How I Deadlifted 800 Pounds Raw

TAGS: sumo stance, How I Deadlifted 800 Pounds Raw, elitefts bars, 2014 Arnold Classic for Strongman, matt mills, meet prep, conventional, strongman, deadlift, Josh Bryant

I wish I could sit here and tell you that I simply used some magic program that shot my deadlift through the roof and that it was extremely easy to do, but it's quite the opposite.

My last powerlifting meet was a little over three years ago and it was only a push/pull. I benched 445 and I pulled 700 for the first time, which was a 25-pound PR for me. In my recent meet, I was able to pull 800 pounds raw and this was also my first full meet. Performing all three lifts is definitely a big difference than a push/pull and it makes for a much longer day than I expected.

I was lucky enough to have started squatting and deadlifting at a young age in high school. Of course, I wasn’t squatting all the way down, and no one showed me how to properly lift. However, I trained hard and made a lot of progress at a fairly young age. From day one, deadlifting was always my favorite lift, mainly because I was good at it and we all like to train what we're good at.

In college, I was fortunate to be taken in by some powerlifters and shown how to properly lift. Most importantly, I was shown how to squat to parallel, so I stopped doing half squats like the rest of the guys at the college gym. Up until this point, I had only pulled conventional, not knowing any other way to deadlift. Disa Hatfield addressed my form and had me pull sumo for the first time, thinking that it would better suit my body type. From my very first time pulling sumo, it just felt right. I’m not sure if I hit a PR that day, but I knew that I was going to be much stronger on the deadlift. I finally signed up for my first meet and got over my fear of competing like most of you out there. You should do the same! I read a great article here on elitefts™ about how everyone should compete and how you'll never feel ready. I wanted a reason to train harder in the gym, and even as a gym owner, I needed the motivation to push to the next level. In my first meet in the 242-pound class, I pulled 600 extremely easy on my first attempt. I had plenty more in me, but, unfortunately, when lowering the bar, I pulled my hamstring pretty bad and had to call it a day.


Since my first meet, my training remained very simple. I kept a strict training log and wrote everything down that I did. Every week, I would refer back and make it a goal to either increase my weight by as little as 5 pounds (yes, I used 2.5-pound plates) or do one more rep at the same weight. I’m still shocked that some serious lifters don't keep a training log.

Another way that I was able to hit a PR nearly every time I trained is that I wouldn’t always increase my weight. A PR in my book doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to increase the weight or do another rep. Sometimes a better quality set is more important. Many lifters make the mistake of increasing the weight too soon with ugly form. Eventually, they hit a point where they can’t grind out another rep. This is how most people hit the dreaded plateau. It has nothing to do with constantly changing your program and, honestly, “muscle confusion” is a bunch of crap. Save that shit for people who want to do P90X.

In my next three meets, my goal was to make a meet PR every time. I was successful in doing so. In my second meet, I pulled 645, and in my third meet, I pulled 675. In my fourth meet, I reached a huge goal of mine and pulled 700 pounds.

I was able to increase my pull every meet by simply sticking to sumo deadlifts the entire time. My weak point was off the floor, so deficit deadlifts were my 'go to' for accessory work. Sumo Romanian deadlifts were also a big help for my pull. I had never performed these in a sumo stance, but it made a big difference in my training, as I was able to get more comfortable in my setup. I was having issues pulling my hamstring when going for a heavier pull and this seemed to fix it for me. One addition to my training that I feel helped me move from a 600-pound pull to a 700-pound pull was the addition of the glute ham raise. I know this has been said many times here, but do yourself a favor and get an elitefts™ model because I've come to realize that there is a huge difference compared to other brands.

As my sumo deadlift continued to rise, my conventional pull was really suffering. I was much more comfortable pulling sumo and didn’t even want to train conventional at all. Looking back at my training, this was a big mistake. I decided to give strongman a try because I was looking for something new to compete in. In strongman, it is illegal to pull sumo in any deadlift event, so I was forced to work on my weak point. The main reason for this is that most deadlift events in strongman are raised up slightly, so it isn't uncommon to be pulling from 15 to 18 inches off the ground. Regardless, I went back to pulling conventional since I was taking a break from powerlifting for a while. I decided to work up to a heavy double for the day, and I’m embarrassed to say that 605 pounds for two reps is all that I could do. It was also a total grinder to get two reps, and I bounced the second rep off the floor! My form was a little off, having not pulled conventional in a long time, but I was still weak. As a 700-pound deadlifter, 605 pounds for two is a huge difference. I decided to take sumo completely out of my programming and only deadlifted with a conventional stance.

Another big change in my programming was the addition of strongman training. Farmers' walks became a huge part of my program, and as my farmers' walk improved, so did my deadlift. If you aren't a strongman, I highly recommend that you add them into your program as a powerlifter. Another added benefit of farmers' walks is the added grip strength. I can honestly say that I have never missed a deadlift because of my grip in a powerlifting meet. With the addition of the Super Yoke and Atlas stones to my training, the amount of muscle mass that I added to my body was profound. Even though I was focusing on strongman, I always kept the big three in my training. I've torn my pec three times now, so I've had to make some changes to my bench press, but those staples were always there. A great way to train is to do your compound lifts like a powerlifter, your accessory work like a bodybuilder, and your conditioning like a strongman.

My conventional deadlift continued to rise, and one day I decided to test out my sumo deadlift because it had been such a long time. I was able to pull 705 for a double. This wasn't only a PR for me by five pounds, but I was also able to do two reps at that weight. Increasing my conventional deadlift with the addition of strongman training had helped me tremendously. I will say one thing—I'm lucky enough to have all the equipment I need at my disposal at my facility. I literally have every single elitefts™ specialty bar, bands, chains, and you name it. I’m not saying that you need every fancy piece of equipment to get strong, but it does help. If anything, make sure that you have a SS Yoke bar. I regularly do paused squats and good mornings and even flip it around to do front squats because of my tight shoulders.

