Many people still search for that magic set/rep scheme or that magic supplement or routine. On Cyberpump.com we will continue to keep repeating the same message to readers that it's not that complicated. Dr. Ken often points this out: "This is simple stuff."
Many people still fail to get the message. I would like to share with the readers some of my own progress when I first started lifting seriously. I desperately wanted to become bigger and stronger. I wanted to compete in powerlifting as well.
So, here's what my foundational principles were at the time. Note I change to "we" below because it includes Mark "Gumby" McLeod.
- Focus on the bench press, squat, and deadlift. We squatted and bench pressed twice a week. We deadlifted once per week as well.
- Add weight or reps to the bar EVERY workout. EVERY WORKOUT! If you can't add weight, add reps or vice versa.
- Soreness was not an indication of being ready for a workout. As long as we kept adding weight and/or reps we never backed down.
- We kept extra movements to a minimum. We normally added weighted chins, close grip bench presses, barbell curls, and weighted sit-ups as "extras".
- Intensity! There was no such thing as "needing motivation". There was no such thing as a "bad workout". We didn't sulk after a workout and get into "analyze mode". We just got more motivated if we deemed a workout sub-par.
I remember Gumby missing a deadlift in an early morning workout and was so ticked off he worked two jobs until 9pm that night and came back and did ANOTHER full deadlift workout and set a new PR by making the weight he missed in the morning.
- We didn't dwell on muscle belly size, rest between sets, rep speed, percentages, speed strength, strength speed, or whatever.
- We never missed a workout (barring illness).
- Add weight or reps to the bar EVERY workout. EVERY WORKOUT! Wait, I already mentioned this one. I will mention it again. It's called FOCUSING ON PROGRESSION!
So what were the results? I will let the pictures tell the story and there are zero artificial ingredients used in the development of this size and strength!
Here's a picture of me, shown above left, when I started getting serious. I still have that powerlifting belt. It's new in the picture and I was trying it out. It's a Bob Morris belt. If my memory serves me right, Dr. Ken had recommended Morris belts. I was about 160 and change.
The picture, on the right, is me deadlifting in the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Midwest Open two years later. There is 560 on the bar. I weighed close to 210 the night before and was panicked about making weight (the taco pizza!). I made weight for the 198lb class. You can see the difference focusing on the simple stuff made in my physique. Don't look at the technique, it was horrible.
The Secrets To Size & Strength Revealed
The deadlift is undeniably one of the kings for size and strength. It unquestionably, in the most literal terms, transformed my physique. We (Gumby and I) worked extra hard on our deadlifts because we found out we were not out of the running in a non-drug tested deadlift contest for a placing.
The fact that most powerlifters don't focus extra hard on their deadlift enabled us to be highly competitive at the local level and this was our approach.
We deadlifted once per week and would work up to a top set of 5 reps. We seldom went above 5 reps because we did not consider it to be "powerlifting". Yes, that was dumb on our part, we now know that. We didn't microload, another revelation after the fact. H#ll we wouldn't have known a microload if it hit us in the head.
We didn't know the term because if we didn't read it in PLUSA and Dr. Ken never used the term, then it was foreign to us. We just kept adding weight to the bar every chance we could get.
We were adding five pounds a week, if we missed a weight for 5, we would repeat it again the next week or if we felt good we would go above the weight we missed. We also performed deadlifts off blocks, sometimes so high the bar would almost be laying on top of our feet. And again, we performed 5 reps.
We obviously liked that magic 5 number! What else did we do? Well, we pretty much always did weighted pullups. Looking back, I have no idea why. We would again do 1-2 sets of; you guessed it, 5 reps!
We also threw in some abs and did 1-2 sets of weighted sit-ups. So, that was the "program" and we both quickly climbed over 500 pounds in fairly short order.
The ascent to 550 however was more difficult for both us, but we got there. After that, 600 was my goal and that took some changes in my training. Gumby never did make it to 600, but he was darn close at 570. We both trained extremely hard, but to be honest, we didn't train very smart at times. So, what did I learn? Read on.
- Your legs are your foundation for the deadlift. If you increase your leg strength you should improve your deadlift. When my squat went up, my deadlift always followed suit.
- Weak abs will limit your deadlift. This is one area I gave more attention to when training for the 600. I focused more on being progressive in my abdominal exercises. They were no longer treated as a second class muscle group.
- Deadlifting off high blocks seemed to throw me off kilter when going back to the floor. In an old issue of Hardgainer, you will read I totally dispel lifting off blocks and don't recommend it. I never told the whole story in that article.
Standing on a very low block seemed to provide a significant benefit. How high? Just 3/4 of an inch. Yes, it made a difference. I actually never switched to the floor until the meet. Boy, did that bar seem up high!
- Weighted back extensions seemed to help me. I would perform them for one set following my top deadlift set. The normal rep scheme was 5-8 reps. Again, I tried to push the weight up every workout. I used an easy curl bar with a pad on my shoulders.
- More rest in between deadlift workouts. My last deadlift was two weeks prior to the contest. I now know why this helped.
- Don't deadlift with a rounded back! This was a killer for me. This is why the extra rest helped so much. I believe that if I had kept a flat back, I could have continued to deadlift once a week. I damaged my back several times due to round back deadlifting.
Don't think you can get away with back rounding. The majority of people will get injured or develop back pain eventually. Yes, there are a few who can do it and not suffer some ill effects, they are few and far between. My guess would be less than 1%.
If I Had To Start Over
If I had to start over how would I train the deadlift?
- I would deadlift with a flat back.
- I would master deadlift technique before adding weight.
- I would never add weight and sacrifice technique to "get the weight."
- I would make sure I NEVER put myself in a situation for rounding my lower back. If this meant stopping short of total failure, I would stop short.
- I would deadlift once per week.
- I would perform 10 repetitions or over.
- I would perform one all out set, maybe two so I could go extra practice of the technique. The second set might be considered a "honing technique" set.
- I would always try to add weight to the bar or add a repetition.
- I would take an extra week rest when I seemed to be stagnating.
I hope this article will help you in some way to reach your own personal goals in the Iron Game.