Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Filtering by Tag: Deadlift

Deadlifts help you jump higher

At least according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research:

Barbell Deadlift Training Increases the Rate of Torque Development and Vertical Jump Performance in Novices

Abstract: Thompson, BJ, Stock, MS, Shields, JE, Luera, MJ, Munayer, IK, Mota, JA, Carrillo, EC, and Olinghouse, KD. Barbell deadlift training increases the rate of torque development and vertical jump performance in novices. J Strength Cond Res 29(1): 1–10, 2015—The primary purpose of this study was to examine the effects of 10 weeks of barbell deadlift training on rapid torque characteristics of the knee extensors and flexors. A secondary aim was to analyze the relationships between training-induced changes in rapid torque and vertical jump performance. Fifty-four subjects (age, mean ± SD = 23 ± 3 years) were randomly assigned to a control (n = 20) or training group (n = 34). Subjects in the training group performed supervised deadlift training twice per week for 10 weeks. All subjects performed isometric strength testing of the knee extensors and flexors and vertical jumps before and after the intervention. Torque-time curves were used to calculate rate of torque development (RTD) values at peak and at 50 and 200 milliseconds from torque onset. Barbell deadlift training induced significant pre- to post-increases of 18.8–49.0% for all rapid torque variables (p < 0.01). Vertical jump height increased from 46.0 ± 11.3 to 49.4 ± 11.3 cm (7.4%; p < 0.01), and these changes were positively correlated with improvements in RTD for the knee flexors (r = 0.30–0.37, p < 0.01–0.03). These findings showed that a 10-week barbell deadlift training program was effective at enhancing rapid torque capacities in both the knee extensors and flexors. Changes in rapid torque were associated with improvements in vertical jump height, suggesting a transfer of adaptations from deadlift training to an explosive, performance-based task. Professionals may use these findings when attempting to design effective, time-efficient resistance training programs to improve explosive strength capacities in novices.

Some topics of discussion from this study. Participants were considered "novice," so many of them did not complete pre-study max testing. I believe that many of the study participants may have actually improved their torque and vertical jump even more if they had started the program with a better understanding of form and their physical limitations (max testing), although that is just speculative at this point.

Another aspect of the study that I found interesting; the participants were not instructed on how to powerfully lift the bar. Instead, they were basically instructed on how to lift the bar up and put it back down (with correct form). The deadlift should be considered a power exercise that promotes powerful hip drive during the last phase of the lift to complete the ascent of the bar. When you think of an athlete jumping, the power for an explosive jump is initiated and driven from the hips, primarily.

5 repetitions over 5 sets, or 25 "working repetitions" were used for every set (2 warm-up sets). The lifters completed deadlifts twice a week, either on Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday. If a lifter could compete all of their repetitions with a certain weight then they would increase in weight anywhere from 0.45-2.2kg (progressive overload). If, on the other hand, participants failed to achieve all repetitions of a specific weight, 0.45-2.2kg was removed from the bar and a sixth set was added in order to complete 25 "working repetitions" during every workout. Rest periods were 3 minutes between sets - all pretty standard strength training protocols.

I personally love to use deadlifts with clients, especially those who do not have the proper flexibility and/or mobility to complete a full range of motion squat. I still maintain that squats are a fantastic lower body exercise to increase power and strength, however for those individuals who lack the flexibility and mobility to complete a heavy squat safely and effectively can work on developing power and strength with deadlifts as they are generally less of a "technical" move to master and can be completed with less range of motion.

The basketball players I train are a prime example of this as many of them have very unique limb lengths and joint angles making squats relatively awkward and uncomfortable. Rather than just saying, "You need to do a proper squat," I would much rather them work on exercises that can improve their lower body strength and power safely than forcing them to do something, at least right away, that they are incapable of doing safely and effectively.

Back to Basics

Back to Basics is a program based on gaining maximal muscular strength, size, and function. This program is based on the program StrongLifts. If you haven't heard of StrongLifts then I highly recommend heading over there to check out that program. It may very well be the perfect program for you, as-is. There have been many individuals who have greatly benefited from such a program, and you can too.

Over the past couple of years, I have experimented with a program like StrongLifts on not only myself, but clients of mine as well. I have personally found that the program is missing a couple key elements or need a few adjustments made to the scheduling or programming to suit my needs. I believe that these changes and adjustments will benefit many of you as well.

