Intermediate Deadlift Program, 2 Days/Week, 6 Weeks

In this post, I’ll outline an intermediate deadlift program designed to increase your deadlift strength and build thicker back muscles.

 I will also explain how and why your training should differ from the beginner’s.

Are you still a beginner? Check out our beginner deadlift program.

If you’ve left the beginner phase behind, read on.

(Note that this is a deadlift-only program. If you are looking for a program that combines training for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, you should check out our intermediate powerlifting program.)

How Do You Know if You Are a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?

While there are many ways to classify experience level, I like these definitions from Practical Programming:

  • Beginner lifter: Gets significantly stronger from workout to workout.
  • Intermediate lifter: Gets significantly stronger from week to week, or bi-weekly.
  • Advanced lifter: Gets significantly stronger from month to month, or longer.

By “significantly stronger”, I mean that you can add 2.5 kg (or 5 lb) and do the same number of reps, or use the same weight but do more reps.

If you’re still getting stronger from workout to workout, then our beginner deadlift program is right for you.

But if you’ve been training the deadlift for some time now and gains are harder to come by, you’re ready for intermediate-level training.

How to Increase Your Deadlift Strength at the Intermediate Level

When you’re a beginner, getting stronger is easy.

You follow a beginner workout program, slap on an additional 2.5 kg per workout, and enjoy the gains.

But after a while, this starts to get difficult.

Soon you will have to make several attempts at a given weight before you get all your sets and reps in (i.e. going from 5, 4, 4 reps to 5, 5, 5). And as soon as you succeed, you’re supposed to add another 2.5 kg and do it all again.

As you near the end of your beginner phase, this will get very difficult and start to wear you down.

The law of diminishing returns dictates that your gains will generally come the fastest and easiest in the beginning, and the more advanced you get, the more you will have to work for every extra plate on the bar.

This pattern is the same for any sport. And just like athletes in other sports, you need to make the same adjustments as you get more advanced, according to the fundamental training principles.

Generally, all of the following three increases as you get more advanced:

  • The necessary training volume. For the complete beginner, just a single set per week will lead to gains in strength and muscle size. But the more accustomed you become to your training, the higher the threshold you must overcome to stimulate continued gains.
  • The need for specialization. For the beginner, anything leads to an improvement in everything. But, the higher the degree of performance you want in your given sport or lift, the more you need to specialize your training for that goal.
  • The need for individualization. Similar to the above principle, a beginner program will work for everyone, more or less. As you increase your training volume and degree of specialization, it will become increasingly essential to fit the training to your capabilities and needs. One lifter might thrive on deadlifting twice a week, while another will just hurt their back. Some will thrive on a high-volume program, while others gain better on something more moderate.

Intermediate Deadlift Training in Practice

So how should you train the deadlift as an intermediate lifter?

Generally, you will need to do three things:

  1. Plan your progress. The aforementioned definition of a beginner is that they get significantly stronger from workout to workout. Intermediate lifters can expect noticeable strength gains from week to week, or at least bi-weekly. Plan your progress rate accordingly.
  2. Increase your training volume. Likely, you will have to increase your training volume in the deadlift slightly since your body is now more accustomed to the stimulus. This is an overarching principle in every sport, and strength training does not seem to be an exception. However, this does not have to be (and should not be) a drastic change. Try increasing your weekly deadlift volume in small increments and see how your strength reacts.
  3. Keep an open mind and be a student of the sport. The training program that works for your gym buddy might not necessarily work for you. Your genetics, training history, life circumstances, and even things like your personality will influence which training program you thrive on. That is why we have many different training programs in our workout tracker app, and write articles and guides on training here on this site: to educate you and increase the chances that you will find something that unlocks your maximum strength potential.

Now, let’s get into the outline of the intermediate program.

The Intermediate Deadlift Program

This intermediate deadlift program has two workouts per week and is six weeks long.

When you start the program in our workout app, you will get to enter your 1RM (one-rep max) in the deadlift, and the app will calculate the correct weights for you to use each training session.

Not sure of what your one-rep max is? Use our 1RM calculator to get an estimate.

Deadlift 1rm program
When you start the first workout, you will be asked to enter your deadlift 1RM.

