Having a one rep max target is a great way to keep motivated with strength training. Here is one writer’s experience of finally meeting her deadlift goal.
I was never particularly interested in lifting heavy weights. My main form of exercise in my teenage years was dance so I was always drawn to things like pilates, yoga and barre instead. However, my friend qualified as a personal trainer at the beginning of 2020 and convinced me to do a session with her, where she gradually started introducing me to the world of weight lifting. A few sessions in, I was hooked and nearly two years later, I managed to deadlift a 100kg loaded barbell – a number that would have been unfathomable to me 24 months ago and still feels pretty crazy now.
Deadlifts are one of the most fundamental lifting moves and they were something I was introduced to pretty quickly when I started lifting weights and I’ve been practising them almost weekly since joining a CrossFit box in April of this year. Dani Ren’e Gaskell, the owner of CrossFit Streatham where I train, explains: “Deadlifts tend to be the exercise where you’re able to lift the most amount of weight and they use several large muscle groups within the body.”
Set yourself a goal
Typically thought to be a lower-body exercise, deadlifts actually require you to engage your core and your upper body too. According to Gaskell, deadlifts are a great exercise for those of us who sit at our desks all day long because they require a hinge movement, which replicates many of the movements we do in everyday life and can help to prevent some of the postural issues sitting at a desk can cause.
But lifting 100kg certainly isn’t part of my everyday lifestyle, so why would I want to achieve such a heavy deadlift at the gym? Well, for starters, it’s a great way to track progress. 100kg was my one rep max, meaning the weight I could lift at my absolute maximum capacity for one repetition. Testing your one rep max on a regular basis is a great way to help you track improvements and give you something to work towards. Lifting heavy also helps us to build muscle, as does the training required to do so.
Before you can start working towards a heavy lift, you need to work out a target for your one rep max. For beginners, try to aim for a deadlift that is equal to your bodyweight. From there, try and train towards a one rep max that is 1.5x your weight and you can continue to increase that percentage as you progress, Gaskell advises.
Plan a training programme
Once you’ve worked your 1RM out, you need to put some sort of programming in place in order to meet it. “I would recommend a programme that is somewhere between six and 20 weeks long,” Gaskell says. If you’re a beginner, you might want to opt for a slightly longer programme so you have more time to work up to your goal but if you’re experienced with weightlifting and/or deadlifts, six weeks should be sufficient.
Personally, I did a six-week programme to achieve my one rep max goal, but I had been making deadlifts a consistent part of my workouts for much longer than that.
You should incorporate deadlifts as well as accessory movements into your programme. “The most important thing when practicing deadlifts is that all of the components of your body are moving correctly: your head is in the right place, your shoulders and core are engaged and there are no other mechanical issues before you try to load your body with a weight that heavy,” Gaskell says.
“The period of training before you attempt your one rep max is designed to help you grow as much muscle as possible – this is called the hypertrophy phase,” Gaskell continues. During this phrase, you should practice 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps with a range of different exercises.
Some of the exercises I practised alongside deadlifts in the hypertrophy phase included single-leg Romanian deadlifts, lunges and bent over rows, all of which worked to strengthen the muscles required when deadlifting. During this phase, you can also practise your deadlift at different percentages of your one rep max, increasing the percentage each week. So, for example, if your one rep max target is 100kg, like mine, you would lift 50kg when working at 50% or 60kg at 60%.
I dedicated one day per week to deadlift practise but the workouts I did on other days of the week were also beneficial to it. For example, practicing lower-body exercises like squats and lunges and core strengthening workouts too. “It’s important when trying to get your one rep max deadlift that you don’t overtrain,” Gaskell says. “three strength training sessions a week is ample time and effort for you to be able to increase your numbers because you need a balance between resting and training.”
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Prioritise nutrition and rest
“Your nutrition is potentially more important than the actual exercises when working towards a one rep max,” Gaskell adds, explaining that it’s crucial to make sure you’re not in a calorie deficit, meaning you eat fewer calories than you burn. Instead, eat at maintenance level or in a surplus in order to allow maximum recovery for your muscles.
When you’re ready to test your one rep max on the final week of your programme, make sure you’ve eaten plenty in the days running up to it and take a lot of time to warm up too. A weight lifting belt and wrist straps are useful accessories that will help you lift more but it’s best not to use these until you’re lifting at above 90% capacity so you don’t come to rely on them.
Rest after completing a one rep max is crucial and Gaskell recommends something called a deload week, where you take around seven days off strength training to give your body time to recover. “If we don’t do that the body tends to burn out because there’s no recovery time after a peak of training,” she says.
While it is possible to reach a heavy deadlift on your own, if you are worried about your form or you feel uncomfortable pain, make sure to seek help from a professional like a personal trainer to avoid injury. I managed to reach my one rep max goal under the careful eyes of professional coaches, as well as their endless encouragement.
You can find more tips and advice on improving your strength training via the Strong Women Training Club.
Images: Alice Porter