How do I Increase My Deadlift Max?

Brian Dick

Improve My Deadlift
Improve Your Deadlift Max

The deadlift is the ultimate functional strength movement. Your entire musculoskeletal system is called into action to complete this complex, compound movement. All major muscle groups are activated, and extremely heavy loads can be lifted…or at least they can be, when you train regularly and practice proper form at all times. In addition to training and proper form, however, there are a number of other tips that can help you increase your deadlift max. (Note: Please remember that the deadlift can be a very dangerous and complicated lift. This lift should be reserved for expert lifters, and should only be performed under the supervision of certified lifting instructors or strength coaches.)

  1. Use Wrist Wraps to Attempt 100%+ of Your Unaided Max – The limiting factor on nearly everyone’s ability to improve their deadlift max is their grip strength. While it is critical to eventually improve your grip strength to improve your deadlift max, it’s also critical to push your other muscle groups past their comfort zone while you are improving your grip. During this phase, it’s recommended that wrist wraps be used to enable heavier weights to be lifted (than without wrist wraps). This will help to super load the quads and hips which would be impossible with the limitation of your grip strength.
  2. Deficit Pulls With Sub-Max and Rack Pulls With Max-Plus – Two of the best ways to break a deadlift max plateau is incorporating deficit pulls and rack pulls into your lifting routine. Deficit pulls are typically performed on a short box (or stacks of 45s) with a lower than usual deadlift weight. This movement increases the range of motion of the standard deadlift, and promotes stimulation of new muscle groups. Rack pulls by contrast are limited range deadlifts that allow for lifting weights far greater than your deadlift max. Rack pulls are basically performing the last 20% of the deadlift motion with your weight starting on a squat rack. This allows for large amounts of weight to be lifted to shock yourself out of your plateau.
  3. Front Squats – One of the major muscle groups activated in a standard deadlift are the quads. And what’s the fastest way to improve your quad strength? Go heavy on lifts that blast your quads! For this task, there is no better option than the front squat – either clavical loaded or Zercher method.
  4. Hips, Hips, Hips – One of the most under-addressed muscle groups in any workout routine are the hips. Because the hips are so critical for the deadlift motion, it is unusual that most people ignore this muscle group in the gym. How do you correct this? Well, one of the best ways to activate the hips is adding the four-way hip machine into your next workout. Another, albeit more advanced option, is including pistol squats into your leg days. Focus on squatting back on your one leg, as though you are sitting back into a lawn chair. This force activates your hip muscles and will help you to improve your deadlift max.
  5. Focus on the Push, and not the Pull – I’ve found that in my own deadlift motion, I often subconsciously focus on explosively pulling the weight from the ground. My greatest successes, however, come when I’m focusing on explosively pushing my heels and hips into floor on the initial movement. Mentally, I envision blocking a defensive lineman without using my hands. This vision has always helped add a few more pounds onto my reps and max. Try it out on your next lift and let me know what you think.

Do you want a safe way to estimate your deadlift max, without having to perform dangerously heavy deadlifts? Check out FSL’s DeadLift Max Calculator to determine your estimated deadlift max — based on 7 separate max formulas! You can also find FSL’s Big Three Max Calculator (Squat, Deadlift, Bench) under the Workout Calculator Tab. Please feel free to submit your successes and findings in the comments below!

You can also Sign Up Below for our mailing list to receive Your Free Copy of FSL’s Quantified Self: Downloadable Workbooks. These files are Excel worksheets with preloaded formulas. They allow you to plug in your own information to follow your performance and track your fitness results!

Blood Glucose and Exercise


Brian Dick

Did you know that exercise and physical activity can result in an INCREASE in blood glucose levels?

As a newcomer to understanding the effects of exercise on diabetics’ blood glucose levels, I was surprised to find that exercise in some cases can actually increase an exerciser’s glucose levels. My initial assumption was that exercise

Working out with diabetes
Fitness & Diabetes

would always have a negative impact on glucose levels, as your body called upon the glucose for energy. However, after researching fitness and diabetes on American Diabetes Association’s site (ADA) I found that stress hormones released in high intensity workouts can actually have a boosting effect on blood glucose levels in some cases. This information is particularly important if you have a high glucose blood level prior to engaging in high intensity fitness activities. According to the ADA, if your blood glucose reads high before exercising, it is critical to test your blood and urine for ketones. If ketones are found, vigorous activity should be avoided altogether. For more information about the glucose boosting effects of high intensity workouts, please visit ADA.

As expected, however, physical activities can also have diminishing effects on blood glucose levels — and this scenario is much more likely. The ADA suggests testing your blood prior to engaging in fitness activities. If your blood glucose is less than 100mg/dl, the ADA highly recommends that you eat a small carbohydrate snack prior to working out. A small carbohydrate snack is classified as a snack containing roughly 15 grams of carbohydrates. Carbohydrate content can be quickly found on the back of most packaging or on the affixed nutrition label. However, for produce, or other non-packaged foods, you can also Google Search: “carbs in [your favorite fruit/vegetable].” Interestingly, Google’s top result is their own nutrition calculator where you can modify the size and quantity of the food that you are eating for a more accurate assessment of carb content. Check it out for yourself here.