For some of the assistance exercises, you must manually choose weights that enable you to complete the designated number of reps.

The Intermediate Deadlift Workouts

This program contains two deadlift workouts per week:

Workout 1 (Monday):

  1. Deadlift: Medium-heavy weights and medium volume
  2. Barbell Row
  3. Lat Pulldown

Workout 2 (Thursday), Medium

  1. Pause Deadlift: Medium-light weights and medium volume
  2. Barbell Row
  3. Romanian Deadlift

(Download our workout tracker app to see % of 1RM, number of sets, and reps.)

Intermediate Deadlift Program
The intermediate deadlift program is percentage-based, and StrengthLog will calculate your training weights in the deadlift, pause deadlift, and Romanian deadlift based on your one-rep max.

Progression Method

Some people might think this program starts pretty easy. (If you don’t, you might want to consider lowering your entered 1RM a bit.)

However, the weights increase every week, and you’ll soon find yourself pushing the boundaries of your previous strength limits.

The medium-heavy workouts will challenge your strength more than the medium workouts, but both will increase in weight every week.

The medium-light workouts help “feed” the heavy workouts. Meaning that before every new heavy workout comes around, you have been doing one lighter workout to boost your muscle and strength gains.

This type of progression is called wave progression, or wave periodization, and the concept can be illustrated like this:

Wave progression
In wave progression, or wave periodization, the load increases in rising and falling waves.

Compare this to the training of the novice lifter, where the load goes up almost every workout for several months (also known as linear progression).

That is no longer possible as an intermediate lifter, and you need these microcycles before you can take another step up.

Later on, when you are even more adapted to training and have entered the advanced stage, you will need even longer cycles before you can take a step up.

Exercises in the Intermediate Deadlift Program

Let’s go over the exercises included in this program.

Some of them are there for specific strength gains (like the deadlift and pause deadlift), while others are there for adding muscle mass in your back muscles and posterior chain in general (like the Romanian deadlift, barbell row, and lat pulldown).

Muscle growth probably won’t make a big difference in the short term. But in the long run, your muscle mass is one of the primary determinants of your deadlift strength.1

Let’s take a closer look at each of the lifts.

1. Deadlift

How to Do Deadlifts

  1. Step up close to the bar so that it is about over the middle of your foot.
  2. Inhale, lean forward, and grip the bar.
  3. Hold your breath, brace your core slightly, and lift the bar.
  4. Pull the bar close to your body, with a straight back, until you are standing straight.
  5. Lower the bar back to the ground with control.
  6. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

This is a deadlift specialization program, so you’ll be training the deadlift. It will give you specific practice and work exactly the muscles you need to strengthen.

It is, however, up to you if you want to train the conventional deadlift (pictured above) or sumo deadlifts.

It is also your decision if you want to use a lifting belt, straps, et cetera, but my suggestion is that you should “train as you fight”. If you intend to compete, use the equipment that is allowed in competition. If you only train for your own sake, use whatever equipment that allows you to train pain-free and effectively or that follows whatever standards you may hold up for yourself.

2. Pause Deadlift

How to Do Pause Deadlifts

  1. Step up close to the bar, so that it is about over the middle of your foot.
  2. Inhale, lean forward, and grip the bar.
  3. Hold your breath, brace your core slightly, and lift the bar.
  4. Pause the movement when the bar is just a few inches above the floor.
  5. After a pause of a second or two, complete the lift by pulling the bar close to your body, until fully extended.
  6. Lower the bar back to the ground with control.
  7. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

The pause deadlift is a variation of the traditional deadlift and one of my favorite powerlifting assistance exercises.

It involves doing regular deadlift (sumo if that is your preferred style) and including a pause somewhere on the way up. I generally recommend that you pause very close to the ground, just an inch up or so, as that is the heaviest part of the lift for most people.2

The pause deadlifts will both strengthen your deadlift muscles, but it will also provide excellent technique training. By pausing in the heaviest part of the lift, you will subconsciously seek out the most effective position and muscle contraction to make the pause easier. This will hone your deadlift technique and make it more effective.

