Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Quest for a Double Body Weight Deadlift

Dam you Dan John. Dam you. Why did you have say those things in “Never Let Go”?? Why did you have to go and get me all pissed off and focused like that??

For those of you who haven’t read his fantastic book about all things strength, he cuts all the BS and defines a novice lifter as anyone who can’t deadlift twice their body weight and bench body weight. Needless to say, that made be a novice lifter…and a pissed off one at that.

It was exactly what I needed. I entered this industry 3 years previous, and everything that the experts talked about was “corrective”. Strength and conditioning was reaching epidemic status as no one was allowed touch a weight unless they had near flawless primal movement patterns. Everything had to be working perfect, because there is no point in strengthening a poor movement pattern.

In fairness I’m giving Dan John all the credit in waking me up, but he was merely the “two” in a rapid one two combo. The “one” was from a Vancouver based S & C coach, Carmen Bott.
I arrived back in Vancouver for round 2 having just completed my B.Sc. back home in Ireland and Carmen was leading Human Motion, another company renting space in the gym. She was one of only a hand full of coaches who I’ve seen coaching and instantly respected.

“Hi Carmen, my name is Cian and I want to be a strength coa……”
“Get strong”
“Ok, ya, em…any books you’d recommend????”
“Get strong”
“….did you see McGill’s new research on the…..?”
“Get strong”

Needless to say, I had an idea of what I needed to prioritize after this first meeting. I spent a week re-pattering a heavy erector dominance I’ve had for the few years and then started upping the weights. It’s amazing how weak textbooks can make you. Here’s a snippet of just the deadlift over the course of a few weeks. 

And then, much like the video, everything came to an abrupt stop and all I had really achieved was a return to strength levels I had when I was in high school. I did reach 335 lb’s, a little more than was shown in the last lift, but still nothing to get excited about. This is when I learned something very human about myself. I can motivate myself for about 6-8 weeks and then I get very very lazy. Excuses seem to come quicker than reason to go lift heavy things, multiple times, in multiple different ways. I would love to blame a “busy life”, but in the interest of honesty I think this is a fair account of what happened; Pure laziness.

I was only off the band wagon for about 2-3 weeks but in a world where consistency is key I knew I had to get rid of missed workout, not to mind missed weeks. This was when I decided to do something that I think has fundamentally changed my view point as a S&C coach for the better. I signed up for an 8 week kettlebell course with Human Motion’s KB expert, Jim Talo.

Everything I had learned during my 5 year geek out phase applied to these fantastic balls of steal. Cook, McGill, Sahrmann, Myres, Boyle, Weingroff, Contreras, Robertson, etc. etc. etc. Finally it felt like everything they were saying was culminating together in the form of KB lifting. All of a sudden my workouts looked a lot different.

And so I swung, pressed and got down only to get back up again pretty religiously for a month or two. Initially I kept my workouts pretty much KB exclusive, but I slowly started to re-introduce the old staples. Swing it, press it, pull it, move it (insert daft punk sound track here).  I was finally feeling happy with my workouts and genuinely excited about the gym again.

As the KB classes were drawing to an end I knew I needed something weekly to keep me honest so I got in touch with my buddy, Josh, from Stay Fit Anywhere and we started up a weekly workout. I also made my return to cycling after taking a 6 year mini retirement. Borrowing the Human Motion mantra, I had stopped working out and started training. It started to feel like the good old days when the youth version of those 5 colorful circles kept me focused.

I was in a good cycle of training. A few weeks passed. And then I found myself looking at a bar, alone in a gym. When I started warming up I didn’t feel too good, but once I started moving my focus started to narrow in and an unplanned max day immerged from what could have easily been a missed workout just a few months earlier. Today’s workout was all about one thing; how much weight I could lift off the floor?

First set with one plate for 10 felt good. Added another plate and dropped reps to 8. Felt good. Another half plate and reps dropped to 5. Warm up over, down to triples. Today was a good day, and you have to take those days when they come… more weight!!! 335 lb’s came along, my old max for 1 rep, and I was still doing triples and adding weight. New personal record (PR) and I wasn’t breaking a sweat.

Down to singles as every lift was now a PR. Here is 365 lb’s

Up to 385 lb’s.

That was actually a double body weight deadlift. But the weighing scales that I checked my weight that day was actually off (I never weigh myself so I had no idea) so I thought this was just a few pounds shy of a double body weight lift. I knew I had one more lift but what weight was the question. I hummed and hawed at the thought of adding a 5 lb plate to each side, but then decided 5 lb plates have no home on a bar used for deadlifts. Big boy plates only. I stripped off the small stuff and added a fourth plate. It wasn’t until I stepped back that I realized I had now committed myself. Ah well, I’ve 5 more minutes left to get my head into this pull. There was tons of self-doubt about this lift. I was adding 70 lb’s to my old PR that I lifted only 3 and a half months ago. But as with everything in life sometimes you just gotta shut up, chalk up and pull with everything you’ve got.

It felt good, effin’ heavy, but good. After looking at the video I obviously need to work on my lockout…there’s always something! One thing that I never felt before was the CNS fatigue I experienced in the week or so after. No DOMS, no pains, I was just drained. Due to this I’ve decided to implement the strategies outlined in “Power to the People” by Pavel. It’s amazing how one heavy lift can not only highlight your weak link but also give you new direction in your training.

Finally, if there is only one take home message from all of this - find someone to call you out, be it in person or text. Nothing gets you focused like some who ignores your strength and focuses on your weaknesses.

I wonder what 5 plates feels like??


  1. Nice writeup, Cian. I enjoyed the read. KBs can be a great addition to strength training and swings and snatches seem to really help with DLs.

    Great to see someone reach a milestone in their training goals also; congratulations, Cian!

    1. Thanks for your support, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!!