Kg to Lb Conversion Tip

Brian Dick

Do you know the quick kg to lb conversion tip that you can do in your head?

After a purchasing a few kettlebells and looking at the results of various Olympic events, I quickly grew frustrated having to type in the kg amounts into Google to get a conversion to lbs. I figured there must be a quick and dirty way to estimate this conversion in my head. After doing a little research, I found just that — an easy way to get a very close estimate of a kg to lb’s conversion. The added bonus? It works the same way in reverse (i.e., kgs to lbs).

Want to know the easy lb to kg conversion?

kgs –> lbs

  1. Take the amount in kg and double it. Ex: 30kg kettlebell * 2 = 60
  2. Then, take your new number and take 10% of that number. Not a math whiz? Simply take the decimal point and move it to the left once. Ex: 60.0 * 10% = 6.00.
  3. Add this 10% figure to the doubled number. Ex: 30kg kettlebell * 2 = 6060 * 10% = 660 6 = 66lbs (give or take a tiny sum.)

lbs –> kgs

  1. Take the amount in lbs and divide by 2. 
  2. Find 10% of the new number.
  3. Take the 10% figure and subtract it from the doubled amount. Ex: 66lb kettlebell *(1/2) = 33 … 33 * 10% = 3.3 … 33 – 3.3 = 29.7kgs (or close to it)

ACL Surgery and Long Term Strength Results

Brian Dick

To start, I’ve had two ACL surgeries in the past 10 years — one on each leg (I also had a partial meniscus removal from my left leg in 2007). My first surgery was in 2002 (left leg – football) and the most recent was in 2012 (right leg – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). Both surgeries were hamstring reconstruction surgeries, where one of my hamstring tendons was removed and used as the new ACL graft. This type of surgery is in contrast to the patella tendon graft, or cadaver graft reconstruction. I had two separate surgeons, both of which had performed hundreds (if not thousands) of ACL surgeries prior to mine, mostly on athletes.

My biggest fear before and after both surgeries was long term knee stability and leg strength. Following my left ACL surgery in 2002, I performed the prescribed therapy and was released after about 6 months of therapy. They tested my ACL stability with a KT-1000 measuring device, and cleared me for all future activity. However, after a number of years I could tell that I continued to favor, or “protect” my knee in cutting activities and strength exercises. My leg strength returned to baseline, but I noticed my mass of my left leg did not return to the same size. There was also a small divot in my hamstring muscle (I’m assuming where the graft was taken. I must note, however, that my left leg is my non-dominant leg, so a large portion of this size and strength difference could be marked up to that. One thing that did bother me was that if my left leg remained completely extended for a period of 5+ minutes it would undoubtedly lock, and it would require me to open my hips to that side and then flex downward to bend it. It would release, but it gave me a weird feeling and sometimes made a hollow popping sound.

Then in 2012 I tore my right ACL in half guard lock down (for those of you in the know.) When I tore my ACL this time, I also had my left leg re-MRI’d on account of the weird locking sensation that I was experiencing. The ACL graft in that leg was immediately found to be loose with additional (slight) meniscus damage. The graft had evidently stretched out over the course of the past 10 years. The stretching, while concerning to my doctor, did not according to him warrant an additional surgery if my knee was not buckling. I was frustrated to find that it had loosened, but was relieved to find that I would be able to perform therapy on both knees following my right knee surgery. This was intended to strength the muscles around my loose graft to eliminate potential re-tearing.

Following my right ACL reconstruction, I had a similar amount of atrophy that I had following my first surgery. I did find that I was recovering much more quickly though. My right leg being my dominant leg, I feel contributed to my quickly returning strength and athleticism. A small divot in my right hamstring appeared just the same as it did on my left. One interesting thing to note: my therapist after the first surgery allowed me to perform hamstring strengthening exercises immediately following surgery. My second therapist, however, did not allow me to engage my hamstring for 8 weeks (or the proposed healing time needed for the hamstring tendon harvest location.) This was infuriating, but looking back, I think this has helped my hamstring strength to recover more fully and quickly than it did after my first surgery. Another key difference between the two recoveries, was that I had a full-scale metal brace to use during my first therapy term, but nothing my second. While this was scary getting used to balancing and working out without a brace, I again feel that this encouraged a faster and fuller recovery overall. Not having a brace forced me to not subconsciously try to “protect” my knee during and after rehab. I was forced to move naturally and symmetrically. This allowed me to more fully recover strength and symmetry over the long haul. Over time (16-18 months) I was able to return to the same squat amounts that I was performing pre-surgery (4-6 reps @ 365lbs).

