How I FINALLY broke the 700lb Deadlift Barrier

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By Jonathan Byrd

My deadlift has been my curse. Until recently I had pulled 650-675 every meet for 4 years! I tried everything I could think of, no lie. I pulled off the floor, from a deficit, rack pulls and got nowhere. My frustration was beyond describable. How could I squat 1000lbs multiple times in a meet and not pull 700lbs? I just could not find the answer for it.

The meet cycle heading into the 2013 XPC Semi finals was my first one since coming off an injury in which I had a complete tear of my pec major tendon. I had the surgery in October 2012 and the meet was almost a year apart from the surgery. I was having to rebuild from scratch and I knew that, but that still did not stop me from having high expectations. I had a solid meet prep heading into the competition. My training structure was set up so that I benched on Mondays, deadlifted on Wednesday and squatted Saturday morning. I had made good progress during this training cycle and had pulled a solid 705 in training with some left in the tank. The meet went as well as I should have expected. I went 2-3 on the squat missing a 1015 PR squat attempt. I followed that up going 2-3 on the bench finishing with a 685 and missed an all-time PR of 705. I truly felt this would be the meet where I would break the curse of that damn 675 deadlift!

In fact I was so confident in it that, I decided to open at 675. My first attempt moved very quickly, but of course I lose my balance at the top and have to sit it down. In my mind there was no question, I would retake 675 again and get that lift on the board. My second attempt went much smoother and resulted in 3 whites. This now left me with a decision to make. I could take a safe attempt at a 700lb deadlift or I could go for a PR total. I had already secured my place at the Arnold so I rolled the dice and called for 730. Set up felt great! I was able to get in good position and blasted the bar off the floor. Unfortunately it stopped, just like it had hit a brick wall a few inches before lock out. I fought it as long as I could. I even tried to fake like I was locked out but no luck. Stuck with that damn 675 again!

Looking back it was that miss that sparked a major change in my deadlift training. In short Brian told me something is wrong and it’s not your form. There was not a lot of time between the XPC Semi Finals and the Finals at the Arnold and I needed to develop a plan and get to work. Fast. In the two weeks following that missed attempt, Brian had me work on doing various forms rows. It was here that my weakness became painfully obvious. I could not row for shit!

My upper back was weak and that was quite an understatement. I was missing at the VERY top, and it was apparent to Brian right away, that the upper back was THE reason. From here, Brian set me up with what he felt would fix my upper back issues. My training split was changed to work this way:

Bench on Monday
Back and squat accessory on Wednesday
Squat and deadlifts on Saturday morning

A typical Wednesday would have me do McGill Pull ups (I really sucked at these), rows, shrugs, kettle bell swings, goblet squats and some single leg good mornings. Saturday’s squat/deadlift session would rotate intensities between squat and dead. The major change with the deadlift was I was forced to pull using a conventional stance rather than my preferred sumo. We rotated from 4 inch blocks to 6 inch blocks and then form pulls in which I could then pull using a sumo stance.

The training cycle went great! I did not miss a single lift in training and by far was the best training cycle of my life. To say my hopes were extremely high would be an understatement. It was evident the upper back focus was paying off rather quickly. I did my block pulls raw and went from 650lbs off the blocks to mid 700s. My equipped lifting took off as well. During this training cycle I had hit a 1025 squat, a 765 pull off 4-inch blocks and a smooth 725 pull from the floor.

The Arnold itself started off well for me. I went 2-3 in the squat, finishing with a PR of 1015 and just lost my balance on a 1035 near the top. Unfortunately I put myself in a bad situation. I missed all 3-bench attempts and bombed out of the meet. This was my first ever bomb out in a full power meet. Not only did I not break my deadlift curse, I didn’t even finish the meet!

Bombing out at the Arnold was pretty bad for many reasons. It was a meet that I finally was 100% healthy, one of which I got to lift against some of the best lifters in the world and one that I knew I had the ability to hit a solid PR total. Generally I would never look for a meet following so close, but it just felt so wrong bombing out. I knew I needed to get back in a meet as soon as I could. After talking with Brain, he set me up with a short 6-week offseason program in which I benched, squatted, and deadlifted all on the same day, followed by two days dedicated to auxiliary work. Fortunately for myself he was crazy enough to do it with me, along with another training partner Jason Kowalewski. I still kept an upper back focus on my auxiliary days, sticking with McGill Pull ups (I had gotten better at these), more rows, shrugs, kettle bell swings, goblet squats, and some single leg good mornings. Due to the short time between meets we agreed that I did not need a lot of time for meet prep.

The meet was RPS Redemption ran by Burt and Mindy Underwood in Fort Myers, Florida. The name of the meet was very fitting in my mind and it was the day I had wanted at the Arnold. I went 3-3 on the squat hitting a big 25lb squat PR of 1040. I went 2-3 on the bench, losing an attempt due to butt movement finishing with 680. By the time we made it to the deadlift I was not tired at all. The training that had lead up to the meet definitely left me prepared for a long day. I dropped my deadlift opener to 650 just to secure a total and finish the meet. It was easy, much like a last warm up, which is exactly what we were looking for. Next we decided on 680. This served two purposes: one it gave me a PR total of 2400 and two, allowed me to still have a small deadlift PR. The 680 pull was smooth and earned 3 whites. Having not hit the bench I wanted, a 2500 total was just out of reach. We had agreed that anything 760 or less I would try. With that in my mind a 730 attempt would give me 2450. For once I was able to finish a meet strong and pulled the 730 with no problem! That was a 55lb deadlift PR and a 70lb total PR. I don’t think it is any coincidence that my training partner Jason Kowalewski finished the day going 9 for 9 and hitting huge PRs across the board.

Finally getting over that hump was a great feeling. I had searched for years to figure out why my deadlift lagged behind so bad. Thankfully Brian helped put me on the right path. Find experts and have them watch you lift, especially if you are struggling to find a resolution. Attack your weakpoints and watch your lifts increase.

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About Jonathan Byrd

Jonathan Byrd is a competitive powerlifter, with over 15 years of training experience. Byrd has been ranked nationally for the past 6 years under multiple categories. His total has ranked as high as third nationally in the 308 class. He currently has a best total of 2450lbs. Best individual lifts include a 1040lb squat, a 705lb bench press, and 730lb deadlift. His 1040lb squat ranks him 26th all-time squats at the 308 class. Jonathan currently trains out of Team Samson Gym in Jacksonville, FL. Before powerlifting Jonathan was a college athlete at Methodist University as both an all-conference football player and track athlete. Following graduation he played four years of arena football in various leagues.