Teaching the Deadlift to Groups

by Capt James Rodgers | March 03, 2021

deadlift start close up

The purpose of this article is to provide guidance and advice to junior military leaders who want to use barbell training to develop their students during group Physical Training (PT) sessions. The article will cover why the deadlift is an appropriate lift to train in a group setting. Next it will provide a template for equipment, time, facility, and staff, and a hand-held training resource to assist a junior leader with the task of planning and executing a deadlift PT plan.

Why the Deadlift is Suitable for Training during Group PT

The optimal physical preparation a group of soldiers is to develop their strength and anaerobic conditioning. The most safe, efficient and effective way to accomplish this is to have them run the Novice Linear Progression (NLP) and then introduce anaerobic conditioning as required by operational circumstances. For obvious reasons this cannot always be accomplished. In the absence of a radical departure from traditional military training methods and priorities, the time, facilities, equipment, and qualified coaching to execute a NLP will remain out of reach for almost all junior military leaders. You Will Not Be Able to Do The Program (YWNBATDTP). However, that does not mean that you must resign yourself to a standard diet of running, ruck marching, ruck running, and aggressively flopping around on the ground. Some enterprising junior leaders will want to introduce their students to barbell training, and out of all of the strength lifts, the deadlift is the most suitable to training in group military PT sessions.

1. Simplicity of Instruction. The deadlift can be taught in five steps using the Starting Strength model. It is executed at a relatively low speed which will make identifying and correcting errors easier for inexperienced coaches. The simplicity of the five-step setup means that students can be taught relatively quickly compared to other lifts.

2. Equipment. The deadlift requires the least equipment out of all of the main lifts. It requires only a barbell and enough plates to make it hard to pick up. It requires no rack or bench. The larger jumps that can be achieved on the deadlift also means that there is less need for small increment plates.

3. Safety. The deadlift is a very safe lift. The lifter’s body is never in danger of being crushed by a falling barbell and there is no requirement for spotting or safeties. A poorly taught or supervised lifter could be pinned by a heavy squat, drop a press on their head or a bench press on their neck. Barbell training in general is orders of magnitude safer than any other method of group PT.

4. Effectiveness. The deadlift is the second best strength training exercise after the squat. It lets you move the most weight using the most muscle mass through an effectively-long range of motion.

5. Staffing. You can train someone to teach the deadlift relatively quickly. The teaching process is very simple and can literally be read off of a piece of paper. It requires less experience to coach than any other lift. You can train people to train others.

6. Education. Teaching your people to deadlift is a vehicle to teach them about training and programming. You can train them to train themselves and thereby become self-sufficient. This will set them up for success for the rest of their careers because you are giving them a tool to make themselves better.

Training Progression

You will want to conduct this a few distinct steps. First, you will need to ensure that you have adequate equipment, time, facilities, and staff to execute your plan. On the first day you begin PT with the full group, you should dedicate the whole PT session to instructing the deadlift and make sure that every one of the students can do the deadlift correctly. The second day should be dedicated to establishing and recording working weights, the student’s heavy set of five deadlifts.

Make sure that you emphasize that if a student feels lightheaded after a set, they should immediately sit down. I once had a student faint on the first-ever set of deadlifts. The third day should be when you begin to progressively overload the deadlift over the established working weight from the previous PT session and begin the students on an abbreviated linear progression of their deadlift.


The equipment you need will vary based upon your group size and where you are in the teaching progression. The barbells and weights are there for obvious reasons. The hand sanitizer is there to satisfy COVID-19 precautions by having lifters sanitize hands after their sets, and the whiteboard and dry erase markers are included to communicate the day’s plan. Here are some of the specifics of what you’ll need:

Table 1 - Equipment Teaching Day

# Students
5 10 20
Barbells 1 2 5
45 lb Plates 2 4 6
25 lb Plates 2 2 4
Hand Sanitizer 1 2 5
Whiteboard & Marker 1 1 1

This will let you have the option of setting up multiple 95 and 135 lb bars for the larger groups. For the groups of 20, you would have three 135 lb bars and two 95 lb bars. You may also want to consider getting an additional set of bumper plates or some other type of blocks to allow for elevated deadlifts if you have a lifter who is incapable of setting their back at the standard deadlift height due to girth, inflexibility or athletic ineptitude.

Table 2 - Equipment Working Weight Day

# Students
5 10 20
Barbells 2 3 7
45lb Plates 8 14 18
25lb Plates 4 8 8
10lb Plates 2 4 10
Hand Sanitizer 2 3 7
Whiteboard & Marker 1 1 1

This will give you multiple options for establishing working weights. You will want to have at least one barbell set aside for warmups and a variety of different weights to be used to establish working weights. The warmup weights can also be used to teach personnel who missed the first lesson. The lifters will be able to move up in 20 lb and 30 lb increments. You’ll want to be able to stream lifters towards different weight selections based on their current strength level by providing multiple options such as 95, 135, 185, 225 and 275 lb bars plus 95 and 135 lb bars for warmups. An example of how this would look for 20 lifters is below:

diagram of room set up for group deadlift session

Table 3 - Equipment Sample Progressive Overload Day

# Students
Barbells 7
45lb Plates 14
25lb Plates 10
10lb Plates 10
5lb Plates 10
Hand Sanitizer 1
Whiteboard & Marker 1

Once you establish the individual working weights, you will be able to accurately calculate exactly how much equipment you will need and begin to progressively overload the deadlift. This will change based upon where the lifters ended up on the second workout to establish their working weights. The table below details the equipment requirements for two groups of 20 lifters who needed a 95 and 135 lb bar to warmup, and 95, 135, 185, 185 and 275 lb bars for their working weights. The equipment allocation was able to accommodate working weights ranging from 95 to 355 lb. You will also need smaller plates to make 10 lb jumps possible.


