My deadlift is great and my squat sucks. I want to continue squatting 3x5 more and more weight while I keep my deadlift where it is. What's the best way to maintain my deadlift strength with a minimum of training time and recovery resources so I can focus efforts on my squat?


I'm male, 5'10'' tall, and weigh approximately 170-175 pounds, though I'm working on moving up to 180 or 185. I keep pretty good food quality but occasionally under-eat at lunch.

I recently PR'd my deadlift at 385x2, and can hit a hard set of 5 in the mid-300s. My front squat is primary: I am not currently working on my back squat because of form issues and because I think it's not necessary, but for background I can back squat 225 for reps, probably 240 or so for a max. My front squat has progressed nicely from ~165 to 215 by doing 3 sets of 5, increasing weight every other workout. Once or twice I've been forced to do a 3x3 workout before graduating to 3x5. Those misses were due to poor recovery combined with foolishly adding weight as scheduled.

I lift two or three times a week, with two to four days a week of judo, moderate hiking and swimming, sprints, or Ultimate. Lifting sessions currently go as follows:

  1. Front squat, starting at 45 or 95 and taking steps of ~50lbs up to 3x5 at the work weight
  2. Deadlift, starting at 145 or 215 and taking steps of ~70lbs up to a set of five in the 315-350 range or a double or triple in the 350-380 range
  3. One-arm overhead kettlebell presses, 50 pounds, 3x5 or 5x5
  4. Other stuff that varies and isn't too strenuous

What I'm looking for is a program, preferably with references or an explanation, that describes maintaining the deadlift or other major barbell exercise at a given level while working on other lifts. My goal is the minimum amount of deadlifting in order to still lift in the upper 300s, so that my body can use more recovery resources towards squat strength. However, I'm asking this because I think that maintaining my deadlift as-is will make it easier to improve my squat. If I'm wrong on that, tell me, and tell me what to fix instead.

  • 1
    Do you know what your backsquat is? Front squat is often limited by form or flexibility rather than strength.
    – michael
    Aug 18, 2012 at 1:51
  • @michael I back squatted 225x5x3 couple weeks ago, no real trouble. Could go higher, but that introduces too much forward lean. My flexibility on the FS has been fine since I passed bodyweight. No form issues; progression has been good. I'm not at a sticking point so much as I want to make sure it stays prioritized. Aug 18, 2012 at 3:05
  • 3
    It's not something I've ever tried, I just try bringing whatever I can up, but I would assume that depending on how quickly you recover, doing a set of deadlifts at your upper range of capability every 1-2 weeks should keep it from deteriorating.
    – Robin Ashe
    Aug 18, 2012 at 7:14
  • 1
    My reasoning is not exactly the same as the Iron Samurai's, but similar. Aug 18, 2012 at 13:49
  • 4
    @DaveLiepmann - Everything that I've found is as Robin says, a set or two at maximum/near maximum weight once a week or twice a month should maintain it.
    – JohnP
    Aug 18, 2012 at 14:13

6 Answers 6


The deadlift isn't really a super-specialized movement and your deadlift max is going to be governed by a combination of things: core stability, hip and leg strength, grip, etc. If you continue strength training, eating at maintenance or more, and get good recovery your deadlift is unlikely to fall behind. Even if it does, after a few sessions you'll be back at 100% or more.

Here are some strategies to maximize your Squat and Deadlift gains.

  • Develop your anterior chain: This means more single leg work such as step up/lunges, planks/pallof presses/sit-ups. I'd also add overhead squats if you're comfortable with them to really get that core/upper back stability going.
  • Use Chalk/Straps for deadlifting. One of the reason the deadlift is so taxing on the CNS is due to having to grip so hard. So reducing the grip load while maintaining overall load will help improve recovery.
  • Do smart assistance movements. Things like good mornings, trap bar deadlifts, stiff-legged deads, deficit deads. A good assistance movement will challenge you while not strain your recovery needs. Speed deads also would work great.
  • Improve your recovery. If you want more resources going to the squat then just having more resources will do that. Sleep better. Eat high quality food. Make sure you are eating enough calories. Do active recovery stuff like stretching, moving, foam rolling.
  • Do regular deadlifts only once every 2-3 weeks. Stick to 2 to 3 rep range, not singles. You can try working on a more upright posture - it might be your regular dead is closer to Romanian now.
  • Hammer down your technique. Getting good numbers isn't just about pure strength but also maximizing leverage, muscle activation and coordination. I'm 100% confident you can get more pounds without getting any stronger just by increasing your proficiency in the lifts. Speed work and frequent training is best for that.

