Mastering the Deadlift

Any exercise with the word ‘dead’ in its title is bound to have a bad reputation. The Deadlift exists as an irony. Those who treat it like a sin most dire are often the ones who need it the most. If your back or knees are a mess, you’d better learn to pick things up correctly, and that is all a deadlift really is, proper lifting technique for anything.

The medical community denounces it strongly while its street credibility grows through word of mouth and proven results. Although the common perception of this lift is of a giant bar being handled by some monster with no neck, let’s borrow the technique for the next time you pick up a book from the bottom shelf, or lift your child, or grab weight to put on your barbell. More often than not a freaky loaded bar isn’t what hurts a back. It is the mundane stuff of life, because we don’t pick it up properly.

C’mon folks. What are you scared of? Stop fearing this basic technique for lifting anything from the ground. A deadlift should be a part of anyone’s Basic Lifting 101. Now for those with a bend for something more extreme, the deadlift is also frequently used as a bench mark of will and muscle, as it is one of the three lifts that make up powerlifting competitions and is the basic building block from which many strongman lifts are built upon.

For the folks who just want pretty muscles, yes, the deadlift is still an essential tool. Beyond the important practical reasons, and the intense athletic reasons, our friend the deadlift utilizes quite a collection of muscles, more at once then most other exercises, and that should be enough to placate even the seekers of sheer aesthetics. The only confusion now, for the average gym rat that follows archaic body part splits, is to ask what day the deadlift should fall on, leg day or back day?

Bring it On

Unlike the Squat, which, as we mentioned in another article, can be taught from bottom up (potty training we called it), the deadlift can be taught from top to bottom. The mechanics are very similar to a squat; in fact they’re identical until we grab a bar.

So if you’re new to deadlifting, grab the bar from a rack and start from the top, in a locked standing position. It really helps to have a second pair of eyes available (no looking in a mirror, it will screw you up) to check a few elements of your posture while you lower the bar.

The T&A Principle

How about an obscure reference to the musical A Chorus Line to master deadlift technique? Despite listening to HateBreed while writing this, this will prove that a working knowledge of Broadway musicals comes in handy for something. There is a song in the show called Dance 10, Looks 3, which has a chorus that repeats the words ‘Tits and Ass’ quite a few times. That can be a humorous working mantra for a deadlift. Chest out, butt out, which translates to retracted, ‘proud’ shoulder blades and a tight arch in the back. Combine this with bearing down hard on the belly, as if you are trying to pass a watermelon, as one of my clients put it, and I hope he wasn’t talking from experience.

So our little T and A show will be put into serious practice as we start to lower the bar. Let’s adapt a comfortable foot and hand position. Place your feet where they feel most solid. Forget anything you might have heard about ‘shoulder width’ or any given distance, like 10-20’’ apart. I’ve never known anyone to actually measure his or her stance, have you? Just put your feet where you feel solid and secure. If they’re particularly wide (what we call ‘sumo’ stance), we’ll grab the bar with our hands on the inside of the legs, opposite if the feet are in a more moderate, or ‘traditional’ stance. Now let’s start to lower the bar.

We’re not sitting down; we’re sitting back, with that ‘butt out, chest out’ mantra we’ve adopted. Here is where that additional set of eyes can help. If you’re not used to the feeling of a tight arched back, you may not feel when it rounds and tucks under. If it does, we need you back up in an arched position. That ‘tucking point’ as we’ll call it, is just beyond the depth we’ll aim for currently. If you aren’t lowering the bar to the ground yet, who cares? We’ll get there, but for now something along your chain of motion either needs some strengthening or some stretching, and we’ll practice increasing our range of motion slowly, sans stress or ego.

So the small checklist of thing you are trying to be aware of, and your second pair of eyes can help you check for, are:

  • Are you keeping your shoulder blades back (chest out)?
  • Is your head up (helps with the shoulder retraction)?
  • Is your arch nice and tight (butt out)?
  • Can someone punch you in the stomach (attempting to pass that watermelon will keep your midsection solid)?

Before we go onto more advanced techniques, let’s discuss what a big deal the shoulder blades are.

Don’t do this

Shoulder Blades

The importance of shoulder blade retraction (pinching them back so the chest is out) is not only overlooked, it is sometimes completely ignored by competitive powerlifters. It was a bit disheartening to hear, at a recent powerlifting workshop, one of today’s top powerlifting coaches say that bringing the shoulder blades back isn’t as important as some of us think it is. Let’s keep in mind that this particular lifter hated deadlifts, in part because of the millennium it took him to pull his inflexible body down into proper position. Meanwhile I’ll argue for the importance of shoulder blades and the training of the upper back to make a safer and stronger deadlift.

