Over the past two years, the goal of training has remained constant; increase the snatch and clean and jerk to qualify for USAW Nationals. After a disappointing performance at the 2021 Lock and Load Championships, falling less than 5 kilograms shy of qualifying, I attempted to make one final push in the USAW Online National Qualifier. Unfortunately, one week before competing, I tore the meniscus in my left knee during a 165kg/365lbs clean and jerk. Realizing that my goal of qualifying was out of the question, I turned my focus to healing my knee and returning to the sport. Sometimes, though, injury presents a new opportunity.
I am no stranger to getting injured in sport. With six surgeries, over ten broken bones, and countless minor sprains, my body has been through this process before. With each injury, there are new lessons learned and always something that can be done, whether it’s related directly to the injury and it’s healing, or working to bring up another physical quality or area of weakness. Knowing the snatch and clean and jerk were out of the question, I thought of a goal that would work cohesively with the healing process of my knee. Because Olympic weightlifting is a sport that involves a high amount of knee flexion under near maximal loads, adding more posterior chain work (back, glutes, hamstrings) would be the key to healing and becoming stronger.
I remembered at my first job at The Lab Gym in St. Louis, Missouri, there was a race amongst a few guys, who I deeply respected as men and athletes, to be the first to deadlift 300 kilograms, or 661 pounds. This weight had always seemed mythical to me, but the thought of hitting 300kg/661lbs had remained a life goal I wanted to pursue. With my best competition deadlift in recent years being 272.5kg/601lbs at 198lbs bodyweight, I knew this goal could only be accomplished through meticulous and precise planning with a ton of hard work. As my primary goal had been set aside, I had nothing but time to put together a plan and get to work.
The considerations I made for myself based on past training experiences revolved around frequency, undulating intensities, variations, and recovery.
Frequency of an exercise is largely determined by the priority of the training plan along with the athletes skill level and training age. Because deadlifts complemented the needs of my knee, I knew I could increase volume, as long as it was designed precisely. Knowing this, I increased my deadlift frequency to three times a week because the volume normally accumulated from squatting and olympic lifting would be drastically reduced. With any lift, more frequency necessitates precise planning to allow for adequate recovery between sessions and waves of training. Oftentimes, if you want to get stronger in a specific lift or movement, increasing frequency is a crucial component.
Day 1: Rep Max Deadlift
Day 2: Volume Romanian Deadlift
Day 3: Max Single Deadlift
Undulating periodization is a type of training where volume and intensity move up and down, either daily or weekly. Utilizing this training method allows for proper recovery while accumulating the most amount of sustainable, quality reps as possible.
For this program, I started Monday with a “Rep Max” day. This day was usually moderate in terms of intensity and volume. I started this training cycle by working up to a five rep max. Because my previous 5 rep max was 230kg/507lbs, I started the first of three weeks at 220kg/484lbs to allow myself the ability to push this number in weeks two and three. After my “rep max” set, I would do two more sets of five reps at 95% and 90%, respectively.
The second day, Wednesday, would consist of Romanian Deadlifts at a relative percentage of Monday’s top set, usually 70-80% for the same number of reps. This would lower the intensity mid-week to allow for more volume to be accumulated to weekly tonnage.
The final day, Saturday, consisted of heavy singles. This day is purely for the Central Nervous System (CNS) and adapting to heavy, efficient deadlifts at near maximal, but sustainable intensity. This means the single was not performed with smelling salts, yelling and slaps on the back but to be done under any condition, and must be repeatable for at least 2-3 weeks before progressing. This allowed for the CNS to adapt to a specific load while keeping weekly volume from increasing too much each week. The undulation I utilized was as follows:
Monday: moderate intensity, moderate volume
Wednesday: lower intensity, higher volume
Saturday: maximum intensity, low volume
Implementing variations does not always mean utilizing a different lift variation like sumo vs. conventional or deficits vs block pulls, but rather HOW the lift is performed in order to express maximal contractions while building up the weak spots of the lift. I personally like to use a dynamic start in the deadlift and olympic lifts. This means I create a stretch reflex before the bar leaves the floor to create more kinetic energy and produce more force and power through the first phase of the lift. Without a strong starting position, the dynamic start can have other implications due to energy leaks and body parts moving independently under load and causing further injury. For this reason, I lifted with straps and utilized a static start position instead of a dynamic start in order to force myself to create tension and hold the starting position longer off the floor. Training this way would increase time under tension as well as the positional strength and capacity in the first phase in the deadlift, which would transfer positively to the dynamic start later on.
