How I Added 60lbs To My Hex Bar Deadlift & Did A Triple Bodyweight Lift In 26 Weeks
This is the story of how I added 60lbs to my hex bar deadlift and did a triple bodyweight lift in 26 weeks.
In early Oct 2017 I officially took on the goal of doing a triple bodyweight trap-bar deadlift.
Now, I started working on improving my trap-bar deadlift sometime in August, but I hadn’t fixated on the 3x bodyweight goal. Including that time, the project took me around 24 weeks of focused training, which was divided up into 5 training phases.
Based on my body weight, depending on daily fluctuations, that would require a 495-505lb deadlift.
In that time I went from an estimated 1RM of 445lbs (I didn't test it, but based on my how my rep maxes tend to work, that seems fairly close) to lifting 505lbs.
Here's my 3x bodyweight attempt!
KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM MY PROGRAM
In this article I want to explain the key details about how and why I set up my program the way I did.
The biggest lessons from this are:
Take back-off/rest weeks after a hard training phase to rejuvenate yourself. It’ makes no sense, but sometimes I still get apprehensive about doing this. When you’re in the groove and feel like you’re making progress you naturally want to keep the pressure on, hit it hard and continue to build. You ask yourself “if I stop now, will I lose momentum?” Unfortunately, pushing non-stop isn’t sustainable forever. Your body will get tired and your program will get stale. Stay disciplined and schedule in light recovery weeks at appropriate times to improve overall long-term performance.
I started each phase of training a little conservatively so I could “grow into” the training phase. In other words, let’s say my training block called for tempo deadlifts in the 4-6 reps range. I’d leave a little bit in the tank in week 1, stopping my set when I felt I could still do another 2-3 reps. Then I’d start to push harder (i.e. 0-1 reps left in the tank) in the following weeks and work on lifting a bit more or doing an extra rep or two each workout.
Even though I’d push right up to my limit on harder training weeks, I’d stay within my technical max. That means no breakdown in form or position. This helped me stay injury free and ensured that I was using the right muscles and practicing the right technique to help as the weight increased.
I really benefited from varying each training phase to help stimulate progress. The main variables I changed were:
exercise selection (lifting from a podium)
tempo (halting deadlifts and slow eccentrics)
using a belt or going no belt, and
repetition ranges (lower reps = higher weight and less total volume of work).
This keeps your training progressions from going stale. Each time my training phase came to the end of its useful lifespan (i.e. rate of progress was leveling off, this was usually 3-4 weeks for me), I’d back-off a bit, and then make enough of a change that the workouts provided a fresh stimulus again.
Typically I went from a building phase (sometimes called an accumulation phase or a volume phase) that has more variation or tempo work and higher reps, to an intensity phase, where I practiced the movement with less variation (i.e. closer to a straight deadlift which is what I’d be using to re-test) and do fewer reps at a heavier weight (again, getting more specific to re-testing my 1-rep max).
I hope by going through this article you can get a sense of my rate of progress from workout to workout. On the deadlift, I’d describe myself as an advanced-intermediate lifter, and you can see what gains I was able to make workout to workout within one training phase, and then over time. If you’re newer, progress will probably be faster. If you’re more experienced and closer to your innate potential, progress will be slower.
Phase 1 - Linear Progress Using Patient Lifter’s Method (3-8reps)
Approx 15 weeks, Aug2016-Nov 3 2017.
Frequency: 1/week + Other LB training
Finish: 3x8@435, 3x3@455
The Patient Lifter’s Method is a relatively straightforward linear progression (i.e. you’re expected to make progress each week), so it’s more suitable for beginners. Because advanced trainees can’t make progress as quickly as beginners, you usually won’t be able to run it for very long.
Although I’ve been lifting weights for over 10 years and competed in Olympic weightlifting for 3 of those, I had never trained using a hex bar deadlift. Prior to Sept, I hadn’t been doing much heavy training. Because of these two factors, I decided to start with a basic progression, and to see how far I could get.
