The Story of A 350lb Deadlift
I haven’t done this before but a client of mine gave me the perfect storyline to write about his experience in training with me – what can actually happen when you focus your mind on accomplishing a task. When you open your mind to doing whatever it takes to achieve your goal.
This isn’t to boast about how great of a trainer I am. No, in fact it’s far from it.
It’s to showcase a man who has made a complete 360 in his approach to training and in the process become a pretty strong dude in the process.
How he’s strengthened not only his body, but perhaps more importantly his mind, is something I felt was worth sharing. After all, more often than not it’s the muscle between our ears that needs the most work; our body will do what we want it to do.
This is the story about a guy who came to me simply wanting to get out of pain, and in the process ended up deadlifting 350 pounds, pain-free.
This is a story about “getting it”, staying committed for the long haul, and never wavering.
This dude puts in the work and has reaped the rewards!
I hope you enjoy reading this story about his journey as much as I enjoyed coaching him through it – and let’s be honest, it’s far from over!
A Broken Body
Brian’s liable to laugh when he reads that title, but it’s the truth and he’d be the first to tell you that.
Here’s a list of what Brian had going on prior to coming to see me:
- Torn labrum
- Torn rotator cuff
- Reattached bicep tendon
- Shaved bone spurs off acromion process
Left shoulder “good shoulder”
- Rotator cuff impingement
- Couldn’t raise his arm over his head fully
- No medial meniscus
Needless to say he had a lot going on. You might think he looked like a real-life version of the game Operation.
No, he’s not an MMA fighter and he’s never been in the armed forces – at least to my knowledge.
Brian was a product of years of thinking, “more is more.” Like so many of us he’d been duped into thinking that more weight is better, more reps means stronger, and the more sweaty/the closer you are to dying after a workout the better.
If I were to describe Brian when he first started training with me I’d probably go with something along the lines of:
- He’s the guy who feels like he’s never doing enough
- There is no “slow” pace simply, 110%, all out effort all the time
- He’s the type that likes pain and views pushing through pain as productive
- Blood, bruises, and ice packs are par for the course
We all know people like Brian, right? The guys, and gals too, who feel they need to workout 6 days a week. That weight is all the matters (maybe more so for the guys), but the message is clear again, more is more is more.
When Brian came to me he had one goal, “get out of pain.”
“I had shoulder pain everyday.” When I first met him day 1 he said, “I can’t deadlift.” He wasn’t doing any overhead pressing – cause he couldn’t – and wasn’t making any strength gains – I wonder why?
Some trainers, myself included early on in my career, would have looked at Brian as a major red flag – tons of limitations and someone who was currently in pain. Refer out OR bring in a notebook full of “correctives.”
I looked at Brian and saw one thing; this dude needs to take a breath!
You can imagine the type of face he made when I started talking to him about PRI, how the diaphragm works and how his problems reside within his inability to take a breath properly.
Breathing is at the foundation of everything we do as humans, whether you’re dysfunctional or elite athlete status – if you can’t breathe properly, if you can’t get in and out of a specific position – you’re asking yourself for problems down the road.
Teaching him the 90/90 Hip lift w/some reaching variations and the All 4 Belly breathing drill were just about all he needed to start feeling relief in his shoulders.
It didn’t take long before Brian was sold on the whole “breathing thing” – after all he was feeling almost immediate relief in his shoulders from simply performing a couple breathing drills everyday. In a matter of weeks his shoulder pain had been reduced significantly! This was someone who was considered to have “chronic pain.”
In my experience, when you take someone who is in so much pain and give them relief, they’ll do just about anything else you ask of them moving forward. I probably could have told Brian to jump on his bed and give himself the people’s elbow and he would have done it at this point!
Point being, phase one complete; get out of pain. Now it was time to make sure he didn’t fall back into the same pattern again.
At this stage we were working on one thing and one thing only:
Gain control of his attachment sites.
In other words he needed shoulder and hip stability/mobility like we all need oxygen to survive.
We did some “mobility drills”
- Kneeling T-spine rotations
- Butt Rocks
- Leg Lowers
CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations) were something that his body really took too and he enjoyed them as well, so Brian would do a lot of them on his own.
He has a hellish work/travel schedule so from day 1 we’ve only ever been able to train with one another 1 day a week – and yet still he’s achieved amazing results. That’s on you, buddy!
I chose a solid grouping of:
- All 4 Belly Breathing
- Shoulder/Scapular CARs
- Arm Bar
This was essentially it for his shoulder “rehab.” We didn’t do any fancy correctives or banded external rotation (I personally can’t stand when I see people aimlessly flailing their forearm back and forth thinking they’re developing strength!).
My goal with Brian was simple – get him stronger.
- The All 4 Belly put him in a better position
- The CARs gave him some more control
- And the Arm Bar hit the “save button” as Gray Cook calls it
Lucky for Brian it didn’t take too long to learn how to deadlift. He also didn’t have any pain in the deadlift– he just couldn’t reach the bar without rounding his lower back – simple solution, elevate the bar.
In the past I’d have been so focused on correcting what was wrong instead of training really hard what he could do well – again, just give a person strength and you’ll be surprised what happens!
Here’s a video of him deadlifting in the basement with what I think was 85lbs. This was literally his “working weight” at the time. Technique was still a work in progress but he wasn’t going to hurt himself and purely deadlifting fed his “macho” side yet pleased me at the same time; win, win!
In between sets we’d work on positional breathing drills. I’d pair his deadlifts with more shoulder work.
- Half-kneeling Waiters variations
- Half-kneeling Bottoms up variations
… and Hardstyle planks/standing lockouts to work on core strength and tension strategies.
