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Build a 400-Pound Dead Lift: How I Gained Over 200lbs to My Dead Lifting Strength in 3 Years and How You Can Do the Same

  Mar 23rd, 2012

If you don’t know my fat to ripped story, you can read about it here. Basically, after a 3 year “leave of absence” from the weight room and 60 pounds of fat added to my body, I rededicated myself to my health, strength, and physical appearance.


I’ve never been someone who only wants to look good with his shirt off. I want to look strong. I want to be strong. And I want to possess athleticism.


In order to achieve these 3 goals I’ve made sure to structure my training and nutrition so I would continually gain muscle, cut fat, build strength, increase my speed & agility, and of course, look good with my shirt off!


From this point forward I’m going to focus mostly on the strength building aspect of my training and share how I went from dead lifting 185lbs in August of 2008 to dead lifting 400lbs in March of 2012:



Ever since I started lifting again in 2008 a 400lb dead lift has been a goal of mine.


I realize I would have looked cooler having three sets of 45lb plates on the bar, but my specific collection of plates precluded me from loading up that way. In case you’re wondering, I’m using two 45lb plates, one 35lb plate, two 25lb plates and one 2.5lb plate on each side.


I honestly never thought I would get to the point where dead lifting 400lbs would be possible, but the video above shows you what consistency, hard work and determination can accomplish!


I’m now going to work towards dead lifting 500lbs and have no doubt in my mind that I’ll eventually get there.


The Dead Lift is a True Measure of Strength

While most gym rats like to think of the bench press as being the true measure of a person’s strength, the dead lift provides a much better indication of the true strength that’s possessed by an individual.

Instead of asking, “How much can you bench?“, the better question would be, “How much can you dead lift?”.


Dead lifting requires the use of every major muscle group: quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs (core), forearms, lower back, chest and shoulders. Some of these muscles are used more than others, but if any of these muscle groups are significantly lacking, your dead lifting strength will suffer.


So, how is it I was able to increase my dead lifting strength by over 200lbs in approximately three and a half years?


There are obviously a number of factors that contributed to my gains in strength. But, I’m going to give you a breakdown of the elements I consider to be of paramount importance…


Use Proper Dead Lifting Form

Because the dead lift incorporates so many different muscles it allows you to use a substantially greater amount of weight than most other lifts. As such, it’s important that you understand the proper way to perform a dead lift.


Lifting a heavy load from the ground with bad form can cause serious injury to your lower back, so make sure you’re perfectly comfortable dead lifting with lighter loads before ever attempting to max out.


To give you a better idea of what the dead lift should look like, here’s a video of me performing 4 reps with 360lbs:



I probably could’ve done a 5th rep (which is what I usually shoot for on a training set), but I was working up to my 400lb max out and decided not to overdo it.


It’s important to note a few things:


1. When pressing upwards, the focus of the weight is on my heels, not the balls of my feet. This allows me to draw my strength from the posterior chain and also prevents me from leaning forward, risking injury to my back.


2. I use a mixed grip. While not necessary when dead lifting with lighter weights, when lifting heavy, using a mixed grip will keep the bar from slipping out of your hands because if it starts to roll out of one hand it will roll into the other. I also find that using a mixed grip helps to keep my weight back, preventing me from leaning forward.


3. I’m using my legs to lift upwards – not my arms or my back. The quads, hamstrings and glutes should initiate the movement with the lower back becoming more engaged as the bar moves upward.


4. I lower the bar in a quick yet controlled manner. Lowering the bar too slowly will unnecessarily fatigue your muscles and prevent you from performing as many reps as you would otherwise be able to complete.


Dead lifting should focus on the explosive upward movement with as little energy as possible being used on the eccentric (negative) part of the movement as you lower the bar back to the floor.


5. If you’re a keen observer, you notice that I hold my breath until the top of the movement when I exhale before lowering the weight, and then take a quick breath before the next rep. This is intentional as it allows me to keep my core muscles as tight as possible while lifting the bar.


Breathing out while lifting upward will prevent you from maintaining maximum core stability and will reduce the amount of weight you’ll be able to dead lift.


The dead lift is one that people really struggle with getting right. Not performing a proper dead lift will put you at risk for injury and limit the amount of weight you can lift.


So, don’t get too overzealous with increasing your weights. Start light, make sure you’re using proper form, and slowly increase your dead lifting weight.


Use Progressive Overload Strength Training

Once you’re comfortable with dead lifting using proper form you’ll want to be intentional about lifting an amount of weight that’s challenging, while periodically increasing the weight you’re using when dead lifting.


I’ve written an article which details the technique of strength training with progressive overload, but here’s the quick and dirty version…


Each time you perform dead lifts use a specific number of reps per set (I typically shoot for 5). Any time you’re able to perform more than your target number of reps while performing a set, make a note to increase your weight by 5 or 10lbs the next time you dead lift.


This is a simple systematic approach that’ll guarantee you’re always using weights that’ll be overloading your muscles, while also allowing for the need to increase the weight as you continually develop greater dead lifting strength. By the way, this method of strength training with progressive overload can also be applied with any other lift.


Only Dead Lift Once or Twice Per Week

One of the biggest mistakes lifters make when trying to increase their strength is over-training. They think the more they train with a specific lift, the faster they’ll become stronger on that lift.


This assumption may seem logical on the surface, but it’s absolutely false!


Muscles grow and recover during times of rest. Training any muscle group with too much frequency will keep them from fully recovering and prevent you from getting the maximum benefit from your training sessions. The dead lift is no exception.


Not only will training too frequently over-train your muscles, but it’ll also place extreme amounts of stress on your central nervous system (CNS), which controls voluntary muscle action.


Stressing your CNS will be detrimental to your muscle growth and strength gains, so you only want to train with dead lifts (or any other lift) once or twice per week at most.


Squat Poster

Train with Squats

Since dead lifting draws from the explosive power in the posterior chain, and squats are the best lift for strengthening the posterior muscles, developing your squat strength will pay dividends in terms of the amount of weight you can ultimately dead lift over time.


In other words, the amount of weight you can squat will be proportional to the amount of weight you can dead lift.


If you aren’t building your squat strength, you’ll be hindering your ability to maximize your dead lifting strength as well.


You Can Build a 400lb Dead Lift

I’m not someone with amazing genetics for building muscle or strength. Looking at my ankles and wrists, it’s quite obvious I’m on the extreme end of being an ectomorph.


Nevertheless, consistently applying the techniques discussed in this article I was able to overcome my genetics and achieve what a small percentage of lifters ever achieve – a 400lb dead lift – and am confident I’ll be boasting a 500lb dead lift in the not so distant future.


Whether you’re currently able to dead lift 100lbs or have never even attempted a dead lift before, if building a strong physique is important to you, you’ll want to be diligent about building a stronger dead lift.


After all, dead lifting is the true measure of bodily strength!



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