With any of these types of progressions, it’s best to start a bit on the easier side, so you can grow into the progression and avoid changing programs too quickly.
In week 1, I did 4x2 @415. These felt pretty tough. The next week I did 3x4 at the same weight. I’d add one rep each week.
At this time I only did one hex-bar deadlift workout per week and was using a belt for my top sets.
Week 3: 3x5@415
Week 4: 3x6@415
Week 5: 3x7@415
Week 6: 3x8@415
Week 7: 4x3@435
Week 8: 4x4@435
Week 9: 3x5@435
Week 10: 3x7@435 *I forgot my training journal and accidentally did an extra rep.
Week 11: 3x8@435
Week 12: 3x3@455
Week 13: 3x4@455
This progressed nicely, but at 455 the weight was feeling really heavy and I could tell that there wasn’t much more progress to make with this method. I decided to back-off a little and test where I was.
Phase 2 - Testing: 2 weeks
I switched to two workouts a week. On Monday I did a light workout to practice the movement. 3x3@80% without putting my stress on it.
And on Friday I built to a heavy double in week 1, and tried for a heavy single in week 2.
Week 1: 3x465, 2x475 with a belt.
Week 2: 0x465 with a belt.
I made a mistake here. Obviously I wasn’t recovered enough on Week 2 and just didn’t have the extra juice. My performance actually got worse in week 2.
In my next peaking phase, I’d make sure to keep the number of difficult sets to a minimum (1 per workout), and focus on recovery to ensure that I felt great going into my max-out workouts.
Phase 3 - 4 week Strength Phase (accumulation)
Coming out of that, I realized that I was close (estimated my 1RM at 480, maybe 485 on a perfect day. If this seems conservative to you, understand that I’m a lower neuromuscular efficient lifter. ( To learn what kind of lifter you are, read this and this). I felt that my strength with no belt was too weak. This was based on how tough my heavier warm-up sets felt (which I did beltless) vs. my working sets (which I did with a belt) in the previous two phases. I decided to do all my training in the next couple of phases with no belt, and to add more core work. This helped tremendously.
I stuck with the Mon-Fri split of two deadlift sessions per week. Aside from the deadlift training on Monday and Friday, I worked out another 1-2x per week, but this training wasn’t very intensive because I didn’t want it to interfere with the deadlift goal. In other words, I didn’t have to worry about recovering from heavy bench or squat sessions since I wasn't doing any. I could put everything into the deadlifts and generally felt that I had enough time to recover before my next session. After my deadlift workouts, I’d do a few sets of squats or heavy loaded carries (sandbag or yolk walk), plus lots of core work.
In this phase, I mainly did 3 working sets per workout with a repetition bracket of 4-6. This is generally a good rep range for strength work.
I use repetition brackets like this: If I can hit the top number of reps, in this case 6, then I’ll automatically increase the load on the next set. If I can’t hit the low number, in this case 4, I’ll decrease the load on the next set. And if I’m in the middle, in other words if I get 4 or 5 reps, then I’ll keep the weight the same. This is an easy way to let the reps dictate the weight used.
Monday: Tempo (eccentric) work 3x4-6 
Week 1: 395lbs x 4,4,3
Week 2: 6x395, 4x415, 2x415
Week 3: 6x415, 4x425, 1x425
Week 4: 6x425, 3x435, 4x425
Friday: Halting DL 3x4-6
Week 1: 6x335, 6x355, 6x365
Week 2: 6x365, 6x385, 6x395
Week 3: 6x395, 6x415, 3x435
Week 4: 6x435, 6x435, 4x435
In Monday’s workouts, I didn’t hold back. I tried to push to my technical max (the maximum you can do with perfect form) on each work set.
On Friday’s workout, I wasn’t sure how much weight I could do on this exercise, so I started out easy. The second week was moderately hard, and then weeks 3 and 4 was all out.
By the time this phase ended, I felt that I was close to lifting the weights I was handling at the end of phase 2, but this time with no belt. That was exactly where I wanted to be.
