The Josh Bryant Deadlift Program!


josh bryant deadlift program

The deadlift is easily one of the most exciting lifts to train. Nothing gets the heart racing quite like ripping huge weights off the ground and pulling them all the way to lockout.

Of course there is a dark side to deadlifts: they can be incredibly difficult to recover from. No other exercise in the gym taxes your body as hard as a heavy set of deadlifts.

If you want to build a huge deadlift then you need a training program that has been proven to produce results. One of your best options is the Josh Bryant deadlift program!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Deadlift Training Cycle Overview
  • Part 2: The Top Set
  • Part 3: CAT sets
  • Part 4: Deadlift Isometrics
  • Part 5: Supplemental Exercises
  • Part 6: Accessory Exercises
  • Part 7: Optimal Training Frequency
  • Part 8: Training Periodization
  • Part 9: Sample Training Program

Josh Bryant is one of the world’s most successful powerlifting coaches. Josh has personally trained many of the strongest lifters in the world including Julius Maddox, James Strickland, and Pete Rubbish. Before Josh was a powerlifting coach he was a competitive powerlifter himself.

As a teenager Josh trained with some of the strongest lifters in the United States in his quest to become a world-class powerlifter.

Josh was blessed with very short arms which is a huge disadvantage in the deadlift. His short arms meant that he had to squat down very far just to get into the correct starting position for his deadlifts. Josh’s arms are so short that he was practically performing deficit deadlifts on his regular sets!

Of course Josh wasn’t about to accept defeat at the hands of the deadlift. Instead he invented his own training style that he used to build a world-class deadlift.

The Josh Bryant deadlift program features near-maximal top sets, speed sets, and a large volume of supplementary and assistance exercises. These training techniques are all designed to attack your weaknesses and strengthen the entire lift.

He even throws in all-out overcoming isometrics to help his athletes utterly destroy their sticking points.

So does the Josh Bryant deadlift program work? I’ll let you be the judge: here is Josh Bryant himself deadlifting a massive 810 pounds and making it look easy!

As you can see Josh practices what he preaches! Josh may have retired from competitive powerlifting but that does not mean he walked away from the sport entirely. He now trains some of the strongest powerlifters in the world to set world records in the deadlift and the other two powerlifts.

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about how to design your own Josh Bryant style deadlift peaking program. This includes an in-depth discussion how to design your individual workouts and how to structure your 8-16 week powerlifting training cycle.

I have even included a sample 12-week training program from the world-class powerlifter Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems. Chad was personally trained by Josh Bryant on his quest to set numerous powerlifting world records.

Please note: all of the routines covered in this article are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these workouts then please consult this article.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Deadlift Training Cycle Overview

One of Josh’s favourite ways to organize a deadlifting training program is to use a 12-week peaking phase with a deload week every 4th week. For example:

  • Weeks 1-3: Triples
  • Week 4: Deload 
  • Weeks 5-7: Doubles
  • Week 8: Deload
  • Week 9-11: Singles
  • Week 12: Deload
  • Week 13: Competition day!

Josh’s deadlifting programs follow the principles of linear periodization. In other words the start of the training cycle focuses on building a strong foundation with relatively lighter weights and higher training volumes.

As you progress through the training cycle the weights start to get heavier and the training volume starts to come down. By the very end of the cycle you are lifting your heaviest weights in preparation for your powerlifting competition or testing week!

In case you are more of a visual learner you can click right here to see Josh Bryant himself talking about his unique take on linear periodization:

Josh is a huge believer in the principle of specificity. The principle of specificity states that if you want to get better at something then you have to directly train for it. In other words if you want to build a huge deadlift then you have to train the deadlift directly!

Josh has all of his powerlifting clients start their deadlift workouts by working up to a heavy single, double, or triple in the deadlift. This top set is by far the most important part of the workout. This is your chance to reinforce perfect technique with the competition lift itself.

