Late December of 2014, two boys walked into my gym. Though 18, they were still just boys. The bigger of the two was 170 pounds but the smaller, Dario, only 140. They came in together looking to get some help with their lifting. Dario didn’t say much but what he did say was that he wanted to break records.

As a young lifter, at only eighteen and a half years old, Dario had the physique of a light weight wrestler. He had taught himself lifting technique by watching YouTube videos and was even following a popular program. After watching him lift a few days later and then pulling a deadlift of 315 pounds, I knew that with some work he was destined for some great things. This is how Dario added 109 pounds to his deadlift in 10 months.

As I coached Dario, we addressed technical, mental, and physical weak points, all of which I will talk about here. The results were fantastic. Dario went from 315 pounds to 424 pounds on his deadlift in a matter of 10 months, claiming the AWPC teen deadlift record in the 60-kilogram weight class. He also added 52 pounds to his squat in the same time period. This was after a 27-hour drive from Chicago to Idaho to make weight.


Dario began with a sumo-esque style deadlift. However, he didn't truly have the hip strength for this and always found his knees coming in, shoulders pitching forward, and missing the lift halfway up. With this in mind, we first brought his stance in to a conventional stance. Doing this helped eliminate his habit of dragging the bar up his shins. While most people think this mistake is simply badge of courage worn by all those who deadlift, bloody shins are nothing more than a pain.

Next came developing the ability to properly load the hamstrings, keep tension throughout the entire body, and pull the slack out of the bar. These errors tend to be the most common I address when coaching new or even intermediate deadlifters. Combining these three things, when properly executed, allows the lifter to start in a higher position and use the hamstrings to sit back on the heels.

While we would’ve liked to keep Dario pulling sumo, when we first started working together he needed to train with a conventional stance for a few weeks to give his hips a break.  He was not physically able to make all of the technical corrections just yet because he was still weak in certain areas. The first thing we did was bring up those areas with supplemental and assistance work.


There are no two ways about it: the deadlift is the most aggressive lift out there. Like my friend Clint Darden has expressed, the only way to deadlift is with “balls and attitude.” This sometimes has to be learned and built with confidence.

Dario, as a lifter, tends to over-think and under-commit, which is another common problem I see with beginner and intermediate lifters. When he has a new cue to think about or things feel heavy, he wants to drop the weight. In reality, all that happened was that he forgot to keep his lats tight while remembering to load the hamstrings. Sometimes the weight is supposed to be heavy. I often have to remind him that anything over 95% should feel heavy, but that doesn't mean you should stop pulling.

When Dario started, he would just go through the motions on his dynamic effort days, as many lifters I see do. After I intervened and showed him Clint's video, he finally understood how it was supposed to be done. He still won't yell out, “BALLS AND ATTITUDE” before his lifts, but I think it's just because he is shy. He’ll come around.

Like myself, Dario is an introvert (unless he has taken too much pre-workout or is talking about Kai Greene). With this, he typically wants to underwork and thus remain in his comfort zone. To combat this, I used things like down sets and song-long assistance work to facilitate slowly progressively overloading him. That being said, he also uses this to his advantage. Since he isn't constantly hyped-up in the gym, when he does take pre-workout on meet day the effect is extra powerful. This is something to keep in mind: keep some tricks in your bag to help you amp up to 11 out of 10 on the big day.



Dario was rather quad-dominant when he started with me. He squats upright and with a narrow stance. Knowing this, hamstrings were of utmost importance (see a theme, yet?). Reverse hypers, good mornings, and glute-ham raises became staples. As his hamstrings improved, so did his lifts. This is about as simple as it gets.

He also lacked the torso strength to support the weights we were trying to get him to lift. While we placed this secondary to improving his hamstrings, we added in extra low back and ab work to help him lock everything in place and create plenty of tension, which particularly helped the beginning of his deadlift. We also found that this improved his squat, as it often does.

The final thing Dario needs is more overall muscle mass. He is still young and is not training like a body-builder. His overall frame will have him eventually sit somewhere around 165 pounds but for now I encourage him to just eat and let his body grow naturally, as all young lifters should do. Eating so clean you can’t grow and eating with goal of becoming fat because you think it’s “cool” are both equally destructive.

Other Challenges 

A few other things needed to be taken into consideration with Dario's programming. His schedule, hip tightness because of his studies (aka sitting), and stress from exams were all addressed. Of course, these changed over the course of the weeks but I, as his coach, always made the decision of when to push hard or reign it in.

Specifically in regards to Dario's schedule, he was only in the gym Monday through Thursday. While this would be great for an older lifter who would need the time to recover, it promoted undertraining for Dario. Thus, we used Tuesday as a nervous system day. We hit his heavy lifts of the week and worked the most important muscles. Then on Wednesday he would come in and finish off the deadlift related assistance work and get in his volume. Thursday was used for other lifts and assistance work. You can see the program below.