If the shoulder blades round forward, there is an automatic signal sent to the hips to round (tuck under) as well, making the lower back lose all arch and your whole spine look like the letter C. Keeping a tight arch with rounded shoulders is fighting a natural spine response, and can also put the bar further in front of the body, creating more force directed at the lower back. The opposite of that spine response holds true as well. Try it. Stand up and pinch your blades back like you’re trying to squish an orange between them. Chances are your butt went out and you arched your back. C might be for ‘cookie,’ but not for deadlifts. Arch that back and get that booty out.

Then there are those times when the plates accrue on the bar and the weight starts to make you consider if lifting it is the wisest of options. These are important moments to focus on form, when we’re attempting our one rep max, or even a heavy set for reps.

As the weight sticks stubbornly to the floor, we increase our effort. Often this means the hips shoot up faster than the chest, and suddenly our legs are much straighter and the load is being conquered through the back and hamstrings. This is so common in max effort lifting that, as much as people talk about how it shouldn’t happen, we might want to simply accept it will and attempt to minimize the danger.

Enter those shoulder blades. If the blades stay locked back, the chances of rounding the lower back decreases considerably, even if the legs completely lock out way before the hips do. Although in no way an ideal lifting situation, this is at least much safer than rounder back lifting, which occurs way too frequently during deadlifts.

Although rounded-back lifters often attempt to corrective the issue by strengthening their lower backs, I’ve seen the biggest culprit often being weak upper backs. If you have the strength to keep the blades back, you’ll have a much greater chance of nailing your deadlift.

Do This

From the Ground

If the T&A concept already makes perfect sense to you, then add some load to the movement and make it challenging. Let’s put something with some heft on the ground and pick it up. Now at most gyms, there is a caveat. Small plates mean lower deadlift, and this makes the move a little harder. So if the nice big 45 pound plates seem a little daunting right now, you will either have to drop lower to pick up the bar, since all other plates are smaller, or you can prop the bar up on pins, plates or boxes.

At many athletic training centers, and a growing number of public gyms, bumper plates are usually on hand. They’re all the same size regardless of weight.

But whatever the height of the bar, lower yourself with that tight arch and proud shoulders. Follow the same checklist we used earlier:

  • Are you keeping your shoulder blades back (chest out)?
  • Is your head up (helps with the shoulder retraction)?
  • Is your arch nice and tight (butt out)?
  • Can someone punch you in the stomach (attempting to pass that watermelon will keep your midsection solid)?

And that’s just to get you set up. Now, to get bar off the ground, lock the arch, so nothing changes the position of the spine and shoulder blades, and push with the legs. In other words, almost all movement in the deadlift happens at the hip joint (hip extension) and the knee joint (knee extension). If there is any movement happening along the spine, there is increased chance of unwanted force in the discs. The back had better be very actively holding position, not losing the arch, while the actual movement comes from the hips and legs.

A classic cue is to drive the legs through the ground. Some would even say drive the heels through the ground, since the weight and the force should be back on the heels. The problem here is that if you ‘drive the legs’ but the bar doesn’t fly up as fast as the legs do, then you have elevated hips, but not chest, just like we mentioned often happens at maximal or near maximal efforts.

Which brings us back to the shoulder blades and locking the spine in place. If the shoulder blades lead while the legs drive, coming up as one cohesive unit will probably be easier.

Remember that foot position can be a personal choice. The classic ‘traditional stance’ is commonly what you’ll see outside of power lifting gyms. Some folks prefer the feel of the Sumo stance, which is a very wide foot stance with the arms narrow. Play with them both. Different body types feel more comfortable in different positions. See what works for you.

Sumo Deadlift – bottom part of movement

Sumo Deadlift – middle part of movement 


 Sumo Deadlift – top part of movement

Then what?

You are now standing proud and completely locked out at the top of a successful deadlift. If it is a competition or max effort lift, don’t worry about babying the bar down to the ground. Put it down. Hard. Just don’t let go.

But if have some more reps to do, simply stick with the T and A Principle. Get the butt out, keep the chest proud and lower the bar. This is functional advice, since just as many folks hurt their backs lowering an object as raising it.

Bands, Chains and Pins, Oh My.

You’re addicted. The feel of the barbell in the hands is your twisted ecstasy. Defeating gravity by blasting it off the floor is now your favorite personal war. Good for you. But wait, there’s more.

