From The Desk of Maverick Brenton.
When I was 13 years old and working as a lifeguard at my local swimming pool, I remember talking to one of the older boys, who also worked at the pool.
He was big, and very strong.
I’d started lifting weights about six months earlier, and was absolutely hooked.
Every afternoon, when school finished, I would walk across the road to my friends house, where we would train for hours in his backyard gym.
We used his brothers equipment, which was very old school.
Rusty dumbbells that were 20 years old, some homemade equipment, plenty of plates, a few old barbells and some torn up benches.
We had nothing special.
All we had was all that mattered.
Now it was in that backyard, throwing around those old rusty weights, that I was bitten by the iron bug.
Almost a decade later, I haven’t had more than a week off.
Now this older boy at the pool, he had been training for years, and was the biggest lad in my school.
I was a scrawny little twig, barely weighing 70kg at over 6ft tall.
So when the opportunity came, I sat down with him and asked him how I could get big just like he was.
“Just do the basics, man. Especially the deadlift.”
I looked at him with a confused face.
“Deadlift? What is that?” I asked.
He looked at me with a blank face, and didn’t say anything for a moment.
“You’ve never done deadlifts?”
Then he shook his head and laughed.
“It’s one of the best for building muscle. Makes your whole body stronger.”
“How do you do them?”
He stood up, then positioned himself in standing position – in front of me.
“You load up a bar, then you bend down like this, and you stand up with it.”
“That’s all there is to it?”
He nodded, before sitting back down.
That afternoon when I finished work at the swimming pool, I rode my bicycle to my friend’s house and I did deadlifts for the first time.
The next morning came..
And my entire body was sore.
My lower back muscles ached, my hamstrings were fucked, my calves were sore, my traps were sore, my forearms were sore, and my abs were sore.
So I fell in love with them.
I did them the next day, the day after that, and I kept going until I burnt myself out.
My whole body grew stronger, especially my back.
Here I am below, almost ten years later, still doing them:
The Benefits of The Deadlift.
Before I get into how you can build a strong deadlift as a natural lifter (over 180kg/400lbs), I want to talk about the benefits of deadlifting.
Whilst there are many more, here are five major ones:
Benefit #1: Increase in total body strength, power and bone density.
As I just mentioned, this exercise trains your whole fucking body, especially your posterior chain.
It’s the ultimate test of strength, and a real man maker.
Picking up a heavy ass barbell and putting it back down is extremely simple, but it is also very difficult.
It will take core strength, back strength, grip strength, leg strength, and grit, to complete a set of heavy deadlifts.
Following a set of heavy deadlifts, your entire body will be feeling it.
Benefit #2: Increased Grip Strength
Deadlifting heavy without using straps has developed my forearms like nothing else and has built insane grip strength in the process.
I have never failed a lift due to poor grip strength, and that’s the result of 10 years of deadlifting with my bare hands.
I’ve always used a mixed grip, which is easier than the double overhand grip, but still very taxing on the forearms and the hands.
If you’re just starting out, do not use straps.
Build thick and meaty hands, tear the fucking skin off them and let it grow back stronger.
Eventually they’ll toughen up and become very strong.
Benefit #3: Back Development
Some delusional people argue that the deadlift doesn’t really build your back, and that it’s more of a leg exercise.
These people are called idiots, and have never trained deadlifts hard.
When you train deadlifts hard – your entire back will be sore, especially your erectors (lower back muscles).
Deadlifts are the best exercise for building a thick and meaty lower back, but they build every other muscle in your back too.
Along with building every single muscle in your back, they build your hamstrings, your glutes, your forearms and your calves
Don’t believe me?
Go on the internet, find someone with a big deadlift, and look at their posterior chain.
It will be jacked.
Pete Rubish, Dan Green, Chris Duffin, Larry Wheels, and anyone who competes in strongman – to name a few.
Benefit #4: Increased Testosterone and Growth Hormone Levels
Deadlifting heavy weights causes your body to create more testosterone and release more growth hormone, which means it helps your entire body grow stronger and recover faster.
Like I said before, the Deadlift, along with other hardcore compound movements – will make you stronger all over because it works everything.
Doing Seated Machine Rows or anything on machines, is nowhere near as effective as deadlifting heavy shit.
Deadlifting heavy shit will cause your body to release muscle building hormones, eventually turning your body into a slab of muscle.
Benefit #5: Develop A Sense of Pride and Accomplishment
Let me tell you something: when you take your deadlift from nothing, to a weight that most people cannot move – it feels fucking good.
Nothing feels better than adding more weight to the bar and knowing that you are growing stronger.
This is the number one reason I train.
I don’t train for a pump, or to look good – I train because getting stronger simply feels good, and getting stronger will help you develop self-respect.
If you can deadlift a lot of weight, it’s hard to not feel good about yourself.
If you’re a weak sack a shit, it’s easy to not feel good about yourself.
So get stronger.
Variations of The Deadlift.
There are many variations of the deadlift, and they all work.
No single variation is the best, and it comes down to how your body is built – so you must experiment and find what works for you.
I am very tall, with long arms and long legs, so I can comfortably deadlift a lot for every deadlift variation I’m about to list.
Not everybody is built like me though, so you need to experiment and figure out what works for you.
The simplest, most basic variation of the deadlift, and my personal favourite.
These are very taxing on your lower back muscles.