This time breakdown assumes that you’ll have 60 minutes to do PT. You will need to allocate 30 minutes before the beginning of PT for equipment setup and preparation. The Introduction should include the who, what, when, where, and why of the deadlift PT. Use this time to emphasize the importance of training properly and attention to detail while executing the lift. In subsequent PT sessions, you can also use this time to explain concepts like programming, recovery, exercise selection, rep ranges, etc. Your demonstration on the first day should be very detailed, and you should use one of your coaches to demonstrate each step of the five-step deadlift, taking the time to explain each step in detail and reiterate important points such as DO NOT MOVE THE BARBELL. You will then have your teaching/training time when the lifters get their hands on the barbells to execute the lifts. It is a good practice to include a cooldown/debriefing period at the end of PT to go over what was just taught and why it is important.  

Table 4 - Time Estimate Teaching Day

Introduction 5 min
Demonstration 10 min
Teaching 40 min
Debrief/Cooldown 5 min
Total Time 60 min

Table 5 - Time Estimate Working Weight/Overload Day

Introduction 5 min
Training 50 min
Debrief/Cooldown 5 min
Total Time60 min


To do this training, you will need to find a location that has a robust dry and level floor. It would be a bad idea to try and do this in a vehicle bay with sloped floors because the barbell would keep rolling away from the lifter. Attempting to do this on grass or gravel would also not work well because the ground would be a squashy and inconsistent surface for the lifter, that would rapidly degenerate into a huge mess. Once you have a suitable location, you’ll need to make sure that there is enough space for the lifters and coaches to do what they have to do. You will want to have at least 12 feet of dead space in front of the barbell so they can select a focal point on the floor. Ensure that there is at least 5 feet of space behind the barbell to allow for a workspace for the coach and lifter. Each barbell will need to be placed in a lane that is 10 feet wide to allow for clearance to the left and right. Do not place anyone directly in another lifter’s field of vision since that can distract them. Keeping a field of vision clear is less important for the warmup stations.

Table 6 - Facility Space Requirements

# Students
5 10 20
Depth 17' 25' 25'
Width 20' 20' 50'

Do not forget to consider how you will transport the equipment from where it is stored to where it will be used. Forgetting about this step can ruin your day.


The bigger your group of lifters, the more coaches you will need to help manage the group. A ratio of one coach to five lifters is a minimum requirement, given the time and equipment constraints.

Table 7 - Staff Requirements

# Students
5 10 20
Coaches (in addition to you) 1 2 5

It is extremely important to remember that during the conduct of the PT, your leadership job is to provide overall supervision of the group. Get the coaches to coach the lifters. You’ll need to move around, answer questions, solve problems, explain the model, supervise the coaches, manage time, and manage equipment. If you spot a coaching error, don’t take over on the coach, just tell the coach what to fix and get him to fix it. You will want to pick coaches with at least one of these two attributes:

1. Leadership Noises. They need to be able to be the boss of a platform and have the willpower to enforce standards.

2. Interest/Experience. They need some practical experience and interest in lifting. You may have a Master Corporal who is a competitive powerlifter. That person will bring experience and credibility. You may have a Second Lieutenant who used to be a personal trainer. His heart is probably in the right place but he’ll have some unlearning to do.

You will need to standardize your training for coaches before you have them teach anyone how to deadlift. If you do not get them to understand exactly what you want them to do and how to do it, everyone will just end up frustrated and the teaching progression will fail. You will need to invest some time and effort into teaching your coaches what to do.

  1. Make sure that you are completely familiar with the model, teaching progression and how to fix common errors
  2. Set aside a block of time to teach your staff how to coach.
  3. Provide them with a written summary of the teaching steps and corrections. If all else fails, they can read directions off of a sheet.
  4. Teach them the standard five-step deadlift progression
  5. Have them teach you the standard five-step deadlift progression.
  6. Demonstrate some common faults for the coach to identify and correct.
  7. Have the coaches demonstrate and correct common faults for each other.

Applying barbell training to a group setting is a difficult endeavor. It will demand a lot of preparation from junior leaders, obtaining equipment, facility selection, and developing your staff. Following the planning details and other advice in this article will make that work a little bit easier. This will still be far, far more difficult than being lazy and taking the troops for a run or having them do pushups and situps in a circle for an hour. As I am sure you are aware, most things that provide value will require effort and dedication to realize. The personnel you are responsible for training will recognize that you are taking the time to provide value for them and will respect you for doing so.

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