Some personal thoughts

You are really overthinking this imo. If you want your squat to get better, just squat more. Start squatting 2 or 3x a week. Do a lot of squat accessory lifts. And your squat will go up.

I'm also not a fan of caring about numbers for number's sake. Some people are just not as suited for certain lifts as others from a bio-mechanical perspective. Yeah there are ways around it -- like doing super wide squats -- but I think that misses the point.

My personal advice is to have a sound, periodized strength training program and adequate recovery to back it up. I believe that will yield overall gains to your squat and deadlift at the same time -- doubly so if you are in a bulking phase.

Good luck in your efforts!

Further Reading

  • Np, hope it serves you well!
    – mike
    Aug 28, 2012 at 2:41

Combination between Robin and my responses:

Once a week maintenance on deadlifting, with alternating between a slightly higher rep count and less weight with weeks of higher weight and less reps.

So for maintenance, one week do two reps at near max, followed by slightly less weight in the 5 rep range the next week. A few times a year kick it up a bit and try to hit your one rep max that you are maintaining.

I would also cycle through some different variations on the deadlift, conventional, sumo, romanian so as not to get stale.

I tried to find the references I was looking at originally, but came up dry on my search strings, I'll have to look through my browser history at home.

  • I'm accepting this answer because it's what I'm trying for the time being. I'm still very much looking for programs that directly address my situation, as well as authoritative sources, which is why I added the bounty. :) Thanks John and Robin! Aug 23, 2012 at 15:58
  • @DaveLiepmann - Haven't had a chance to find the sources I did when originally looking. I'll look no later than this weekend, promise.
    – JohnP
    Aug 23, 2012 at 17:03

Have you seen the Stronglifts 5x5 program? Squatting every workout. Deadlift only 1 set of 5 reps sometimes once or twice a week. What your asking is very contradictory. If your squat improves, so will your deadlift, and vice versa. The deadlift is considered to be a lower back/ham string exercise so overlaps the squat a lot.

I don't think you should be bothered about maintaining the weight you can lift on the deadlift. You'll find it naturally increases along with your squat.

  • I don't think a total-novice program like StrongLifts is at all applicable to my situation. I'm also already squatting every workout. However, you're correct that deadlifting with the frequency such programs suggest might work. Aug 20, 2012 at 12:32
  • Also, Dave is not doing back squats, so won't get the same hamstring focus that you would normally expect from squatting every workout.
    – user3085
    Aug 20, 2012 at 18:43

Congratulations on your personal bests. Its time to shelve the 5x5 program or any variation of it. You can't do the same thing and expect the same results.

You need to add more size and bulk to move into the next category of lifting. Get your food right (consistency is the key), and try a 4 set squat session once a week. Do 4 sets increasing weight on each with a (roughly) 15,10,6,4 rep pattern. Ensure you lift to failure on at least the last 2 sets. Recover for 7 days - try again but start the 1st set on the weight you started with on the 2nd set. Do this for 4 weeks. Write done all your weights and reps each week so you can track progress.

Its important to taper your workouts in cycles so fatigue doesn't get in the way of gains/training. (You might want to read up on Dual Factor Training).