Bands and chains, made famous by Westside Barbell Club, are no longer reserved for just powerlifters. Although your average ‘athletic club’ or corporate gym doesn’t have them, they’re portable (albeit heavy in the case of the chains) and having a sturdy gym bag (or canvas military bag) filled with such toys can make you the most interesting person in the gym. If the gym doesn’t allow it, they don’t need your business. If the management or staff just looks at you funny as you pull out a bag of what looks to be bondage gear, just smile and wink. They’ll probably leave you alone.

Strapping giant bands or iron chains around a deadlift bar will obviously increase the tension while you’re on your way to locking out. But if you haven’t done it before, waxing theoretical about it doesn’t do it justice. If your spine and shoulders aren’t locked into a good tight arch, form will crumble as you ascend, with the most common malfunction being a tucking of the pelvis. Not good. So remember the shoulder blade diatribe from earlier before attacking a deadlift with strange apparatus attached.

Chains are easy to use. Throw them over the bar. As the bar goes up it gets heavier. Simple.

Deadlifting with chains -1

Deadlifting with chains – 2

Bands are a little more complicated. Some cages have special hooks on them for bands, but another option is to simply hook the bands under the feet (a little less comfortable in sumo position). The concept is the same: go up=get heavier. But now the increase of the bands is exponential as opposed to steady, going from “0” to “REALLY HARD” within inches.

Oh, and the bands really want to yank you to the ground, faster than gravity alone can. Again, telling you this really can’t translate to actual practice until you’ve tried it yourself. Once you feel it, you’ll get it, but the first time with our latex friends is always a little strange.

Deadlifting with bands

Lifting from pins is a limited range of motion deadlift most often performed with a substantial amount beyond what your normal deadlift might be. By ‘pins’ we’re referring to the pins in a squat cage that can be set to any height above the ground. A personal favorite is just below lockout, performing what was called in the good ol’ days, a hand and thigh lift.

Execution is simple – put more weight on the bar and lift it. All the same rules apply, including the T& A principle (will Weider try to steal that one from me?). Keep that belly tight and full of air, or those tush cheeks will want to tuck under painfully. As a warning, this is brutal for the grip, and more than a few calluses have been ripped off during even successful attempts at this. Around these parts, that’s a right of passage.

These pin lifts are great for low reps, and sometimes, as in the case of the hand and thigh lift, simply seeing how long you can hold it. A good education for body to feel more weight than it’s used to.

Partial Deadlifts with rack/pins – 1

Partial Deadlifts with rack/pins – 2

Side Deadlifts

These are a great spine challenge, what infomercials like to call ‘core.’ Walk up to the bar like you’re about to deadlift it. Then turn 90 degrees. Pick it up. All normal rules apply.

On paper it really is that simple. But once that bar starts to struggle against your pull, your whole frame is going to want to twist. Don’t. Oh, and make sure you grab the bar in the center.

Side Deadlifts – 1

Side Deadlifts – 2

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, Straight Legged Deadlifts, or whatever name you know them as. Despite arguments about subtle differences among these, they’re the same lift: a deadlift without a large (if any) amount of knee flexion. If the T&A Principle is adhered to strictly, then these will go much easier. A note of safety, start from the top. Deadlift it up the old fashioned way, and then begin.

  • Butt out, pivoting only at the hips, not at any point along the spine.
  • Chest high
  • If at any point the spine position changes, you’ve gone too far.

Despite the overuse of little metal stands called ‘deadlifting platforms,’ most folks can barely go to ground depth without rounding their back. Just do these on the floor.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 1

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 2

Trap Bar Deadlifts

If you have a trap bar (a diamond shaped bar that you step into the middle of, used for shrugging), many folks swear by these as a great deadlift tool. All deadlifting rules apply.

Anything else?

Pick up anything – a kettlebell or two, dumbbells, sandbags, pets, children, pumpkins, whatever. Just keep the form strong.

Program Ideas

Since, as mentioned in my recent Squat article, we like to cover a large spectrum of strength during our training, and heavy deadlifts only make up a portion of what we could do. Besides the powerlifting protocol of maximum force development training (low reps for high speed or weight), why not play with the deadlift as a training tool for other levels of preparedness as well?

Here are some combo ideas we’ve used with great success:

With the current trend of naming combos, I feel negligent for not coming up with a title for this one yet.

Let’s call it the Hate combo.

