Improving Deadlift Speed off the Floor | 12 Week Program

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Snapshot of Takeaway Points

  • Improve first & second gear to enhance speed off the floor
  • Stop grinding repetitions
  • Go lighter to get stronger

Introduction

Before we consider the principles behind improving speed off the floor in the deadlift, it has got to be noted that technique is of paramount importance. I’m known for my program design or periodisation and ability to achieve results with client’s, but if your technique is solid you’ll always achieve greater results. Good technique is the base of the pyramid and allows for a higher peak.

Regarding any lift, you are only as strong as your weakest link, be this a muscle group or strength quality. The strength quality I see the most problems with regarding the deadlift is indeed speed-strength. When it comes to the deadlift, speed kills. If you want to make progress, being able to tear the bar off the floor and complete the lift swiftly is going to help hugely.

Grinding the lift out, also known as training strength-speed, is something you should save for competition. What I’ve noticed in practice is those that constantly grind end up adapting to this speed and eventually only recruit it on higher end percentages. 90% of your 1RM should still move quickly. Anything over this percentage and the bar speed is going to slow. Just watch Eddie Hall’s top three lifts when he managed the famous 500kg deadlift and review the speed of his lifting in his training build up to it.

There’s a time and place for everything but if you are reading this article, your goal is to work on speed-strength as opposed to strength-speed to help improve your deadlift speed from the floor.

Principles to consider

First gear

An analogy I love to use in my workshops is one of Louie Simmons’. When driving a car, generally you are going to start in first gear then second and so on. Yes, you can move the car starting in say second gear, but it’s not efficient and is slower. Louie equates first gear to rate of force development (RFD) and then second gear is speed-strength. Often many client’s lack first gear and you’ll see this when the bar, instead of being ripped off the floor, is squeezed tentatively and slowly accelerated to the top.

I often refer to what Louie calls speed/dynamic day in his Westside model as intermuscular co-ordination day (IMC). IMC is the muscles working and firing together in sequence. For IMC to be optimal you need to train RFD as well as speed strength. We’ll do this by adding in plyometric/ballistic based movements. I’ve seen client’s 1RM deadlift increase simply by giving them a better first gear.

Knee bounce

When looking to overcome inertia, using momentum has been proven to be more effective. A soviet study by Zhekov has shown that using a knee bounce will provide a significant benefit and therefore more kilos lifted. Watch videos of Andy Bolton as he winds up three knee bounces into his actual lift. He uses it for timing and each bounce he gets tighter before tearing the bar off the floor.

I’ve also found this approach will ensure a client keeps their hips down which is often a massive technical problem. Keeping the hips down should translate to the upper back moving first you’re your hips rise first you are not deadlifting as a unit. The upper back moving first is more efficient as allowing the hips to rise first will mean a huge strain being placed onto your lower back musculature and discs. Lastly, I’ve seen client’s & students go from no leg drive to actually being able to recruit considerable leg drive using this knee bounce technique.

Leg drive

Leg drive in the deadlift is as much about feeling and co-ordination as any other technique. You can though enhance and improve this feeling and timing with some cleverly used training techniques. To really get any leg drive of any consequence I argue against a straight shin angle during the deadlift that I see taught. I prefer to allow the knees to go over the bar and even a little in front with some individuals. Doing this will allow your quads to also help with the initial break of the barbell off the floor. To improve understanding of my point watch Tom Martin as an example of this.

Strength curves

If you are going to deadlift big numbers you need a strong posterior chain and some meat on your erector spinae. Simply having a strong posterior chain equates to improving your ability to overcome inertia. We’ll do this with carefully selected assistance movements and varying the strength curve which is another principle required for improving your deadlift figures. It will also help to balance the amount of compression to de-compression/traction movements which is crucial to spine health and also improving your deadlift.

