How I Added 100 Pounds to my Deadlift in 10 Months

TAGS: dead lift, Chase Karnes, pull, program, strongman, deadlift

How I Added 100 Pounds to my Deadlift in 10 Months

A few notes about the following article—I didn’t write this to brag in any way. A 600-lb pull at 200 pounds doesn’t impress me, so I’m definitely not trying to impress you. I wrote this to show my journey and the “map” I used to add 100 pounds to my deadlift in ten months while also staying at the same body weight.

This isn’t a training program though. I don’t want anyone to go out and follow my program. That isn’t the idea. The point of this article is to show you how I evaluated my training and progress. I'll also detail what changes I made and where and discuss how I didn’t always follow the program exactly. I want you to pull out bits and pieces of information that maybe you can apply to your own training philosophy to help you achieve some PRs.

While you're reading this, I want you to remember this—Dave Tate always says that sticking points are one of three things: mental, physical, or technical. However, they're only sticking points until you fix them. I encountered all three of these sticking points during my journey. I also spotted them and made the appropriate changes, put in the work, gave it time, and made it happen. I want you to do the same.

Reno, Nevada; November 2010

“Why won’t this car budge? I’m pulling like hell. Is this damn thing bolted to the ground or something?” These thoughts raced through my head as I attempted the car deadlift event at the 2010 NAS Amateur Strongman Nationals. Before I knew it, 60 seconds were up and I had pulled a pathetic zero reps. Pissed off at myself and disappointed in my performance, I told myself then and there that I would bring my deadlift up before the 2011 NAS Amateur Strongman Nationals.

At the time, my max deadlift was hanging out around 500 pounds. I actually had considered it decently strong up until this point. I knew it wasn’t anything special, but I thought I could hang at least in the middle of my class with it and excel on my stronger events. At this point though, I realized that to compete at this level, I had to bring my deadlift up a lot. Later that evening after the competition was over, I was having dinner with my good friend and fellow Strongman competitor, Derek Stone. We were discussing our deadlift numbers and where they needed to be. That night I made a goal to reach 600 pounds as fast as humanly possible. Derek made a goal to reach 700 pounds. His current deadlift was in the low 600s. We decided a little competition would be a good thing for both of us, so our deadlift race began that night.

Not too much longer after Nationals was over, I decided to pull a training max to see where my deadlift currently was. I pulled 500 and then missed 510 a few minutes later. I sent the video to some people who's opinion and expertise I really value—Clint Darden, Mike Robertson, and Jim Wendler. I wanted to get their constructive criticisms on my weaknesses and any technique issues. They all gave me some great feedback and suggestions that I implemented immediately.

At the time, my biggest weakness was actually breaking the weight off the floor. My starting strength wasn’t there at all. I knew this was due to my hamstrings being as weak as a newborn baby. With this being the biggest issue, I was determined to fix it as soon as possible. Not long after this realization, I was training at the EliteFTS compound with my friends, Shawn Nevels and Sam Luker. We worked up to some heavy singles on deadlifts where I stopped at a slow, heavy 505. We followed these up with some glute ham raises, and to my embarrassment, I could barely do one repetition correctly. I immediately ordered an EliteFTS glute ham raise. In the meantime, I continued to hammer my hamstrings hard.

I alternated weeks one and two for a total of six weeks with a deload on the seventh week. My program for the lower body was as follows:

Week 1

Monday

Wednesday

  • Romanian deadlift, worked up to a heavy set of 5 reps
  • Dumbbell split squat, 2 X 8–10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Reverse hyper, 2 X 20

Week 2

Monday

  • Box squat, worked up to 5RM
  • Sumo deadlift, worked up to 5RM

Wednesday

  • Dimel deadlift, 2 X 20

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Reverse hyper, 2 X 20

Week 3

Monday

  • Deadlift with elitefts™ short light bands, 3 X 5

Wednesday

  • Romanian deadlift, worked up to a heavy set of 5 reps
  • Dumbbell split squat, 2 X 8–10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Reverse hyper, 2 X 20

Week 4

Monday

  • Box squat, worked up to 5RM
  • Sumo deadlift, worked up to 5RM

Wednesday

  • Dimel deadlift, 2 X 20

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Reverse hyper, 2 X 20

Week 5

Monday

  • Deadlift with elitefts™ short light bands, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1

