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Old Forum Question - Possible to increase deadlift with only 65% 1RM (via volume?)?

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Level 6 Valued Member
Hi there,

I currently have limited access to weights at the moment and can only get the barbell to load up to 65% of my 1RM. Is it possible to increase deadlift strength by slowly increasing volume as I can't add more weight?

I was thinking of deadlifting 3x a week albeit within heavy-light-medium days so I don't burnout. I was thinking of simply 5 sets, with the heavy days striving to add an extra rep or two on the top set.

Thoughts people? Thank you in advance!

The Scientist

Level 3 Valued Member
I would be skeptical about it working for very long, as the reps will become high very quickly. You should be able to do sets of 20 with that light of a weight. You could also consider adding elastic bands to increase resistance or doing deficit/snatch-grip deadlifts to increase ROM. Are you able to squat?


Level 6 Valued Member
Cheers for the quick reply, yeah, my thoughts too on high reps. Hmmm, I don't know if I could do sets of 20 just yet! But having said that, I have already started doing these deadlifts with a moderate snatch-grip to increase difficulty.

Alas, squatting no, no rack either, but do have some kettlebells, so hack squats and front squats it is.


Level 5 Valued Member

To me, 20 reps.. *cartman voice* "pfftt.. might as well run a marathon!"

All joking aside, I know if I did 15 reps of any weight my form would be loose and I would maintain minimum tension... so I feel the carry over would be minimal. I would keep my reps 5-8; but that may because I have an aversion to endurance exercises.

If I was in a situation where I only had 65% of 1RM I would take the opportunity to perfect my form and tighten up any leaks (no matter how small).
I would put myself at a disadvantage: double overhand grip, fat grips, towels, make my own fat grips. Something that would force me to improve my grip.
Mid-section brace)
Rehearse/ingrain mid-section brace: maximum tension planks immediately before deads, reps focusing on pushing abs out (tensing), maybe add in some suitcase deadlifts.
glute tension)
Rehearse/ingrain glute squeeze: practice the bite the hand drill taught at the SFG-practice squeezing glutes when you snap the hips in your pull.
form-case that purple dragon, the quest for the "perfect rep")
video your form & try to chip away at weakness, polish, then re-polish: watch your set up, is it the same every time? where are your feet? Is it the same every time? Hand position? Back? When do you snap hips? Is it the same every time?

I have done similar practice with my swings. This set Abs tight! This set squeeze the glutes! This set grip the floor!
Just my thoughts, hope it helps.


Level 3 Valued Member
Personally, if I hand limited weight and wanted to work the deadlift, I would do one arm one leg variations. You would see a lot more carryover, from my experience, by pulling heavy ipsilateral / contralateral (once your numbers build up to respectable ranges) rather than the same light weight bilaterally. Also when I used to do this, my stability was rock solid, like my legs were tree trunks with roots going into the ground.

I like Robs ideas also.

Mark Limbaga

Level 8 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
It can be a worthy experiment..

I've had two notable cases

Trainee pulled 305 by doing ladders with 195
Another trainee pulled 405 by doing ladders with 295

Harald Motz

Level 8 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
another option would be zercher squats, which translate well into the deadlift.
My numbers and percentages are: dl max 230kg, zs max 180kg is 78%
230kg x 0,65 = 149,5kg which is 83% of my 180kg zs max. Training in the 80% realm gives plenty possibilities to get stronger and build muscle.

There was an article on the 'read' section on 'the best squat' featuring the zercher squat. It's a pity.


Level 6 Valued Member
Thank you for all the great responses people!

Rob Brinkley - Cheers for the in-depth response - I'm going to take that on board. In terms of reps, I think I'll cap it as sets of 10 - I recall Pavel's Dad did sets of 10 from time to time in his deadlift training. I'm currently doing the deads with a mild snatch (obviously overhand grip) to make it more difficult. Will it look at challenging grip.

Jon Ace - Hmmm, I'm not generally a huge fan of one-leg posterior chain work in general - find fully one-legged work rather difficult to stabilize - but you have me interested, shall go check out Ben Bruno's great single leg work and see if I find anything.

Mark Limbaga - Intriguing, there is hope then!

Harald Motz - Alas, I have no squat rack, and zercher deadlifting the barbell off the floor is not something I fancy!

Harald Motz

Level 8 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
there is no need to zercher deadlift. You deadlift the weight up, then push your but back and bend your knees, while keeping the bar touching your thighs. Eventually you are in the dead stop starting position, the bar is resting safely above your knee caps, the weight is exactly over your heels. than you Position one arm after the other under the bar with the crook of your elbow, breathe into the Abdomen, get really tight in your whole Body and stand up leading by your chest.
No need for a rack either...


