Why is my deadlift stuck?

When I think back to how I used to train the deadlift, I can’t help but cringe. I would train it once a week and try to pull more than the previous session. I’d also aim for new PR’s each session. This is not entirely uncommon.

The problem with this type of training is that strength isn’t gained at 100% of your maximum capacity. As a matter of fact, more than about 3 weeks above 90% of your true 1 rep maximum will incur strength deficits instead of gains.

Strength is actually gained at around 70-80% of your 1 rep max, and this is a safe training range for trying new programs.

Finding your starting weight

If you already know your 1 rep max, feel free to jump to the next section. You’ll follow this plan using 70% of that number.

If not, don’t stress! We can still figure out your starting weight, and we’ll err on the side of caution. There’s no disadvantage to starting a plan a little lighter. Going too heavy at the beginning of a program, on the other hand, will always lead to premature stalling.

To identify your starting weight, we will work off a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of about 7/10. What does that mean? When the speed of the bar begins to slow down and you first start to feel quite challenged by the weight, you’re sitting on a rough 7.

To begin, load a bar with two 20kg plates (60kg total including the bar), and complete 5 reps. Take note of how the weight feels and give it a rating of how hard it was out of 10. You may find it to be about a 3 or 4. You will then add 10kg to the bar (5kg per side) and do another 5 reps. Once again, note bar speed and RPE.

Repeat this process until you pull a weight that feels comfortably heavy and fits into the 7/10 effort bracket. Pull one more set of 5 at that weight and your first session of this program is now finished.

The Plan Going Forward

From here on out, you will train deadlifts 3 days a week. Monday/Wednesday/Friday is my preference, but any combination will work as long as you incorporate at least one day of rest between deadlift sessions.

Step 1: You will add 5kg to the bar from your first session and work up to 2 sets of 5. You will repeat this session on each of the 3 training days for this entire week.
Step 2: Add a further 5kg and repeat step one for two more weeks.
Step 3: Drop the weight back to the week 2 weight and start the program over from this weight.

For example, if your 1 rep max is 150kg, your starting weight will be 105kg. Your plan will look like this:

WEEK 1 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 105 x 5 105 x 5 95 x 5
Wednesday 105 x 5 105 x 5 95 x 5
Friday 105 x 5 105 x 5 95 x 5
WEEK 2 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
Wednesday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
Friday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
WEEK 3 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 105 x 5 105 x 5 95 x 5
Wednesday 105 x 5 105 x 5 95 x 5
Friday 105 x 5 105 x 5 95 x 5
WEEK 4 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
Wednesday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
Friday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
WEEK 5 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
Wednesday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
Friday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
WEEK 6 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
Wednesday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
Friday 110 x 5 110 x 5 100 x 5
WEEK 7 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
Wednesday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
Friday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
WEEK 8 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 120 x 5 120 x 5 110 x 5
Wednesday 120 x 5 120 x 5 110 x 5
Friday 120 x 5 120 x 5 110 x 5
WEEK 9 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
Wednesday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
Friday 115 x 5 115 x 5 105 x 5
WEEK 10 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 120 x 5 120 x 5 110 x 5
Wednesday 120 x 5 120 x 5 110 x 5
Friday 120 x 5 120 x 5 110 x 5
WEEK 11 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday 125 x 5 125 x 5 115 x 5
Wednesday 125 x 5 125 x 5 115 x 5
Friday 125 x 5 125 x 5 115 x 5
WEEK 12 SET 1 SET 2 SET 3
Monday Rest Rest Rest
Wednesday Rest Rest Rest
Friday TEST 1 RM

By the end of the program, you’ll be pulling over 80% of your original 1 rep max. After 12 weeks, test yourself again and see how much you’ve improved. That 150kg maximum may now be as high as 165kg!

I’ve used this program and similar variations for dozens of clients and have had an amazing success rate. It’s not unlikely for a male to add 10-20kg in 12 weeks and about half of that for the ladies.

If you feel like your deadlift has stalled, I strongly recommend giving this program a try. It may just be the kickstart you need to break through that plateau!