Wednesday

  • Romanian deadlift, worked up to a heavy set of 5 reps
  • Dumbbell split squat, 3 X 8–10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Reverse hyper, 2 X 20

Week 6

Monday

  • Box squat, worked up to 5RM
  • Sumo deadlift, worked up to 5RM

Wednesday

  • Dimel deadlift, 2 X 20

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Reverse hyper, 2 X 20

Note: When working up to a 5RM, 3RM, etc., this isn’t a true max. This is a max weight for that day. Although on days when I was feeling really good, I pushed it hard and shot for PRs. On days when I wasn’t feeling it, I worked up to a weight that was heavy for the goal reps but with one or two reps “in the tank.”

After this six-week training block (plus deload) was up, my glute ham raise had arrived, and I had picked my next Strongman competition to compete in. Bringing my deadlift up still remained my main goal, but my event training was now kicked up a bit to prepare for the specific events of the upcoming contest. Because I knew I completely sucked at glute ham raises, I had to figure out a way to bring them up quickly. I remembered reading something from Jason Ferruggia on how to increase these quickly but couldn’t find it, so I contacted Jason to ask what he recommended. He suggested doing two sets of five reps every day until they started becoming pretty easy. I implemented this idea but only did two sets of five reps five days a week. I started out by placing a plyometric jump box in front to assist myself up with a small push when needed. Within two weeks, I was killing two sets of five reps without any box or any problems. I then dropped the frequency and increased my reps. By the end of the next six-week block, I was busting out sets of 15 reps without any problem.

My programming for the next six weeks for lower body is as follows. I took the seventh week off completely because it was the week prior to my competition.

Week 1

Monday

  • Glute ham raise, 2 X 5 (every day)

Wednesday

  • Deadlift, 3 X 3, 1, 1 (PR of 510 lbs)
  • Anderson front squat, worked up to 5RM
  • Good morning, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Glute ham raise, 2 X 5 (every day)

Week 2

Monday

  • Glute ham raise, 2 X 5 (every day)

Wednesday

  • Box Squat, Worked up to 5RM
  • Good Morning, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Glute ham raise, 2 X 5 (every day)

Week 3

Monday

  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 8

Wednesday

  • Deadlift, 3 X 5
  • Anderson front squat, worked up to a 3RM
  • Glute ham raise- 3 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 8

Week 4

Monday

  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 10

Wednesday

  • Box squat, worked up to a 3RM
  • Good morning, 3 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 10

Week 5

Monday

  • Glute ham raise, 4 X 10–12

Wednesday

  • Deadlift, 3 X 3, 1, 1, 1 (PR of 515 lbs)
  • Anderson front squat, worked up to a 1RM
  • Good morning, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Glute ham raise, 4 X 10–12

Week 6

Monday

  • Glute ham raise, 4 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Box squat, worked up to 1RM
  • Good morning, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events
  • Glute ham raise, 4 X 12–15

Note: During that training block, I worked up to 510 on week one and 515 on week five, both of which were new PRs. When working up to a 5RM, 3RM, etc., this isn’t a true max. This is a max weight for that day. Although on days when I was feeling really good, I pushed it hard and shot for PRs. On days when I wasn’t feeling it, I worked up to a weight that was heavy for the goal reps but with one or two reps “in the tank.”

After the seventh week deload week and the following Strongman competition, it was back to working on my deadlift. My program was set up as follows. I was still rotating weeks one and two. I had some busy weekends during this training block, so Strongman event days on Saturdays were out. My training split switched from Monday, Wednesday, Saturday to Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. This training block only lasted four weeks (fifth week was a deload).