  • Heavy deadlift, pullups, sled drag: About 90% of your one rep max, immediately followed by a strenuous round of pullups, then followed by dragging a weighted sled for about 200 feet.
  • Repeat 4 times.

So this would be the Love combo:

Get creative here. The only rule to follow is the rep scheme, which will be 10,9,8,7 etc. down to 1, only resting if you have to. This type of challenge isn’t new and groups like Crossfit and Gym Jones have recently helped popularize it. You’re going to make it your own by choosing the exercises you’d like to use. Standard practice is 3 exercises but don’t limit yourself. Here’s an example of our version of the Love combo:

  • Deadlift (with your bodyweight on the bar)
  • Burpees (with or without weight, depending on your ability)
  • Sled Tugs (attaching a 30 foot rope to a weighted sled and tug it towards you)

The 10, 9, 8 rep scheme is only altered with the sled tugs, which will be halved (5,5,4,4,3,3, etc). Time it, because someday you’ll try to beat it.

Traditional set and rep schemes are growing stale fast. Lift like there are no rules. It becomes much more fun that way.

Written by Chip Conrad

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Mastering the Deadlift discussion thread.


If I were King for a day, I’d alleviate so many issues, fears and apprehensions about training by simply replacing the word ‘exercise’ with the word ‘movement.’ The squat, feared, revered and misunderstood, might then be seen as an essential part of life instead of some evil force that causes bad backs, bad knees and destroyed egos. Whether intimidating or simply technically challenging, the squat is too often ignored, abused or badmouthed by folks who should consider them something special and essential for anyone’s toolbox. But let’s rethink the squat as a movement, not just a massive intimidating exercise. And we should never fear moving the body, right?

As a movement, the squat is simply bending at the knees and the hips simultaneously, and then standing back up, something we do all the time. As a training tool, the focus will be loading the body with extra force and performing the movement in the most effective way possible.

Effective for what? Since the chains of muscles involved in a squat are the same as so many sporting and daily movements, the squat becomes the kiss of death to any weakness within these chains, helping create maximum strength and power for sporting endeavors or simple overall body function.

The Squat is also a competitive life in the sport of Powerlifting (and sometimes Strongman competitions). The importance of this isn’t limited to the subculture of powerlifters. The benefit of maximum force development that powerlifters strive for will help any of us with just about any other physical endeavor you might think of (yes, probably even the naughty stuff).

Now here’s the super bonus that so many people flock to the gym for:

Squats make your legs look better too. Yep. It is true. Since so many muscles work in unison, nothing beats the basic squat for leg development of the aesthetic kind as well.

Squat Styles

From the basic body squat to overhead squats or the classic Jefferson Squat (a technique that would concern the average man), the list of possible squat variations is only limited to the imagination and the tools available. This program will cycle through a few of the better known varieties, with a large emphasis on box squats, which is discussed below:

Now thats a deep squat!

Box Squatting

The box can be a great learning tool for all levels of lifters. Why? Well, in trainer-speak, sitting into the box breaks the concentric/eccentric chain. In English, the box forces you to start from a ‘stopped’ position, making the lift harder and more focused. It also trains you to hit a consistent depth, which is key for competitors, and very helpful for non-competitors who are unsure about how low their butt is.

Powerlifting squat (notice the constant angle of the shins) on a box

In the above visual, notice that the stance is wide, the arch is tight, the belly is full of air and the hips are way back, so far that the toes curl up. Yes, I often lift barefoot!

Powerlifting squat (notice the constant angle of the shins) on a box. The stance is wide, the arch is tight, the belly is full of air and the hips are way back, so far that the toes curl up. Yes, I often lift barefoot!

The trick with the box is to avoid the ‘tappy-tappy.’ SIT ON IT! Don’t tap the box and then pop up liked it goosed you. A cue that may help is to ‘crush’ the box or to sit through the box, like you’re trying to squat deeper but that darn thing is in your way.

But by no means relax on it. Here’s a quick quiz:

Exhaling, rolling the hips under or rounding the back while on the box will:

a) Create a great opportunity to bounce up, executing an explosive and powerful squat by springing on a flexed spine.
b) Ruin most of the spinal stability you had and make getting up not only harder, but potentially dangerous to your spine
c) Get the chicks to notice you

If you answered A, spin around in a circle until you’re dizzy and then practice yoga until you can kiss your own ass goodbye. If you answered C, you may not be wrong, but you won’t get a date. B, of course, says it all. You are crushing the box with perfect squat form, not relaxing on it, and then, from that stopped but tight position, exploding off the box.

