Name: Karina Baymiller
Occupation(s): Team Bodybuilding.com; Cellucor athlete; ACSM Personal trainer
Deadlifts have always been one of my favorite exercises. I was in love after I completed my first set a couple years ago, but I haven't always been great at them.
When I first started deadlifting—about a year after picking up my first weight—I struggled to pull 95 pounds. Now I can pull 315.
So, how in the world did I go from not lifting a weight in my life to deadlifting heavy in only two years? Simple: I stuck with the basics.
As a personal trainer with a degree in kinesiology, I could throw exercise science at you all day, but I didn't read any studies to improve my deadlift.
Instead, I went back to the basics and followed these five fundamental principles. Before I knew it, I was pulling more weight than the boys.
Focus On Form
As a personal trainer, I see form fly out the window all the time. Whether it's a general lack of knowledge, an attempt to lift too heavy, or a simply not paying attention to tempo, people consistently sacrifice proper form.
Having correct form is crucial to success—especially when it comes to getting your deadlift numbers up.
When I first began deadlifting, I held the bar too far away from my body, and my hips were too high. This made for an ugly combination that put stress on my lower back, forcing me to lift less weight and suffer more pain.
Now when I deadlift, I let the bar cut my foot in half, making sure it hits the same sweet spot over my laces each time.
I keep my lower back slightly arched, my upper back flat and neutral, and my head up. The result is that the bar goes up much easier, with a lot more weight.
Keep Your Lifts Heavy
When I started lifting, I was using light weight with high reps. There was something about doing low reps with a really heavy weight that scared the crap out of me.
It wasn't until I started using Jim Wendler's "5/3/1" strength program that I learned about the serious potential I could unearth if I just let go of fear and went heavy.
I started using 65-95 percent of my one-rep max, which was a complete 180 from everything I'd done up to that point. At first I struggled, but, with persistence, once-heavy lifts started to become easy. They even became the favorite part of my week.
To get your numbers up like I did, your working deadlift sets should be performed right around 80 percent of your one-rep max (1RM). Focus on triples, or sets of 3 reps. Rest at least 60-120 seconds to recover your strength between sets.
Keep that up, and you'll be deadlifting houses in no time.
Use Solid Assistance Work
If there were a deadlifting pyramid, assistance exercises would be at the bottom. They're the foundation that deadlift strength is built on. Deadlifts require an insane amount of posterior chain strength, which is what I focused on in order to get my numbers up.
Assistance exercises will help you hone in on any weaker areas and improve on overall strength gains, all of which I've found to be a tremendous help in increasing my deadlift weight.
Eat. Then Eat More.
Ever hear the phrase "eat big to lift big?" Well, it's actually true. You can't expect to exponentially increase your deadlift on 1,000 calories of chicken breast and broccoli every day. I didn't start pulling big numbers on my deadlift—or any other lift, for that matter—until I stopped dieting and began eating to fuel my workouts.
I'm not saying dieting leaves you doomed, because it's still possible to increase strength while in a deficit, but in my experience, more food equals more strength. It's as simple as that. It's a correlation that can't and shouldn't be ignored if you're looking to improve your lifts and join the big leagues.
If you're as serious about increasing your numbers as I am, I suggest hanging out at maintenance calorie level or higher. Give the dieting a break for a bit and focus on strength. Go high on protein, don't skimp on the natural fats, and remember that those extra carbs do the body good.
Deadlift, A Lot
This may be the most important and blatantly obvious point I can make. You want to improve your deadlift? Then deadlift. And deadlift a lot.
There are certain movements that improve more through practice than anything else, and the deadlift is one of them. It's a skill you're trying to perfect, so practice it.
Think of an NBA player working on a 3-point shot. Sure, shooting anywhere else on the court is going to help improve 3-point range, but perfecting a 3-pointer requires shooting from that arc.
The same goes for deadlifting. While assistance work is great, it only does just that—assist. You can't expect to improve your numbers by performing deads only once each month.
So, how often should you deadlift? That depends on you. Recovery, build, and experience all influence your deadlift frequency.
Some people can deadlift 2-3 times per week, while others have to pace themselves and deadlift once per week. I deadlift once or twice every week depending on how my body feels. I test my 1RM every eight weeks, tops.
Use sound judgment and listen to your body. Take things easy, but remember that practice makes perfect. Get your ass to that 3-point line and shoot.