Here are the main additions/adjustments that I have made:

Dynamic Warmups - I have taken some of my favourite and most useful movements to warmup the body through various planes and wide ranges of motion. The key areas of focus are the hips and shoulders. The shoulders and hips are the link, connecting strength and power from the core, out to the limbs. It is smart, and in good training practice to make sure they are warm and prepared for the work.

Warm-up Sets - I am not a big fan of the warm-up sets that StrongLifts recommends you do. Instead, I have included my own variety.

(Optional) Accessory Work - I have included some of my favourite and most useful accessory sequences to aid the main primary lifts. Especially when just starting a program like StrongLifts, I have found that many users can get the feeling of "not doing enough" by just doing 5, 5-rep sets of the primary lifts. There are a couple key aspects to note here:

  1. The emphasis and energy for the day (on strength days) should be to focus on improving numbers on the main lifts. The accessory work is there to work as a supplement. The original StrongLifts program was designed with some accessory work but too many people were focusing too much on trying to improve their numbers with their accessory lifts and neglecting the main lifts.
  2. Some days, if you are pushing for a personal best on bench press, for example, you may not even have the strength or energy to do the accessory lifts, so either don't do them at all for that day, or back off on the weights you have previously used.
  3. If you fail at getting 5x5 for your lift for the second straight workout, then skip the similar accessory for for that day (discussed in more detail below*). One may think that plateauing or stalling on a weight should require more volume/intensity, but in actuality, you probably need more recovery.

*Let's say you fail at a lift for the second consecutive workout (for that lift) and are forced into a de-load:

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs.
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 4 reps (fail)
Set 5 - 3 reps (fail)

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs. (2nd attempt)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 4 reps (fail)

On that second workout, in this case - Strength Day 3, skip both the incline press to bent over row and dips. Both of these accessory lifts use the shoulders, triceps, and chest just like the bench press does so taking extra recovery time will benefit you more than trying to fight through the accessory lifts. You would only skip those accessory lifts for that one workout. Alternatively, if you failed on the squat for the second time on Strength Day 3, then you would have the option to do the incline press to bent over row and dips.

Exercise Selection - Just a small change to the warmup sets for deadlifts on Strength Day 2 & 4 (utilizing snatch deadlifts).

Recovery Days - I have included recovery days that focus on "active recovery" for the muscles that have been worked the previous day. I am a firm believer in active recovery, as an increase in circulation can aid in repair and recovery. This includes some flexibility training, some mobility training, as well as some core and assistance work. Keep in mind that the point of the recovery days is to allow your body to move through various ranges of motion to aid in recovery as well as strengthen your synergists.

Front Squats - When starting this program, it is great to back squat 3x/week to build up your strength. However, I really like the front squat for a number of reasons, including preparing your body for Olympic Lifts down the road, improving posture, and most importantly, making your back squat that much better. Once you are able to back squat your own body weight 5x5, I recommend you start front squatting 50% of your 5x5 back squat on Strength Days 2 & 4, in place of back squats. So, if you are 180lbs and can squat 180lbs 5x5, start front squatting 90lbs on Strength Days 2&4, increasing in weight the same way you would with the other lifts by adding 5 pounds to the next workout, every time you successfully lift 5x5.

Who is this program for?

Still making progress, 370lbs #deadlift for 5 reps #motivation #exercise #lifting

A video posted by Tyler Robbins (@trobbinsfitness) on

Men, women, young, and old. If you are interested in lifting heavy weights, gaining strength, increasing muscle mass, and just being a total fuckin' badass, then this program is for you. Keep in mind, however, that if you are wishing to gain, you must commit to the program and not worry about gaining weight. The way I see it, there are 3 types of people reading this blog right now:

  1. For some of you, gaining weight is a tough thing to do and you are willing to do anything to put on some size. Well, get ready to eat a lot and lift a lot!

  2. For others, you may be stuck in this limbo zone where you are lean and have a decent level of strength, but just haven't reached that ripped level you are looking for. You find yourself stuck between not wanting to lose any more weight and lose muscle, yet you don't want to gain weight either because you are afraid of getting fat. Well, I was stuck in that zone too until I started to eat more and lift more. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at all hours of the day (see: resting or basal metabolic rate).

  3. Finally, there may be some of you looking to lose weight and gain some strength. Fine. This program can still work for your, but if you are over 20% body fat, you may wish to start the program at a caloric deficit (eating less than you burn) which will work for a while, and you will definitely gain strength, but your strength gains may plateau quicker than others who eat at a caloric surplus. That, however, is based on the individual.

