Be a Man Among Men: My Father’s Deadlift Program

Why do so many men give up on being men once they have reached a certain age? (I could ask women the same question.)

Not my father. A month ago, 75-year-old Vladimir deadlifted 407 pounds at a bodyweight of 193 (and no belt, naturally). Another American record. 1,000-pound bencher Scott Mendelson who competed in the same APF meet exclaimed, “That’s your father? That man is a stud!”

Vladimir Tsatsouline a Man Among Men

My Father’s Training Program

Since he does not barbell squat, Vladimir pulls twice a week, once light and once heavy.  For the last several cycles, he stood on a 45-pound plate to slightly increase the ROM and strengthen his start. In addition to deads, he does parallel grip pull-ups, hanging leg raises, fist push-ups (vertical fists, elbows against the lats, slow and strict), and kettlebell goblet squats. He swims, runs, and climbs stairs.

I vary the type of a cycle my dad follows. More often than not, though, it is a Marty Gallagher-inspired linear cycle. To write such a cycle for yourself, pick the target for the last heavy day (1×3, 1×2, 2×2, etc.) and work back six to twelve weeks. Trial and error have taught me that fifteen-pound jumps are optimal for my dad. He tends to overtrain with ten-pound jumps and twenty-pound jumps do not allow him to gain enough momentum.

Vladimir’s Cycle for the 2012 APF Viking Challenge, Solvang, CA

Vladimir Tsatsouline Deadlift Training Program

This time, I bumped his reps up to eight and ten in the beginning of the cycle. Given my conviction that “anything over five reps is bodybuilding,” why did I do it?

Exactly because it was time for some bodybuilding. My father had grown out of the 181-pound class, so reps gave him an extra nudge up to fill in the 198-pound class faster. His muscularity noticeably improved and he got leaner.

I had many a conversation with Marty on the topic of reps. One of the many priceless lessons the Grandmaster taught me was: higher rep sets do not need to push the limit. If you operate in my dad’s poundage range in any lift, you will realize that 295×8 is hard but not RM for a lifter with a 400-pound max. Write this down: 1-3 x 8-10 done with an 80-90% effort will build mass without compromising technique and safety.

Vladimir Tsatsouline - a man among men
The back of a 75-year-old deadlifter. 100% drug free.

Be a Man Among Men

Vladimir picked up the barbell less than five years ago and never looked back. Coaching him is a challenge because, like the young man he believes he is, my dad tends to overdo things. Once, he did not perform as well as expected in a meet. After a thorough interrogation, my old man fessed up that he had climbed 306 floors several days before!

Coaching my father is about holding him back and I would not have it any other way. Over the years, people have asked me why don’t I offer motivation tips. The answer is: I have none. We are all adults here: either you have it, or you don’t.

StrongFirst is not in the babysitting business. We serve the top 1% performers and those who are totally committed to claw their way up to the 1%. Which is why the sports psychology text we chose to publish, Psych, is a manual on reaching world-class performance—not cheerleading drivel to lure the lazy off the couch.

As they used to say in the Rhodesian army: “Be a man among men.” Regardless of your age or circumstances.

Rhodesian Army Be a Man Among Men

Pavel Tsatsouline
CEO

Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.


38 thoughts on “Be a Man Among Men: My Father’s Deadlift Program

  • I LIFT RAW NO BELT… MY DEADLIFT HAS HOFFERED AROUND 400 FOR MONTHS… I DEADLIFTED 405 RAW TODAY AND I STILL HAD MORE IN THE BANK… I DO PTTP PROGRAM MODIFIED FOR ABOUT 8 MONTHS… I DEADLIFT AND PRESS 5 TO 6 DAYS A WEEK WITH SUNDAY OFF… I ROTATE 4*8, 5*5, 5,5,3,3,3 ALL WEEK. CYCLING THE VOLUME AND INTENSITY. WHEN THE WEIGHT GETS OVER 400 MY LOWER BACK STARTS TO PULL. I COULD PULL 415 COMFORTABLY I THINK. ANY SUGGESTIONS WOULD HELP TO GET ME UP TO 425-430…

  • “In addition to deads he does parallel grip pullups, hanging leg raises, fist pushups (vertical fists, elbows against the lats, slow and strict), and kettlebell goblet squats.”

    Are these programmed in any specific way, or is it more grease the groove?

  • Pavel, thank you for the great post. I have a few of your books and always enjoy reading your articles and posts. I realize for strength training in the 5-rep range, 3 to 5 minutes rest is recommended. This being a hypertrophy cycle with a higher rep range, would 1 to 2 minutes rest be recommended? I ask because I personally started this cycle myself and began with 3 minutes rest after my first work set, but felt that 5 minutes rest was better for recovery after my second set. My 1RM a few months back was 335, so I estimated conservatively at 320 and began with 215×10/3 my first week. It seems the deadlift, being a compound exercise using many muscles, is a bit taxing for short rest periods for me at this intensity. Thanks!

  • Pavel, interesting to see you recommend higher rep sets. Just wondering, would these higher reps work for the military press and building mass in shoulders? I know that the overhead press plays by different rules due to the lower weight used. In the past we’ve seen this difference in the total volume of press workouts, but I wonder if going to sets of 8-10 would simply cause the weight to be reduced too much and you are better off sticking to higher volume with low reps, something like 2-3-5 ladders. Thanks

    That story of your dad is very inspiring . It’s one thing for a 20-something or even a heavy weight to move that kind of weight but a 75 yr old who is under 200 lbs and (he looks tall, ) who started lifting a few yrs ago is impressive.