The Program

Neural Day

Acc 1

  • A) Box Jump from Seated: 3 x 8 reps, X0X0, 60s rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, Paused floating): 4 x 8 reps, 42X0, 180s rest
  • C) Seated Good Morning: 3 x 6-8 reps, 3410, 120s rest
  • D) Low Cable Pull Through: 2 x 15-20 reps, 3110, 75s rest

Int 1

  • A) Kneeling Jump (Countermovement): 3 x 6 reps, X0X0, 75s rest
  • B1) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, 2” Deficit): 3 x 3 reps, X2X1, 240s rest
  • B2) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor): 3 x 5 reps, X2X1, 240s rest
  • C) Reverse Hyperextension: 3 x 15-20 reps, 2010, 90s rest

Acc 2

  • A) Box Jump from Full Squat: 3 x 8 reps, X0X0, 60s rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Quarter Rep then Full Rep): 4 x 6 reps, 31X1, 180s rest
  • C) Standing Good Morning: 3 x 4-6 reps, 34X0, 150s rest
  • D) Low Cable Pull Through: 2 x 10-12 reps, 3210, 75s rest

Int 2

  • A) Kneeling Jump (No countermovement): 3 x 6 reps, X0X0, 75s rest
  • B1) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, 1” Deficit): 3 x 3 reps, X2X1, 240s rest
  • B2) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor): 3 x 4 reps, X2X1, 240s rest
  • C) Reverse Hyperextension: 3 x 8-10 reps, 2014, 90s rest

Acc 3

  • A) Box Jump from countermovement: 3 x 8 reps, X0X0, 60s rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Pause on eccentric at mid shin): 5 x 5 reps, 32X0, 180s rest
  • C) Romanian Deadlift (Clean Grip): 3 x 3-5 reps, 24X0, 180s rest
  • D) Banded Pull Through: 2 x 10-12 reps, 20X0, 120s rest

Int 3

  • A) Kneeling Jump to Box Jump: 3 x 6 reps, 75s, X0X0, rest
  • B1) Bottom ROM Isometric: 3 x 4-6 reps, 1016, 240s rest
  • B2) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor): 3 x 3 reps, X2X1, 240s rest
  • C) Reverse Hyperextension (Banded): 3 x 8-10 reps, 22X0, 90s rest
IMC Day

Acc 1

  • A) Back Squat Jump (Full Squat): 3 x 8 reps, X0X0, 60s rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Chains): 5 x 5 reps, X2X1, 90s rest
  • C) Back Squat (High Bar, Oly Style): 3 x 5 reps, 5050, 180s rest
  • D) Incline Back Extension (DB Across Collarbone): 3 x 12-15 reps, 3011, 75s rest

Int 1

  • A) Snatch Grip Jump (Reset each rep): 3 x 6 reps, 75s, X0X0, rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Banded): 8 x 3 reps, X4X1, 90s rest
  • C) Front Squat: 3 x 5 reps, 32X0, 180s rest
  • D) Glute Ham Raise (DB Across Collarbone): 2 x 8-10 reps, 40X0, 90s rest

Acc 2

  • A) Back Squat Jump (Half Squat): 3 x 8 reps, X0X0, 60s rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Chains): 5 x 5 reps, X2X1, 90s rest
  • C) Back Squat (High Bar, Wide Stance): 3 x 5 reps, 4010, 180s rest
  • D) Incline Back Extension (Snatch Grip Barbell): 3 x 6-8 reps, 2016, 75s rest

Int 2

  • A) Snatch Grip Jump (Reset each rep): 3 x 6 reps, 75s, X0X0, rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Banded): 8 x 3 reps, X4X1, 90s rest
  • C) Front Squat (Paused Myotatic): 3 x 3-5 reps, 32X0, 180s rest
  • D) Glute Ham Raise (DB Mechanical Drop): 2 x 6-8 reps, 50X0, 90s rest

Acc 3

  • A) Back Squat Jump (Quarter Squat): 3 x 8 reps, X0X0, 60s rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Chains): 5 x 5 reps, X2X1, 90s rest
  • C) Back Squat (High Bar, Wide Stance): 3 x 3-5 reps, 30X0, 180s rest
  • D) Incline Back Extension (Barbell on Back): 3 x 6-8 reps, 3210, 75s rest

Int 3

  • A) Snatch Grip Jump (Reset each rep): 3 x 6 reps, X0X0, 75s rest
  • B) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip from floor, Banded): 10 x 2 reps, X4X1, 90s rest
  • C) Front Squat (Myotatic 1/3): 3 x 3-5 reps, 30X0, 180s rest
  • D) Glute Ham Raise (Barbell on Back): 2 x 6-8 reps, 30X0, 90s rest

The Program Explained

Neural Day

A Series: Plyometrics

The first part of your workout is aimed at exciting the nervous system for the upcoming deadlifts and to improve that all important first gear. I like to utilise bodyweight based jumps on this day hence the selection of box jumps and kneeling jumps. Remember the lower back contributes a higher percentage to jump performance than any other muscle so this is going to be a huge benefit for your deadlift performance.