Program design: Building the Squat vs. The Squat Building You.

Powerlifters like to talk about ‘building the squat,’ meaning that they use other movements and workouts to help their bodies be able to squat better. Make the spine, hips and legs stronger and there will be an increase in the squat numbers. The end product is a monster squat.

Bodybuilders are the opposite. They ‘squat to build.’ their legs. Strength isn’t as relevant as much as aesthetic development. The end product being bigger, more developed, legs.

The philosophy at my training center, Bodytribe, is ‘let’s build the squat to build us.’ Even though many of us are competitive powerlifters, and our squat total is an indicator of our ability to generate maximum force, we aim to be well-rounded athletes and humans, so it doesn’t end at our squat total.

The total is just one of many indicators we have as to the overall performance progress of our machines. If our maximum force development goes up (along with our other indicators), we realize we are simply able to DO more as human beings (which, to again bring it full circle, would include squatting).

Our efforts are rarely specifically for aesthetic development, because we know what happens as a required byproduct of hard work. We like the legs looking better, but we don’t fret about it, because the simple equation of Lift Hard = Better Muscles is something even my small brain can understand and has been proven and tested with outstanding results. Our focus, therefore, becomes strength. All different types of strength. Strength for the purpose of DOING stuff. And, due to the magical equation above, our legs also look better. Cool, huh? Living for ability instead of aesthetics makes training much more fun.

The Spectrum of Strength

 If we define strength in the physical world as ‘force development’ and acknowledge all the different degrees of force development, then we have a giant spectrum of strength, from the archetypical Absolute Maximal Force Development (the legendary world where grandmothers lift cars off babies and what all ‘strength’ athletes are striving for) to extreme endurance events like century runs and multi-day challenges, and everything in between. It is all force development, from the body generating as much force as possible at once (powerlifting, Olympic lifting, throwing cars off pinned loved ones, etc.), to low-level force development over a long duration (what is called ‘endurance,’ and often treated as something different from ‘strength.’).

The Spectrum of Strength

With such a spectrum of possibility, why is it that the average weight trainer works within the very limited prison of 6-10, or 8-12 reps with moderate speed and weight? Training further in both directions will create a more capable, ‘stronger’ human. Thinking beyond ‘reps’ and ‘sets’ and ‘weight’ is the key to using the entire spectrum. What about speed? Duration? Distance? All of these are malleable factors that we can be creative with.

From the strict number crunching of athletic periodization, which often looks like someone threw a bunch of numbers into a computer to generate their strict workout (and they probably did) for the next 6 months, to the complete opposite world of random GPP workouts that seem to throw a bunch of ideas into a blender and try something different almost every day, there are some options out there.

Since most of what is seen in gyms is very limited in scope, not addressing the many possibilities of strength, we’re going to use several modalities at once to hit a wide section of the Spectrum. Having a greater ability on more levels of the spectrum will lead to greater potential to increase specific parts of the spectrum. For example, if your body has a higher level of general physical preparedness (GPP), you can handle a greater workload to train heavier for maximum strength. And a greater level of maximum strength will teach the body to push beyond obstacles that could hinder endurance activities.

But instead of increasing our workouts to undesirable lengths, we can consolidate them into mini-bombs of intensity.

Our template here is of absolute clay. Get your inner artist on and take this in new directions. This template addresses a much broader range on the spectrum of strength than most programs out there, and lets you manipulate variables to not only keep the body in a constant state of progress, but to also keep it interesting.

We’re building our squat (to ultimately build ourselves), so this workout will cover all aspects of the Spectrum using movements that create more ability through our hips, legs and spine.

The Basic Template Concepts:

These are the three main concepts the template design will consist of:

Max Force Development Lift

The MFD lift will be the centerpiece of a workout. The max force lift will either be a one-rep max or a speed lift (think max effort day versus dynamic effort day, if you’re familiar with Westside methods), since force development can come through either load or speed. And the squat can be of any nature and with any tool; front, back, overhead, Zercher, with chains, bands, box, kettlebell, one leg, whatever. Heck, other powerful hip movements, like good mornings, Olympic lifts, lunges, and plyometric work can all be utilized.

Repetition Lift

To build the squat we must build ability in other movements. To build a powerful squat, we also need support from other parts of the spectrum beyond just maximum force development. This range of the spectrum will increase skill, hypertrophy and joint integrity. The repetition exercise can be ANY supportive exercise. Another squat, glute/ham developers, reverse-hyper, pistol squats, farmer’s walk, even esoteric lifts like the hand and thigh lift or bent press.

