Top Five: Part III. The Deadlift

Before bench shirts, there was a saying, "the meet does not start until the bar touches the floor". At Westside, we have always had very good deadlifters: 18 at 800 pounds or more; the top five average 845 pounds. How does Westside train the deadlift and the squat without them interfering with each other? How can the deadlift be kept explosive? These are two questions that are asked over and over. Here are the answers to both.

The speed pulls are done on Friday after squatting. Squats are done for speed strength development 90% of the time. Multiple sets are done on a box with a combination of weights, bands, or chains for accommodating resistance. About 50% of the time speed deadlifts are done after squatting. There are two methods that we alternate.

Speed pulls can be done in the rack with a conventional stance. The plates are 2, 4, or 6 inches off the floor. We double up mini-bands for up to a 500-pound deadlift. The monster mini or light bands are doubled up as well. Monster minis yield about 250 pounds at lockout. The light bands add 350 pounds at lockout.

For building speed strength, 6-10 singles are done using a three-week wave, adding some weight each week. When doing speed work off the floor, use a wide sumo stance, wider than normal, to build the hips. Two bands are used. Mini-bands on our platform will provide 220 pounds of tension at the top. This works well for those who deadlift up to 750 pounds. For lifters approaching 800 pounds, monster mini-bands add 280 pounds at lockout. Six to 10 singles work well after speed squatting.

After squatting and speed pulls, work the low back and hamstrings as hard as possible depending on your level of preparedness. Glute/ham raises, Reverse Hyper machine, light good mornings for high reps with emphasis on the hamstrings, and power sled walking off the heels are a few to rotate from. Ab exercises are of the utmost importance: straight leg sit-ups, leg raises lying down or hanging, static ab work using a lat bar doing straight arm push downs, and side bends. Follow ab work by lat work: pull-downs (put chains on the bars often), chest-supported rows, low-pulley rows, dumbbell and barbell rows. Pick a total of three or four special exercises after squatting and speed pulls. Rotate the exercises after two or three workouts as a rule. Also change the sets and reps to avoid accommodation by changing the amount of volume and the intensity. This will help restoration.

Max Effort Day

An extreme workout can occur every 72 hours. Speed squats and pulls are done on Friday. This means Monday is max effort day. How do we train the squat and deadlift maximally? A squat will build a deadlift, and a deadlift will build a squat. The good morning and its many varieties will build both. The body will respond to the demands placed upon it. This describes the max effort method. This is explained in many texts, such as The Science and Practice of Strength Training by V. M. Zatsiorsky, 1995.

For squatting and deadlifting, work up to a max single. The good mornings are done for a max of 3 or 5 reps. The good mornings will build strength endurance in the back and legs. Otherwise a max on that day should be 1 rep. There is no particular order to follow, but one week do one type of deadlift, the next week a squat of some kind, then the following week a good morning. If you have limited equipment, do light good mornings after a max squat or deadlift. Exercises after a max effort workout could be any of the following:

  1. Back raises
  2. Pulling a sled
  3. 45-degree back raises
  4. Lat pull-downs
  5. Reverse Hyper machine
  6. Chest-supported rows
  7. Belt squats
  8. Barbell rows
  9. Dumbbell rows
  10. Upright rows
  11. Ab work of all kinds

If possible, do a small second workout with lighter special exercises or do a flexibility workout or some type of restoration such as hot tub, sauna, ice, massage, or chiropractic. Let's look at a random program for max effort.

First Week

  1. Safety squat bar, 10-inch box to a max single
  2. Six trips of 60 yards with a heavy sled
  3. Lat work of your choice
  4. Hamstring exercise (e.g., glute/ham raises)
  5. Reverse Hyper machine and abs for at least 4 sets each

Second Week

  1. Rack pulls on pins 3-6 inches off the ground with plates
  2. Max single, conventional stance
  3. Belt squats. Work up to heavy sets of 5 reps or more depending on your work capacity.
  4. Chest-supported rows
  5. Low-pulley rows
  6. 45-degree back raises for high reps, 6 to 10 reps with weights
  7. Reverse Hyper machine and abs for at least 4 sets each

Third Week

  1. Zercher squats as low as possible. If you cannot lift the bar off the floor, place it on power rack pins or place plates on rubber mats.
  2. Front squat off of a low box, 10 to 12 inches, for sets of 6 reps. For those who cannot hold a front squat position or hold a heavy bar in your elbows, Westside offers a Zercher harness.
  3. Heavy upright rows, with a barbell or dumbbells
  4. Reverse Hyper machine and abs, at least 4 sets each

Fourth Week

When needed, do not do a barbell exercise, but do high-rep exercises for the upper back, lower back, abs, and hamstrings, or just take it very easy with an active rest workout consisting of walking with a light sled or perhaps walking with a weight vest and ankle weights. Depending on your level of fitness, walk for a half-mile up to two miles.