After the heavy set you will perform several deadlift speed sets, 1-2 supplementary lifts and 2-4 accessory lifts. For example:

  • Part 1: Competition exercise for a top set of 1-3 reps
  • Part 2: Competition exercise for multiple sets of 2-4 speed reps
  • Part 3: Supplementary exercises
  • Part 4: Accessory exercises

All 4 parts of the workout have a synergistic effect on your deadlift strength. In other words they all build on each other to make sure that your deadlifting strength builds from one week to the next.

Here is what a typical deadlift workout looks like for Chad Wesley Smith:

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 7 x 4, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

You can click right here to see Chad’s training video for this workout:

As you can see Chad starts his workout with a heavy set of three reps. After the heavy set Chad progresses to multiple sets of speed reps, deficit deadlifts, and finally his accessory exercises.

Don’t worry, I am going to go cover this exact workout in much more depth as we move forward. Now let’s take a closer look at the 4 main parts of the Josh Bryant deadlift workout: 

  1. The top set
  2. The speed sets
  3. The supplementary exercises
  4. The accessory exercises.

Each of these parts truly deserve their own discussion.

Part 2: The Top Set

Josh Bryant has all of his powerlifting clients start off their deadlift workouts with a heavy set of 1-3 reps. This set is BY FAR the most important part of the entire workout so it’s important to put everything you have into it.

You have to attack the weight and rip it off the ground with every ounce of your being! For example let’s take another look at Chad Wesley Smith’s deadlift workout:

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 7 x 4, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

The highlighted “A1” exercise represents Chad’s top set for the day. One again this is the most important part of the entire workout. 

Of course you will not work up to a heavy triple every single week. Some weeks call for heavy doubles or even heavy singles instead. To review here is how Josh often structures his training cycles:

  • Weeks 1-3: Triples
  • Week 4: Deload 
  • Weeks 5-7: Doubles
  • Week 8: Deload
  • Week 9-11: Singles
  • Week 12: Deload
  • Week 13: Competition day!

Josh is a big fan of using training percentages to plan out his deadlift training cycles. In other words the weights you lift on all of your top sets are based off of very specific training percentages. For example:

Singles

  • Week 1: 83% x 3
  • Week 2: 85% x 3
  • Week 3: 87% x 3

Doubles

  • Week 5: 89% x 2
  • Week 6: 91% x 2
  • Week 7: 93% x 2

Singles

  • Week 9: 97% x 1
  • Week 10: 99% x 1
  • Week 11: 101% x 1

Competition week

  • Week 13: 105% – 110% x 1

Of course weeks 4, 8, and 12 would count as “deload” weeks. You can check out part 8 of this article for more information on how to deload properly. These percentages are based off someone’s current 1-rep max.

In other words if their best 1-rep max in the deadlift is 500 pounds then they would perform their top set on week 1 with 415 pounds. Of course these percentages are not set in stone. Josh often manipulates them on a week-by-week basis to maximize the results of his clients.

Part 3: CAT sets

Josh Bryant is one of the world’s biggest proponents of compensatory acceleration training, or CAT sets for short. Compensatory acceleration training is essentially the same thing as the dynamic effort method as promoted by Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell training club.

You are going to lift submaximal weights as explosively as possible. Here is IFBB pro Johnie Jackson giving a perfect demonstration of CAT sets on the deadlift:

The scientific research has clearly shown that lifting submaximal weights as explosively as possible is a great way to build strength.

Compensatory acceleration training has the following advantages:

  • Increases your rate of force development
  • Builds maximal strength
  • Increases your special work capacity
  • Improves your lifting technique

It’s no wonder Josh uses compensatory acceleration training with nearly all of his powerlifting clients! Unlike the Westside Barbell training system Josh has his clients perform their speed deadlift sets immediately after the main heavy set for the day.

For example:

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 7 x 4, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

The highlighted exercise represents the speed sets. Performing the CAT sets immediately after the heavy set for the day is an interesting twist. Josh usually has his athletes perform between 2-4 reps per set when using CAT sets.

Here are some general guidelines you may want to follow:

  • Triples weeks: 8-10 x 4 @ 70% of your 1-rep max
  • Doubles weeks: 6-8 x 3 @ 80% of your 1-rep max
  • Singles weeks: 4-6 x 2 @ 90% of your 1-rep max

As you can see the number of sets AND the number of reps per set drops as you progress through the training cycle. This is one of the may tricks that Josh Bryant uses to help his athletes peak their strength on the day of their competition.

