9 Strategies for a 900-Pound Deadlift

By: Josh Bryant

In the 50 defense, the most destructive force lines head up on the center and has the privilege of being called nose guard. The nose guard has the responsibility of absorbing multiple blockers, manning both A gaps and finding the football.

A nose guard in the 50 is not some fat ass that plugs a single gap but is a certifiable BMF that will pull your pancreas through your nose! Steve Johnson, in his football days, was that nose guard.

This blue collar, no-frills attitude is largely responsible for Steve’s performance at Boss of Bosses IV. Steve hit the number one total at 308 with 2260 RAW and the all-time American deadlift record with 909 and a gallant attempt as 942 for the all-time world record.  The deadlift was a 66-pound PR and the total of a 133-pound PR.

Rib eye is the steak-eater’s steak, Shiner Bock is the beer-drinker’s beer, Tim Corbin is the coaches’ coach and Steve Johnson is the deadlifter’s deadlifter!

As Steve’s coach, I wanted to share with you the Cliffs Notes version of nine strategies that helped Steve deadlift over 900 pounds.  For the full breakdown, watch this video:



  1. Commit to the Pull

Temporary discomfort will never match the pain of permanent cowardice in the deadlift.  This attitude will not calm your nerves or lower your blood pressure but this is Steve’s attitude and was helpful in pulling an American Record.

  1. Trap Bar Deadlifts

Training Trap Bar deadlifts helped teach Steve leg drive in his conventional deadlifts.  It also gave Steve, a posterior chain dominant lifter, a chance to rest his lower back and experience a new training stimulus.

  1. Jump Training

Jumps helped Steve improve overall explosive power and “activate” for heavy deadlifts in training.  Jumps were kept basic, but, remember, basic means fundamental not elementary.  To see a tutorial with Noah Bryant and me on jumps specific to strength athletes, watch here:





  1. Isometrics at Knee Level

Steve’s average deadlift is faster than the Tijuana Two Step.  He never came close to missing a deadlift in training, but the barbell consistently slowed down right above knee level.   So, before this sticking point became an issue, we needed to obliterate it. No better way to do this than isometrics. After about three weeks of violating that sticking point like a parking meter, it was gone and the result was the biggest deadlift ever by an American in the 308-Pound Weight Class. Watch this tutorial I put together on deadlift-specific isometrics:


  1. Start with Squats

Steve ain’t no one trick pony.  He has the number one total at 308. In meets he will deadlift after squats. Steve started each session with a variation of squat, other than straight bar, to protect his shoulders (i.e. camber squats, safety squats, Hatfield overload squats etc.). These serve several purposes: warm-up, activation, reinforcement of squat motor pattern and sports specificity of deadlifting after the squat.  When the game was on the line, Steve deadlifted a 66-pound PR!


  1. Overhand Deadlift Holds

Steve has never had an issue with grip on the deadlift.  Eventually, if not properly trained, grip will be the limiting factor. #GasStationReady means stay ready so you don’ have to get ready.  Jailhouse Strong decree number five is “when conflict is inevitable strike first.” Eventually there would be a conflict between grip and weight on the bar.  So, the answer is preemptively strike!  At the end of every deadlift workout Steve did two sets of overhand deadlift holds for 15 seconds.  Working his way up to 500 pounds.  Voila, no grip issues!


  1. Paused Leg Press

Because of misuse by mullets at commercial gyms, the leg press, in serious strength-training programs, is often about as welcome as a Rick Santorum rally on Fire Island.

The leg press begins with a push, so assuming technique is sound, the leg press will help build the thigh strength to initiate the push off the floor in the deadlift. Particularly, in lifters like Steve, when he squats he is fairly bent over and posterior chain dominant, so the point may be moot for the classic upright Olympic squatter but it’s exactly what Steve needed.

  1. Support System

Lauren, the love of Steve’s life, is 100% supportive of Steve’s powerlifting goals.  Steve also owns an amazing powerlifting gym in the Chicagoland called “The Barbell Compound”, the group of lifters there believe in Steve and his dreams.  Steve’s supportive team helps him be the best.

  1. The Use of Affirmation

A positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything! An affirmation essentially is a carefully structured statement that you repeat to yourself over and over. For affirmations to be effective, they need to be present tense, positive, personal and specific. In this case, Steve’s affirmation was, “I give myself permission to deadlift 900 pounds.”  Affirmations work!  Whether it’s because of vibrational energy you out in the universe that has an equal reaction or just forcing your subconscious goal-seeking mechanisms to help you find reasons to succeed, who the hell cares!  They work.


Final Thoughts


In the words of “Old Blue Eyes”, Frank Sinatra, the best is yet to come! It’s going to be fun over the next few years to watch Steve beat existing all-time world records like a rented mule.