For folks who fall into category 1 or 2, all I can say is, if your goal is to gain size and strength, stick to the goal and eat and lift. There will be time to "cut" body fat later. I recommend that you partake in a program like Back to Basics during the winter when you are probably going to be covered by your clothes for much of the time anyways. That is, if you give a shit about what others think about what your body looks like.

By the way, if this program becomes popular enough, I will have a follow-up program in the spring specifically focused on getting you more lean while maintaining muscle.

The Workouts

Strength Day 1
Strength Day 2
Strength Day 3
Strength Day 4

Recovery Day 1
Recovery Day 2
Recovery Day 3
Recovery Day 4

Back to Basics Schedule

The schedule runs on an 8-workout, repeating rotation. Here is how you would incorporate the 8 workouts into a 3 week schedule.

Week 1
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 2
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 2
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 3
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 3
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Week 2
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 4
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 4
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 2
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 2
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Week 3
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 3
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 3
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 4
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 4
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day



With a quick internet search, you can find a number of Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculators. TDEE calculators are a good place to start to get yourself a ballpark figure as to how many calories you should be consuming. If you are interested in gaining weight, aim for at least 250-500+ calories a day over your calculated TDEE. Although I recommend putting away quite a few calories, remember that too many calories isn't necessarily ideal.

In order to grow muscle and improve your strength, you need a surplus of calories. More often than not, individuals get stuck in a limbo zone between not wanting to gain body fat so they don't eat at a caloric surplus, yet they want to increase the size and definition of their muscles.

Future edits of this blog will have some of my favourite recipes linked here.


This is going to be a hotly-debated topic. My personal opinion is that majority of the supplements on the market are full of empty promises. Most supplements are designed to make you think that they are the "latest and greatest" in the world of health and fitness. Don't listen to the salesperson at the supplement store.

Don't pay attention to the marketing materials. I almost guarantee you that the supplements that some of these extremely fit (and/or muscular) folks who are trying to sell you supplements either don't use the supplements they are marketing themselves, or have other *ahem*....help with their results. I really like using the site examine.com to check the latest research on specific supplements. Feel free to search for some of the products or supplements you are currently taking and see if it/they are worth as much hype as you've been made to believe.

Having said all of that, I know folks will ask me what I use for my supplements, so I will share what I use. All of these are absolutely optional and should not be taken as a prescription from me.

Creatine Monohydrate - one of the most widely-researched supplements in the history of exercise science. Nothing fancy here, no other products carry any additional benefits or "perks," regardless of what someone may have told you...I promise. I take 5g in my post-workout recovery drink. More questions/info needed? Check here.

Whey Protein - Again, nothing fancy. I take a basic vanilla flavoured whey protein that I buy at Costco. You don't need any "state-of-the-art" delivery matrices or any other marketing mumbo jumbo like that. Whey isolate digests quick enough, and your body only transports so much protein per hour so don't worry about all of this marketing promising faster muscle absorption or uptake, etc. It should be noted that actual food always takes precedence for me. I never have more than 1 whey shake per day. I try and get at least 90-95% of my calories and protein from whole food sources and then have a shake when I either run out of time or am busy with other things.

Fish Oil - Fish oils (EPA and DHA) have a wide range of benefits.

Coffee - My pre-workout stimulant. Not much to say here. Caffeine - that's about it.

Vitamin D - I take 1000IU in the form of a pill during the fall/winter months (I live in Canada). During the summer I try and get as much sun exposure as I can, so along with Vitamin D in Shakeology I feel like I have my bases covered. Lots of benefits to supplementing with Vitamin D as well.

Strength Journal

Whether you use Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, some sort of journal app on your phone or tablet, or even just plain old pen and paper, I highly recommend you keep track of your 5-rep max (5RM) weights for your lifts. You can then use this information to keep track of your theoretical (calculated) 1RM.

Why is this important? Well, knowledge is power, and whether you are moving on to another program that involves using a certain percentage of your lift or just your buddy asking how much you bench, you will know your numbers. 


What weights should I start with?

Understand that strength training is training not only your muscles, but your central nervous system as well. The goal here is not to "pump" up your muscles, like what happens during hypertrophy training. Instead, we are working to not only strengthen the muscle fibres themselves, but to also improve the mind to muscle connection. We are focusing on training the nervous system to be more coordinated and effective at recruiting high amounts of motor units to "fire" together and generate maximum force.