You are not as strong in the paused deadlift as in the regular deadlift, and the paused deadlift is also trained on the lighter workout of the week, so you will be using lighter weights in this exercise.

3. Romanian Deadlift

How to Do Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Get into the starting position by deadlifting a barbell off the floor, or by unracking it from a barbell rack.
  2. Inhale, brace your core slightly, and lean forward by hinging in your hips. Keep your knees almost completely extended.
  3. Lean forward as far as possible without rounding your back. You don’t have to touch the barbell to the floor, although it is OK if you do.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Exhale on the way up.

The Romanian deadlift is a classic hamstrings barbell exercise that also works your glutes and lower back. By adding more mass to these muscles, you will increase your “deadlift hardware” and thereby your deadlift strength potential.

Don’t hesitate to use lifting straps in this exercise to enable better focus on your posterior chain muscles instead of your grip. Another tip is to think about pushing your butt back rather than leaning forward.

4. Barbell Row

The barbell row is a classic barbell back exercise that primarily works your latstrapezius, and rear deltoids. However, your lower backbiceps, and grip muscles also get some work.

This exercise helps build your back muscles in general, but they also help increase your deadlift strength in another way: by leaning forward, you are standing in pretty much the same position as the early part of a deadlift. That means your lower back gets isometric training in this critical position while you are simultaneously training your upper back dynamically.

How to Do Barbell Rows

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  3. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  4. Pull the bar as high as you can so that it touches your abs or chest, if possible.
  5. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

5. Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is performed once per week in this program and mainly contributes to building a whole-rounded back in general and meatier lats in particular.

This lift is performed last in the workout, and you might want to consider using lifting straps if your hands are beaten up from the deadlifts and rows.

How to Do Lat Pulldowns

  1. Adjust the thigh pad to fit snugly against your thighs to prevent your body from lifting off the seat.
  2. Grasp the bar with an overhand (pronated) grip, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Sit with your thighs under the thigh pad, keep your chest up, and look at the bar.
  4. Pull the bar down towards your chest, leading with your elbows. Pull until the bar is below your chin or touches your upper chest.
  5. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.
  6. Exhale and slowly release the bar back up to the starting position.

Training Days and Extra Rest Days

Training Days

Note that the weekdays stated in the program earlier are only examples. Train on whatever days you feel like, but try to get at least two days of rest between every deadlift workout.

Extra Rest Days

For most intermediate lifters, doing two deadlift workouts per week is about right, especially if you plan on doing some squat training as well.

But, because we all have different recovery capabilities, you should not hesitate to add an extra rest day here or there if you feel beat up.

You might get the best results when you rotate through this program on eight or nine days, and someone else might get better results going through it on six days.

As long as you’re going forward, you’re good.

When You Reach The End of The Program

The deadlift weights keep increasing for six weeks, at which point you have reached the end of the program.

Did the last week feel easy, you made good progress, and do you think you can handle another cycle? Start the intermediate deadlift program over but enter your new 1RM.

Did the last week feel heavy, and you don’t think you can handle another cycle? Then it’s probably time to move on to our advanced deadlift program (coming soon!).

What About Peaking For a New Max / PR Attempt?

The intermediate-level lifter should focus more on building his or her strength rather than testing it. This program is focused on training, not testing, and therefore does not end with a peaking phase and a PR attempt.

If you would like to do a peaking phase, simply do a few additional weeks where you practice with slightly heavier weights in the 1–3 rep range.

Then, when you’ve got some practice under your belt and feel like you might have a good day (which we never know, do we?), go into the gym and test your 1RM.

You can use our calculator for warming up for a 1RM, and then keep adding weight to the bar until you fail.

Follow This Deadlift Program in StrengthLog

This program is available in our app StrengthLog. The app is completely free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app where all the basic functionality is free – forever.

The app also has a bunch of free programs and workouts. However, our more advanced programs (such as this one) are for premium users only.

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. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Feb;86(4):327-36. The role of FFM accumulation and skeletal muscle architecture in powerlifting performance.
  2. Journal of Trainology. 2012 Nov;1(2):32-35. Isometric Strength of Powerlifters in Key Positions of the Conventional Deadlift.
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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.