B series: Deadlift

The accumulation phases use a lighter deadlift, due to the technique implemented and the tempo. This design is on purpose to hold you back and ensure you utilise weights that can actually move faster. One of the issues I encounter is athletes going too heavy. They are also designed to help you improve leg drive and strengthen the hell out of your bottom positioning.

The intensification phases use a pairing with the aim of learning a better leg drive off the floor whilst also taking advantage of a potentiation effect. You alternate from a slight deficit to a pull from the floor. The first one will help teach you better leg drive and will readily transfer in the set without the deficit. You’ll also notice the eccentric tempo has disappeared allowing for heavier weights.

C series: Posterior chain assistance

Ideally, we would utilise whatever your weakest movements are, but I can’t assess everyone. We alternate the pull through and reverse hyper to create traction and de-compress the spine. You can substitute alternative back extension options in though should you wish.

In the accumulation phases you’ll notice the inclusion of good mornings and the Romanian deadlift. They also have long pauses in the bottom position which is where we need to spend time strengthening to further help strength and speed from the floor in the deadlift.

IMC Day

A Series: Plyometrics

On this day I like to utilise weighted plyometrics as opposed to body weight based. Back squat jumps are going to enhance contractile speed of your VMO which is important for that initial drive off the floor in the deadlift. The snatch grip jumps mimic the deadlift more closely although the position is slightly different due to the wider grip. I find the longer range is better than a clean grip as it further stretches and recruits the all-important glutes.

B series: Deadlift

This series is about 3 factors; bar speed must be 1m/s or faster, technique must be perfect and intent on the bar should be maximal. You should be treating each repetition like it’s a 1RM test. We want to work speed but also practice intent. You must lift the bar with bad intentions. Do not though allow your technique waiver so that your line is inefficient, or your posture resembles a dog taking a shit.

People overthink percentages here but I don’t make recommendations as the above 3 factors negate the need to be overly concerned with them. If you aren’t adhering to the above three factors then worry about using 40-60% of bar weight and a certain amount of accommodating resistance is utterly pointless. It’s called speed work for a reason. Going too light but moving a weight with maximal intent will still result in a strength stimulus.

C series: Squat

The squat is more about maintenance than anything else. If you want to improve something, other things must take a back seat. Three sets on either a back or front squat in alternating phases will be enough to maintain and some may even improve.

D series: Posterior chain assistance

Again, this is much the same as the neural day whereby you can substitute in your weakest movements. Notice the inclusion of four different back extension movements overall to ensure we strengthen the lower back/posterior chain from a variety of angles and strength curves.

Program Implementation Tips

The program is laid out for 2 week phases, but some people are more suited to 3 week phases. If using 2 week phases, on the first week of each phase (odd weeks), go ‘easy’. Ensure you achieve the repetitions required. On the second week of each phase (even week) this is your chance to push the envelope a little more. Three week phases is like doing two first weeks so you go ‘easy’ two weeks in a row and then the third week is game on.

For your upper body sessions, be sure to include work for your lats in the form of pull ups/pull downs and rows. Improving lower trap/trap 3 strength can also have a huge effect on deadlift strength. Don’t forget the lats, lower trap and even erector spinae lengthen before the barbell comes off the floor. Increased grip strength, even if you always use straps, will lead to improved deadlift numbers as more neural drive can be diverted to other muscle groups. Remember, you need the body to work as a unit and a weak muscle group isn’t going to allow you to do this effectively.

Pro Tip: Stretch your psoas/hip flexors before every deadlift set on both neural and IMC/Speed days. This static stretch of 8-15 seconds will inhibit the psoas thus allowing the glutes/posterior chain to fire more maximally.

Conclusion

I must re-emphasise bar speed on both neural and speed-strength days for the deadlift needs to be quicker than you are used to using. It’s a weird concept but you need to go lighter to get stronger sometimes. Speed off the floor is improved by moving fast! Grinding repetitions has its place but most of the time it simply fatigues the nervous system too much.

A recent trend I’ve noticed is poor application of strength protocols and poor weight selection. The best way to combat this is to find an experienced coach to help guide you until you get the hang of it. Alternatively, just practice delaying gratification more, an essential life skill regardless of your endeavours.

Article written by: Tom Hibbert

Published on: 20/1/2020

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