Week 1

Monday

  • Power clean, 3X 3
  • Deficit deadlift, 10 X 2 at 70%
  • Glute ham raise (weight held behind head), 3 X 8

Thursday

  • Box squat, worked up to a 5RM

Week 2

Monday

  • Axle clean, OMIT
  • Deficit deadlift, PR of 535 lbs
  • Glute ham raise, OMIT

Thursday

  • Front squat, worked up to 5RM

Week 3

Monday

  • Power clean, 3 X 3
  • Deficit deadlift, 8 X 2 at 75%
  • Glute ham raise (weight held behind head), 3 X 8

Thursday

  • Box squat, worked up to 3RM

Week 4

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3 X 3
  • Deficit deadlift, 6 X 2 at 80%
  • Glute ham raise, 4 X 12

Thursday

  • Front squat, worked up to a 3RM

Week 5

Monday

  • Power clean, 3, 3, 1
  • Deficit deadlift, 5 X 2 at 85%
  • Glute ham raise (weight held behind head), 3 X 8

Thursday

  • Box squat, worked up to a 1RM

Week 6

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3, 3, 1
  • Deficit deadlift, 85% X 2, 87% X 2, 2 X 2 at 90%
  • Glute ham raise, 4 X 12

Thursday

  • Front squat, worked up to a 1RM

Note: I determined my weight for my cleans based off Wendler’s 5/3/1 program but changed the rep scheme to what’s listed above.

Note on deficit deadlifts: During this phase on deadlifts, I was basing my percentages off my current 1RM going into this phase—515. In week two, I worked up to a PR of 535. Even with the new PR, I kept basing my numbers off my previous PR of 515. For weeks one, three, and four, I pulled from a three-inch deficit, and in weeks five and six, I pulled from a one-inch deficit.

During the training block above, I visited EliteFTS for the 'Learn to Train' seminar. I had the opportunity to be coached on deadlifts by Matt Kroczaleski. Up until this time, my best pull in the gym was 515. While listening to Matt talk about foot positioning when setting up on the bar, I decided I may have been setting up a little too close. I decided to move my feet back about three-quarters of an inch when it was my time to pull.

Once my time came around, Matt told me to work up to the 90 percent range and he’d check for  weaknesses and issues. Based off of 515, 90 percent was 465. I loaded the bar up to 465 and pulled it with ease. Matt said that wasn’t 90 percent because it was too easy. I then decided to jump to my previous PR—515. With the atmosphere, I had no doubt that I could hit it again. I set up and pulled it—again with ease. Matt had me throw some tens on it, so I did. I set up on the bar, and to my surprise, I pulled 535 without a big struggle. Matt pointed out that my pull was a little slow and that my lockout was lacking a bit. I was very pleased with the results and decided it was time to go back to the drawing board.

At this point, I was tempted to experiment with some speed deadlifts but opted to continue hitting power cleans thinking this would help with my pulling speed just as much. I decided to really start hammering the hamstrings with good mornings and Romanian deadlifts to help strengthen my lockout.

My program for the next six weeks was as follows:

Week 1

Monday

  • Power clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, 3 X 3, 1, 1
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Box squat, worked up to 5RM
  • Good morning, 3 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 2

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, 3 X 5
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Front squat, worked up to a 5RM
  • Romanian deadlift, 3 X 8–10
  • Barbell lunge, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 3

Monday

  • Power clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, 3 X 3, 1, 1, 1
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Box squat, worked up to a 5RM
  • Good morning, 3 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 4

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, 3 X 3, 1, 1
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Front squat, worked up to a 3RM
  • Romanian deadlift, 3 X 8–10
  • Barbell lunge- 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 5

Monday

  • Power clean, 3, 3, 1
  • Deadlift, 3 X 5
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Box squat, worked up to a 5RM
  • Good morning, 3 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 6

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3, 3, 1
  • Deadlift, 3 X 3, 1, 1, 1
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Front squat, worked up to a 1RM
  • Romanian deadlift, 3 X 8–10
  • Barbell lunge, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

After these six weeks, I took the seventh week off and mentally prepared for a 550-lb deadlift attempt on July 8, 2011. I had set this date and goal right after I had pulled 535.

July 8, 2011, came, and I warmed up and pulled 550 pretty damn easy. I decided to jump 20 pounds and go for 570. I pulled 570, and while my lockout felt a little stronger, my speed hadn’t improved. I definitely needed to start pulling faster. I also had another trick up my sleeve. A few months back, I had purchased a Metal King Pro Deadlifter suit from Matt Goodwin at EliteFTS. I had told myself that I couldn’t start using it until I pulled 550. In my sport of Strongman, you can use a deadlift suit on any deadlift event. I decided to work it into my next training block. After talking with fellow strength coach and friend, Todd Bumgardner, I decided to give speed deadlifts a try. I had dabbled with them in the past but had never given them an honest try. After discussing them with Todd a little more in depth, I came up with a plan to implement them based off his recommendations.

