8 Week Deadlift Progression

The following template is an example of a progression that can be used to peak the deadlift leading into a powerlifting meet or used at your own leisure when testing a true one rep max. The program is written assuming that you have access to bands, chains and maybe a deadlift bar but you can easily get away with any old barbell and an ample amount of plates.

Similar to the squat and bench progression, intensities and variations change weekly in a wave style fashion, leading us up to a 1rm in either competition or max out day. As you will see, a conjugated approach is taken while the max effort method, repetition method and dynamic effort method are all implemented in healthy doses throughout the 8 week program. As the meet/max out draws nearer, specificity becomes higher as we prepare to execute the main lifts.

Phase 1: The first 4 weeks of this program are utilized to lay the ground work for a successful peaking cycle in phase 2. Here, your CNS gets its first taste of supra maximal weights with the use of chains in Weeks 1 and Week 3 which will allow you to get familiar with the feel of heavy weight in your hands, therefore it will be less of a shock to the system when it is time for 1st and 2nd attempts later in the progression.

Week 1:

  • Conventional Deadlift w/chains: 2×5,2×3

Week one we start off with heavy conventional deadlifts from the floor to begin accumulating some volume at a higher intensity to start the peak.  I am a big fan of keeping conventional deadlifts in the mix year round whether you pull conventional stance or sumo stance in meets (Im a sumo puller myself). Reason being, conventional deadlifts have tremendous carryover to the sumo pull and pack some nice strength and size onto the entire posterior chain.

Week 2:

  • Competition Stance Block Pull: Work up to 3rm

In week 2, we will be hitting competition stance block pulls. This week will be either an ego boost or an ego check depending on where you are weakest (or strongest) in your deadlift. Either way we will be working top end strength this week.

For example, since I am a sumo deadlifter and stronger at lockouts, I am typically able to handle more weight on this movement than I am off of the floor. Therefore, I have found that programming block pulls leading into a meet giving my body a good taste of supramaximal weights, but since I am in a more advantageous position, it does so without beating my lower back and hamstrings up too badly.

Say for example you, the reader, are in the opposite situation of mine and are a conventional deadlifter who is weak at lockout. You will find this week to be an excellent opportunity to work on this weakness although you may not be able to handle as heavy loads as you typically would be able to from the floor. This is absolutely fine and will have great carryover leading into the rest of the peak.

Week 3:

  • Speed Deadlift: 8×2@65% (25% chain weight if possible): Alternate Sumo/Conv: 4 sets each.

In week 3, a dynamic effort day is strategically used in place to dial in technique and give the body a break after the heavy weights in weeks 1 and 2.

For this week, we are alternating between sumo deadlift and conventional deadlift, working with 65% of our projected max, this includes the barbell weight and the chain weight. For example, a 635 pound conventional deadlifter using 65% for speed work would need approximately ~415 lbs for speed work when using his conventional stance. Since we are using 25% chain weight, we will use 25% of 415 which is approximately ~100 lbs of chain. The rest of the weight will be barbell weight! (315 bar weight+100 lbs chain). Please note, that unless our sumo deadlift max and conventional deadlift max are absolutely the same, weights should changed accordingly when switching stances.

Keep the rest breaks roughly 45s- 1 min between sets during this workout!

Week 4:   

  • Competition Stance Pull against chains– 15% chain weight: Work up to heavy single (be conservative, intensity should be an 8/10).  

In week 4, things start to get a little bit more specific, outside of the use of accommodated resistance of course.

For this workout, we are getting into our competition stance and taking a weight, including the chains, that is heavy but manageable (think 2nd attempt at a meet). For example, if a lifter projects that their 2nd attempt at a meet will be 620 lbs, they would use ~530 lbs bar weight + ~90 lbs chain, giving them 620 lbs at the top of the lift.

The chains serve two main purposes here: The lifter feels the weight at the top of the movement, which gets them acclimated to feeling the heavy weight in their hands leading to increased confidence when faced with heavier loads, while simultaneously learning to accelerate through the finish of the lift as the chains slow down bar deceleration near the top of the lift.  

Phase 2: The second phase of this program gets more specific as competition/max out nears closer to put us in the best position to peak at the right time. Unlike the 8 Week Squat Progression, competition deadlifts are taken once as a late intermediate-advanced lifter and twice as a beginner lifter in the second 4 weeks as opposed to 3 competition squats.  

Week 5:

  • Stiff Leg Conventional Barbell Deadlift : 3×3

Week 5 is the first straight weight deadlift of the program since Week 2. This week is designed to still give us a solid strength workout but also allow some recovery from the heavy load on deadlift in week 4, and going into week 6. Stiff leg deadlifts are a great option for this type of workout since we are ultimately forced to use a lighter weight compared to other variations of the deadlift, making them somewhat autoregulating while still providing great benefit.

Make sure you keep form and leave some reps in the tank on these! Intensity should be a 7 out of 10 in this workout.

Week 6:

  • Competition Style Deadlift- Work up to Opener and Second Attempt

Week 6 features the heaviest loads for both squat and deadlift of the entire program. This week is a gut-check if we’ve done the program right up until this point. As a general rule of thumb, an opener should be something that can be done  for an easy triple, and the second attempt can be comfortably based off of the number set in week 4. Keep volume fairly low leading up to the opener, and should mimic what you do warming up for a meet. Below is an example of a lifter opening with 585 lbs on the deadlift.

Ex: 135×3, 225×3, 315×3, 405×3, 495×1, 545×1 (last warmup), 585×1 (opener), 620×1 (2nd attempt).

If you wish to, you may also add a reverse band deadlift after your second attempt which should be used with a heavy band that takes 20-30 lbs off the bottom of the lift. Example: If a lifter wants to deadlift 650 at a meet, they may use a reverse band deadlift with 680.

If you opt against reverse bands, Heavy High Rack Pulls (just below knee) are also a great option. I recommend using straps and loading up the bar for a heavy 2×2 after your main lifts on this day in place of reverse band pulls.

Week 7:

  • Speed Deadlift: 65% against bands–Use Competition Stance OR Work up to Sub-Opener/Opener

Week 7 is the final week of deadlift training of this program before the meet/max out day. We have two options this week, we can either perform speed deadlifts in our competition stance or if for some reason we want one more deadlift workout to feel some weight in our hands/build some confidence we have the option of working up to our last warmup/opener. I highly recommend the first option for a late intermediate-advanced lifter, as this lifter is probably handling loads that are more significant and therefore disruptive to the central nervous system. In this case, recovery has to be priority number one and speed training will still allow the lifter to work out whatever kinks they have left over and “grease the groove” without adding any wear and tear/disrupting the peak.

As a beginner lifter, option 2 is your best bet. Since this lifter is likely not handling such significant loads, their recoverability is much better than the advanced lifter at this point in their career and handling another heavy load at this point will not cause any major concerns in recovering in time for the meet/max out. In fact, handling a heavier load here will likely help preserve the lifter’s fitness leading into the taper and make sure that the athlete does not peak too early. A progression is provided below for working up to the last warmup for a lifter opening with 365 on the deadlift. Keeping volume low here is again, key.

Ex: 135×3, 185×3, 225×3, 275×1, 315×1, 335×1 (last warmup), 365×1 (opener).

Week 8:

  • Meet Week or Max Out Week: Hit a PR!

Hit a few light workouts in the days prior to the meet/max out to keep blood flowing and to “grease the groove”, but no straining what so ever. Eat, rest and visualize success!

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