    • David, you can do higher reps with the MP—as long as you keep it light. Consider Dan John doing sets of 10 with 24kg–while being able to press the Beast with ease.

  • Thank you for publishing stories like these as it gives me a truck-load of inspiration to stay fit/strong well into my old age (currently 45).

    Cheers!

  • Pavel when say: ” Write this down: 1-3×8-10 done with an 80-90% effort will build mass without compromising technique and safety.”

    Which numbers represent the sets and which numbers represent the reps?

    Thank you.

    • Derrick, sorry about the lack of clarity. One to three sets, 8-10 reps.

      When I write cycles, I put the reps first.

  • “Over the years people have asked me why don’t I offer motivation tips. The answer is: I have none. We are all adults here: either you have it, or you don’t.”

    This is my favorite part of the article! I am definitely in the same boat. Show up and do the work. I am not a cheerleader.

    I am loving what you are doing with StrongFirst Pavel. The content being written is great and I want to wish you the best of luck with it.

    Thank you for indirectly introducing me to the kettlebell. Time to go snatch!

    Cody

  • Congrats to your old man. He is truly an inspiration. I also LOVE what you mention at the end of your article about StrongFirst not being into babysitting or luring the lethargic off the couch. It is exactly why I am here and what I appreciate most about the foundation everything is based from. Just this morning I was talking with an SFG about how I can’t and don’t want to ever coach the aforementioned, as I cannot relate to them and quite honestly never want to. Thank you for all you do.

  • Well done – both of you. It’s said that around age 75 age-related decline in physical activity begins to cut in pretty steeply. Vladimir, through his remarkable work – and work ethic – may be able to hold that off for a few more years.
    The are millions of us baby boomers who are looking for advice like the above in order to retain our health and strength for longer than popular opinion considers is possible. I hope you, Pavel, and your inspiring father document your progress – ups and downs – and turn it into a book or DVD in a year or two.
    Too much advice is aimed at college jocks and under 42s. We older lifters/trainers reckon we have the potential to keep on going, but are looking for guidance. (I’m 64 and deadlifted 205 kg – 452 lbs – 2.5 times body weight – 3 weeks ago)

  • You’re Dad is “The MAN”! Are the knuckle pushups for the triceps; “karate style”? Are they easier on the elbows?

  • If you are not totally commited, you still should train smart. Don’t squander your enthusiasm with ineffective methods.

  • This is so awesome and inspirational. I have been wondering how your father is doing since 1st reading about how he got bit by the “deadlift bug” in Easy Strength (p.143 to be exact). As we age, we need to do everything we can to increase our strength, while keeping safety in mind, of course. A 75 year old with that kind of strength, hypertrophy, and work ethic is truly admirable and astonishing.
    Thanks for posting the update and this is really amazing. I hope this inspires older gents that there is no excuse to not be stronger…We all need to be strong, no matter what age!
    Best, Scott

  • Gotta laugh out of the motivation comments. Strongly agree that motivation is either there or it isn’t. But even more importantly whether motivation is there or not, it is critical that YOU be there cranking out the work. How you feel mentally is a bad guide, where how you feel under work loads is a much better yardstick. You can train with a broken hear tbut not a pulled hamstring. If you must feel psyched to work out, or use stimulants to get through workouts, i have doubts about your training future. The road to the top is long and there are times you won’t feel like working hard if at all. These are not the days to double your efforts, these are days to do your work and call it a day.

  • Much respect to your father for his success and attitude. I’m sure that his achievements on the platform are merely the latest example of a life of success.

    The really instructive thing about this whole post isn’t that he’s doing amazingly well “for his age” (he is) but that he’s progressing. You indicate that he “grew out of the 181”. He’s not only doing well, he’s breaking new ground, and it’s that mindset that keeps him going and makes him the ideal example.

    Bravo.

  • Outstanding piece of work, and inspiration for me. Certainly teaches one that age is simply a number and with intelligently designed training one can compensate for infirmities…

  • I wish all the strong men and women a happy new year!
    Funny, most people think, that you get weaker when you get old. Fact is, that when you have a potential to get stronger, you can get stronger. With “the potential” I mean the deficit to your maximum at that age. Of course an Olympic weightlifter cannot get even stronger with the years, he gets weaker, but if he would have started ten, twenty or thirty years later with weight training, he could get stronger. It’s never too late to get stronger. I started with kettlebells when I was around 50 years, and Pavel knows, that it is some years ago. And I enjoy my body, getting older and stronger. Pull up with 28 kg / 62 lbs.
    My wife never ask me, will you try to unscrew the lid of this glass or can you open it? She says, open it, please! It’s great to be strong.
    Holger Danske, still going strong

      • Thank you, Pavel, thank you very much. I chose the company of strong men, because I get inspired there. And I do the best of what you and your instructors taught me and still teach me. It’s a never ending story.

  • Thank you Chief! I have recently became worried if I was doing something wrong when letting people around me know about strength training as I could only get very-very few people to train with me… But it’s not me, it’s just that most are just not (yet) strong in mind… And I can’t do the ‘showing up’ for them. So I’ll be happy, VERY happy for the few who turn up, return and take it seriously. As those are the guys who are ready to follow me through everything 🙂 And yes, this was only the last few lines. It will take a while to digest the main part of the article.

  • “We serve the top 1% performers and those who are totally committed to claw their way up to the 1%. Which is why the sports psychology text that we chose to publish, Psych, is the manual on reaching world class performance—not cheerleading drivel to lure the lazy off the couch.”

    Love it.

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