How I Improved my Deadlift over 50 

  • minute read

There is nothing better than getting a lifetime deadlift PR on your birthday, right? I'm so very happy with myself that I finally pulled 405 pounds - the big 4 plate lift - on the day of my 54th birthday no less.

It is true that this took a lot of time to get a bigger deadlift - about two and a half years - and a lot of training. I have been consistent with my training over this 2.5 years and have missed very few sessions.

I will be honest and thought it may have been beyond me.

After all when I first started I was able to deadlift around 280 ish and a year later I entered into my first powerlifting meet and successfully pulled 365 pounds.

However after that I was stuck around the 380 - 385 pound mark for what seemed like forever and that extra twenty pounds was getting at me.

Now to be fair my overall goal from strength training is for general fitness and well-being so my view is the long game. But I wouldn't be human if I didn't lust after doing a sought-after 405 deadlift pull.

So how did I break this barrier?

I decided to break with the conventional wisdom that deadlifts (post novice linear progression) should be kept to once a week and for only a single set of 5.

Instead I decided I was going to significantly increase my deadlift volume, with both regular deadlifts and paused deadlifts. I would also add accessory lifts of romanian deadlifts (RDLs) and rack pulls.

I realized that the stalling in my deadlifts and my squats was in large part because my back wasn't strong enough.

The goal was to get my back much stronger. Much stronger.

In order to increase the deadlift volume I had to decrease the so-called intensity - weight to you and me!

I backed off the weight by about 20% of my 5 rep max for 3 sets of 5. After this I would then back off a further 15% and do 3 sets of 5 paused deadlifts for just one of the sessions in the week.  (If I'm going to be honest this coincided with me injuring my calf muscle so I had to back off weights to rehab that a bit)

Having established the baseline start, each subsequent session would then add 5 lb to both regular deadlift and pause deadlift accordingly in a linear progression.

This way I was significantly increasing the volume of deadlifting and using progressive overload.

The result was a noticeable increase in back strength, in particular my traps, lats and spinal erectors.

The benefits carried over into my other lifts, namely squat, press and bench press as well as the intended beneficiary, the deadlift.

I had therefore found my secret trick to building a bigger deadlift after 50, the secret sauce so to speak.

Why did I do a single?

It is not recommended to do 1RM max singles during training. There are a number of reasons for this, but the major reason is that it can disrupt normal training and progress.

My training is focused on sets of 5. I knew I was on track once I finally programmed and hit a comfortable set of 5 for 365 (video below).

In the next two weeks I pulled 370 and then 375 for 5, which caught me totally by surprise. With these last two sessions the bar speed was dropping significantly (especially after the 2nd rep on each) so I knew that I was getting close to my max.

But this put my estimated 1RM theoretically in the 440 lb range.

Because of this a single pull of 405 should not - theoretically - be at my maximum and should be safe to pull without any tapering needed.

The 405 conventional deadlift 'event'

There is a big difference between theory and practice!

Theory ignores the major organ between your ears, namely your brain; and what it can do to you when it gets anxious.

I go through my checklist and form sequence but at the last moment the brain doesn't quite make things right and this caused me to be marginally out of position.

The result was the dreaded quad/hamstring shake, which could have easily wrecked the attempt.

I said to myself "this thing is going up no matter what"

Kicked my brain to focus on my back as I knew I have the strength in it.

This did the trick and the shake stopped and I completed the rest of the pull.

If you watch the video (below) you can probably see from my face that I was very happy about this.

Someone recently said to me "Well I guess you'll be now focusing on 500 pounds?!?".

I stopped for a moment.

I was going to reply "Yeah right", but instead I replied "With the progress I have been making I currently see no reason why that cannot be achieved".

I'm sure deadlift volume will be my key to hitting this new goal.


I'm Mark and I am an entrepreneur and IT specialist by trade, but have become an avid fan of strength training - especially for people fifty and above.  I love writing about my strength training journey and sharing my experiences so that it may inspire others to do the same.

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