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I'm able to dead lift 5 sets x 5 reps @ 250 lbs OR 5 sets x 3 reps @ 300 lbs OR 5 sets of 1 rep at 400 lbs....the total weight differences are:

  • 5 sets x 5 reps @ 250 lbs = 6,250 lbs
  • 5 sets x 3 reps @ 300 lbs = 4,550 lbs
  • 5 sets x 1 reps @ 400 lbs = 2,000 lbs

Increased single lbs lift BUT decreased total lbs being lifted. What's the impact to strength, power, size and calories burned? So, basic question is, how do you determine the sweet spot where you still gaining overall (strength and power) while burning (short/long term) calories?

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What are your goals? You mention burning calories, strength, size, and power, all of which require fairly different approaches. –  Dave Liepmann Jul 19 '12 at 15:25
    
@Dave - my priorities would be power, strength and calories in that order...but I was wondering if there was a good/sweet spot that would address all 3 –  Meade Rubenstein Jul 19 '12 at 16:10
    
Are you power cleaning, or relying on the deadlift to train speed-strength/power/explosiveness? –  Dave Liepmann Jul 19 '12 at 16:12
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What's your max if you do 1 set of 5 reps? –  Robin Ashe Jul 20 '12 at 4:16
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@Robin - seems to be 360-380lbs (depending on the warmup, day, etc) –  Meade Rubenstein Jul 20 '12 at 10:47
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3 Answers

Regarding power, it can be split into 2 types - overcoming a small resistance (e.g. punch) or movements that require effort to be developed rapidly overcoming a large resistance (e.g Olympic lifting). The deadlift alone is a strength exercise - you could however undertake complex training with the idea here to perform a strength exercise, followed by a similar movement of an explosive variety. So for example, you could use a deadlift for 3-5 reps, followed by high pulls/sandbag clean/dummy suplex etc...

Strength will be gained by lifting maximal loads - it looks like you already are using 5-3-1 or something similar, which is excellent - purely for max strength, cycling through these rep ranges will allow your body to maximise your strength when it comes to the last set, with the goal being to get more reps/ increase poundage lifted.

Calories - by using just the deadlift? Why not try once a week giving yourself a 10-20 window with 60-70% 1RM and performing as many reps as possible (Escalated Density Training). The aim here is to beat the reps every workout - it jacks your heart rate up and creates a big metabolic burn helping you burn calories long after you finish. To make it even better, do a longer EDT window and choose multiple compound exercises!

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I think you should aim for the 5x1 singles. Moving heavy weight will make you stronger (and incidentally more powerful, just not as directly as something like a power clean).

However, if that's all you do, the lack of volume (2,000lbs) may not give you what you're looking for in terms of calories burned.

I have four options for you:

  • Add in warm-up sets at up to 70% of your target weight to add volume, or
  • Alternate your deadlift workouts between "intensity day" (where you do your heavy lifts), and "volume day" (where you do your 5x5s), or
  • Alternate your deadlift workouts between "intensity day" and "power day" (where you do speed deadlifts at your normal 5x5 weight but only for 5x3), or
  • Keep the deadlift to just 5x1, and use the squat (and speed squats) for your volume work, since the deadlift is a much more taxing lift, and is very easy to overtrain and harder to recover from

(As an aside, if you really want to focus on power, you'll need to include power cleans or power snatches, but if you're only somewhat interested in power, doing speed variants of the deadlift or squat can help you target power a bit.)

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The method I use to maximize strength and power in the posterior chain is below. I was not, however, concerned with calorie burn.

  • I deadlifted heavy, aiming for a 3RM or 5RM. If I can safely do a triple with X pounds one week, I shoot for a set of 5 with the same weight. If I can do a set of 5, I go for X+5 pounds the next workout. If I was forced to stop at rep three, I'll do a second set of two or three, but otherwise I don't do sets across. This method increased my strength steadily for about six months, excluding two short breaks.
  • Either as a warm-up for the deadlift or on separate days, I did power cleans, working up to a work weight and doing 3 to 5 sets of three reps. I increased the weight every few workouts, when I was sure I wasn't committing any egregious form errors.
  • Once every week or two, I'd do a set of sprints. I think this and the cleans helped my speed-strength. The sprints also made me leaner if I did them frequently, so that might address the "calorie burn" aspect of your question.
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