In layman’s terms the larger volume of speed reps performed at the beginning of the deadlift training cycle causes you to accumulate fatigue.

As you progress through the training cycle and you reduce the number of speed sets your body will start to adapt and supercompensate. By the day of your competition you will feel invincible and ready to set a new deadlift record!

Part 4: Deadlift Isometrics

Josh Bryant considers isometrics to be his “secret weapon” for blasting through deadlift plateaus. Of course an isometric contraction occurs when your muscles are straining without actually moving.

Josh Bryant likes to use a special type of isometric contraction called “overcoming isometrics” for building the deadlift. You will be pulling a barbell as hard as you can into a set of safety pins. Josh says you have to pull so hard that you are literally trying to break the safety pins in half! 

Here is a video of isometric deadlifts performed just above the knees:

As you can see the lifter is pulling so hard into the pins that his entire body is convulsing! Overcoming isometrics have many advantages.

The scientific literature has shown that they allow you to recruit far more motor units than normal. In fact studies have shown that overcoming isometrics allow you to recruit up to 15% more muscle fibers than all-out concentric or eccentric contractions!

As you may know one of the keys to getting stronger is recruiting more motor units. For this reason isometric deadlifts are worth their weight in gold!

One of the downsides to isometrics is that they primarily build strength at the exact joint angles you are training. For example if you perform isometrics with the barbell just above your knees then that is where you will see the greatest carryover.

For this reason the isometrics should primarily be performed right at your deadlift “sticking points.”

Through trial and error Josh found that the isometric deadlifts work best when they are alternated with full range of motion speed deadlifts. For example:

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 2, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift isometrics (mid-shin height), 4 x 1, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 4 x 2, X/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

The isometric sets increase your overall force production and allow you to recruit additional motor units. Then when you perform your regular speed sets you increase the number of motor units that you can recruit. Talk about a potent combination! 

As a general rule of thumb Josh prefers his athletes to perform the isometrics with a 45 pound plate on each side of the barbell for a total of 135 pounds. Josh found through trial and error that it is a little easier to control the barbell when there is some weight on it vs when it is empty.

Of course that is not a set-in-stone rule. You can click right here to see IFBB professional bodybuilder Johnie Jackson performing some deadlift isometrics with an empty barbell.

Josh warns that you should not perform deadlift isometrics for more than 3-6 weeks in a row. After 3-6 weeks they stop producing results and you will only be digging into your recovery ability.

Here is how you might structure a 12 week peaking routine using the deadlift isometrics:

  • Weeks 1-3: Triples, no isometrics
  • Week 4: Deload
  • Weeks 5-7: Doubles, isometrics!
  • Week 8: Deload
  • Weeks 9-11: Singles, isometrics!
  • Week 12: Deload
  • Week 13: Competition day!

Of course it is not absolutely necessary that you perform isometrics in your workouts. Chad Wesley Smith did not perform them at all in his 12-week training cycle that is covered at the end of this article and he is an 800+ pound deadlifter!

Part 5: Supplemental Exercises

Josh usually has his athletes perform one key deadlift supplementary exercise after the compensatory acceleration sets. This supplementary exercise should be some type of deadlift variation. It is designed to attack your weak points in the lift and directly drive up your strength.

For example:

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 7 x 4, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

In this routine Chad Wesley Smith is using the deficit deadlift as his key supplementary movement. It is very important that you pick the correct supplementary exercise to strengthen your individual weak points.

As a general rule of thumb Josh likes to select a supplementary movement to strengthen the starting position of the deadlift or the lockout position.

Here are some of the best starting position deadlift supplemental exercises:

  • Deficit deadlifts
  • Lightning deadlifts

And here are some of the best lockout position deadlift supplemental exercises:

  • Band deadlifts
  • Reverse band deadlifts

Deficit deadlifts are one of the most obvious exercises to improve your strength off the floor. You can click right here to see deadlifting legend Konstantin Konstantinovs demonstrating this exercise.