My next six-week training block (seventh week deload) looked like this:

Week 1

Monday

  • Power clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, worked up to 585, missed 600
  • Glute ham raise (weight behind head), 3 X 5–8

Wednesday

  • Speed deadlift, 6 X 1 at 45%
  • Front squat, 5/3/1
  • Single leg Romanian deadlift, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 2

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, 3 X 5
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Speed deadlift, 6 X 1 at 50%
  • Barbell lunge, 2 X 8–10
  • Good morning, 3 X 8–10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 3

Monday

  • Power clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, 3 x 3, 1, 1, 1 (final singles suited)
  • Glute ham raise (weight behind head), 3 X 5–8

Wednesday

  • Speed deadlift, 6 X 1 at 55%
  • Front squat, 5/3/1
  • Single leg Romanian deadlift, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 4

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3 X 3
  • Deadlift, 3 X 3, 1, 1 (final singles suited)
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Speed deadlift, 6 X 1 at 45% from three-inch deficit
  • Barbell lunge, 2 X 8–10
  • Good morning, 3 X 8–10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 5

Monday

  • Power clean, 3, 3, 1
  • Deadlift, 3 X 5
  • Glute ham raise (weight behind head), 3 X 5–8

Wednesday

  • Speed deadlift, 6 X 1 at 50% from three-inch deficit
  • Front squat, 5/3/1
  • Single leg Romanian deadlift, 2 X 10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Week 6

Monday

  • Axle clean, 3, 3, 1
  • Deadlift, 3 x 3, 1, 1 (final singles suited)
  • Glute ham raise, 3 X 12–15

Wednesday

  • Speed deadlift, 6 X 1 at 50% from three-inch deficit
  • Barbell lung, 2 X 8–10
  • Good morning, 3 x 8–10

Saturday

  • Strongman events

Note on deadlifts: Singles were done in my deadlift suit and at 90 percent or better of my raw 1RM except for week one where I worked up to a new PR of a hard and fairly slow 585 suited. I then missed 600 below the knees.

I took week seven completely off to rest up for the Strongman competition I had that upcoming weekend in St. Louis. After the competition, I took the following week off up until Saturday when I trained events.

I went into the gym the following Monday for my next training block to prepare for the 2011 NAS Strongman Nationals. That training session began with power cleans, working my way up to 225 for a triple. I was planning for three sets of three on deadlifts followed up with some heavy suited singles, but something in my head kept telling me to attempt 600 that day. It was a Monday afternoon, I was training alone in the gym, and I definitely hadn’t planned to go for it. But I listened to my instinct and decided I’d start working up with heavy singles and if 495 felt good raw, I’d suit up and go for it.

My warm up was:

  • 315 X 3
  • 405 X 1
  • 495 X 1
  • 545 X 1, suited
  • 600 X 1 suited (PR)

It literally felt as if it flew up. I knew I had some more in the tank, so I went ahead and loaded 625 and decided to give it a shot. I broke it to knee level but couldn’t budge it much farther. I was definitely happy to finally hit 600 and to have progressed so much in the past year, but now I know my weakness on 625, so it’s back to the drawing board. The plan is 625, 650, 675, and 700. I don’t know how long it will take, but I’ll get there.

As far as nutrition goes, I followed a blend of The Modified Warrior Diet (Michael Keck), The Renegade Diet (Jason Ferruggia) and Carb Backloading (Kiefer). These three plans have many similarities, and I essentially took what I liked from each and combined that with my lifestyle and schedule. I weighed roughly 200 pounds through this whole process. The only supplements I used during this process were protein powder, creatine, ZMA, multi-vitamins, fish oils, and d-aspartic acid. Recovery methods were foam rolling, Epsom salt baths, SMR (tennis ball, Theracane), and sleeping at least eight hours a night the majority of the time.

So that’s it—how I added 100 pounds to my deadlift in ten months while maintaining the same body weight. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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