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Deadlift Programming – the right way!

Ever “prawned” a deadlift? Come on own up… I can 100% say I have. Very often.

I love a heavy deadlift just as much as the next gym hero.

But I have been doing this job long enough to know that pulling heavy deadlifts week in week out with poor form will take its toll.


If you are a beginner or have intermediate experience in gym then you likely have tried or seen others performing barbell deadlifts and barbell back squats.

You might have seen the super strong guys lifting crazy weight.

But this doesn’t mean this is the right thing for you to do today. You have to be patient when it comes to strength gains. Try to rush through things and you will be at risk.

The guys you see shooting for monster 1 rep maxes have years of strength and experience that allow them to “prawn” their lift with limited risk. You won’t see this sort of form in their regular training, it will only slip when pushing the boundaries of their strength.

Without that base strength the risk of injury with the “prawn” pull is drastically exaggerated

So let’s get planning

If you have never done a deadlift before

Week 1-4

3x8 reps light deadlift 90sec rest between sets

3x8 reps weighted back extension 90sec rest between sets

Week 5 onward – Join with next plan at week one

Done deadlifts before

Week 1

4x8 reps – 120sec rest

Week 2

4x7 reps – 120sec rest

Week 3

4x6 reps – 120sec rest

Week 4

4x5 reps – 120sec rest

Week 5

5 rep max test

The purpose of this is to discover the maximum weight you can lift for 5 reps.

In order to do this effectively I suggest building up gradually through the weights. Start of with some light high rep sets. Then work towards low rep heavier sets as your building up (2-3 reps is fine) so you don’t fatigue yourself to much for the text. When you know you are near. Set the bar for your 5 rep max and get into it! Maintain good form through these 5 reps as it is important we are working safely towards your goals. 

Week 6 –

We will be using your new found 5 rep max number to work out you 1RM (rep max) then we will be using 95% of this to set your numbers for the next 4 weeks.

To calculate 1RM

(5RM / 100) * 115

To calculate W1RM

(1RM/100 )* 95

150sec rest between all lifts through these 4 weeks.

Percentage for week 1 –

Set 1 5 reps 60% of working one rep max

Set 2 5 reps 65% of working one rep max

Set 3 5 reps 75% of working one rep max

Set 4 5 reps 75% of working one rep max

Percentage for week 2 –

Set 1 4 reps 65% of working one rep max

Set 2 4 reps 75% of working one rep max

Set 3 4 reps 85% of working one rep max

Set 4 4 reps 85% of working one rep max

Percentage for week 3 –

Set 1 3 reps 70% of working one rep max

Set 2 3 reps 80% of working one rep max

Set 3 3 reps 90% of working one rep max

Set 4 3 reps 90% of working one rep max

Percentage for week 4 –

Set 1 10 reps 40% of working one rep max

Set 2 10 reps 50% of working one rep max

Set 3 10 reps 60% of working one rep max

Set 4 10 reps 60% of working one rep max

Once the first block of four weeks is complete add 5-10 % to your working one rep max. If you fail to hit your number for 3 consecutive weeks then swap movement from conventional deadlift to sumo deadlift and start the process again. Spend 1 week getting used to the new movement before testing 5 rep max.

Accessory lifts

I suggest hitting legs twice per week. Once with a quad focus and secondly with a hamstring focus (although there is a focus there will always be a combo).

On quad dominant day you can work through the system as outlined here with back squats.

For other lifts to help your deadlifts –

Back extensions

Weighted Pull ups

Barbell lunges

Ab wheel roll outs

Barbell glute bridge

Barbell front squats

Deadlift – Speed work (50% of 1RM)

Trap Bar deadlifts

To best utlise these you need to understand your weaknesses and what you need to do to get through them.

But I would suggest working thought several of these per sessions after your deadlift/squat prime movers using sets and reps of 4x8-12 with 90sec rest.


David Kingsbury

I’m David Kingsbury, a personal trainer with over 12 years experience. After opening my own personal training studio at Pinewood Film Studios, I began training actors for film roles. I have since trained over 50 lead actors for various roles, in films such as; Wolverine, Xmen - Days of Future Past, Assassins Creed, Life and Les Misérables.

I offer custom online personal training and nutrition and use my expertise to help people reach their goals. My plans are custom made and built to fit in with your lifestyle, equipment and experience. Whether you are looking to get lean, lose fat or add muscle my custom meals plans and training plans can get you there.

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