The idea is rather straightforward: you just stand on a 1-4 inch platform and deadlift as you normally would. The extra range of motion and lower starting position strengthens your ability to pull big weights right off the floor.

You do have to be careful to not go too crazy with the height of the deficit. A larger deficit may sound like a good idea on paper but it does not always carry over to your actual competition deadlift.

Another AWESOME exercise to increase your strength off the floor is actually lightning deadlifts. The idea is to perform 2 reps on the deadlift. The first rep is performed with chains and the second rep is performed with straight weight.

As soon as the barbell hits the ground after your first rep your training partners rip off the set of chains and you then deadlift the weight again. You can click right here to see Johnnie Jackson giving a perfect demonstration of lightning deadlifts.

The first rep with chains teaches you to be as explosive as possible. After all, the chains make the weight heavier as you approach lockout. On the second rep your brain still thinks that the chains are on the bar. Little does it know that your training partners took the chains off!

The end result is that you are deadlifting straight weight while your brain thinks the chains are still on the bar. If you perform this sequence correctly the second rep will be one of the fastest of your entire life!

Increasing your speed off the ground is a great way to overcome a sticking point off the floor. For this reason the lightning deadlift is one of the best supplemental exercises you can perform if you are weak at the start of the deadlift.

Two great exercises to perform if you are weak at the top of the deadlift are the band deadlift and the reverse band deadlift. You can click right here to see Johnnie Jackson demonstrating the band deadlift.

Bands are an AWESOME tool to strengthen the lockout portion of your deadlift. They operate on the principle of accommodating resistance. In other words the bands are weaker at the bottom of the lift and stronger at the top.

This is perfect if you have a weakness at the lockout portion of the lift because they are overloading the exact part of the lift that you struggle on.

The bands also teach you to maximally accelerate the bar. One of the reasons that some powerlifters struggle to lock out their deadlifts is they fail to maximally accelerate the bar off the ground.

The bands correct this issue because if you don’t rip the bar off the ground as quickly as possible you will get “stuck” in the middle of the lift. The only way to complete a set of band deadlifts is to lift the weight as explosively as possible throughout the entire movement!

Of course there are some downsides to banded deadlifts. They can be extremely difficult to recover from. Josh typically has his athletes perform no more than 1-2 sets of banded deadlifts per workout and for no more than 1-3 reps. 

If banded deadlifts are too difficult for you to recover from then reverse band deadlifts can be an excellent alternative. You can click right here to see a video of Chad Wesley Smith demonstrating the reverse band deadlift: 

As you can see the reverse bands help to lift the weight off the ground. However, as you approach lockout they become “slack” and stop assisting you. In other words the reverse bands help you to handle supra-maximal weights at lockout!

This can be a great choice to improve your lockout strength and to acclimate your body to very heavy loads in preparation for your testing day. 

There are of course many other deadlift supplementary exercises that you could perform. However, as a general rule of thumb Josh has a preference for deficit deadlifts, lightning deadlifts, band deadlifts and reverse band deadlifts.

Part 6: Accessory Exercises

There is no getting around it: if you want to deadlift huge weights then you are going to have to perform some accessory work. Josh Bryant prefers for his clients to perform 3-6 total accessory exercises at the end of their deadlift workouts.

These exercises should target the muscles of the upper back and posterior chain. Let’s take another look at one of Chad Wesley Smith’s deadlift workouts:

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 7 x 4***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3****, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

Chad’s accessory exercises for this workout are all highlighted in yellow. Josh tends to use a larger volume of accessory exercises for his deadlift workouts relative to his squat and bench press workouts.

In particular Josh likes his clients to perform their really heavy upper back exercises such as barbell bent over rows on this day. The thought process is that you are already torching the lower back with all of the heavy sets of deadlifts.

It only makes sense to throw in your heavy rowing exercises which also thrash the lower back on this day. 