General Physical Preparedness (GPP)

The term GPP has been used for years, and although convenient, it is also sounds very boring. But GPP training is both extremely important and often ignored, so avoiding it creates specialty athletes who have bodies that are very limited in ability. GPP has been shown repeatedly, without contention, to improve all levels of athletes, and it also builds some seriously conditioned muscles. Even bodybuilders could learn a thing or two from GPP training.

GPP training has the biggest possibility for artistic freedom. Take any malleable factor (distance, time, reps, sets, load, or exercise selection) and build something challenging. The exercises don’t all have to directly relate to the squat, so feel free to press, pull or even run. One recommended tip would be to always include some serious spine work, which we’ll talk about below.

For more information on GPP, see the article – Are You Down With GPP?

The Squat Workout

Here’s an example of a workout using the template concepts above.

Max effort squat

  • 8-10 sets of between 1-3 reps working up to a one-rep max – basic powerlifting protocol.

Good Mornings for reps

  • 2-4 sets of 6-20 reps. Yes, 6-20. Anyone who says reps higher then 10 build ‘endurance,’ not muscle, either have a very bad idea of what ‘endurance’ actually is (endure 100 reps, that’s more like it), or just don’t feel like working outside their comfortable rep range.

Lunges / Farmer’s Walks / Barbell Rollouts

  • Weighted lunges for 50-100 feet
  • Heavy farmer’s walks 100-200 feet
  • Barbell Rollouts for 1 minute

Complete the above workout as described below:

  • Easier: 2 times through
  • Harder 3 times through
  • Champion: 3 times through, no rest periods.

Customizing this Template

This limited description isn’t meant to leave you stuck, it is meant to make you think. There will be more examples below, but don’t hesitate to create your own. Disregard all ‘rules,’ as they are usually crap.

Challenge your creativity. Just see the Spectrum of Strength as an open door to possibilities that involves more than just sets and reps. Above all, have fun.

The Maximum Strength and Ability Program

This is a 9-week program using 3-week cycles. There will be two ‘squat days’ a week through the cycles, one day focused on heavy weight for the MFD, the other on speed, with at least 2 days between the two workouts. This is, of course, very similar to modern powerlifting protocols, but this template covers more range of the Spectrum while utilizing movements that haven’t had much fame since the Physical Culture era. If some of these movements seem too foreign, replace them with something more familiar.

Week 1-3

Day 1

  • MFD: Squat (see protocol in example above)
  • Repetition: Good Mornings
  • GPP: Lunges/farmer’s walks/rollouts

Day 2

  • MFD: Box squats with bands (10-12 sets, 55%-65% of 1RM, 30-second rest)
  • Repetition: Cleans (2-4 sets, 4-10 reps)
  • GPP: Bueler’s / Saxon bends / burpees (5 sets of 5 reps each, per side on the Bueler’s and Saxon bends)

Easier: short rest between each combo

Harder: Go for time, and see how fast you can blast through all five sets

Week 4-6

Day 1

  • MFD: Box squats with bands
  • Repetition: Overhead squats (2-4 sets, 4-8 reps)
  • Repetition: Stiff Leg Deadlifts (1-2 sets, try for 20 reps)
  • GPP: Turkish get-up/swing/windmill
  • Back to back. At the top of the t-get-up, swing the weight. At the top of the swing, do a windmill. Switch sides when you want as long as you balance out, but see how long it takes to do 20 each side.

Day 2

  • MFD: Cleans
  • Repetition: Farmer’s walk (go heavy and for distance. 2-3 sets)
  • GPP: Burpees / plank
  • 30 seconds of burpees followed by a 30 second plank for 5-10 minutes straight, non-stop)

Week 7-9

Day 1

  • MFD: Front squats
  • Repetition: Heavy walkouts/partials
  • Set the bar up as if you’re going to attempt to back squat 50-100 pounds more than you usually squat. Unrack, walkout, do 3-10 partials, barely breaking at the hips. Rack it and see if you can go heavier. Setting the pins in the squat rack really high is a good idea.
  • Repetition: Sandbag/barbell/dumbbell lunges
  • Lunge with something heavy in your hands or on your back. Go for distance, between 50-100 feet, if not more.
  • GPP: Hang clean / push press / good morning
  • With one bar, clean it, push press it, and lower it for a good morning. Use 3 sets, 5-10 reps.