As for the hip tightness, with mobility and recovery work sprinkled in as needed, Dario hasn't missed any sessions. This has gotten better with strengthening of the posterior chain and technical improvement. Switching away from a repetition-based program, where he did the same lifts over and over, has helped with his hip pain as well. Rotating exercises every couple of weeks gives him enough of a break to keep things healthy.

Considering exams, we always made sure to keep things low stress in the gym around exam time, just enough to keep progress from halting or moving the wrong direction. Stress outside the gym must always be considered. This is an area where Dario’s introversion helps him. Stress can make you shut down and desire alone time, which tends to recharge introverts. An extrovert recharges around other people and that is one of the reasons stress can be harder on an extrovert, since they tend to try to push harder, past the redline, and past diminishing returns.

The Future 

I see a bright future for Dario. After giving me full control over his programming, progress is the best it’s ever been. To be honest, I couldn't ask for a better, more devoted client. We've already discussed moving up a weight-class and I look forward to seeing him fill into the 148-pound class. It's of paramount importance to keep him healthy, but if that's taken care of, then I think the best question is: how many records will he achieve?

dario trophy

The Exact Six-Week Plan

Week 1 

7/6 Max Effort Lower

  • Rackable Cambered Bar Squats – Work up to a hard five and then a max double.
  • Long Strap Hypers — Work up to the heaviest set of 10 you can and do two sets at that weight.
  • Glute Ham Raise — Four sets to failure.
  • Side Bends — Four sets of 10

7/10 Dynamic Effort Lower

  • 45-60 seconds of rest between sets of speed work.
  • Yoke Bar Speed Squat (No Box) — 60%, 12x2
  • Speed Deadlift, Sumo Stance — 67% (of old max of 365), 10x1
  • Reverse Hyper Mechanical Drop Set — Short and Long Strap 5x 10/10
  • A1 Leg Raise Against Micro Mini Band  — 4x20
  • A2 Manual Leg Curl — 4x12

Week 2

7/16 Max Effort Lower

  • Yoke Bar Squats to 12-Inch Box — Work to a hard four then hit a max double.
  • Back Raise on Glute Ham Raise — 4x6 (make these hard with added weight)
  • Band Leg Curls — 4x15
  • Side Bends — 4x10

Week 3 

7/20 Dynamic Effort Lower

  • 45-60 seconds of rest between sets of speed work.
  • Yoke Bar Speed Squat (No Box) — 65%, 10x2
  • Speed Deadlift, Sumo Stance — 72% (of old max of 365), 10x1
  • Reverse Hyper Mechanical Drop Set — Short and Long Strap 5x 10/10
  • A1 Leg Raise Against Micro Mini Band  — 8x25
  • A2 Manual Leg Curl — 4x12

7/24 Max Effort Lower

Due to a work conflict Dario had to combine some upper assistance in this workout. You can see the modifications made.

  • Deficit Deadlift on 3 Mats (~1.5 inches) — Work up to a hard three and then to a max single.
  • A1 Long Strap Hypers — 4x10
  • A2 Low Cable Row — 4x10
  • B1 Average Band Leg Curls — 4x15
  • B2 Hammer Curls — 4x20
  • Ab Wheel — 4x12

Week 4

7/29 Dynamic Effort Lower 

  • 45-60 seconds of rest between sets of speed work.
  • Speed Squat with Straight Bar — 65%, 12x2
  • Speed Deadlift, Sumo Stance — 75% (of old max of 365), 10x1
  • Yoke Bar Good Mornings — 4x10
  • Glute Ham Raise with Added Band — 3x6
  • A1 Side Bends — 4x10
  • A2 Reverse Hyper (Short Strap) — 4x20
  • Lunges with Chains on Back — 30, 25, 20 on each leg

Week 5

8/3 Max Effort Lower

Sumo Deadlift with Plates Raises on Three Mats (~2.5 inches) — Work to a hard three and then a max single. This was the only workout this whole cycle where Darion handled over 400 pounds.

  • Front Squats — 3x6
  • A1 Average Band Leg Curls — 4x12
  • A2 Serrano Split Squat — 4x6
  • Long Strap Reverse Hypers — 3x15
  • Pulldown Abs — 4x15

8/7 Dynamic Effort Lower

45-60 seconds of rest between sets of speed work.

Speed Squat with Straight Bar — 67.5%, 10x2 and then two singles no heavier than 85%.

  • Speed Deadlift — 78%, 10x1
  • A1 Yoke Bar Good Mornings — 4x8
  • A2 Glute Ham Raise with Added Band — 3x6
  • B1 Side Bends — 4x12
  • B2 Long Strap Hypers — 4x20
  • Chain Lunge — 30, 25, 20 (per leg)

Week 6

8/12 Max Effort Lower (3 Weeks Out)

  • Work up to Deadlift Opener— 335, 3x1
  • Stiff Leg Deadlift — 3x6
  • Average Band Leg Curl — 5x15
  • Serrano Split Squat — 4x6
  • Long Strap Hypers — 3x15
  • Pulldown Abs

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