Monday, December 24, 2012


This was originally posted at, but I thought I'd bring it over here.  I am a big advocate of ROM progression, and first read about it in Pavel Tsatsouline's "Beyond Bodybuilding".

The basic premise is simple, almost absurdly so.  Take a weight that you can only lift for part of a range of motion (hereafter referred to as “ROM”), and then stick with that weight as you increase the ROM.  This is a boon for deadlifts, especially as you reach higher weights, as it means spending less time breaking heavy weights off the floor.  This is far less taxing and easy to recover from.

I use rubber patio pavers for my progression, found at any hardware store.  These would do the trick just fine

I stack 7 of them on either side of the plates.  I’ve been asked “why 7” before, and the answer is simply that’s how many I had at the time.  It puts the bar slightly above mid shin for me.  I will pull for 1 set of max reps, allowing myself 1 rest pause at the end of the set to attempt to get a few more reps and increase the total volume.  Given that I pull exclusively touch and go (which I can address in another post if desired), this also gives me extra practice breaking weight off the floor.

Each week, I take away 1 paver and attempt to pull for the same amount of reps as I did in the previous week.  It’s a very gradual transition, one you will barely notice as you do it, but it will become significant once you realize you have gone from a partial dead to a full pull with the same weight.  I tend to lose 1-2 total reps as I go from the 2-3 mat height to the floor, but it’s an acceptable loss.  I also tend not perform a 1 mat pull, going straight from the 2 mat height to the floor.  Since I’m trying to minimize stress on the body, I find little value in spending 2 training weeks pulling at a height so similar to the floor.

After a full cycle of ROM progression, I deload for a week, increase the weight, and start over again, aiming for the same amount of reps as last time.

Here you can view a full series of pulls and witness how gradual of a change the ROM is (enjoy the blooper on the final set).

In regards to personal implementation, I will say that the rack pull is a very poor parallel to the mat pull.  The form is different, as is the feel of breaking the weight off the pins.  The mats are far more natural, and its much easier to transition between pulling from mats and pulling off the floor.  I have seen people pull off of bumper plates before, and I imagine that would be a good substitute, as long as you are able to make a gradual enough change.  Big changes in ROM are not going to be as beneficial.  I have also seen people have success with aerobic steppers, so give that a try if you have those.  Basically, have the plates be your point of contact, not the bar.

For fitting this into a training schedule, I have done this a few different ways.  At present, I’m running a modified version of 5/3/1, and for my deadlift day, instead of following the 5/3/1 protocol, I simply stick with ROM progression with 5/3/1 assistance (BBB style squats).  I have also trained in this manner on a 3 day a week squat program, where I performed my ROM progression dead as my final movement on the middle training day.  Since it’s only one set, and mostly a partial movement, you can fit it into most programs with a deadlifting component.

If you want to run your own cycle, I’d suggest starting with a higher rep range, around 10 or so.  Pick something you can lower evenly for 7 weeks and see where it takes you.  I HAVE trained this way with lower reps (the 5 rep range), but find that it’s possible to overload yourself too much on the first 3 weeks of pulling and burn out your CNS.  It can be very useful for developing lockout strength, but in terms of adding straight poundages to your deadlift, higher reps seem to work better.

At my present progression, I seem to be losing a rep per cycle.  When I find myself eventually unable to progress past a certain weight, my intention is to reset back to a previously accomplished weight and attempt a rep PR from there, and then just keep progressing back up while trying to hit greater reps at previously accomplished weights.

This post was solely about deadlift training, but this style can be applied to just about anything.  Paul Anderson implemented it with his squat training by squatting some 55 gallon barrels while standing in a hole.  To increase the ROM, he would fill the hole with more dirt.

Insert obvious joke about "picking up women" with squats

Being that I am a mere mortal, I have instead resorted to suspending my bar in the rack via chains and tow straps, which allows me to increase the ROM by 1 chain link each week to gradually work to the full range of motion.  You can see the end result of a cycle in this video

This also has a carry over benefit of being able to work around a hamstring injury that gets aggravated by heavy eccentrics, as I have basically turned the movement into a concentric only squat.

For those with short attention spans, here is the summary
-Make small, gradual progressions on the ROM while keeping the weight the same
-Rack pulls are terrible
-Paul Anderson is the man


  1. I don't understand why you think doing mat pulls are any different than rack pulls. Please tell me how you think they're different, because the way I see it, it's essentially the same thing. All you're doing is setting the starting height of the bar higher. Then you pull. That's it. Is there a small difference between maybe bar bending when the support is on the plates (with mat pulls) vs. the power rack bars (with rack pulls)? Sure, but enough really to think "Rack pulls are terrible"?

    1. Kyle, to clarify, have you performed both rack and mat pulls and you feel that they are the same, or are you asking for me to clarify for someone who does not have that experience?

    2. The latter - I've never done mat pulls, and I conceptually do not see how they are different.

    3. Experience is the best teacher here dude. I wrote about it in the post, and you summed it up well, but until you try a mat/block pull and feel the difference, it's just going to be words. Give it a try in your next gym session and feel the difference.