of rate of force development, even with ankle dorsiflexion.
    Also, like your stance on the use of double extension for power development. Which is why (I believe) the swings work so well. The size of KB’s most guys use are between 20kg-40kg which is well below the 35-80% mentioned in the article, so you could move those faster pushing them more in the realm of speed strength. Great work as always.

  16. Eric Cressey Says:


    For deadlift performance alone, I agree. This is likely a more “neutral” position for the scap (slight protraction).

    For athleticism and postural benefits, I discourage rounding.

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Drew! Great post.

  18. kedric Says:

    Thanks Eric,you kick ass

  19. Mat Says:


    I like all of your reasons for speed deadlifts. My question is regarding power development. Power development for the deadlift I can see a direct correlation, but what about for a jump or any athletic movement where we want acceleration at toe off as opposed to deceleration? I have been reading a lot of Dr. Hatfield’s stuff on power and the likes of Louie Simmons on Compensatory Acceleration. Defranco has a lot of his guys do trap bar deadlift jumps. Just curious your thoughts on this…I am well aware you yourself have a nice vertical as well as your athletes. Thanks!

  20. Eric Cressey Says:


    Most athletes are still getting plenty of triple extension in the rest of their programming, so I don’t think it’s essential to add in the plantarflexion component. Some variety on this front won’t hurt.

  21. Colin Lane Says:

    What do you recommend for sets and reps on your heavy day?

    Thank you,

  22. Eric Cressey Says:


    All sorts of different combinations, from heavy singles, to stage system, to straight sets.

  23. Ryan Says:

    Coach Cressey,

    In regards to Olympic lifts having greater range of motion, I’ve always been skeptical on certain Olympic lifts because there is a large portion of the lift that isn’t done in a fully explosive manner, with the pull off the ground being more controlled and the pull from above the knee being extremely explosive. Wouldn’t the dead lift variations possess greater ROM than the Olympic lift, being I am pulling for maximal speed from the ground and can probably do so with heavier weight? Love speed deads.

  24. Bryce Webster Says:

    At what age would you classify the “older” athlete?

  25. Eric Cressey Says:


    I’d say anything over 35-40.

  26. Eric Cressey Says:


    Very good point.

  27. Amanda Greening Says:

    All of this resonated with me, but YES especially to that last idea of mixing up dynamic and heavy effort on the squat and deadlift on opposite days. I had the idea to program my leg days like this a few months ago and have experienced excellent progress with it! My deadlifts especially have never felt easier and I’ve been adding regular weight. At 35, and as a woman who has been deadlifting for less than a year, I just pulled 235 which I am thrilled with. I really credit the regular speed work and this mixed day approach. And of course hip thrusting but that is another post ; ) Thank you for consistently contributing to my fitness journey!

  28. Jason Says:

    Great work!Big fan

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