From StrongLifts: If you start too heavy, you’ll get sore legs which can make you feel like skipping workouts in the first week. Better to start light so your body get used to Squatting three times a week. The weight will increase quickly anyway since you’re adding 2.5kg/5lb per workout (that’s 30kg/60lb per month on your Squat). If you’ve done the Squat, Bench and Deadlift before, with good technique, you can start with 50% of your five rep max. If you’ve never done these exercises, or you haven’t lifted in years, or you have no idea what I mean with a “five reps max”, just start with these weights:

When should I increase weight?

If you can get 5 repetitions of the same "working weight" without breaking form, then increase your "working weight" by 5 pounds for the next workout you do that exercise. For example, if you squat 135lbs 5x5 during Strength Day 1, increase to 140lbs on Strength Day 2. If, however, you get 135lbs, 5x5 on the bench press on Strength Day 1, you wouldn't increase to 140lbs until Strength Day 3. The one exception to this is on the deadlift. You can increase weight by 10lbs from workout to workout. For example, if you can deadlift 95lbs for 5 repetitions without breaking form, the next workout you complete deadlifts, you can increase to 105lbs.

What if I don't lift the same weight all 5 sets?

First of all, you should at least attempt to lift the exact same weight for all 5 "working sets." Even failed sets have you lifting 1, 2, 3, or 4 reps of a weight you have probably never lifted before; that's still progress!

If you don't get 5 reps during a set, make sure to rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight on the next set. Remember that you are only increasing by 5 pounds on an exercise from workout to workout so your body is making gradual changes. You should not be failing by more than a rep or two unless you are seriously short on sleep, not eating enough, or drinking enough water.

Shit happens, however, so some days just won't be as good as others. Let's say you get all 5 reps for your first 3 sets and then only 4 reps on your 4th set, and finish off with just 3 reps on your final set, fine, this is still progress. The next time you do this exercise, attempt the exact same weight. If, you still can't get 5 reps in all 5 sets, then you need to de-load by 10%. After you de-load, work your way back up 5 pounds per workout as you did before. Here is how it looks:

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs.
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 4 reps
Set 5 - 3 reps

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs. (2nd attempt)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 4 reps

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 180lbs. (10% de-load from 200lbs.)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 5 reps

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 185lbs (180lbs. was successful)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 5 reps

The key to this program, and any other strength program to be honest, is that each individual must keep the integrity to stick to as perfect form as possible. I am telling you right now, it is far more beneficial (and impressive) to do full squats at 200lbs than to do half or even 3/4 squats at 250lbs. If you can't do a repetition with near-perfect form, it doesn't count. Either try the same weight again next time or de-load, and work your way back up!

Keep in mind, you only de-load in weight on the exercise(s) that you failed to achieve 5x5. If you de-load on the bench press, for example, still attempt weight increases on your other lifts (squat, barbell row, etc.)

Can I use dumbbells instead of a barbell?

The primary lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, barbell row, Romanian deadlifts) are designed to utilize a barbell for a number of reasons including weight optimization (you can move more weight with a barbell than a pair of dumbbells) and safety. You may be able to start this program with dumbbells, however, I would highly recommend either investing in a squat rack/cage and barbell for your home gym or become a member of a gym that has the appropriate equipment.

Can I adjust the schedule to lift more often or less often?

You should allow at least 1 full day "off" from lifting between lifting days. There are many similar muscles worked during every single lifting day, so proper recovery is a must. If, however, you only lift every 3 days rather than 2, that should be fine. I wouldn't allow too many days between lifting days, however, as that could hinder progress.

Do I have to use front squats?

Of course not! This is the program that I have used. This is what I consider to be the best fit for me and should work for many of you. To be honest, you don't really have to follow anything I recommend here. I have 2 goals with sharing this information.

  1. A few people will use this program and have great success.
  2. A few people like some of the ideas and changes my program presents and uses them for their program.

I believe that front squatting, combined with back squatting will make you a stronger and more well-rounded athlete. Even if you do not play sports, keep in mind that well-rounded and physically fit "athletes" tend to do everything better and more efficient. If you can front squat and back squat efficiently and effectively, I believe it will improve your overall health and fitness.

Back to Basics: Strength Day 4


The warm-up shouldn't take you more than about 5-10 minutes to complete, especially once you become familiar with the exercises and sequencing. Watch the video to get an idea of how each exercise is done.