Remember, this workout is for restoration, so do not overdo it. I personally get more muscle stimulation in a directed area, meaning lower back or hamstrings or even my abs. This is done to suit my personality, which is also probably much like most readers. At least do flexibility or mobility work. Also roll on foam rollers or a lacrosse ball. Go to or Kelly Starrett at Kelly is knowledgeable in this field.

Fifth Week

  1. Ultra-wide stiff-leg sumo to a max single.
  2. Leg press, close stance or wide stance
  3. Heavy shrugs. We use a strongman wheel barrow known as a Wheel Farrow.
  4. Lat pull-downs
  5. Reverse Hyper machine and abs for at least 4 sets each

Sixth Week

  1. Bent-leg, bent-back good mornings
  2. Heavy sled work for 8 trips of 100 feet. Stay on heels.
  3. Chest-supported rows
  4. Low-pulley rows
  5. Glute/ham raises
  6. Reverse Hyper machine and abs for at least 4 sets each

Seventh Week

  1. Front squat to a max single. Work down doing reps at two or three weights. There are two varieties to use, a close stance on a low box or a wide stance much like your sumo deadlift stance. This teaches body mechanics for both the squat and deadlift.
  2. 45-degree back raises with as heavy a weight as possible for 5 reps
  3. Low-pulley rows
  4. Close grip lat pull-downs
  5. Reverse Hyper machine and straight leg sit-ups for at least 4 sets each

Eighth Week

  1. Heavy sled walking, meaning 4-6 plates or more. Walk 60 yards and make no less than 6 trips and no more than 10. During the week the heavy sled work was done on Monday, or max effort day. On Wednesday drop weight from five plates to three plates for example. On Friday, drop the weight again from three plates to one 45-pound plate or 70 pounds for a warm-up for speed squatting day.
  2. After the max effort sled day, do lat pull-downs
  3. Glute/ham raises
  4. Reverse Hyper machine and abs for at least 4 sets each

Ninth Week

Rack pulls with a conventional stance with two band tensions, one with 250 pounds at the top with monster mini-bands and the second with light bands, which provide 350 pounds at the top. For example, my deadlift is around 700 pounds. My best with 250 pounds of band tension is 515 pounds. My
best with 350 pounds of band tension is 415. Both are estimated to be 765 pounds at lockout, the same as my current pin 3 record. The plates are 6 inches off the floor.

After rack pulls, do belt squats or leg press. Reverse Hyper machine and ab work must follow, at least 4 sets each. Rack pulls with bands are very stressful, and the special exercises must be held to a minimum.

Tenth Week

Do concentric good mornings or squat. Crawl under the bar, relax, then lift concentrically. This is a tester, while some other special exercises are builders. Paul Anderson performed a lot of squatting and pressing with no eccentric actions. To follow-up, you must do either sled pulling or belt squatting or leg pressing. Then do direct low-back work with back raises or the Reverse Hyper machine, and add some lat work and heavy abs and you're done.

These workouts can be done in any sequence. There are countless other workouts to do. You will find which ones work best for you. Do these workouts work?

As I started this three-part series, our average top five squat was 1143 pounds, now it is 1151 pounds plus a sixth 1100+ squat of 1115 at 266 pounds. Our bench top five average was 851 pounds, now it is 861 pounds. Westside's Dave "Neutron" Hoff made a 2805-pound world record in the 275-pound weight class. A. J. Roberts made a 2825 world record in the 308-pound weight class. The average top five total was 2690 and is now 2725 pounds.

Yes it works; there is much more to the Westside system. On March 5, 2011, two former Westside members made historic world records. Phil Harrington made a 755 raw squat at 198 pounds, breaking Tony Fratto's record of 749 in 1972, and Chuck Vogelpohl made an 1180-pound squat in the 275 pound weight class, 24 years after winning his first national championship. Congratulations to all.