Max Deadlift and the Preexhaustion Principle

My 4-Faced Onnit Mace

It’s week 3 of my journey to a 405 lb. deadlift, (starting from 265, if you missed the first part of this, you can read it here.) and while the deadlift poundage has improved, I seem to be weaker in other areas.

Maybe this is my nervous system telling me to stop sprinting so much with the dog, maybe its the 100 degree heat, I don’t know.

I train on with careful attention to how my body is feeling, pushing just enough, slowing down/stopping when necessary.

Today, however, I felt fairly recovered. This, despite the fact that I’ve been working out everyday. A good sign.

I like to think of it as an intensity wave. You don’t always have to stop completely, but you have to slow down, recover, adjust.

Anyway, enough of the banter, today’s workout reminded me how much fun swinging clubs and maces can be.

It also reminded me of a very ‘bodybuilding-esque’ training principle called pre-exhaustion. Basically, fatiguing a muscle group with one exercise (usually something that isolates the muscle group) before doing another (usually compound) exercise.

The result should be obvious, pre-exhausting makes the second, compound exercise, more difficult.

You can probably see where I’m going with this, so let’s lay it out:


BW Box (chair) Squats: 2×10-20

Pushups/Sun Salutations: 2x10ish

*(I was already up and moving for a while before I started, thus the brief warm-up)


3 rounds of,

  • 15# Mace swings (10-2’s and 360’s, for those who care.)

*25# on 3rd round.
*Probably some 15# clubs in here as well.

  • 1 hand and 2-hand KB swings @55# for 20ish reps. (At some point you don’t care, you either can’t stop swinging or you have to put the damn thing down.)

  • Dbl KB Deadlifts @70# each x 6-8.

There may have been an extra round of one of the exercises thrown in, but I’m not sure. When in doubt, I tend to do one more of something rather than feel like I shorted it.

That’s it, that was the workout. But it was more than enough. It got my heart beating out of my chest, provided enough resistance to make me push a little (not too hard today) and it sent me into that Zen-like afterglow, the euphoric calm you get after a good workout.

The Wrap Up

So the bottom line is, although I’m feeling weaker than usual (haha! making fun of myself,) performing the KB swings before deadlifting the heavier ‘bells made 140# feel more like 200…ok let’s say 185.

This principle could have been further tested by doing something more lumbar/glute/hamstring specific, such as good mornings or hyperextensions. However, if I had chosen that exercise, I don’t think the KB swings would have been a good idea. No injuries necessary, thanks.

So give pre-exhaustion a try on your next workout, or revisit it if it’s been a while. If you do it right, your muscles are working just as hard and the results may surprise you.

Increasing the Deadlift without Deadlifting

Why the Deadlift?

As I get older, one of the most functional, and therefore, important to practice lifts, is the deadlift. Snatches and the clean and jerk are great too, but reaching down to haul a ton of weight off the ground has proved to be the most beneficial movement for me and continues to be so.
At my last house, I had a huge garage and a nice open backyard, and there was plenty of room for barbells and throwing them around. The new place? Not so much. 
Since I hate going to the gym, this has meant that I haven’t been doing much barbell training in the last couple years. Instead I’ve grown my collection of kettlebells, clubs, maces, sand bags, etc.

The funny thing is, despite not deadlifting for over 3 years, I walked into my son’s boxing gym, tired and sick, and pulled 265, only 40 pounds less than my last max 3 years ago. (I know, HUGE numbers.)
Having only recently gotten back on track with my strength training, this not unpleasant result made me wonder, how much could I increase my deadlift without actually deadlifting a barbell? 
After all, athletes of Westside Barbell ( do tons of assistance work for their lifts. By comparison they perform the actual lifts about once a week. Louie Simmons is religious about developing a solid foundation to build on, literally.
I started the program with the idea of using the following exercises as a base: 
  • Weighted and unweighted dead hangs to improve grip strength and endurance. 
  • Kettlebells for building hip power and the vital muscle and power in the hamstrings and glutes. 
  • Atlas Stone lifts, including the triple extension (what the strongmen do in comps) and good mornings.
  • Finally, I would use sand bags to approximate the biomechanics of the deadlift, while still not actually deadlifting.
Additional exercises may include things like reverse hypers, hyperextensions, and good mornings with a sandbag or dumbbells, as well as various planks and even reverse prayer style sit-ups.
So one of the first workouts looked like this:
  • Joint rotations
  • Over-Unders
  • Bodyweight good mornings

  • KB Swings. Starting at 44# and working up to 70# for max reps (higher if it gets light, or buy a heavier kettlebell.)
  • Sandbag deadlift (gripping either end on the length) 3-5 x 3-5. Not to failure.
  • Deadhangs from a pullup bar (shoulders engaged) for time, adding weight as necessary ( I use a backpack with weight.) 3-5 sets or until a time limit is reached, 5 minutes for example.

This was heavier than it looks, at least for me, so I planned on doing this 2x a week at most.

By the end of the first week I had already deviated from it. The second workout was:

Warm up, as described above, then:

Double kb swings @53#
Double kb cleans @53#
Ring pullups for strict form x2-3

It had been a busy couple of days and the body was shot, so I felt like I was moving twice the weight. After about 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps in each, and 2-3 sets of pullups immediately following, I was done.

Somewhere in there I remember throwing in some situps and Pavel planks (clenching every muscle while in the plank.)