Another key variation was Romanian Deadlifts. This particular movement is great for developing a strong posterior chain with less load due to higher time under tension. The difficulty performing a top-down hip hinge while then reversing the load to extend the knee and hip joints makes for a perfect accessory lift for the deadlift. This exercise was a key part of the program as it complimented the requirements for Wednesday's training which was lower intensity and higher volume. The Romanian deadlifts helped with CNS recovery by load-lifting each rep from the floor and to practice a violent, but efficient lockout.
You can only perform as well as you can recover, therefore understanding your own recovery patterns is crucial to sustaining a high-volume program. Optimizing the Basic Lifestyle Guidelines (BLG’s) should be at the forefront of any recovery protocol to maximize long-term success. There is nothing that beats adequate nutrition, sunlight, movement, and connecting with nature. Understanding how to tailor training to the current state of an individual’s BLG’s will ensure progress and avoid injury and/or burnout. This process is called Autoregulation.
Autoregulating is a great skill for advanced athletes to keep things on track to support long-term goals. For me, this influences how much work and how hard to train AFTER main sets were completed. I always accomplished the main goal for the day, which were the deadlift sets, to either match or beat what was done the week prior. The state of recovery would then drive the work done afterwards. If I felt great, I would continue hitting my accessory work hard, but if I felt truly fatigued, I might shut it down, take my accessory work light or incorporate easy aerobic work.
With these specific considerations, I developed a plan to peak my deadlift in 16 weeks by running five, three week waves ending with a taper and a test day. I began with a 3 week wave of 5’s and ended with a 3 week wave of cluster singles. I progressed my deadlift from 220kg/484lbs for 5 reps and ended with 260kg/572lbs for a set of 3 singles every minute on the minute. I progressed my weekly single from 250kg/551lbs to 275kg/601lbs over the course of 14 weeks before tapering down.
By reflecting on past training logs, I found the confidence I needed to reassure myself that I was still in the ballpark to hit the mythical 300kg/661lbs deadlift. Before my last powerlifting meet, my weekly singles never exceeded 250kg/551lbs, but when I allowed for proper tapering and supercompensation to occur, I was strong enough to pull 22.5kgs/50lbs more than I hit in training, pulling 272.5kg/601lbs on my last attempt. This was due to performing weekly singles, in a sustainable fashion, under a lot of fatigue. My weekly singles were 90 lbs under my goal, therefore, all things would have to align perfectly for this goal to be achieved. I had faith in my decision to program at a higher frequency, utilizing variations that would ultimately hold my top end strength back.
Carrying that unwavering belief in myself for those 16 weeks, I went forth with my attempt to deadlift this lifetime goal. When the day came, everything aligned. I kept the session short and sweet; starting with pause front squats to warm up the legs and trunk. Once I felt warm, I started my lifts by keeping reps low, and intensity at an all time high.
5 reps at 70kg/155lbs
3 reps at 120kg/264 lbs
2 reps at 160kg/365lbs
1 rep at 200kg/440lbs
1 rep at 230kg/507lbs
1 rep at 260kg/572lbs
1 rep at 280kg/617lbs, tying the most I’ve deadlifted since 2018.
As this weight flew off the ground to lockout, I opted to go straight for my goal weight. I loaded another 10kg/22lbs to each side, put on one of my favorite songs, and accomplished something I’ve wanted to do for many years.
This goal represented so much more than just deadlift strength. It was honoring the men who did it before that gave me inspiration. It was honoring Justin Thacker as he had the gutsiest and grindiest 300kg/661lbs deadlift and was the first person to win the race.
It was honoring my mentor, Drew Thompson, who also accomplished this before me and had always been one of my biggest supporters in the pursuit of strength and professional coaching.
It was honoring my best friend Adam Fetter, who was starting his own injury recovery process, and while being my main training partner, together we showed that injury always presents new opportunities. Sometimes smashing a goal is the reward of proper planning and execution over a long period of time, sometimes its years of grinding and just showing up to make training deposits.
For me it was about honoring all the people who helped me along the way in the pursuit of strength; coaches, mentors, training partners, and supporters alike. For that, this goal is one I’ll always be the proudest of.
Every goal needs a degree of intrinsic motivation, as well as a well structured plan. If you have something you’re striving for, schedule a FREE strategy session with a professional coach to develop the right training plan, nutrition protocol, and lifestyle habits to push you where you want to go.