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.

Ultimate Full-Body Workout #1

This is a workout that is going to blast your entire body, in 30 minutes or less (?.) When you are finished, pat yourself on the back.

There are two ways to do this, as I see it. One, do the 3 sets of triplets without stopping in between. Use enough weight to challenge you on the chosen reps.
The second way is to rest between triplets (my favorite at this point in time.) Call it the beginner’s and advanced versions if you like.
Here is the first triplet. Perform it three times:

Clean Shrugs. (Clean a barbell from the ground, extending through the ankles knees and hips, and using an exaggerated shrug at the top, all in one smooth motion. See this link for a demonstration: 

Do 5 reps at 80-85% of your 1 rep. max. Get 5 even if it means dropping the barbell and re-setting yourself. Use heavy dumbbells or kettlebells if that is what you have. On 5, drop it and:

Sprint 50 yards. Stop next to a wall and:

Handstand pushups. As many reps as you can do, whether it’s 1 or 20. 

(*If you have trouble with these, instead of doing a handstand facing away from the wall, turn around and climb up the wall with your feet. This allows you to walk out from vertical until you can do a full rep. Not too far or the shoulder muscles stop working as hard.)

After three of those, rest a couple minutes (no more than 5, c’mon!)
Second triplet, execute three times:
-Front Squat with sandbag, rock or other odd object (Barbells are fine too, of course!) 

x 3-5 reps 
Bodyweight Squats: 

10, 20, 30 reps? Do the reps fast but in strict form (i.e., explode off the bottom) until the burn in your thighs stops you.

Seated straight leg raise hold with Russian twist: 

Sit in a straight leg raise, legs elevated 6-8 inches off the ground, or wherever you feel the greatest recruitment of your abdominals. 

Hold this position while performing 20 Russian twists (modified.) Do this by clasping your hands together, arms straight in front of you. Keeping them straight, rotate all the way left, squeezing the obliques, then all the way right.

 *Optional: Hold onto a medicine ball or bowling ball while doing these. Arrrrr…*
That’s it. Your’e done! 

Try this workout and adjust it to your individual fitness level. Use proper form, and when in doubt, rest it out, ouch. Anyway, know your limits but also, push them.

This is a workout anyone can do with nothing more than a barbell and an improvised (or not) sandbag. Of course I prefer rocks, and I like to use my rusty old standard barbell. I don’t mind abusing it and the lower starting point adds difficulty to exercises. 

Be sure to get a good warm up before starting this work out, and stretch afterwards. Have fun!

Check out the high tech equipment I like to use:

***If you want to learn how the Gladiators trained, check out this incredible program from Steve Maxwell,
The Spartacus Workout. He combines bodyweight conditioning, kettlebells, clubs and rings for a fresh, advanced program.