Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Begin a Deadlift Program - John Kuc

John Kuc

19 year old Dan Wohleber
905 squat at 258 bodyweight, 1986

How to Begin a Deadlift Program
by John Kuc (1986)

The mention of deadlifting triggers panic attacks in some trainees. The vision of back-breaking reps is more than they can tolerate. Most trainees think of the deadlift as a competitive lift to be done only by powerlifters. This type of thinking is far from the truth. The deadlift is a great overall back developer. Some lifters have attained tremendous back development by using only the deadlift. I think it can be safely said that no single exercise will develop the back as well as the deadlift.

The deadlift also invokes thoughts of back injuries. This is an old wives’ tale, and is definitely not true. If deadlifts are done correctly, they are no more dangerous than any other exercise. In fact, a good deadlift workout will probably go a long way in preventing back injuries, not causing them. I feel almost any trainee would benefit from adding deadlifts to their routine.

The number one question is how to begin deadlifting. In this article I will set up a good basic routine for the beginner and intermediate trainer. The routines that follow can be used by powerlifters, bodybuilders, or the individual who trains at home for no other reason than fitness and feeling good.

We must first determine who falls into the beginner and intermediate categories. The beginner is the individual who has trained for a year or less and has not done any continuous deadlifting. He may have tried them, but they are not part of his routine. The man in the intermediate category has at least one year of training and has included deadlifts in his previous training.

No matter what stage of development you are in, the key to all deadlift training is to begin slowly and work your way up. The only secrets are patience and diligence, along with intelligent training. The individuals who are deadlifting world record poundages had to start in the same way you will. They paid the price in hard work and were rewarded with tremendous strength and development.


The deadlift calls for more overall body strength than any other movement. When we deadlift virtually the whole body – legs, back, arms, abdominals, etc. – is involved. To start the deadlift, try a shoulder-width alternate grip of the bar. This alternate grip prevents a heavy bar from rolling out of the hands. The foot placement should be a bit narrower than the hand spacing. Of course, your foot and hand spacing will change after you accumulate some experience, but initially try the recommendations I have described.

Get your foot and hand spacing; lower yourself by squatting down and slowly begin the pull. The pull is started with the lower back, taken over by the legs and finished by the lower back and hips. Come to a standing position with the bar hanging in the arms – lower the bar under control and repeat for your reps.

The following set and repetition schedule for he beginner should be sufficient:

1st set – 15 reps
2nd set – 8 reps
3rd set – 8 reps
4th set – 8 reps
5th set – 8 reps

Select a light weight for the first set and add a bit more for the second set, bearing in mind that they are warmup sets. On the third, fourth and fifth sets, jump to a poundage that is challenging, but within your capabilities for attaining eight reps for all three sets. Every second week add five pounds to the third, fourth and fifth sets.

I do not recommend the beginner to train more than three times per week, with deadlifts being done twice a week. For example, if you are training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, deadlift on Monday and Friday. This will give you plenty of work and help build a good base for the future.


I would consider most weight trainees to fall into the intermediate category as they are fairly well conditioned, but relatively inexperienced in deadlifting. What we are going to do is put them on a power routine consisting of 6 sets of 5 reps. If used correctly, this system will build power relatively fast. This routine is a good compromise between the high rep workout of the beginner and the low rep workout of the advanced powerlifter. It is a real strength builder.

The trainee at this stage should be training no more than four days per week, while deadlifts are done twice a weekly. I would recommend working your squats and deadlifts on the same day, with squats coming first. The reason for this is that the squat will not affect your deadlift as much as the deadlift will affect your squat. Right after you complete your deadlifts, do three sets each of lat bar rows and pulldowns. Both of these exercises give the latissimus dorsi a good workout and help with the deadlift.

Sample Workout: Monday and Thursday

1.) Warmup / Stretch – this is important in any routine.
2.) Abdominals
3.) Squat
4.) Deadlift
5.) Lat Bar Rows – 3x8
6.) Pulldowns – 3x8
7.) Leg Extensions
8.) Leg Curls
9.) Calf Raise

Chest, arms and shoulders can be worked on Tuesday and Friday.

Every six to eight weeks you may want to test your strength with a single repetition. This single will serve a few purposes. It will tell you the progress you are making. It will add variety to your workouts.

On these single rep days some kind of system has to be used in order to figure out a good weight for that first single. Follow your regular warmup routine. Take your first set of five with the same weight you use in training. For the next three sets, which will be the fours, triples and doubles, use a progressively heavier poundage for each, paying close attention to the ease or difficulty of each set. Let the last set give you an idea of what weight you want for the next set. By using this method you should be able to ease yourself into that single rep without shocking your body. The weight increase between the set of doubles and the single will not be that great at this point. Still, be careful! Do not add too much weight for the last set. At this stage a few pounds could easily change what should be a smooth single into a wobbly grinder with a chance for serious injury. You can be more liberal in choosing your future single. For now, get a good one in and build on it.

The next time you test your single rep strength it will be much easier because now you have a starting point to work from. When you have to decide what the single attempt should be, use your previous single and relate it to the following workouts and strength improvement. Slowly work your single up to a respectable weight over the coming months. Always stop and think about any decisions you have to make and use sound reasoning for everything you do.

The preceding will build an excellent base of strength and development. From this point one can switch to a lower rep, heavier weight routine or can continue on with the intermediate routine forever.

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