Quadruped Shoulder Series x 240 reps
Open/Close x 15 reps
Scarecrow x 15 reps
Scapular Retraction x 10 reps
Quadruped Torso Twists x 10/side
Face Pulls with Scapular Retraction x 15 reps
External Rotations x 10 reps
Overhead Squats x 10 reps
Leg Swings x 48 reps
Scorpions x 8 reps
Fire Hydrants x 20 reps


Back (or Front*) Squat - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Overhead Press - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Snatch Deadlift** - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of deadlift "working weight"
50% of deadlift "working weight"
60% of deadlift "working weight"

Deadlift - 5 repetitions
Working Set 1

*Front Squats - When starting this program, it is great to back squat 3x/week to build up your strength. However, I really like the front squat for a number of reasons, including preparing your body for Olympic Lifts down the road, improving posture, and most importantly, making your back squat that much better. Once you are able to back squat your own body weight 5x5, I recommend you start front squatting 50% of your 5x5 back squat on Strength Days 2 & 4, in place of back squats. So, if you are 180lbs and can squat 180lbs 5x5, start front squatting 90lbs on Strength Days 2&4, increasing in weight the same way you would with the other lifts by adding 5 pounds to the next workout, every time you successfully lift 5x5.

**Snatch Deadlift - Just read at how great this variation to a classic is. What's nice about this setup is that you probably won't be deadlifting as much with a snatch grip versus a clean grip, so as your traditional deadlift increases (clean grip), your snatch deadlift can increase accordingly based on the percentages. For example, if you are deadlifting 200lbs, your snatch grip sets will be 80, 100, and 120lbs. As your deadlift climbs to, say, 260lbs, you will then be lifting 105, 130, and 155lbs with the snatch grip. The snatch grip deadlift forces you to squat a bit deeper since your hands are further apart so you will get a bit more activation and stretch in the posterior chain and legs preparing you for the heavy set of clean grip deadlifts.

Each exercise has anywhere from 1-3 warm-up sets with 40, 50, and/or 60% of your "working sets" weight. All "working sets" weight stays the same for all working sets. I usually round to the nearest 5-pound increment for my warm-up sets. This is where 2.5lb. weight plates come in handy so that you can micro-load your barbell with 5 total pounds.

A set of squats (180lb. "working weight") would therefore look like this:

40% - 70lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
50% - 90lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
60% - 110lbs. x 5 reps
90 second rest

180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps

*There is no set rest time between warm-up sets (besides the time it takes you to load your barbell), however, the following guidelines should be followed for the working sets:

  1. If you complete all 5 repetitions with ease and no break in form, take a 90 second break before the next working set.
  2. If you struggle with one or more repetitions to reach 5, take a 90-180 second (1.5-3 minute) break prior to starting your next working set. Do not be in a rush to start the next set, as your body requires time to recover from the previous set's effort. Your central nervous system also needs time to recover.
  3. If you miss one or more repetitions, which means you either fail to lift the weight at all, or substantially break form to complete (not recommended), then rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight again.

If you complete all 5 working sets with the same weight then you increase your weight by 5 pounds for the next workout you complete this exercise.


Romanian Deadlift (RDL) - 3 sets of 5 repetitions completed the same as the strength lifts. Use the same weight for all 3 sets. If you get 5 reps easily, rest 90 seconds between sets. If you struggle to get 5 reps with the given weight, rest 3 minutes between sets. If you miss a rep or break form to complete a rep, rest 5 minutes before the next set.

Dumbbell Swings/Push Press - 3 sets of 6-12 repetitions per arm.

Pull-ups - Here you can essentially aim for max repetitions (3 sets). If your goal is to train for hypertrophy/strength gains, I recommend adding weight via a weight belt to keep your repetitions lower (6-12 range). This is the dip belt that I haveThese should be done strict, no kipping. Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing like having a weight belt hanging in front of your genitals to prevent you from kipping to get more reps!

You will notice that I do not have single-muscle and/or single-joint accessory exercises (bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc.). The main strength lifts across all 4 strength days cover essentially every muscle in your body. Coupling that with some of the accessory work to aid in strength and growth, muscles like your biceps and triceps get plenty of work. For example, during a bench press or overhead press, although your are primarily pressing with your pectoral muscles of your chest or deltoid muscles of your shoulder, your triceps are heavily involved in the movement. By doing these exercises, your triceps will get stronger and grow.

