by Martin Rooney T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
• To make progress you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Set new goals and learn new techniques.
• Deadlifting 405 pounds ten times is not only a test of strength, it’s a test of mental toughness.
• A slight change in setup – like the “pseudo sumo” style of deadlift – can be the difference between a stalled lift and a string of new PR’s.
• Persevere. New technique takes time to get used to, and people often quit just before they break through.
Look around the weight room. Notice how most lifters train basically the same way all year? Not surprisingly, these people get little results beyond a slightly larger waistline.
This lack of results isn’t due to a lack of information, but a lack of action.
Folks know what to do, they just don’t do what they know.
To make progress you have to learn to be “comfortable being uncomfortable.” It isn’t always comfortable to eat right, train hard, and get enough sleep all the time, but it isn’t impossible.
In other words, if you want the treasure you seek, then you have to learn to dig deep and get comfortable doing difficult things.
Good coaching comes from experience, not theory. Experience is a tougher teacher than theory because you get the lesson after you take the test, instead of just pretending to guess what might happen.
That’s why I didn’t just start punching a keyboard to improve my deadlift; I started gripping the heavy bar while following a few rules.
Rule #1: To Be a Goal Getter, Be a Goal Setter
After I turned 40 I began attacking my lifts to debunk the accepted “science” that every year after 30 costs a man a percentage or two off his best performances. I needed new goals.
I set my sights on the deadlift. Since I’d recently achieved a goal in the one-rep max, I decided on a different challenge of strength: 10 reps with 405 pounds.
Four chips on each side of the bar not only looks cool, it’s a great test of grip strength and mental toughness for 10 reps. Back then the best I’d ever done with 405 was 5 reps. As you can see at the 1:52 mark on this video, I struggled to get those 5:
At the time I thought if I was going to double my numbers, I was going to have to double my training. This common mistake led me to the next rule.
Rule #2: Don’t Smash The Square Peg Into The Round Hole
If you want to get smarter or stronger, surround yourself with people that are both smarter and stronger than you. If you’re the smartest and strongest guy in the gym, you stop making progress real quick.
Rich Sadiv, my longtime lifting partner, is one of the top deadlifters in the world. Due to his 694.5 deadlift PR, I found myself trying to emulate Rich’s “conventional” deadlift form.
I hammered his technique into my nervous system and hit a 520 PR, but my body was paying the price. I tried to be something I wasn’t, and unfortunately it took a sore back and hamstring to get me to break with convention.
No matter what you believe, lifting isn’t an exact science. What works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. Looking back, Rich and I have totally different builds – at 6’2, his long arms, long legs, and short torso create the perfect combination for his close-stance technique. But I wanted 405 for 10, and I had to try something new to get it.
Rule #3: If You’re Gonna Be a Dog, Be a Strategy Hound
Throughout history great people have done the things you want to do. They’ve left clues in the form of strategies that you could repeat. Like a detective, you first have to find these clues before you can start to solve the case.
To solve the 405 mystery, I started with my personal library. One name immediately jumped out: Ed Coan.
I pulled my cherished (and autographed) copy of Ed Coan: The Man, The Myth, The Method off the shelf and was again shocked by his lifetime achievements. But one lift stood out, his deadlift: 901 at 220 pounds, what some call the greatest powerlift of all time.
The hunt was on. I started watching Ed Coan video after video and nothing struck me as out of the ordinary, until I finally got to watch the elusive 901 video.
Even though shot from a TV set, the lift was epic, but there was something else. Strangely, the 901 was different from all the other lifts I’d watched. In every other deadlift, Coan used the narrow, conventional stance.
But in the 901, his feet and knees were outside of his hands. It wasn’t the near-split sumo used by many in gear today. In fact it looked more like a squat. After watching another dozen times, I decided to give the Coan “Pseudo-Sumo” a try.
Rule #4: Practice Makes The Master
The first time I tried the technique, it felt strange and I felt weak. It would’ve been easier to stop and go back to a conventional stance, but I’ve learned that it’s the start that stops most people.
I realized that I’d been lifting my old way for over a decade – I couldn’t expect the same results in a few weeks or months. Just like learning a new language, this technique was going to take time.
So, week after week, I’d play with foot position and grip width. Slowly I started to make progress. I found that the low back soreness I’d previously experienced was gone and I gained confidence. I felt more lat engagement and the ability to hit the bar harder at the bottom.
Just like using a wider grip in the bench press, I’d also shortened the distance I had to travel and made the movement more “functional” in relation to my martial arts. After a year and a half, I began to feel 405 for 10 was not only possible, but inevitable.
Rule #5: To Finish First You Must First Finish
People often quit right before they’re about to have the big breakthrough. With the Pseudo Sumo, however, I made the decision not to give up until my goal was reached. After almost two years working on the lift, I used the Pseudo Sumo to get 7 reps. Then, as seen on this video, I followed through:
I hit the lift I wanted, and felt there was more in the tank for a future goal.
Follow the Rules
While I hope you learned something about deadlifting form, remember that the power behind this article is the rules. And you can apply these five rules to any goal you want to achieve.
Ten reps (or more!) on the 405 pound deadlift is a good place to start.