Deadlifts, Chains, and Good Mornings


I’m having trouble with my deadlift. I’m new to powerlifting-style training, as I’ve been an NPC level bodybuilder for three years prior to 2012. I can rack pull 545 pounds easy and fast, but my deadlift has been stuck at 455 pounds for about six months. I struggle sitting back on the set-up. (The see-saw/power off the floor). Any advice? I primarily follow 5/3/1, Westside, or my personal programming.

- Justin

Hey Justin,

Okay, first of all, I think that you have to pick a program and stick with it. But since I’m not sure how you’re training, I’ll give you some ideas on how to fix this with both 5/3/1 and with Westside.

Since you can rack pull well and are slow off the floor, I’m going to say that to make an improvement we need to:

  1. Put you at a mechanical disadvantage—like a deficit.
  2. Teach you to become a faster puller—via pulling against bands and chains.
  3. Really work on some leg drive and lower back strength.

So, if your MAIN FOCUS is to improve your deadlift WITH 5-3-1, I would make the following changes:

Squat day

  1. 5/3/1 percentages using the safety squat bar, close stance
  2. 5×5 vogelpohl pulls (The one where you deadlift a bar conventional with a safety squat bar loaded on your back)
  3. Finish with your assistance work and abs for weaknesses—there had better be reverse hypers in there! Sets of 30 will blow up your deadlift.

Deadlift day

  1. 5/3/1 percentages pulling off a deficit—stand on a plate or a bumper plate.
  2. 8x2x50 @ 70% speed pulls (opposite stance of your normal pulls). Complete these from a one-inch deficit (aka: one mat).
  3. Move on to your assistance and abs.

However, If your are using a Westside template, I would do the following:

ME Lower Days

  1. Week One: A deadlift variation from a deficit—against bands, chains, or straight weight.
  2. Week Two: A front squat, back squat, or zercher variation—all close stance.
  3. Week Three: A safety squat bar squat or GM variation—all close stance (box squat, pause squat, reps, against chain, against band, etc.).
  4. After this, I would move into some close-stance leg presses against bands—this will build up your leg drive.
  5. Finally, pick the assistance you need.

DE lower days

  1. 9x2xDE squat—I would use safety squat bar variations and either squat to a box (set at the height of your hips during the deadlift) or no box (and pause in the hole). I prefer the second option because it will really help your squat, too. You can also wave DE front squats in the same way. Both should help your deadlift.
  2. 10×1 or 8×2 speed pulls—always from a deficit ranging from one to three inches. Go in your conventional stance and pull against straight weight, bands, and/or chains.
  3. Move onto your assistance work.

Anyways, let me know if that helps or if you need more help—in which case I’m happy to. Just send in a video so that we can really pick apart your weaknesses.

My deadlift stinks off the floor, too. :(

In your raw meet prep from Programs That Work 2, you say that you squat INTO chains at certain heights. I was curious how you set that up? Do you just adjust the lead chain so that it starts adding weight at those certain heights?

Thank you,


Hey Albert,

So, I attach the chain to the top of the squat rack and squat down until I hit a point in my squat where the bar hits the chain. (Or sometimes I used safety straps—it just depended on what was lying around).

Below is an example using Spud straps:

Let me know if that helps! And ALWAYS set at parallel or below!

What would you say is more effective for strengthening the lower back: standing BB good mornings or back extensions?

Hey Brian,

If your hamstrings are very strong, I’d probably say the back extensions. I’ll give you an example as to why. For me, my lower back is weak compared to my hamstrings. Thus, when I do a good morning, I end up shifting back and putting all the weight in my hammys—not allowing me to get my back stronger. (See video below)

So, for me, I get more from back extensions—preferably with a barbell on my back. (Or a safety squat bar. That will really blow up your lower back). Also, since your hammys are taken out of it, seated good mornings are a really good way to build lower back strength. (Especially with a safety squat bar, but regular bars work, too). And don’t forget, if you have a reverse hyper, something like 5×30 with a foam roller between your legs (to activate your adductors) will REALLY get your back strong.

Get on it. I hear the way to a girl’s heart is a HOOOGE set of erectors!

Related Articles:

14 Deadlift Tips and Tricks

EliteFTS: Top 8 Good Morning Exercises

How to Make Better Gains with Chains

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About the Author

Jennifer Petrosino is a raw powerlifter in the 97- and 105-pound weight classes. She holds the all-time American record squat in the 105-pound weight class and the top-five all-time squat in the 97-pound class. She is a former division I strength coach and is currently pursuing her master's degree in kinesiology at Ohio State while working as a graduate teacher assistant. She can be contacted at