Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Programming Halting Deadlifts

Breaking up heavy pulls

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC | December 10, 2015

Novice lifters, having the ability to go through a stress-recovery-adaptation cycle in 48 to 72 hours, will deadlift every session initially. As novices get stronger, they’ll alternate the deadlift with the power clean and eventually only deadlift once a week. Even as intermediate lifters, most people can continue to pull a single heavy set of deadlifts once a week for a while and still make progress.

There will come a point, though, during the intermediate phase, when regular heavy deadlifting becomes too big a stress to recover from. The short range of motion of the deadlift allows for heavy relative loads to be handled that can become a problem for the intermediate to advanced lifter in terms of recovering from an already demanding program.

At this stage it becomes useful to split up the full deadlift. The first way this should be done is to change weekly deadlift workouts to alternating workouts of halting deadlifts and rack pulls. These lifts can be added to a rotation or replace the deadlift entirely for relatively long periods of time. It’s important that halting deadlifts are programmed along with rack pulls and vice versa, as the range of motion of the full deadlift needs to be covered. The rack pull will start below the knee and the halting deadlift will stop above the knee.

walter palmer heavy pull

So, initially programming for the pulls will look like this:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 (optional)
Halting DL x 8 Rack Pull x 5 Deadlift x 5

Due to the shorter range of motion, a set of 8 can be done on the halting deadlift with a weight that can only be handled for a set of 5 on the deadlift. For the rack pull, a set of 5 can be pulled with weight that would be nearly a 1 RM on the deadlift.

When it becomes appropriate, adding halting deadlifts along with rack pulls will allow a lifter to improve or maintain the deadlift while still pulling very heavy weights and not compromising recovery.

Case Study – Dave

Dave is a competitive powerlifter and strong guy whose squat was 600x1 and deadlift 515x1 at the start of the period we’ll illustrate below. Starting work weight for the deadlift was 435x5 and 485x5 for the squat.

Dave worked his deadlift up to 535x1 in 12 weeks pulling a set of 5 about every 7 days on average. At this point, halting deadlifts and rack pulls replaced deadlift in his program. Starting loads were as follows:

  • Halting DL – 465x8
  • Rack Pull – 505x5x2

Ending loads after 12 weeks:

  • Halting DL – 500x5
  • Rack Pull – 565x5

Dave pulled full deadlifts only at meets during this period, managing 583 lb 2nd attempts twice and narrowly missing 605 lb 3rd attempts in competition. He also squatted 605 lbs and a PR 610 lb 3rd attempt.

For a late intermediate to advanced lifter like Dave, using the halting deadlift and rack pull allows for volume and loads that would be otherwise too taxing, especially considering the demanding competition schedule he undertook: two meets in a twelve-week span and within 3 weeks of each other, and another meet 4 months later.

For the intermediate lifter still adding weight to the bar weekly, the halting deadlift not only facilitates recovery from pulling when used in conjunction with the rack pull, but also allows for practicing the start of the deadlift with a heavier load and at a slightly higher volume.

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