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My max deadlift is 350 (still gaining), but I can deadlift 300 twice. Is it better to focus on my 2 lift max or my single lift max to build overall strength?

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Practical Programming's Answer: 1-3RM For Strength

From page 79:

Strength, a basic objective of training and an important component of power performance, is gained using lower repetitions (1 to 3) with heavier weights (90 to 100% of 1RM).

Notice that in this context, Rippetoe is using a narrow definition of strength that does not include power, hypertrophy or endurance. Doing fewer reps and only one or two sets makes for a drastically lower volume and average load at the limit of your ability (I'm paraphrasing from the second paragraph on page 82 there). For these reasons (and the increased danger of injury), I would recommend against using 1RM or 2RM as regular training stimulus.

Though the original on page 60 of PP is better (the gradations from range to range are less stark) this chart from reddit does an excellent job explaining the effects of different rep schemes: enter image description here

Rippetoe's Reasoning For 5RM Instead of 1-3RM

The key line for you is from page 102, emphasis mine:

Absolute strength is gained by using very low reps (1-3) per set, mass is increased with higher reps (10 to 12), and local muscular and systemic endurance is developed with even higher reps (20+). For the novice, a repetition scheme that is right in the anaerobic middle works best: sets of 5 reps. Fives are close enough to the strength end of the continuum to provide tremendous increases in strength, the primary goal of the novice. Fives are also enough reps to develop a tolerance for elevated work levels, and provide for a good amount of hypertrophy so that muscular weight gain occurs too.

...

Fives are optimal for the novice; they effectively stimulate strength gains and other forms of progress without producing sufficient muscular or neuromuscular exhaustion to cause technique deterioration at the end of the set.

It's very possible that you still fall within the novice range of your potential. If that's the case, deadlifting sets of 5 instead of 1 or 2 would be optimal for overall development. If you've found that you cannot progress with daily increases, or that the 5RM is too taxing despite eating and resting sufficiently, working with sets of 2 or 3 in the deadlift could be better.

  • How much difference does rep cadence (i.e. time under load) make? – intuited Jan 25 '12 at 8:50
  • There is a fuzzy line between taking breaths during a 5-rep set and doing 5 singles. They've been talking about that difference on Rip's forum recently (it's down right now, so no link). Being forced to do 5 singles tells me that I'm not training or recovering sufficiently to do a good set of 5, so I should probably repeat that weight next time. – Dave Liepmann Jan 25 '12 at 14:51
  • I'm talking more about the speed at which the reps are done — how fast you move your muscles when they are moving. Some say that moving them slowly is much more useful, and that the theory of rep counts is based on doing reps much more slowly than most people do. 6 seconds per rep seems to be the ideal. bodybuilding.com/fun/greg8.htm – intuited Jan 25 '12 at 18:41
  • "Time under load" may be a valuable method. I'm not familiar with it, though I've heard of it in bodybuilding. Your comment would do well as its own answer (or question). – Dave Liepmann Jan 25 '12 at 18:53
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Summary

I would stick with novice programming on this lift for now. A 5/3/1 might work, but I think it would be more efficient just to focus on making linear progression work.

Why

If your max deadlift is 350, it doesn't make a lot of sense to worry about your 1 rep max (1RM) or 2RM. At that stage it's more productive to focus on your 4RM or 5RM. You want to focus on building your strength and power with heavy sets of 4-6 reps, not demonstrating it in a max single. This is also much less likely to cause injury, and easier to recovery from.

A 300 pound 2RM deadlift is still well within the range of linear progression. Weekly or twice-weekly sets of 5, adding 2.5 or 5 pounds each session or every other session, should be feasible if you're getting enough rest and eating enough.

Research

I'll be double-checking pages 79-82 in Practical Programming later to make sure this makes sense (per Starting Strength forums).

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I don't think there's a big difference between doing 2x and 1x. Both are focusing on the extreme of strength. I personally prefer to do 1x just because the higher weight (compared to 2) boosts my ego, and removes any ambiguity when I want to calculate set weights based on my 1 rep max.

That said, you'll probably do better to apply stimulus in something more like the 4 rep range, and just use 1 or 2 rep sets to test your progress. For example, my current weekly (well, I use an 8 day week to get 2 days of rest between each cycle) workout (based on the Texas workout described in Practical Programming) is this:

  • Monday: 6 sets of 4 at 80% 1RM
  • Wednesday: Lighter supplemental exercises, no deadlift.
  • Thursday: 3 sets of 4 at 65% 1RM
  • Saturday: 1RM at 100% (try for a personal record every week)

In a schedule like this, you can alternate 1RM or 2RM on the last day. A reccommendion in practical programming was to alternate 1 and 2 every other week.

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"My max deadlift is 350 (still gaining)"

If you are still gaining, what you are doing is working. Keep on doing it until it no longer works. Don't waste time and energy looking for a magic program.

You wouldn't believe how many guys change their training style while they are still making progress. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it. Work extra hard on improving your technique. This alone will add pounds to the bar.

There are many, many ways someone can keep on getter stronger. Your question implies that you are working up to a max or near-max single when you show up to train your deadlift. Working up to a training max, and adjusting the top weight according to how you feel on that day, is a perfectly worthy strategy. Bob Peoples used this type of training to build his 700+ pull.

Taking a lighter weight (like 280 lb for someone who can pull 350) and doing 10 singles with it, with maximum effort on each lift, is another great method. So is doing sets of 2, 3, 4 or 5 and working up to a heavy set.

Straight sets, or sets across, is yet another. I remember doing 10 x 3 reps with 335 lb from a deficit while my max was about 500 lb. That was fun! And I'm sure it helped my pull. Straight sets will make your technique more constant, and it will improve your work capacity. I wouldn't recommend doing straight sets with more than 70% of max, as fatigue builds up real quick.

Like I said, if doing a heavy singles is working and you are still gaining. Keep going. Heavy singles are the most direct way to improve your max strength; it conditions your nervous system and makes it more efficient.

If you are feeling a little beat-up, just take an easy week and see how things go when you're back to heavy lifting.

Cheers!

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