Remember that these exercises/lifts are here to aid your main lifts. All of your focus and energy should be focused on your strength work. If, however, you wish to complete the accessory exercises, do not be as attached to previous workouts' numbers and wish to increase numbers. For example, you may have pressed 40lb. dumbbells for 8 reps on the incline press, but as you get stronger and push your bench press numbers higher, you may be more fatigued by the time you reach the accessory work, forcing you to either get fewer reps or drop the weight of the dumbbells a bit.

I use 90 second breaks between each set. I complete all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next exercise. I do not super-set. For example:

Dumbbell Swings/Push Press x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Dumbbell Swings/Push Press x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Dumbbell Swings/Push Press x 6-12 reps

Questions/Comments/Concerns? Make sure to comment below!

How to: Straight Leg Deadlift

The straight leg or "Romanian" deadlift is named (by Jim Schmitz) after Nicu Vlad, a weightlifter from Romania. Nicu was one of the first athletes (in Western society, at least) observed using this exercise in 1990. Although it is called a deadlift, it is actually quite different in the setup, approach, and execution of a standard deadlift, not to mention targeting a more specific muscle set in the body (posterior chain).

I can't stress enough how much I not only enjoy this exercise, but highly recommend it to others who have had lower back pain. The unfortunate part about an exercise like this is that it may immediately seem dangerous to those of you with a history of back problems. We are constantly reminded to "lift with our legs" in order to save our backs. Although there isn't anything wrong with learning how to lift something with our legs, this is generally meant for objects that we are picking up off the floor such as a box or large item that extends out beyond our centre of gravity.

Safe and effective barbell training is designed to distribute the load being lifted above our centre of gravity in order to use our bodies in the most mechanically advantageous way possible. A movement such as the straight leg deadlift, although appearing to be dangerous, can actually be a very safe and effective way of lifting, targeting the muscles that make up the posterior chain in order to strengthen the connective tissues there.

Keep in mind, however, that as with any form of exercise, there are inherent dangers associated with lifting weights, and if you have a history of injury or are unsure about a specific movement, it would be best to speak to a qualified medical professional, such as your doctor, to seek their opinion on whether or not you should partake in a particular exercise or program.

The Straight Leg Deadlift

Although we will see in the explanation below that the legs are actually slightly bent, the naming of the straight leg deadlift signifies the "locked out" nature of the legs, all but eliminating the quadriceps from the exercise (some stabilization required). The straight leg deadlift specifically targets the hamstrings, the glutes, the hips, and the erector muscles of the back.


This will be elaborated on later in this guide, but your starting position for most individuals will be on the floor. However, as you improve your range of motion in this exercise, you will benefit from standing on a raised platform for allow the diameter of the weight plates on the barbell to pass lower than the level of your feet.


  1. Depending on what set up you have, your "starting point" will be different. If your barbell is starting from a racked or elevated position, simply lift the weight from its rack. If, however, you are starting from the floor, your initial lift of the barbell to get into a starting position should be done with a standard deadlift by bending your knees to pick the bar up. Remember to exhale through the lift. Either way, grab the bar with a double overhand grip (pronated). 
  2. *NOTE* - do not just rush through this movement. Although you are just getting into a starting position, focus on your form picking the bar up with a flat back (natural curvature), shoulders over the bar, etc. Use the cuing found in my deadlift guide.
  3. You should now be in an erect position with your arms hanging loose, and straight down, holding the bar in a pronated grip against your upper thighs or hips. Your knees should have a slight bend to them.


  1. From your standing position, take a deep breath and puff out your chest. This causes your shoulders to fall back slightly, squeezing your shoulder blades together as well as rounding your lower back giving you a natural anterior pelvic tilt. (Do not over-exaggerate the curvature of your lower back, however!)
  2. Initiate the movement by bending at your hips and pushing your glutes behind you. Think of your upper body as a solid board, as is your lower body, and you are simply hinging at the hips.
  3. Your lower legs should remain upright and perpendicular to the ground, however your knees will ever so slightly bend in order to activate your hamstrings. You are bending at the hips as your glutes push behind you. You want to keep the "proud" or "puffed" chest throughout the entire range of motion. This will force you to focus on engaging the back erectors and keep that flat back (natural curvature).
  4. The barbell's trajectory should, more or less, move straight up and down. This way, the barbell should remain over your mid foot, traveling directly along your legs without scraping or crashing against your legs. This will force your lats to engage and help keep that important flat back.
  5. This exercise is unlike others in that your primary goal should not be to aim for full range of motion (getting the bar to the ground, for example), if you do not have the flexibility. Your range of motion is determined by your flexibility. Once you reach a point where you can no longer lower the barbell without losing the curvature of the lower back, or the upper back collapses (shoulders begin to sag to the ground), you should complete the repetition by executing the concentric portion of the exercise and returning to a standing position.
  6. Once you have reached the "bottom" of your eccentric action, you should exhale as you stand back up. In order to do so, the hamstrings and glutes "pull" your upper body back into an erect position by hinging at the hips, bringing them forward.
  7. This is a strength building exercise, both the eccentric (lowering), and the concentric (raising) actions of the bar should be done in a slow and controlled manner.