Day 2

  • MFD: Deadlifts
  • GPP: Db/kb front squats/40-yard dash/swings/40-yard dash
  • This one works best outside. Front squat with a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells for 6-10 reps, then drop then and sprint as fast as you can for 40 yards. Then immediately grab a conveniently located DB or kettlebell at the end of the 40 yards, which you will now swing for 10-20 reps before sprinting back to the starting. 2-3 sets.
  • Repetition: Ball slams

What happens next?

After 9 weeks of this sort of intensity, we’d often cycle in two 3-week cycles focused more on Repetition lifts, less on the Maximum Force Development, with only one day a week dedicated to squatting. Another option would be to back off on the intensity of the GPP. For example:

  • Squats 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Good mornings 6-15 reps, 3 sets
  • Swings / farmer’s walk 10-20 reps / 100 foot walk
  • Saxon bends 2-3 sets, 10 reps.

And then, for your own good, take a week off. Use short, light workouts, where the intensity is almost insulting. You’ll come back stronger when it is time to cycle through the madness again.

Some important points


You’ll notice that sometimes there are deviations from the original template, using either more exercises or changing the order. The MFD might serve well as the first lift, but even that is just a suggestion. Also, the days can be swapped, like a more traditional Westside Barbell program, where the speed day always comes before the heavy day.

No Machines

Notice something important here: No machines. This is simple preference (I hate machines), but by no means law. It does simplify things and make you able to workout anywhere that has something heavy to lift.

Single leg movements

As great as squatting is, like any movement done exclusively, it can lead to imbalances. Use single leg movements often to keep the hips and legs balanced.

The Spine

The spine is considerably more complex than ‘abs.’ Spend as little time on the floor as possible. Use big movements, weighted movements, fast movement, and HARD movements to strengthen the spine.

No Rules

Like Bruce Lee wrote, “Use no way as way; use no limitation as limitation.”

Written by Chip Conrad

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Squatology discussion thread.

Small Balls That Please – Correcting Soft Tissue Dysfunction

They’re small, squishy and according to many folks, “work miracles at releasing muscle tension.” They’re small balls that please. These tiny bundles of joy work at releasing pent up muscle tension that is often bound up and stored in various areas of the body. If you sit at a desk for a living or travel a lot, chances are you’re a perfect candidate for this type of therapy. If you lift heavy things and put them down on a regular basis you’re also somebody who’d benefit from these balls.

So how exactly does a small piece of rubber, massaging oneself, and strength training relate to one another?

Why Massage?

Deep tissue massage is the manipulation of soft tissue effecting a change in the surrounding tissue and structures. Our bodies are held in balance by the muscular system.

In order for you to stand still, lift objects and/or move explosively there are various muscles throughout the body constantly tightening and slackening to maintain an optimal amount of stability.

If one or more of your muscles becomes overly tight or slack then your posture will change and your body will compensate by putting other muscles out of their normal state of tone to take on the work load.

If this is not corrected over a period of time the body will accept this compensation as a new movement pattern and you will have an imbalance that will affect how your body moves and reacts during activities and during periods of inactivity.

As a result you will become accustomed to this over time and most likely will not notice that you have a dysfunction until you try to do something that requires a “normal” range of movement.

This is where deep tissue massage therapy can be a helpful tool to restoring an optimal balance in the soft tissues of the body.

Some of the benefits of deep tissue massage are:

  • It can help deepen and normalize the breathing pattern through relaxation, and release of both the rib cage and the muscles of respiration.
  • It can help to relieve congestion in the lungs via compressive movements.
  • It can increase the action of the heart, stimulating the flow of blood to and from the lungs, helping with the elimination of waste and the absorption of oxygen.
  • It can help with some skin conditions. It does not however cure STDs.
  • It can have a sedative, stimulating, or even exhausting effect on the nervous system depending on the type and length of treatment given.
  • It can stimulate the touch, pressure and proprioceptive receptors of the skin and underlying tissue.
  • It is known to affect the neurotransmitters of the brain and increase endorphin secretion in particular (natural painkillers).
  • It can help reduce nerve entrapment through the release of soft tissue or muscular binding.
  • It can reduce nerve root compression caused by muscular tension.
  • Via the mechanical actions on the soft tissues, deep tissue can produce a dilation of the blood vessels, which helps to improve your circulation.
  • Massage enhances the elimination of the waste products of your metabolism.
  • It can help to reduce any swelling and contusions.
  • It can increase the number of red blood cells in your circulation.
  • It can lower blood pressure and can reduce pulse rate.
  • It can facilitate tissue healing through the enhancement of circulation.
  • It can reduce joint strain and compression through releasing tight muscles and tendons.
  • It can increase the ease and efficiency of your movements through the release of soft tissues.
  • It feels good and it is a pleasurable experience. That is, afterwards.
  • It can increase your body self-awareness and sensitivity.

