Pulling progressively – A strategy for improving your deadlift and upper back strength!


I was walking around the other day with my kid listening to a podcast. The podcast featured Marty Gallagher and it inspired me to go home and pick up his phenomenal book Purposeful Primitive. This is truly a unique book – almost 500 pages of absolutely fantastic information and great anecdotes from the golden age of American powerlifting. Marty used to coach Kirk Kaworski, Ed Coan and dousins other elite powerlifters. When Marty speaks, you should listen.

Anyways, I read an essay in the book titled “Progressive Pulls” and it got me thinking. Thinking about something I’ve noticed looking at weightlifters (real weightlifters, not CFers). See in weightlifting, there are basically two lifts. The snatch and the clean. When warming up, it’s normal to perform the “power” versions, since light weights don’t require you to catch them as low.


Progressive Pulls is a complete back program that consists of the following five exercises: power clean, high/clean pull, deadlift, SLDL and BOR. Sounds like fun eh? Actually it’s really tempting for me since that’s exactly the kind of training I prefer. There’s even a sample periodization routine for 6 weeks. But I’ve got a plan and a setup that’s working very nicely for me at the moment, so I’ll stick with that.

But! I let myself inspire and came up with a nifty little strategy for improving deadlift workouts AND adding some meat to the upper back.

We all know we’re supposed to accelerate all weights maximally, though you can only pull an empty bar so fast when warming up. So goes for the lighter weights. So I figured – why not try something else – something explosive to get the CNS firing?

Here’s what I came up with (and I suggest you try it):

For deadlift warmups (make sure you’re properly warm to begin with):

Bar: 5x RDL->shrug + 5x HPC from knee

Then start doing power cleans with smallish jumps, get in 2-4 sets with good speed and technique.

Switch to high/clean pulls for another 2-3 sets. Pull as a regular deadlift to about knee height, then accelerate the bar and pull as high as you can.

And there you go. If you’ve added a bit of weight (10-20kg) for each set on the way up, you should be ready to hit 1-2 sets of warmup deadlifts at a weight that’s heavy enough to allow you to apply maximal force to the lifts. At this point you should be pulling the bar off the ground with aggression and power, ready to kill some deadlifts.

Then hit your worksets!

Go home and eat a big dinner afterwards. You’ll feel it in the upper back in the morning.

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