Dumbbell Variety

Whether you are using a barbell or dumbbells for this exercise, the cuing and range of motion should be essentially the same. Make sure you maintain the slight bend at the knees and the natural curvature of the spine throughout the full range of motion.

Q&A, Miscellaneous Facts/Tips

  1. One of the best things I like about the RDL is that this exercise is a tremendous posterior stretch while also working to strengthen the muscles and ligaments. The more frequently you do this exercise, the more flexible you will become therefore increasing your range of motion. You may even reach a point when you need to stand on some sort of platform (a couple stacked plates should do the trick) in order to allow the barbell to pass lower than the level of your feet.
  2. hen I attended my USA Weightlifting course, my instructor mentioned at how some of the Olympics-bound athletes are able to straight leg deadlift as much weight as they squat. Now although this may not be the same for you, keep in mind that the glutes and hamstrings can be, and should be very strong to help with your overall posture and posterior chain strength.

Deadlifts - Double Overhand or Overhand/Underhand Grip?

There was a great study conducted at the University of Kentucky on the:


Although the findings may seem mostly "common sense," I still felt as though this should be worthy of sharing, especially those of you who partake in the barbell deadlift on a regular basis.


So what can we summarize from these findings?

  • Using an overhand/underhand grip can produce some bilateral asymmetries in muscle activation and joint angles. In other words, your arms will react differently based on what arm is facing palm forward and which one is facing palm backwards.
  • Injury rates and/or asymmetries in strength or hypertrophic gains have yet to be fully determined from using an overhand/underhand grip, although it is still recommended to use a double overhand grip.
  • Generally, lifters will use a double overhand grip for most "working" lifts, and just use a overhand/underhand grip for max lifts to aid in grip strength, however this study recommends using lifting aids such as wrist straps instead.
  • If, however, an individual wishes to increase grip strength, then lifting straps should be avoided (less muscle activation in the forearms when wrist straps are used), and an overhand/underhand grip can be utilized. However, lifters should practice "flip-flopping" their grip in order to practice having a supinated grip with both hands/arms.
  • It is common for individuals to prefer one hand/arm over the other when supinating/pronating their grips, but good training practice should take precedence here and train both sides equally to balance asymmetries.

How to: Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the greatest strength exercises of all time. Although primarily targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and lower back, this compound exercise recruits muscle from nearly the entire body.

All of my explanations during this guide will refer to the use of a standard barbell and plates. Because the deadlift is essentially just lifting weight and putting it back down, these actions can be mimicked with dumbbells or other forms of resistance, although, the barbell should be the resistance of choice when possible.



If you have a setup that uses olympic weight plates and an olympic barbell, then your bar at starting point should be approximately 9 inches off the ground. A few inches higher or lower than that should not be a problem, although be aware of the ramifications due to the height differences. Lifting weight higher than a 9" starting position could activate less muscle fiber due to less distance for the resistance to travel. However, lifting from a deficit, or having the resistance start closer to the ground may activate more muscle, form may be compromised due to a further distance the resistance has to travel.


Note: Not all weight plates are the same diameter. If you are fortunate enough to have plates that are the same diameter, then you will be able to begin practicing the deadlift with a lower weight yet have the bar start at the same distance from the floor every time. If, however, you are unable to start with 135 pounds for your deadlift (45 lb. bar + 2x 45 lb. plates) then you can use other plates to stack and create a desired height for the bar's starting position.