Level 3 Valued Member
I second the Zercher squat.

Remember, keep the shoulders pulled down and back to allow for maximum thoracic extension and hold the bar snug against the sternum (no letting it "dangle" in the down position). You'll be making a contest of tension tug of war between you shoulders and your lays to keep everything where it belongs.


Level 5 Valued Member
with that set up I'd do speed deadlifts (singles) to maintain form and then work on weakpoints. Maybe do another day working a harder DL variant. You can build your deadlifting muscles with various other exercises - some suggested above.

In fact, as an example only, consider something like this:

Day One- speed day
Deadlifts - 10 singles @ 55-65%
zercher squats - sets of 5
Good mornings - sets of 10
chin ups to decompress the back and strengthen the lats

Day Two - Repetition/volume day
Snatch grip deadlifts, defecit deadlifts or similar - sets of 3-5 or ladders, or density. Get some volume in
DB Rows - sets of 10-20
Single leg work - sets of 10
ab work - I like KB windmills, Get ups and ab roll outs.

Alternatively work the dead exclusively using a ladder format 3 times a week - but that would destroy my back...

Steve W.

Level 8 Valued Member
You might try Dimel deadlifts:
Dave Tate -- Dimel Deadlift

In Beyond Bodybuilding, Pavel recommends sets of 2-3-15-20 two to four times per week.

Dave Tate recommends 30-40% 1RM, 15-20 reps, 2-3 sets.

I have not used Dimel deadlifts myself, but I was able to maintain a trap bar DL of 450lbs for a long time just by doing KB swings and suitcase DLs (up to 220lbs, generally for sets of 1-5). I think the suitcase DL is a very underrated and underused exercise.

Grip can be a problem when using a rotating sleeve olympic bar for the suitcase DL. When the weight gets heavy you may need to use a hook grip or straps (this is about the only exercise I use straps for).

By the way, the type of "straps" I use are called Vera Gripps Pro. Instead of a webbing strap, they have a flap of material that you wrap around the side of the bar opposite your palm, with the end pinned between your fingers and the bar. They give a great hold on the bar and are very easy to use. I'm usually a no straps guy, but I think this is a great product for this purpose, compared to other designs I've tried and seen.

Steve W.

Level 8 Valued Member
Yikes, I just looked at the price of the Versa Gripps Pro. IIRC that's A LOT more than they cost when I bought mine years ago.

I also have a pair of these that I like a lot and are less than half the price:

Schiek dowel straps

Steve Freides

Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Mark, please say a bit more about how you programmed the DL ladders. I' ex done this once myself but didn't test a max afterwards.



The More J The Better

Level 1 Valued Member
I second the "Dimel Deadlift." If you have a copy of Return of The Kettlebell, I'm referencing pages 89-91. The Chief relates the anecdotal training plan of Phil Workman, who utilized a paltry fraction of his max (WELL below 65%)for two to three sets of 20, two to three times a week in order to deadlift a personal best of 675 (previous best 605).

So yes, it can be done, but our individual mileage may vary.


Level 6 Valued Member
Wow, so many epic responses! Thank you everyone.

Harald Motz + JZB - I get the love of the Zercher, but alas I've tried that way of loading by deadlifting the weight and then resting it on your thighs, but I just find it impossible to do. I assume it is because of my height - I'm 6 4' with long limbs, particularly legs.

Michael McCaughlin - Awesome in depth post, I'm very much intrigued by speed deadlifts. Shall definitely consider adding them. I do a bunch of other exercises at the moment, for the upper body heavy one-arm press and heavy neutral grip chins, and some lighter work of elevated press-ups and elevated inverted rows/bw neutral chins. Lower body I mostly concentrate on hack squats twice a week (love em), one-arm front squats and/or split squats the other day, and primarily deadlifts for the prosterior chain. Always warmup with plenty of bw squats and lunges too.

Steve Freides + Mark Limbaga - I'll check out Beyond Bodybuilding later :)

Steve W + J Peterson - Intriguing stuff, an exercise that fits the desription of low weight! I have Beyong Bodybuilding but not ROTK alas. Do you think that doing dimel deadlifts with 65% but for slightly lower reps (sets of 10 for example) be too much? Trying to figure out how I can use them efficiently. Maybe 2 days a week of dimel deads, sticking to light percentages (I'm hearing as low as 30%!), and another day of heavier work; maybe speed deads for singles, as suggested, or high density snatcch-grip deads?
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