Deadlift Builder: Hypertrophy Training Program for Deadlifts

To pull big weights, you need big muscles.

That’s the idea behind our new training program for the deadlift: Deadlift Builder.

As the name implies, this program is meant to build the foundation of your deadlift by:

  • Increasing the muscle mass of your entire deadlift musculature.
  • Strengthening key parts of the deadlift using variations.

The program is available in the StrengthLog app for premium users. You can download StrengthLog for free with the links below.

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More Muscle = Greater Potential for Strength

A bigger muscle produces more force. Skeletal muscle mass is strongly correlated (~r=0.85) with deadlift performance.1 2

deadlift performance and muscle mass

That’s why this program focuses on adding muscle mass in all your primary and secondary movers of the deadlift, as well as the stabilizing musculature.

Call it periodization if you will; this training program is intended to serve as a break from our more strength-oriented deadlift programs. Those programs are great for improving your strength “software”. Deadlift Builder improves your hardware, i.e. your muscle mass.

Deadlift Variations: Same But Different

Always training your regular style of deadlifts year-round might run the risk of making you stale. If not physiologically, then at least psychologically.

Even subtle variations of the deadlift can be enough to make things fresh again. And not only for your mind. The novel stimuli might be enough to trigger a new burst of training adaptations. At the same time, the variations are close enough to the deadlift to work similar muscles, and also strengthen key parts of the lift.

Deadlift Builder contains (among other exercises) rack pulls, deficit deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts. Run up your numbers in these exercises over six weeks, build some new muscle mass, and then see what happens the next time you do a strength-oriented training program, such as Deadlift Disco. With your newly built muscle mass and strength in new parts of the lift, chances are you’re going to crush your previous PR.

Deadlift Builder
In-app overview of Deadlift Builder. When you start the program, you will be asked to enter your Deadlift 1RM.

Breakdown of the Training Program

Deadlift Builder is six weeks long, and you’ll be training twice per week.

The number of reps, sets, and intensity (the % of 1RM you’ll be training at) changes throughout the program, but here is a rough outline of the workouts:

Workout 1

Workout 2

You’ll start doing higher rep work on the rack pulls and deficit deadlifts at weights based on your deadlift 1RM. Then, as the weeks progress, the weights will get heavier while the reps creep lower. This will make for a smooth transition back into a strength phase afterward.

The training volume begins at a moderate level, and climbs by 20% throughout the program.

Deadlift Builder Training Program Analysis

Explanation of the Exercises in the Program

What purpose does the different exercises serve in this training program?

  • Rack Pull. This exercise allows you to overload the top portion of the deadlift. This will work your back muscles (including your lower back and trapezius) harder than regular deadlifts, and also accustom you to move heavy weights. I recommend you set up the bar so that it rests somewhere below your knees. Placing it on blocks or weight plates one or two hand-widths up from the floor is a good rule of thumb.
  • Deficit Deadlift. In contrast to rack pulls, deficit deadlifts mean that you stand on an elevation instead of placing the bar on one. Just one weight plate between one or two inches thick should be enough for you to stand on at an appropriate height. This exercise works your leg muscles more than both rack pulls and conventional deadlifts and is popular for increasing your starting strength in the deadlift.
  • Romanian Deadlift. This is a classic muscle-builder and will add to your mass in the gluteshamstringsadductors, and lower back. It will also teach you to keep a stiff core when lifting.
  • Back Extension. More work for your lower back comes from this exercise. Hold a weight plate against your chest for added resistance, and go slow and focus on muscle contact here. If you don’t have access to a back extension or prefer another exercise, you can substitute these with reverse hypers or kettlebell swings.
  • Barbell Row and Dumbbell Row. You will be rowing each workout, alternating between free-standing barbell rows and dumbbell rows where you lean against a bench. Rowing will strengthen your upper back, including your lats and trapezius.
  • Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-out and Hanging Leg Raise. Finally, some direct work for your abs. All the heavy pulls you will be doing will work the posterior side of your core muscles, but it doesn’t do as much for your anterior core. To ensure a more well-rounded development of your core, you will end each workout with an ab exercise, alternating each workout.

How to Make the Most out of This Deadlift Program

Here are some pointers to increase your chances of having a productive training block.

  • Starting Weights. When you start the program, you will be asked to enter your deadlift 1RM. Your 1RM is the heaviest weight you can currently lift for a single. Not your all-time PR from five years back – it’s what you can lift now. Enter your best estimate of your current strength. Be prepared to adjust this slightly up or down for the next few workouts. The workouts should be challenging but not impossible, and I would rather see you err on the too-light side instead of the too-heavy side. You can always run the program again later with 5 kg more.
  • Straps. High-volume deadlifting can take a toll on your grip. If you find that the skin of your hands can’t keep up with twice-weekly training, a good idea is to do about half of your sets (and all of the Romanian deadlifts) with lifting straps. Don’t worry about your grip strength; you’ll be doing more than enough deadlifts to keep improve your grip, even if you add in lifting straps here and there.
  • Diet. Muscle is best built in a caloric surplus with plenty of protein. Ideally, you should eat enough for a small weight gain while following this training program. Perhaps adding about 2–3% of body weight over the six weeks. You can build muscle even in a caloric balance, but you will build more if you slightly overeat. Make sure your daily protein intake is at least 1.4 g per kg body weight and day, and more (upwards 2 g/kg/day) if you already have a large amount of muscle.
  • Other training. What about your other muscle groups that aren’t worked in this program? And where do you fit in your squats? This is a deadlift specialization program, and as such, you should make room in your other training so that you’re able to prioritize the deadlift for six weeks. With that said, you can keep your other training at a maintenance level or more. I suggest you put your squat training on the back-burner for six weeks, perhaps doing one light/moderate workout in between deadlift sessions, to keep your strength and muscle. You will be doing plenty of back and indirect bicep training in this program, so you will probably want to add in bench pressing (or other upper body pressing) on one or two other days per week. Since bench pressing doesn’t interfere with deadlift training, you can push this a little harder. Just be wary of your mental resources, and make sure to keep your focus on the deadlift training.
  • Sleep. One of the best ways to increase the amount of muscle and strength you gain on a training program is to get plenty of sleep. The average adult need 7–8 hours of sleep per night, and a person that trains hard sure don’t need less. I know sleep has a lot of competition these days, but getting enough sleep can be what makes or breaks your gains.
  • Deload. When you complete the program after six weeks, I recommend you to take a deload week of easier training and also do one or two very easy workouts with regular deadlifts to prepare yourself for the next strength phase. Deadlift Disco would be a great program to follow up with.

Get the Training Program

You can find Deadlift Builder among the premium training programs in our workout log app StrengthLog.

While Deadlift Builder is a premium program, the app itself is free with unlimited logging and plenty of free training programs.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

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  1. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2013 Aug;53(4):409-14. Relationship between lifting performance and skeletal muscle mass in elite powerlifters.
  2. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Feb;86(4):327-36. The role of FFM accumulation and skeletal muscle architecture in powerlifting performance.
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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and international-level lifters. Daniel regularly shares tips about strength training on Instagram, and you can follow him here.