As his shoulder hurt less and less, his mindset shifted more and more.
We started training with one another in July of 2015. By November he was pain free – with the exception of long travel weeks. But even then, he was armed with:
- Breathing Drills
- And Tension Strategies to overcome his discomfort
It was around this time Brain set a new goal for himself and I thought he was ready:
Deadlift 225, 10 times.
It was right around Thanksgiving, I remember because I was running a challenge at the time for the rest of my members. Brian wasn’t on a complicated program.
- We deadlifted every session (mostly 1, sometimes twice a week)
- We did some waiters and bottoms up pressing
- Peppered in enough breath work and CARs in between sets
- And always capped it off by carrying something heavy at the end of his workout
And guess what happened? The dude got freakin’ strong!
225×10 was easy! Here’s a video of him doing just that.
He had reached his goal so easily! So naturally I asked him, “Ok, now what?”
“Fix This Damn Shoulder”
I knew we still had work to do. His hip extension wasn’t that great but he was making good progress. Again, he only trained with me once a week and often times only trained a total of twice a week.
Coming into the New Year Brian was stoked about his deadlifting abilities but he was aware as much as I was that we still needed to work on his shoulder mobility.
You can’t correct in 6 weeks, even 6-months, what took a lifetime to create.
It helped that he was aware of this. My next program for him was literally titled Fix This Damn Shoulder, and to his credit (and I supposed some of my own) we did.
I knew getups would be great for Brian but they weren’t going to fix his shoulder(s) – not yet at least. He needed to have the ability to raise his arms over his head without any load and attain full flexion, otherwise when loaded we’d be asking for trouble.
So we went back to the drawing board – NO! Rather we went back to more of the same:
- All 4 Belly
- Scapular/Shoulder CARs
- Arm Bar
- And Waiters Pressing
We still deadlifted; this time with some cluster sets but the primary focus were his shoulders.
4 weeks later – the dude did his first getup and it looked pretty freakin legit! There was of course room for improvement, but his shoulders were looking better and better.
At this point I knew we were primed for some serious results in the weeks to come.
We started this program roughly 9 weeks ago. We’d now been working with one another for about 8-9 months.
I’d seen Brian change a ton and he’d seen my philosophy change as well. We both fully bought into the notion of:
- Less is more
- Easy Strength
- And doing only what is necessary and enough
Along the way we’d:
- Gotten rid of his pain
- Got him to drop some weight – begrudgingly
- Taught him the global movement patterns of deadlifting, squatting, pull-ups, push-ups etc. etc.
- And completely changed his mindset in the process
Brian didn’t come to me wanting to Deadlift 350 pounds, yet here we were starting a 6-week program to do just that!
Brain’s “Deadlift The House” program was simple: EASY STRENGTH to a T.
(I like coming up with fun names for my clients’ programs, after all, this is supposed to be fun right?!)
We never did anything over 70% of his estimated 1RM (his a 1TRM – trained RM – was 305) and we did a ton of volume.
More often than not we worked in ranges between 50-60% at a high volume.
Some examples of his deadlifting schemes are:
- And towards the end even 5-7-9×2!
He never deadlifted anything more than 265lbs. during his program.
After he did his deadlifts we did 5 sets of 1/1 Getups, working on greasing the groove between the elbow and tall sit positions. This helped his getup immensely and more importantly his shoulder control.
We finished with a suitcase carry paired with a positional breathing exercise or two – that was it.
Simple, to the point, and most important of all, SUPER EFFECTIVE.
Week 6 we tested Brian and sure enough he hit his goal of 350 pounds – easily and with a double overhand grip no less!
I asked him if we wanted to go for more, I knew he had it in him! But instead he was content calling it a successful day at 350.
Check him out being all beastly here!
I was ecstatic!
I asked Brian after we finished that 6-week program what he felt changed the most from where we started 10 months ago to where we were now. He said 3 things:
“Breathing gave me more mobility. More mobility gave me more control…. In the past I wasn’t controlling the weight before moving it.”
To quote John D. Rockefeller, Brian now had “unflappable coolness under pressure.”
Or, as I’ve said in recent weeks, his ability to “relax and win” was omnipresent!
In my mind, Brian gets all the credit for his success – it’s easy for me to type up a program that will give someone the results they want. The strength required from the muscle between your ears is what matters most.
Where To Next?
Everything from here on out is gravy if you ask me. Brian has changed his mindset completely, which for me is one of the most rewarding things I could ever ask for in training a client!
In fact the other day Brian noted that this is a “lifestyle” now, he’s even considering buying some kettlebells for his garage so he can do simple and sinister at home.
I’m beyond grateful to know I’ve helped change someone’s life in areas well outside the gym.
What can I say; I love what I do for a living!
Next up is in fact Simple and Sinister for the next 8 weeks. He wants to own the 24kg bell and knows how much it’ll solidify his shoulder health (and really his entire body – he knows it!)
Additionally, I see Brian entering the 400 Club by the end of the year without a doubt. We’ll be continuing to use Easy Strength deadlifting throughout his simple and sinister program.
The dude’s a stud, a hard worker and someone I’m super glad to have had the ability to coach.
If there were one takeaway from this post it would be:
Create simplicity in everything you do. Have the clarity of why you do what you do in the back of your head at all times. Maintain a dedication to how you do it, and the consistency of what you’re doing.
Practice objectivity; the observing eye is strong, and the perceiving eye is weak. Like anything, this is a skill that must be trained.
Brian, congratulations man! You, sir, are a notch above. Always…