  1. Approach the bar and stand so that your mid foot is directly beneath the bar. When you are squatted, your shins will then come in contact with the bar.
  2. Your feet should be parallel to one another, approximately hip distance apart. Your feet should be slightly more narrow than shoulder width to allow room for your hands which will grab the bar outside of your knees.
  3. As you squat to grab the bar, your hands should be shoulder-width apart so that your arms are hanging straight down, or perpendicular to the floor.
  4. When squatted, shoulder blades should be directly over the bar.
  5. A flat back should be maintained throughout, maintaining a curve in the lower back. This can be achieved by sticking your butt behind you and driving your chest up.
  6. You should be squatted with these key points in mind:
    1. Bar over mid foot
    2. Shoulders over bar
    3. Bar touching shins
    4. Flat back, maintaining natural curvature


One of the key things to note during the movement of your deadlift is to keep your back flat (naturally curved) throughout the movement. Your goal is to lift the bar by extending at your knees first, followed by the hips. This is accomplished by maintaining a constant torso angle as your legs are extended first. Once the bar passes the height of the knees, your shoulders then begin to rise as your hips are driven forward by engaging your glutes.

One common mistake, especially when people try lifting more than they can, is for the hips to rise too soon and rise quicker than the shoulder, causing the lower back to bear most, if not all of the load. This can lead to injury.

Keep the bar centred over your mid foot throughout the movement as if the bar is "scraping" your shins on the way up. One of the primary goals of the lift is to extend the hips forward by flexing (squeezing) your glutes at the top of the lift.

Your chest should be up, which should come natural with the proper alignment of your spine. As you lift the bar, your head will move as your spine does. Once the bar reaches about knee high, think about driving your hips forward.

Do not, and I mean do NOT arch your back at the apex of the lift. Your goal during the deadlift is to lift the weight up and place (or drop) it back down. There really isn't anything to be accomplished by arching your back at the top of the lift besides herniating a disc in your back. If you wish to add a shrug or other trap work, I suggest doing that separately.

If you are deadlifting at a proper lifting station, you have the option of simply dropping the weight to the floor once you have completed the lift. However, if you are lifting on any other surface, reverse the actions of the lift by breaking at the hips first by pushing your butt back.


Overhand Grip

Overhand Grip

As long as your grip can muster the strength, I recommend gripping the bar with an overhand grip. This way, both arms are exercised in the same way. However, as you begin to lift more and more weight, you will notice that your grip strength may be holding you back from maxing out your lifts.

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

What happens is that the bar will "roll" out of your hands. The solution to this is a mixed grip, where one palm is facing forward and the other is facing backwards. This allows you to keep the bar in your hands by preventing it from rolling out of your grip. What happens is that the bar may begin to roll out of one hand, but will be kept in place by subsequently balanced out by the other hand facing the opposite direction.

Dumbbell Deadlift


A lot of people do a dumbbell deadlift by placing the dumbbells out in front of their feet or at a slight angle. This is fine and may work well, but I actually prefer placing the weights beside my feet (dumbbells parallel to each other) to better align the load over my mid foot, similar to a barbell deadlift. By placing the dumbbells out in front of your feet, you are putting extra strain on your lower back and can therefore increase the risk of injury in my opinion. 

Chances are, you are going to be squatting a bit deeper with a dumbbell deadlift as well since the handles of the weights will be closer to the floor than when using a barbell. Either make the adjustments to drop your butt closer to the floor during your squat, or use a sturdy platform or riser for each dumbbell to better mimic the height of a barbell deadlift.



Other than that, make sure to use (for the most part) the same setup and technique used during a barbell deadlift.

I was actually going to do a quick video on all of the cues, tips, and advice to a proper deadlift, but I came across Alan Thrall's video and felt that there was no point trying to top what he has done, so enjoy!

Q&A, Miscellaneous Facts/Tips

Body mechanics and genetics actually play a pretty big part in strength training. What I mean by that is varying body types have advantages/disadvantages based on the lift being performed. For example, individuals with longer arms generally are at a disadvantage when it comes to the bench press due to the greater distance the bar must travel.

On the other hand, someone with longer arms may outperform someone with shorter arms on the deadlift because of the way their body aligns when doing this lift. By keeping the bar centred over mid foot, and under the shoulder blades (as described above), someone with longer arms has less depth that they have to squat down in order to grab the bar, and therefore get it off the floor.

Q: Should I deadlift in bare feet?

A: That is up to you. I prefer bare feet, or at least "minimalist" shoes because I feel like I have a better feel for the floor beneath me. If your shoes are too soft then you may actually have a bit too much instability to really plant yourself comfortably. Instability training may have some benefits to other forms of exercise, but lifting as much weight off of the floor as you possibly can at once is not a good time to practice that.

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