Phase 4 - 4 week strength phase (intensification)
The purpose of this phase was to maintain a decent amount of volume, but to also build up to heavier weights and get my body accustomed to higher percentages of my maximum. On Mondays I did podium deadlifts. I stood on a 1.5” block of wood to increase the range of motion (and difficulty) of the lift. I did this for two reasons.
One, my weakest point is off the floor. If I can pull the bar 1-2” inches up, I will be able to finish the lift. The podium deadlift emphasized my strength at the bottom of the lift i.e. my weak spot. Two, it would also keep the total load down, so it would be a bit less stressful on my body, and I’d be able to save more for Friday’s workout. This gave me more variation in training stimulus during the week, which studies and practical experience show is usually a good thing.
For Friday’s workout, I chose to do wave training. This would provide some volume (9 total reps and 6 sets) at relatively high loads. For some people, this would be too many sets at too heavy a weight, but I didn’t think this would be an issue for me based on previous experience.
[week 1 was planned as a light week - low volume and moderate intensity]
Monday: Podium DL 3-4x2-4reps
Week 1: 325x4, 375x4, 395x4, 405x2
Week 2: 415x3, 415x1, 395x4, 0x395
Week 3: 3x2@425, 1@415
Week 4: 415: 3,2,2,2
3,2,1,3,2,1 no belt
Week 1: 415x3, 2 sets
Week 2: 3x415, 2x435, 1x455, 3x435, 2x455, 1x465
Week 3: 3x425, 2x445, 1x465, 3x445, 2x465, 1x475
Week 4: 3x435, 2x455, 0x475, 3x445, 2x455, 0x465
Week one was a down week, or a rest week. I left plenty in the tank and didn’t to do many sets. For weeks 2-4, I tried to improve performance each week. You can see that I wasn’t able to do so in the final week. I could no longer progress.
For me, I tend to be able to make progress for longer at lower rep ranges. Where as in the previous cycle I could go hard for 4 weeks, in this cycle, I was only really able to make progress for 2 weeks.
This is something you want to be aware of if you’re designing your own program. How long can you make progress on different kinds of training cycles before you need a change? How much recovery do you need between workouts (obviously I didn’t have enough between week 3 and 4). How much of a deficit can you put yourself in and still recover after a week off? By that I mean, how many weeks of negative performance improvements can you see, but actually come out better at the end. It’s all a question of how you individually adapt.
Phase 5 - Peaking Phase (3 weeks) Prior to vacation
This is show time! I set my Monday workouts up to be fairly light and not to have very much volume (i.e. not very many working sets). I only did 2 working sets and I made sure to leave a few reps in the tank on these sets. I also picked an exercise variation that worked on my weakness (off the floor) and give my muscles a good workout, but would also force me to use less total weight (i.e. pulling from a podium is harder, so I can’t use as much weight).
For Friday, I would work up to one set and try to hit a rep PR. This was to see where I stood relative to my 3x bodyweight goal (especially now lifting with a belt) and also for the strong training effect. I needed to push the weights up and get my body used to handling those weights after all the strength I’d build in the previous 8 weeks.
I also added in some halting deadlifts on Friday to add a bit more work (only 2 sets), to continue to work on my weak area and strengthen my back position pulling off the floor.
Monday: Medium Day
A. Podium Speed Sets 6x3@325
B. Straight Sets: 2 sets: 395x5
A. Podium Speed Sets 6x3@325
B. Straight Sets: 2 sets: 395x6
A. Podium Speed Sets 6x1@325
B. Straight Sets: 3 sets: 415x2
(I wanted to make sure this day was extra easy so I’d be fresh going into Friday to test my max)
A. AMRAP @ 455 (93%) = 6 reps with belth
B. Halting DL with 4sec lowering phase: 2x3@435. No belt
A. AMRAP @ 475 (98%) = 5 reps with belt! This was a huge confidence boost.
B. Halting DL with 4sec lowering phase. 4,3@ 435. No belt.
Week 3: 1RM - I hit 505lbs (501 was triple bodyweight), and failed at 515.