You can perform them off the floor, from a deficit to increase the range of motion, with bands to increase the tension at the top, or from blocks, or pins, to decrease the range of motion.
Less taxing on the lower back with a heavier influence on your hamstrings, abductors and glutes.
If you have back pain, these are often better than conventional deadlifts and will allow you to get into a safer, stronger position.
You can do these off pins or blocks, with or without bands, and even from a deficit, which is something I’ve never done.
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
A more advanced and very effective variation for hammering the posterior chain, especially the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
These can be made much harder by standing on a plate, creating a deficit, or you can do them off pins, but I have never done that.
This exercise is my favourite lower back exercise of all time.
Snatch Grip Deadlifts.
While not my favourite, this is the hardest and most badass variation of the deadlift – due to the wide grip on the bar.
Most people are weak as fuck in this exercise, and my best is only 180kg.
They will build your upper back like nothing else and force your posterior chain to grow.
Do them from a deficit and they become even harder.
These can also be done from pins, or with bands.
This exercise is what allowed me to conventional deadlift 220kg a few years ago.
First introduced to me by Eric Bugenhagen – these are absolutely fucked, and a real man maker.
You essentially pick up the barbell using your forearms, which makes them extremely difficult.
My best is 150kg for one rep, and I’ve seen Eric do over 220kg.
This is an advanced movement, and not something a beginner should be doing.
It takes a great deal of flexibility and strength to do them properly.
If you can do them though, they will make you sore in places that you never knew existed, and they will toughen up your forearms too.
Behind The Back Deadlifts.
Unbelievably effective for increasing strength off the floor in the conventional deadlift.
Due to how these are performed, very little stress is placed on the lower back and the emphasis is instead on your quads and upper back.
How much you can move in this exercise depends on how your built, and how strong you are – but they’re worth trying at least once.
You will find that your lower back is not sore, and these can be trained day after day, if you’re crazy enough.
Do them from a deficit. Do them from blocks. Do them with bands.
They will help you move more weight in the conventional deadlift.
A strange, yet effective exercise.
Great for tall guys like myself.
These will build your grip more than any other variation, due to how the exercise is performed, but they will also hammer your core, your upper back and everything else.
Alternating your stance can help prevent imbalances, and they can be done from blocks or with bands.
I’ve never done them from a deficit, but feel free to try it.
There are one million different ways to build a bigger deadlift, and they all come down to the same thing – adding more weight to the bar and doing more reps.
Here are two methods I have used over the years.
They have worked for me and will probably work for you.
Basic Progressive Overload Template:
Deadlift (any variation) – pyramid sets up to 3-5 rep max and one back down set of 8-10 reps
Stiff Leg Deadlift: 5 sets x 8-10 reps
Weighted Pull-ups: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Machine Pull-downs: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
Machine Rows: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
Ab Wheel Roller: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
Notes on The Above Template:
This is a very basic “back day” style session.
For the main movement, the deadlift, you simply work up to a top set of 3-5 reps, then you drop the weight and do one more set for higher reps.
Every week you MUST do your best to move more weight, or do more reps, as I have outlined in the above program.
Everything that comes after the deadlift, is designed to help build the deadlift.
It’s the assistance work, and the goal of the assistance work is to get a pump, build muscle and strengthen weak points.
You don’t have to use those exercises, this is just an example.
Do whatever exercises you want.
Just make sure you train the main movement first, and work the associated muscles afterwards.
Getting stronger in your assistance movements will carry over to your main movement, and that’s their purpose – so do not half ass them.
The Concurrent Template:
|Exercise||Week One||Week Two||Week Three||Week Four|
Training – 3 x 3
|Snatch Grip |
Nothing has changed here, only the programming of the main movement which is shown in the above table.
Keep all the assistance work in the same format as the first template.
Now here is what you do differently:
Every week, over a four week period, you do a different variation of the deadlift until you return to the variation you began with – which you will be stronger at.
Each variation you perform must have a carryover to the variation you started with, and the one you are trying to get stronger in.
This means if you want to build a bigger Conventional Deadlift, you need to train other variations that help build your Conventional Deadlift.
Basically, by swapping the variation each week – you are building strength in all variations, preventing overuse/burnout, and keeping things interesting.
This method is extremely effective, and the best way to train as a natural lifter in my opinion.
In the above table:
3 x 3 = 3 sets of 3 reps
Def. = Deficit
Conv. = Conventional
Bonus Tips and Thoughts.
At the end of the day, time and effort is the only thing that will make your deadlift increase and your body grow.
You must put in the time.
That said, you can speed up your progress by making sure you are eating enough, sleeping enough and doing the exercises properly, because if you injure yourself then you will be taking two steps backwards.
If you choose to focus on the Conventional Deadlift, Zercher Deadlift, Snatch Grip Deadlift or Stiff Leg Deadlift – keep in mind that they will tax your lower back to a great degree and therefore you will need to rest more.
Heavy deadlifting is very taxing on your body and your nervous system.
From my experience I would do it no more than once per week, to prevent fucking yourself up.
To finish off, here’s a very brief guide to overcoming weak points in the conventional deadlift:
Weak off the floor?
Train from a deficit and do behind the back deadlifts to build leg drive off the floor.
Weak at mid shin?
Train from blocks or pins, and integrate paused deadlifts to build strength where you are weak.
Weak above knee?
Heavy rack pulls and shrugs for you.
Shut the fuck up and just work.