  • I'm confused. My squat is indeed going up doing 3x5, and my weight is slowly increasing (though I am definitely growing stronger while maintaining or even losing weight). Do you have any recommendations on programming or set/rep schemes for my deadlift instead? Aug 21, 2012 at 23:28
  • What @JohnP said is right. Once a week to failure will maintain deads. I'm a bit unsure on why you want your deads to stop. Its not like you are lifting huge amounts of weight. Deads overlap a lot into squats and they usually gain together. If its a mental thing, and you just need to lay off deads for your sanity (I've done this before) then by all means. That said, I'm doing 20 reps to failure on deads at the beginning of cycle and THAT gets very taxing mentally & physically. Suit yourself.
    – Mike S
    Aug 21, 2012 at 23:36
  • I'm only considering pausing the deadlift because lifting is not my primary physical priority (it's behind judo and exploration of nature) and I have a limited capacity for recovery. If I don't need to stop it, then put that in your answer. But I'm not really looking to change my squat programming, since I'm still doing fine on it. Aug 21, 2012 at 23:43

You have several options available to you, but it does seem like you want to really slow down your deadlift. Outright trying to maintain it may be more problematic, but if you are deadlifting more than once a week it's time to look at only deadlifting once a week.

When recovery is a problem, it's time to ask yourself some goal orienting questions:

  • Is my goal to be stronger as fast as possible?
  • Can I be happy with much slower gains?
  • Is lifting support for something else, or is it my sport?
  • What kind of conditioning/mobility do I need?

The first two questions really attack the same thing from opposite sides of the coin to get you to think about the role of lifting in what you want to do. The remaining questions also help refine what type of training programs you will be interested in. From the content in the question, I can guess at some of your answers:

  • Lifting supplements your other activities (Judo, Swimming, Hiking, Sprints, Ultimate)
  • A couple of those activities require skill work, and that has to be accounted for.
  • All of the activities require significant conditioning, and at least one of them requires a decent amount of mobility.
  • With lifting as a supplement, and the level of work you've brought yourself to, you might really look at programs that have you increase monthly.

With that foundation, of the programs I know, probably the most flexible and useful program structure would be Wendler 5/3/1. You have four main lifts: squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press. Each main lift has its own day, along with 2-3 assistance exercises. This helps keep the time in the gym down, and your ability to recover up. The program is a monthly progression, where every 4 weeks you cycle through different intensity and rep ranges with the last week a deload week.

You can happily substitute front squats for back squats on the program, and you won't be violating the basic principles of the program. Additionally, the program encourages you to do your conditioning and mobility work. Wendler is a former football player, made the switch to power lifting, and then stopped being so aggressive so his body could heal itself. The slower gains keep him moving forward, but letting him do other stuff as well.

Other options include looking at what Dan John suggests. Dan John is a former track and field guy (discus), who later went into Olympic lifting. He has very practical opinions on training. Front squats are a staple of Oly lifting, so any program he has will feature them.

There is nothing wrong with mixing different similar programs together. If you really just want to maintain your deadlifts while bringing other lifts up, I recommend taking a deeper deload with deadlifts, and working back up to where you are. If you need more time, deload them again and work back up. Staying at the same weight is going to wear on your recovery. Varying the weight keeps the body in a place where it's getting a break and then building back up.


Incorporate a 10 day cycle in your lifts... that is squat every 10 days, dead every 10, ft. squat every 10. And when you do them lift heavy, build the intensity up each set (btw 5-7 sets) and hit reps between 4-7. The structure can be broken up like this: lift lower body Mon & Thurs OR Tues & Fri OR Wed & Sat, etc...whatever you like. Thus you break up the training in 3 weeks cycles, which is perfect. So ultimately it would look like this:

  • M: B Squat
  • T: upper body
  • W: off, hike, bike whatever u want
  • R: Dead
  • F: off
  • M: Ft. Squat
  • T: upper body
  • W: off
  • R: B Squat

etc...you end with ft. squat thurs next week, that's a full 3 week cycle. Then you can start a whole new cycle of lifts, reps, sets; whatever you like.

You can change the days to whatever you want btw...This isn't from a book, this is merely through experience

  • This is pretty interesting. Could you go into the reasoning behind it? Aug 23, 2012 at 16:46
  • I can't quote specifically where I found this, but this is a the best structure I learned and have made the most gains from. This does have some relation to a bit to the conjugate method where every 3 weeks it would be advisable to change up the exercises, sets and reps. I however have not added max-effort days each and every week for this type of training. Also I didn't include all the olympic lifts performed before the core lift which make a big difference. This type of training allows you adequate rest and recovery and makes you hit the lifts hard which not only maintains but gains... Aug 23, 2012 at 16:54

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