Here are some of Josh’s favourite deadlift day upper back accessory exercises:

  • All forms of barbell rows
  • All forms of t-bar rows
  • All forms of chest supported rows
  • All forms of seated cable rows
  • All forms of pull ups and chin ups
  • All forms of lat pull downs
  • All forms of shrugs

And here are some of Josh’s favourite deadlift day posterior chain accessory exercises:

  • Glute ham raises
  • 45 degree back extensions
  • 90 degree back extensions
  • Reverse hyperextensions

The accessory exercises are normally performed for 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps.

Josh sometimes likes to use his hypertrophy-specific cluster set protocol for his clients upper back accessory work protocols. You can read more about Josh Bryant’s hypertrophy specific cluster set protocol right here.

The accessory work is important but nowhere near as important as the heavy deadlift work performed at the beginning of the workout. Your goal should be to get in some quality work for all of the key deadlifting muscles without going to failure or pushing yourself too hard. 

Part 7: Optimal Training Frequency

Optimal training frequency for the deadlift is a very tricky subject. The deadlift is the one lift that tends to respond best to a somewhat lower training frequency. This is true regardless of which type of training program you follow.

On the one hand some powerlifters get their best results deadlift twice per week. One day is typically more of a “heavy” day while the other is more of a “light” day. The Westside Barbell training program is a perfect example of this.

On the other hand there are training programs that feature the ultra-low deadlift frequency of once every 2 weeks. The Lilliebridge Method is perhaps the most famous example of this low frequency deadlifting approach. 

As a very general rule of thumb Josh prefers a more moderate deadlift frequency of once every seven days. He generally has his athletes perform two lower body workouts per week: one for the squat and one for the deadlift.

For example:

  • Monday: Heavy bench press workout
  • Wednesday: Heavy squat workout
  • Friday: Bench press accessory workout
  • Saturday: Heavy deadlift workout

Another approach that Josh Bryant uses with some of his stronger, more advanced trainees is deadlift once every 9-10 days. For example:

  • Day 1: Heavy bench press workout
  • Day 3: Heavy squat workout
  • Day 6: Bench press accessory workout
  • Day 8: Heavy deadlift workout
  • Day 11: Repeat!

This is very similar to the approach that Chad Wesley Smith used when he put up his first 800+ pound competition deadlift. It is also very similar to the training frequency used by some of the world’s strongest bench pressers such as Julius Maddox.

At the end of the day there is no single best deadlift frequency. You have to experiment and figure out for yourself what works best for you. Of course a great place to start would be Josh Bryant’s preferred deadlifting frequency of once every 7-10 days.

Part 8: Training Periodization

Josh Bryant uses a very clever form of linear periodization to peak his athletes for their powerlifting competitions. To review here is how Josh frequently organizes his clients’ powerlifting peaking cycles:

  • Weeks 1-3: Triples
  • Week 4: Deload
  • Weeks 5-7: Doubles
  • Week 8: Deload
  • Weeks 9-11: Singles
  • Weeks 12: Deload
  • Week 13: Competition day!

The weights get heavier and heavier as you progress through the training cycle. The main exception to this rule is the deload weeks. On the deload weeks you are actually going to reduce the volume AND intensity of work.

In other words you are going to use:

  • Less weight
  • Fewer exercises
  • Fewer sets per exercise

Josh Bryant likes to think of the deload weeks as “reload” weeks as you are really preparing your body for another 2-6 weeks of heavy loading. You can click right here to listen to Josh Bryant talk about the importance of deload weeks:

Don’t worry, setting up a deadlift deload workout is easier than it sounds. Here is what a typical Josh Bryant style deadlift deload workout might look like:

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 3 x 3**, X/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Barbell bent over row, 2 x 8**, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Glute ham raise, 2 x 6**, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Wide overhand grip lat pulldown, 2 x 10**, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 2 x 10**, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed with 65% of your normal weights during a heavy loading week.

As a general rule of thumb Josh recommends that you perform a deload workout once every 3-6 weeks. Josh’s average client typically does best deloading once every 4th training week. However, this is a highly individual thing that varies enormously from one trainee to the next.

Some trainees become fatigued very quickly while others can train for many many weeks before requiring a formal deload. The important thing is to listen to your body. If you are feeling worn-down and dread going to the gym then perhaps it is the right time for your next deload.

