How to Pull A State Record: A Road Map For Women and Deadlifting

I hate to lose, I really do.  A few months ago Jillian and I set a small challenge with our deadlift to see who could reach either three plates (315) or six plates (585) first.  I got smoked in that challenge as Jillian ended up above and beyond the three plate goal while I am still working towards 585.  We talked in depth about how we raised her squat by 40lbs in a short period of time with the aid of the PUSH band so I figured the next logical step is to talk about her deadlift and the methods that we used to increase her strength in that respective lift.

The Road from 285 to 320

I consider Jillian’s pull to be her best lift at the moment.  To be honest, I actually think she is going to end up a better squatter but for the moment we will call the deadlift her “pet,” lift.  A little background on this…. Jillian first started to train with me about 1.5yrs ago with no squat or bench experience.  She was training at a commercial gym with what I would consider less than adequate coaching and even worse programming.  There was a positive to that experience however, the programming gave her a great work capacity and strengthened a lot of the muscles associated with deadlifting (kb swings, glute bridges and numerous other things).  The first time we deadlifted together she either pulled 185 or 200lbs with less than ideal form.  From there she hit all the usual milestones (225, 250, 275) and then most recently in her meet pulled 285lbs and gave 300lbs a hell of a try.

Down and Dirty in the Dungeon

Once we set up our home gym  and deadlift platform  it was time to get to work.  I couldn’t wait for her to hit 300lbs in the basement because I think that’s a pretty badass thing to do when no one is around.  Her deadlift training is based around three types of workouts

  • Speed day (usually between 70-85%)
  • Heavy triples
  • Heavy singles

I’d like to say that we were able to take the same analytical approach to the deadlift that we did with the squat and bar speed but the truth is that we just weren’t able to generate consistent data with the PUSH band.  If you have a PUSH band and can get the data without missed reps etc.. then please contact me and let me know what you do.

The rotation that we used is very similar to a heavy/medium/light day but the speed work is a bit heavier than normal speed work.

Speed Day

There isn’t really a hard and fast rule to the percentage of the speed day.  When in doubt, go lighter than you think is the advice I would give anyone and everyone.  This day is not about lifting heavy things, it’s about practicing form and finding the groove.  There are some days when you start to pull and it just feels awful, I truly believe that the speed day makes those days a bit more infrequent and leads to better pulling.  We do the speed day with a set x rep scheme of 5×3.  Sometimes the weight is the same, sometimes we increase it.  It all depends on feel and how things look after we review on video.

Heavy Triples

This day would probably be most like a medium day if you are a fan of the light/medium/heavy type of workouts and programming.  Jillian probably did this workout the least amount of times but I like it for a few reasons.  The first reason is that when doing a heavy triple you are most likely going to get out of position on either the 2nd or 3rd rep.  You need to think while pulling and still complete the rep.  Sometimes the deadlift is more about not panicking when things don’t go completely right and correcting.  The heavy triple also serves as a rep max indicator for what to pull on heavy single day.

Heavy Singles

This is basically “PR” day and usually resulted in Jillian getting more weight than she ever had in her hands before and completing the rep.  The one goal that we usually had with this day was to not miss and hopefully leave a bit in the tank.  We gauged progress with the singles on either a “PR” or if something that was hit before had a faster bar speed.  We couldn’t actually track the bar speed (see above) but we had the ability to compare with videos.  On the days when it just wasn’t there we shut it down early and just chalked it up to not being quite ready for a new PR.  We found that you can’t really force a deadlift, you can but the risks far outweigh the rewards.  It was much better to hit records with decent speed then grinding a slow rep.

How to Progress

We followed a simple linear progression by adding weight when things felt easy.  The key to the heavy triples and singles is to start slow and give yourself room to grow.  I would even advise that if you were to follow this plan that your first heavy triple is something well under what your best heavy triple is rather than an all out effort your first time.  This way you can slowly acclimate to the increases in strength and hit something bigger in 3-4 workouts.  When Jillian hit a new PR in a single we took a look at bar speed on the speed days and made adjustments when necessary.  It really helps to have someone with you these days to judge how things look.  The days that were stressful and life got in the way will definitely have an influence on how you pull.  If you are angry and feel good then you can push it a bit.  However, if you are angry and everything is slow, back off and put some work in.

One of the things that we have become more and more accepting of is the fact that not every day needs to be a PR record smashing type of day.  In fact, more often then not the training sessions should either be the speed or heavy triple workouts vs heavy singles.  This is the same idea that people write about when they talk about building strength vs. displaying strength.  We spent way more sessions with speed and volume than we did with heavy singles.

Accessory work to build the deadlift

I think that once we dialed in the accessory work for Jillian things really started to take off.  Just like the squat, it seemed like almost every other week she was pulling a new 5lb PR.  We rotated the accessory work depending on the day, the heavy single day was the only day that wasn’t consistent.  If she hit a PR then we usually shut it down for the day, if she didn’t then there was still work that needed to be done.  The heavy triple day accessory work was 3 x 3 deficit pulls off one plate.  This helped speed off the floor and the weight was kept light enough to practice with speed.  The volume day didn’t have another movement after as enough work had been put in with the 5 working sets.

After each deadlift session was over the next movement was stiff legged deadlifts off a 2 inch deficit (2 plates).  These were done for higher reps (8-10) and for multiple sets (2-3).  If there was any time left after the stiff legged pulls then abs were done and some bent over rows.  That was about it.  We tried to keep the deadlift sessions short and sweet.  Deadlifting is taxing enough and since she was making progress there really wasn’t any reason to add anything else in.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Meet Peaking and A New State Record

This training ultimately culminated in a new NYS record pull in the RPS federation.  We followed a slightly heavier approach to peaking that was based off heavy ascending triples followed by heavy deficit pulls from a plate and then stiff legged deadlifts.  The programming was a basic taper, four heavy workouts with a decrease in volume as they progressed.  One of the keys to Jillian’s success was what I believe to be a realistic meet goal.  Instead of programming too high (which we have done in the past) we settled on a 5lb PR attempt for her third.  She definitely left a bit on the platform and smoked her third for what would be an all time PR for her, in a meet under stressful conditions and at the end of a long day.  

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