First Deadlift Max Check 

My plan was to check my max on the deadlift every 2 weeks, but last night I found myself in the boxing gym, feeling more energetic than I had in days. After some warm-up stretching and a rope climb, I loaded the bar. I did:

The old rusty outdoor barbell. Extinct.


The first 2 sets were not hard. That wasn’t my intention. I probably could’ve done 5 or 6 reps at 225# and even after 285#, an increase of 20# in one week, I felt like I could have pulled a few more pounds.

Still, this was an improvement, and it makes me think I might just check in on my max every week, instead of every 2.

So just how much weight do I want to pull in the deadlift? 
My goal is to hit 405 within 2 months. Which will give me no more than 4 actual deadlift sessions, all consisting of max lift attempts. 
This week the work continues, so keep checking back as I update my progress.

The Thor Workout Reloaded-A Twist on Straight Muscle Building

Like most people, I was impressed with the results Duffy Gaver helped Chris Hemsworth achieve for the Thor movie. I’m sure camera angles helped him look bigger and brawnier than he would in real life, but you’ve got to hand it to him, he accomplished a lot in a short time. So how did he achieve it and what did Duffy Gaver have Hemsworth do?

Three elements were present in his thor workout program. 1.) A cycle of heavy, basic compound weightlifting movements-bench press, squat, etc. 2.) Clean eating with plenty of vegetables, fruits and protein, 3) A second cycle to maintain the muscle he had built while cutting up (burning fat.)

You might think time was on Chris Hemsworth’s side during the filming of this movie, but it wasn’t. He fit the workouts in while filming another movie. Dang, there goes excuses for the rest of us!

I read the thor workout routine posted in Men’s Health UK and thought it was a good one. However, it seemed like there was one element missing: swinging heavy things.

After all, Thor swings that heavy hammer around all day long! There was an element of ballistic training in the thor workout routine, and that was with kettlebells. I thought the addition of clubbell, or indian clubs training if you prefer, would be a logical decision. So I created the thor workout-reloaded!

It includes heavy lifting of odd objects like sandbags, but you could stick with deadlifts and squats. Most important, it encourages lots of heavy swinging and core strength work! Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay for it, just click on this link and read for yourself:

The Thor Workout Reloaded


Read about making homemade indian clubs and maces here:

More Homemade Clubbells for at Home Workout Routines

Building Strength and Grip with a Homemade Macebell

Home Workout Routines with a Homemade Clubbell

Shop inexpensive kettlebells here:

Kettle Bells

Finding the Void

The scene is a bit unusual, even with a preponderance of boot camps scattered throughout the park on any given morning: Four guys, ranging from their early thirties to late forties, gathered at the sand volleyball courts, now dubbed “the sandpit,” barefoot and shivering in the first light of dawn. Several pairs of dumbbells and kettlebells are set on the grass next to the ‘pit, and as I explain today’s workout to the guys, the looks I get range from skepticism to disbelief. They’d been through some interesting workouts with me before, the sand bag relays, various crawling down and back the length of the soccer field, but in order to get them to go barefoot in the freezing sand carrying heavy weights, I needed to be a little more convincing.

Before my group had arrived, I took myself through the workout, something I like to do to ensure its effectiveness, and to scale it to the participants. They should have been grateful they hadn’t been there with me. The workout was simple: Walk barefoot around the sandpit, which was a little longer than the three volleyball courts set up on it, carrying progressively heavier weights until you reached the heaviest. Then continue walking, going from heaviest to lightest. The weights could be carried in a farmer’s walk at your sides or overhead, but were not allowed to be dropped. To rest, the weights were racked to the shoulders while the player ‘rested’ in a squat. The total laps were between 16 and 19, and the heaviest weights that day were 50lb. dumbbells. By the time I finished my body was screaming, and my feet were absolutely numb. The trick to getting through it, and the purpose of this workout was to find “the void.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I pulled the term ‘void’ from some Eric Van Lustbader ninja novel years ago, but it stuck with me. The void can be defined as an empty point of focus, or mind-no-mind, the space between spaces. It is reached by finding a point of focus and then finding the space between your eyes and that point, and it is maintained by mindful breathing. The point of maintaining this focus is to take one’s mind away from the pain. As I began this workout I realized that strengthening one’s mind should be a part of a good fitness routine, or at least a side effect. So why not design activities to emphasize that training? This is not a new tactic; the U.S. Military is famous for testing wills after they’re broken down with physical activity.

Going to the top of this pyramid and beginning the lap with 50lb. dumbbells became the sticking point. Sure, after this the weight started getting lighter, but only after this. A lap when your arms, shoulders, wrists, calves, maybe lower back, are already tired Hold them at my sides, rest in a squat, push them up overhead, rest again, hold on with everything you’ve got, even though your wrists want to give out…whew! Finally the lap is complete, but it never gets any easier after that, until I’m back down to the 10’s. In the beginning of this routine, focusing on the void was the hardest part. After all, I was only carrying 2.5# plates to start, and I was walking, not running through the sand. However, as the weight climbed to 15, 25, 35 lbs., my feet became numb, and the sand and tree debris scattered over it became painful, maintaining my focus on the void was the only way to complete the workout.

Standing there explaining what I wanted to put the group through that day, I’m sure it helped that I could look them in the eye and tell them that I’d done it. Maybe getting frozen feet didn’t bother them, maybe nobody wanted to be the coward, but everyone went barefoot that day, and everyone completed the workout, even if they did have stop a few times to rest.