I've always pulled raw, but in strongman, a deadlift suit is sometimes allowed. I honestly don’t like using suits because I've always competed raw in powerlifting, but I also compete to win. I don’t want to be at a disadvantage at all, so I picked up a Metal Jack deadlift suit. I began training for ASC Lightweight Strongman Nationals 2013, which included a car deadlift. I rotated my program each week, practicing the car deadlift, and then pulling conventional from the floor. I hadn't tested my 1RM in a very long time, so I was curious to see where I was at in the suit. While using straps, I was able to pull a fairly easy 750 for a single. With the suit or not, this was a huge PR for me considering where my conventional pull had started from just a year before.

After the ASC, I decided to hire a coach to help me improve further. This was a tough decision because I had always done my own training. As a strength coach, I tend to overlook my own training in favor of my clients. After talking with Vincent Dizenzo, the clear choice for me was elitefts™ coach Josh Bryant. Josh has worked with some of the best in bodybuilding, powerlifting, and strongman. I was told that his programming is borderline insane and that he was also big on high volume training. I've always had a lot of volume in my training, similar to a bodybuilder, because that is what my body responds to best. With Josh’s programming, my sights were now set on the 2014 Arnold Classic for Strongman. The deadlifting event was a mystery, so I wanted to keep my programming the same and continue working on my conventional deadlift. Josh had me periodically go back to pulling sumo, and just like before, when I did, I was able to hit a rep PR every time. Leading up to the Arnold, I was able to hit 685 conventional pull for two without the aid of the suit or straps. Again, nothing overly impressive compared to my sumo pull, but as it increased, so did my sumo pull big time.

One thing I'll say about my training is that I hardly maxed out. All my compound lifts were done for doubles or triples. A big mistake I see with competitors is that they max out too often. Maxing out is only a test, and you aren't going to build much strength from it. When I was younger, I tried training this way for years and it only stalled my progress immensely. A lesson I've finally learned is that reps will build strength, so keep the testing to a minimum or, in my case, save it for the platform.

Again, my weak point has always been off the floor with the deadlift. I'll either lock it out or it will be glued to the floor. Deficit deadlifts were a big part of my training as well as lightning deadlifts. Lightning deadlifts were very interesting to me because I had never done them before. I had done speed pulls against bands and chains many times. In case you don’t know, lightning deadlifts are speed deadlifts done against chains for the first rep. The chains are quickly taken off for the second rep. The goal is to increase the speed even further on the second rep. You will, of course, need two partners to strip the chains off right away.

After the Arnold, I had only four weeks until my first powerlifting meet in three years. Luckily, I came back from Ohio feeling good without any injuries. I immediately went back to training hard, knowing that I would only have two and a half weeks to really push it before I needed to deload. Going back to sumo deadlifting, Josh gave me the goal of 715 pounds for two reps, which wasn't much of a problem. My form was just a little off on my setup, which I was able to pick apart from my video. Another helpful tip that I've picked up is to video your lifts. Every time I go for a new PR, I always video it to see if I made any mistakes that I need to improve on. It’s always great to have other experienced lifters watch you as well, but there have been countless times when I had a sloppy set and was able to fix it by critiquing myself.

The following deadlift session was my real test to see if I could pull 800 pounds. The goal was 740 pounds for two reps, a pretty big jump from the previous week, but I was feeling pretty good this day despite not taking a break from the Arnold. The 740 pounds went up fast for both reps without a break in my form. After hitting a heavy double, Josh had me drop the weight and hit a couple speed reps for time followed by sumo Romanian deadlifts.

At this point, I still wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to go for 800 pounds, but my second attempt would dictate that. I chose a very easy opener at 700 pounds. I've only competed five times in my powerlifting career, but I see so many competitors make the mistake of choosing an opener that is too close to their max. Make sure you get your confidence up on your first attempt and smoke it. I like to choose a weight that I can hit for three reps. This way, even if you're having a bad day or feel like shit, you know that you can get this weight up to put a number on the board. I also decided not to cut weight for this meet.

For the Arnold, I was in the heavyweight division competing against athletes who were near 400 pounds, so I was sitting at 255 pounds. It would have been an easy cut to 242 pounds, but I wanted to be at full strength, so I went in the 275-pound weight class. I recommend this for most competitors in powerlifting. Unless you're going for some kind of record, cutting weight is honestly pointless. If your goal is to lose body fat, that’s a different story, as this will be great motivation. Otherwise, keep working to get bigger and strong(er) because that’s what this is all about.

My second attempt was 750, and this was the deciding factor for what I was going to do next. Again, I knew I could hit 750, so I still kept my second attempt heavy, but it still wasn't something that I wasn’t sure I would get. With the help of the crowd and an ammonia cap, the 750 went up faster than the 700 did, so I knew I had to go for it. I gave the judge my next attempt of 800 pounds and patiently waited backstage until I was on deck.

For about 15 minutes, all I did was visualize 800 pounds going up and then I downed some more caffeine. I blocked all negative thoughts from my mind. It’s crazy sometimes how we can mentally defeat ourselves so quickly when all we need to do is think positively. I was the last lifter of the day and got to close the show. I couldn’t see much of the crowd from the burning in my eyes from the ammonia, but I was told that everyone was on their feet cheering. There was no way that I could miss this lift.

Lightning Strikes Twice!

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