The deload workouts play a critical role in your overall progress as you progress through the training cycle. Josh believes that training with maximal weights week-in, week-out is a great way to overtrain your central nervous system.

If you never give your body a break then sooner or later you are going to run into trouble.

Part 9: Sample Training Program (Chad Wesley Smith!)

Let’s put things all together with a sample 12-week deadlift program. This was the exact training cycle that Chad Wesley Smith used in 2011 to hit his first 800+ pound competition deadlift. The workouts were pulled from Chad’s archived training log at elitefts.com.

Please note that this training cycle was customized for Chad Wesley Smith. If you want a customized deadlift program then you will need to hire a coach such as Josh Bryant or myself.

Chad trained for 12 weeks for this training cycle leading up to his competition. Here is a big-picture overview of the training cycle:

  • Weeks 1-3: Triples
  • Week 4: Deload
  • Weeks 5-7: Doubles
  • Weeks 8-10: Singles
  • Weeks 11: Deload
  • Week 12: Competition day!

Chad omitted the normal deload week on week 8. Part of the reason that Chad was able to get away with this is his slightly reduced training frequency.

Chad was deadlifting only once every 9 days using his “9 day work week.” For example:

  • Day 1: Deadlift 
  • Day 2: Off
  • Day 3: Bench press
  • Day 4: Off
  • Day 5: Squat
  • Day 6: Upper back accessory work
  • Day 7: Off
  • Day 8: Bench press accessory work
  • Day 9: Off
  • Day 10: Repeat!

If you use a more typical once-every-seven-days deadlift frequency then I strongly recommend you use a formal deloading week after your “doubles” weeks and before your “singles” weeks.

Without further ado here is the actual training cycle:

Week 1 (Singles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 6 x 4***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3****, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 5, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 76% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 62% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 64% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

Week 2 (Singles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 7 x 4***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3****, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 79% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 62% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 64% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

You can click right here to see a training video for this entire workout.

Week 3 (Singles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 8 x 4***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3****, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 6, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 82% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 62% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 65% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

Week 4 (Deload)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 3**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Performed at 67% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

Week 5 (Doubles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 2**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 5 x 3***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3****, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 6, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 4 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 85% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 71% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 67% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

You can click right here to see a video of Chad’s top set of the day. He hit a double with 690 pounds!

Week 6 (Doubles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 2**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 5 x 3***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3****, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 6, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 12, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 88% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 72% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 70% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

Week 7 (Doubles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 2**, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 5 x 3***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3****, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 6, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 90% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 75% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 71% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

Week 8 (Singles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 1**, X/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 3 x 2***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Lightening deadlifts (competition stance), 4 x 2****, X/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Deadlift overcoming isometric (competition stance), 3 x 1*****, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Deadlift overcoming isometric (competition stance), 3 x 1******, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 96% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 81% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max with 2 pairs of chains per side

*****Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max. Safety pins set 2 inches above the floor.

******Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max. Safety pins set 2 inches below lockout.

 Week 9 (Singles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 1**, X/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 2 x 2***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Lightening deadlifts (conventional stance), 3 x 2****, X/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Deadlift overcoming isometric (competition stance), 2 x 1*****, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Deadlift overcoming isometric (competition stance), 2 x 1******, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 96% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 85% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

****Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max with 2 pairs of chains per side

*****Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max. Safety pins set 2 inches above the floor.

******Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max. Safety pins set 2 inches below lockout.

Week 10 (Singles)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 1**, X/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Lightening deadlifts (conventional stance), 3 x 2***, X/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 6, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 99% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

***Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max with 2 pairs of chains per side

Week 11 (Deload)

  • A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 1**, X/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Performed at 61% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max

Week 12 (Competition week!)

Chad barely missed an 810 pound deadlift on the day of his competition.

Conclusion

josh bryant deadlift program

The deadlift is one of the most difficult lifts to train. If you don’t like wasting your time in the gym then you must use a well thought out deadlifting training program.

There are many different ways to train the deadlift but in my experience it’s hard to beat the Josh Bryant deadlift program. Too many of the world’s strongest deadlifters have worked with Josh to ignore his training methods. 

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training program!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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