Selecting Deadlift Movements

Deadlift overload movements

My deadlift has made significant progress since I stopped relying on heavy overload movements to massage my ego. I am a big fan of using a variety of exercises to build the deadlift, but for a long time when my deadlift was not going as well, it was all too tempting to regularly default to movements which allowed me to use the most weight.

Reverse band deadlifts, higher block / rack pulls and things like the trap bar are all useful tools when used sparingly. It is less likely though that these exercises are the missing link to what’s stopping your deadlift from improving. Occasionally it’s good to overload the movement, break in the feel of a new weight on the bar you haven’t handled before and I’m all for this being done sometimes but the numbers you can hit on these movements will not always be a great indicator of what you can do in the competition lifts. 

Generally speaking the easier you find a movement, the less useful it’s likely to be as a builder of your competition lift. For example if you can add much more than 10% on top of your full range comp lift, then that given variation is probably going to do more to massage your ego then it will to improve your lift. 

There are always a few exceptions, but on the whole, overload movements should be kept to a minimum and a lot of your training should make the competition lift harder, not easier.  There are very few people who actually lift less with high block / rack pulls and if you can lift more then your comp lift remember this perhaps isn’t your weakness and subsequently won’t be a major key to unlock your next deadlift PR.  Sometimes people avoid doing the competition lifts for a heavy 1 rep max so much that they refuse to accept where their comp lifts actually are and just assume if they keep hitting overload movements that somehow that overload weight will magically come off the floor for a new PR. 

Some overload movements can fit in a programme more frequently IF there are also movements which make the lift harder as well. Sometimes a combination can be an excellent way of keeping confidence high with heavier weights whilst also actually building up the areas you find tough about the lift.  However, if the majority of heavy work in a programme constitutes movements which make the lift easier and massage the ego but don’t actually challenge any weak points then it you shouldn’t be surprised if when you return to test your strength on the basic deadlift that you don’t manage to add much/any weight to the bar. 

It is difficult sometimes to control the ego, but there are no prizes for the best rack pull / block pull and there are DEFINITELY no crowds cheering or trophies for best reverse band deadlift. These movements are fun and great to use on occasion but if they are giving you an enormous advantage don’t assume those weights are just around the corner on the main lift. 

Using a conjugate / concurrent style of training has been my preference for the last 10 years, and I believe that utilising movements to build certain parts of the lift is essential but recognising when movements are useful and when they are less so is a skill which not everyone makes much effort to develop. 

My main deadlift day ( monday) in my recent training has, 8-9 weeks out of 10, involved pulling against some accommodating resistance. It’s stopped me obsessing about very specific straight weight numbers for too long. I started the training cycle 4 months ago hitting around 270kg plus 40kg chain, and last week, having run multiple 3-4 week cycles involving progressive loading and variation in accommodating resistance, I hit a PR of 305kg plus 50kg chain. My best deadlift to date in competition is 310kg which I got in February this year and whilst I have bettered this with a gym PR of 320kg my consistency and confidence in 300kg plus weights has improved dramatically because I know I can pull that weight with a further 40-50kg chain on the bar. I’ve made the exercise tougher than it is when pulling straight weight  and so when I do retest my straight weight deadlift I am ten times more confident than I believe I would be if I’d just been performing easier ego lift variations and was just hoping by chance it would carry over somehow. 

I perform my main deadlift day at the beginning of the week and always squat in some form (usually a box squat)  before I deadlift. Later in the week (on Friday), the day after my max squat session, I perform my deadlift builder movement. It is done this way around, because the deadlift against band/chain tension takes priority each week.  The builder lift at the end of the week will be adjusted based on how the rest of the week has gone and how well recovered I am from previous sessions. 

On the Friday,  I sometimes use overload movements but I tend to work on a basis of testing movements and if they give me a big overload then I’ll discard them temporarily as I rule them out as they clearly don’t hold the key to a new PR. My grip has never been a weak point so I rarely simply need to get a heavy weight to strengthen the hands. 

I must admit that previously the temptation when I find a movement that I can heavily overload is to want to keep doing that movement for a few weeks but it has rarely been an effective training method. A few weeks ago I tried a 3 block deadlift (plates raised 6 3/4” off the floor) and found that even in just briefs, I just about hit a 360kg PR. Now whilst this was fun it’s proved only one thing to me, and that is that 3 block deadlifts don’t belong in my training programme very often because I was able to hit way over my max.

What I have found are more useful builders are versions of the lift which force me to work hard to get my chest up and ensure I don’t get on my toes.  I use the Friday session to experiment with different variations to at least 3 weeks out of 4, challenge myself and make the lift tougher in some way. 

Most people, like me are stronger off of higher blocks and so it’s much less likely that a higher rack pull or higher block pull are actually working a weakness. Sometimes very low blocks (plates raised up to 3”) for conventional deadlifters can actually be harder than off the floor, but for many it’s still an overload movement.

In summary, try to ensure you are balancing out your variations with tougher versions of the lift and only throw overload movements in occasionally.

A few reasons which might validate an overload movement are the following:

1. You needs mental break if the deadlift training has not gone as well and you want to come away from a session feeling more positive. If this is the case it’s understandable but you MUST limit it to one session like this and then go back to some hard training.

2. You have put in primarily tougher variations for 6-10 weeks and you want a movement to get a feel for that next step up in weight.

3. Physically you are beaten up and want to handle some weight in a session but you don’t think you can manage anything more than an easier version of the lift. Again, do not let yourself do this too often. 

Most of your effective training will make the deadlift tougher and yes overload movements can be great but it’s important to be aware of the relevance of the variations you are using.  Over time you can build up a series of ‘indicator lifts’ which you know, that if these movements improve, your competition deadlift will have improved as well. Once you have these lifts, you can focus on what builds these and worry less about your competition lifts. 

The worst thing you can do with your training is just be randomly cycling through max effort movements with most of them just being ego movements which make you feel good but give no real indication where your actual main deadlift is. 

As many of you will have come back off either a break or at best a period of limited training, it’s even more imperative that you keep your training movements relevant so you can track the effectiveness and know that you are always doing things which will be bringing your competition lift up.  It’s hard to accept when lifts have gone down, but it’s also very easy to hide behind a series of movements which make the movement easier. It’s also a good time to more regularly return to the competition lift and pull a heavy single to see how the strength is progressing. Once up to full strength again, then the main lift should be re-visited much less frequently. 

The best way to build strength is to always be honest with yourself as to where your strength is and to build from where you actually are , not where you wish you were.

deadlift plus chains
locking out
deadlift plus chains