12 Week Intermediate Deadlift Workout Routine

Updated July 16, 2020

This is a 12 week deadlift and back strength specialization workout routine designed to help intermediate lifters bring up their pulling power. It consists of three 4 week training blocks:

  • Weeks 1 to 4 – Volume back work. Lighter deadlifts, lower intensity (relative strength).
  • Weeks 5 to 8 – Moderate back work. Moderate deadlifts, increasing intensity.
  • Weeks 9 to 12 – Reduced back work. Peaking to very heavy deadlifts.

After the 12th week I recommend talking 7 straight days off before repeating the cycle. Rest, eat and get caught up on movies. By taking the 13th week off, you will be able to cycle through this program 4 times per year.

Here is a recommended training split:

  • Monday – Heavy deadlift day
  • Tuesday – Bench press day
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Squats and heavy back day
  • Friday – Overhead press day
  • Saturday – Rest
  • Sunday – Rest

12 Week Heavy Day Deadlift Cycle

On heavy deadlift days your cycle will be the following:

  • Week 1 – 55% x 8 sets x 6 reps
  • Week 2 – 60% x 7 sets x 5 reps
  • Week 3 – 65% x 6 sets x 4 reps
  • Week 4 – 70% x 5 sets x 3 reps
  • Week 5 – 75% x 4 sets x 3 reps
  • Week 6 – 77.5% x 3 sets x 3 reps
  • Week 7 – 80% x 3 sets x 2 reps
  • Week 8 – 82.5% x 2 sets x 2 reps
  • Week 9 – 85% x 3 single reps
  • Week 10 – 90% x 2 single reps
  • Week 11 – 95% x 1 single reps
  • Week 12 – Max attempts, see below.

Week 12 max attempt. Warmup and perform a 90, 100, 102.5 and 105% single. Only advance past the 100% target if it felt manageable. A 2.5% increase would equate to about 10 pounds for someone aiming for a 400 pound squat.

Note on percentages. When starting a cycle, take your one rep deadlift max and add 5%. This number will be used as the basis for determining all of the percentages listed above.

The following chart shows increase goals for deadlifts between 250 and 440 pounds.

Deadlift Goal Calculator
Current One Rep Max + 5%
Current Deadlift +5% Goal
 250  265
 260  275
 270  285
 280  295
 290  305
 300  315
 310  325
 320  335
 330  345
 340  360
 350  370
 360  380
 370  390
 380  400
 390  410
 400  420
 410  430
 420  440
 430  450
 440  465
 450  475
 460  485
 470  495
 480  505
 490  515
 500  525

Intermediate Deadlift Workout Routine

Monday
Heavy Deadlift Day
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts (See weekly chart)
 High Rack Pull & Shrug * See Below  5
 One Arm Dumbbell Rows  4  10
 Hyperextensions  4  10
 Face Pulls or Bent Over Laterals  4  12
Tuesday
Bench Press Day
Exercise Sets Reps
 Bench Press  4  5
 Incline Dumbbell Bench Press  4  8
 Seated Arnold Press  4  10
 Cable Tricep Extension  4  12
 Dumbbell Curl  4  10
Thursday
Squats and Heavy Back Day
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats  4  5
 Barbell Rows  4  5
 Pull Ups or Lat Pull Downs  4  10
 Seated Cable Rows  4  12
 Leg Curls  4  12
Friday
Overhead Press Day
Exercise Sets Reps
 Military Press  4  8
 Close Grip Bench Press  4  8
 Dips  4  10-15
 Upright Rows  4  10
 Hammer Curl  4  10

* Rack Pull and Shrug. Start with 135 x 5 reps. Work up, adding 90 pounds and performing 5 reps, until you can no longer perform a quality 5 reps with a given weight.

Back work. For barbell rows, pull ups, seated cable rows, dumbbell rows and hyperextensions, the number of sets you perform for each exercise will vary as follows:

  • Weeks 1 to 4 – 4 sets per exercise
  • Weeks 5 to 8 – 3 sets per exercise
  • Weeks 9 to 12 – 2 sets per exercise

Program Expectations

This program is set up to add at least 15 to 20 pounds to an intermediate deadlifter’s max. I repeat: AT LEAST 15 to 20 pounds.

On your max attempt day you have the opportunity to double this, which creates a potential for a 30 to 40 pound deadlift gain. Over the course of a year you could add up to 100 to 150 pounds to your deadlift.

22 Tips to the Perfect Deadlift

Rounded back. Start with a lower back arch and try not to round your back when deadlifting.

No jerking. The best way to prevent the strain from jerking is to make sure your arms are completely locked when starting the deadlift. If they are not, a chain reaction will ensue resulting in bad form.

Raising hips. Concentrate on keeping your hips in the same position as you deadlift. Many deadlifters have a tendency of lifting their hips after initially jerking the weight off the floor. Raising the hips turns the deadlift into a lower back lift.

Heels. As you lift, press down with your heels. Do not deadlift from the balls of your feet.

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Fall back. As you lift the weight, concentrate on falling back and/or pulling the bar back.

Knees. Try to keep your knees in the same position as you lift. Do not move them in or out.

Head. Do not look to the left or right when deadlifting. Messing around like this can result in a bad neck strain.

Shoes. Wear Chuck Taylor’s. No thick bottom exercise shoes, or running shoes. You need a thin, flat shoe for deadlifting.

Mirrors. Avoid deadlifting in front of a mirror. Even the slightest stance adjustment to watch yourself can cause injury.

Gloves. No weightlifting gloves allowed. Gloves decrease grip potential by making the bar virtually bigger.

Lowering. Always lower the bar with a flat back.

Collars. Never deadlift without some form of collar to hold the weight in place. Sliding weights produce injuries.

Strict Form. Train with strict form at all times.

High reps. Higher rep deadlfit sets can be dangerous, simply because as you muscles fatigue, form goes to hell. At all times, focus yourself before each rep. Proper form trumps set cadence.

Advanced training techniques. Do NOT perform negative reps, forced reps, etc. when training the deadlift.

Heavy training. It is very easy to overtrain the deadlift. Do not train heavy all the time.

Shoulder blades. Do not lift with the shoulder blades tight together.

Shoulders. Keep your shoulders behind the bar at all times.

Eyes up. Do not look down when deadlifting. Your body will follow your eyes. Nor do you want to look straight up at the ceiling. Focus your eyes slightly below the ceiling of the far wall.

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Low hips. Do not start with your hips too low. Proper hip positioning takes practice. Watch videos of seasoned lifters.

Head. Lead the lift with your head. Visualize yourself being tugged upwards by a rope on top of your head, as if you were a puppet.

Glutes. Keep your glutes squeezed tight.

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