So there you have it. This stuff works and everyone can benefit from it. The problem is it can be quite costly, especially if you don’t have a medical plan. A typical sixty-minute session can range between $60 and $150. That’s a lot of dough to be shelling out. That’s between one and four tubs of Nitrean / Opticen. For most people, paying to get their muscles poked and prodded isn’t that appealing and would gladly use the money for other things like food/supplements.

That’s where tools like the small ball come into play. It’s relatively inexpensive, great for beginners who have a lot of self-myofascial work to be done and is really easy to use.

Small Balls What?

Small ball myofascial therapy is a unique approach to restoring the body to its natural balance. By letting go of unproductive movement patterns and following the neurological system small ball release will remove physical restrictions and allow us to live life fully through our bodies. Using self-applied techniques on the ball, positive energy will flow throughout the body strengthening, toning, and realigning the spine and joints. Learn to be in touch with your own body.

What a bunch of bullshit.

Small Balls- The Truth

Actually, small balls are really no different than the use of a foam roller, tennis ball, and massage stick or for the masochist, a golf ball. They all act as a self-treatment for deep release massage. To clear out all the junk (scar tissue) around the muscles and iron out any areas that are knotted up. Think of the small ball as an iron. Tension in the muscles; create crinkles, which need to be smoothed out.

Small balls are inflatable, burst resistant and work to stimulate and massage. The pressure of the ball stretches, stimulates and creates space between connective tissue, muscle attachments, blood vessels and fascia. Body weight is strategically placed on the ball and connective tissue is massaged and made more pliable. Circulation is stimulated, and tension released from the soft tissues resulting in a freeing of restrictions in various parts of the body. There are three balls ranging in size – 5″, 6″ and 7″. The variety of inflatable sizes allows for varying pressure and isolation so you can gradually work into the muscle more. The 7″ ball might be used by the beginner or user seeking a soft, gentle massage and the 5″ for a deeper, more isolated effect

I tend to use small balls with certain clients who cannot use the foam roller or a tennis ball. This means that their quality of tissue is so far gone that their level of discomfort they are feeling does not allow them to relax adequately enough to get into the muscles. Once they have learned how to relax and not contract the muscles while rolling on the ball and they no longer feel any discomfort (or very little) I graduate them to a foam roller and then onto a tennis ball. If they’re brave we’ll go to a golf ball.

A Small Ball in Action


Lying on your front, place the ball on your quadriceps and slowly roll it down towards the knee. If you find any tender spots, stop and hold the spot until the pain subsides or as long as you can stand it.You can also stretch the quadriceps out and roll the ball down your leg as you hold the stretch

Quad Video


Sitting on the ball on one butt cheek, slowly roll the ball around trying to find any spots of discomfort. Once you’ve found a spot, hold it and slowly move the ball around to get deeper.You can work on shifting your body around so you can add more pressure to the area of discomfort.

Glutes Videos


Lying on your back, wedge the ball between the floor and your traps (whichever side is tightest). Lift your hips up towards the ceiling to create more weight on the traps and slowly move the ball around.Another method is to lean up against a wall and wedge the ball between the traps and the wall.

Traps Video


Place the ball between your chest and the wall in an upright position.Have the arm fully extended and slowly move the ball up and down and around the chest region.

Chest Video


Lying on your side place the ball where your hip starts and slowly roll it down towards the side of your knee.Stop when you hit the first tender spot and hold it there for 30-60 seconds.

ITBand Video

These are only some of the areas you can use the ball on. However I have found that these spots are the most common in people I have worked with. Other areas that the small ball can be used on are the hamstrings, calves, shoulder region, lumbar spine (lower back) and thoracic spine (mid back).

Having A Ball

Deep tissue massage is something strength trainers should incorporate into their program. It releases muscle tension, eases joint pain, and improves posture. Things that your body are combating on a daily basis and are accelerated as a result of training in the gym.

You can purchase a small ball set online, just run a search on google and you should be able to find some pretty easy. In the US try Perform Better and in Canada try Athlete Conditioning.

Now go out and play with your small balls and have some fun experimenting with them!

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Small Balls That Please – Correcting Soft Tissue Dysfunction discussion thread.