Now that I am fully recovered from the two surgeries, I would like to present a few tips and tricks that helped me (and continue to help) build a strong and secure knee:

  1. Hamstrings, Hamstrings, Hamstrings – Whenever I perform hamstring strengthening exercises, my entire knee feels far more stable, and I feel like I can make more athletic movements as this muscle increases in strength. Standard hamstring curls and manual “razors” are my favorites. Razors are when you kneel on the ground with a partner holding your feet to the floor. With your partner pressing down firmly you lower you chest to the floor as slowly as your muscles will allow. Return to the starting position and repeat for a set of 8-10.
  2. Single Leg Squats – Prior to my surgeries I never performed single leg squats, but I wish I did. This is a great way to recognize strength asymmetries. It is critical however to perform these with good form — i.e., sitting back as though you are sitting into a chair and without the knee buckling in towards the center. It is extremely difficult to perform many of these when your first start — but please don’t push it past the point of using bad form. For the more advanced perform these movements on a BOSU ball
  3. Two Handed Kettlebell Swings – During my post-op recovery I happened to read the “Four Hour Body” where Tim Ferriss speaks highly of using kettlebells and the two handed swing in particular. In a fit of post-op boredom, I bought a 45lb kettlebell on Amazon, and waited until I was healthy enough to give it a try. As soon as I was, I quickly fell in love with the simple, but effective movement. It helps to build my core, and more importantly for me, the athletic coordination and explosivity between my hips and knees. I always feel better after performing the exercise and feel more functionally strong and coordinated.

3 Day Functional Strength Workout

Brian Dick

Below you will find a sample Functional Strength Lab – 3 Day Functional Strength Workout. You can find a downloadable copy that can be modified in Excel below. I have included spaces in the downloadable copy to record your progress for each workout type.

The only equipment needed for this exercise:

  • Pull Up Bar
  • Kettle Bell (25-45 lbs)
Burpees (3 x 15) Kettle Bell 2 Hand Swing (3 x 20) Push Ups (3 x 30)
Pull Ups (3 x to failure) Leg Lifts on Pull Up Bar (3 x 10) Planks (3 directions x 30+ seconds)
Push Ups (3 x 40) Chin Ups (3 x to failure) Razors w/ Partner (3 x 12)
Body Squats (3 x 30) Plyo Push Ups (3 x 15) Kettle Bell Squat (3 x 20)
Abs 5 types (3 x 40) Box Jumps (3 x 10) Burpees (3 x 15)

If you would prefer a downloadable version of this workout (with spaces to input your progress) you can find it, here.

High Intensity Interval Training Cuts Your Workout in Half!

Brian Dick

So I have some good news and bad news…

The Bad News: According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the average adult should undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. This equates to roughly 3 to 5 weekly workouts at 30 to 60 minutes a piece. While it’s obviously important that we put a priority on our health maintenance, it’s not surprising that with our hectic schedules that these 150 minutes a week get avoided or ignored. With jobs, kids, school, etc. workouts oftentimes take a backseat in priority, and we don’t spend enough time at the gym as we should.

But what if I were to tell you that the ACSM also recommends an alternative strategy that could cut your weekly workout in HALF!?

The Good News:

The ACSM offers an alternative workout program, albeit a more intense version, that takes only 75 minutes a week!

What is ACSM’s recommendation? — High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is an intense workout format that will cut your workout time in half. With rotating phases of high and low intensity physical output, nearly any workout method could be converted into the HIIT format. Running, swimming, weight training, rowing, etc., are all candidates for a HIIT program.

How it works:

  1. Select the workout that you want to convert to High Intensity Interval Training. (Let’s use running on the treadmill as an example.)
  2. Perform a short warm up for 3-5 minutes. For example, a brisk walk on the treadmill would suffice. You should strive to achieve a maximum heart rate of 40% – 50%. (Not sure of your maximum heart rate? Luckily we offer a simple heart rate calculator here.)
  3. Begin a high intensity workout phase for 15 seconds to 4 minutes, depending on your personal fitness levels (consult physician for this determination.) High intensity exercise here is defined as achieving and maintaining 80% to 95% of your maximum heart rate.
  4. Return to low intensity phase, aka 40% – 50% of your maximum heart rate. The low intensity, or recovery phase, should be slightly longer than the high intensity phase. Depending on how long your high intensity phase lasted, the recovery phase could last anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for five to seven more repetitions. This should result in six to eight total high intensity intervals.
  6. 5-10 minutes cool down and stretch.

(Total Workout Time: 10-40 minutes)

The beauty of the HIIT method is that it can work with almost any fitness equipment you choose. Also, remember that there are alternate ways to increase your heart rate other than simply increasing your speed. You may try obtaining high intensity levels by increasing elevations or resistances on the various workout equipment you choose. But as always — remember to workout safely, and consult your physician before engaging in any new workout programs.


Fitness Health and Strength Industry Predictions

Brian Dick

After performing market research for a number of product development projects in the fitness, health, and strength industries, I’ve noticed a number of future trends and opportunities existing within all three areas. I have listed my predictions below in bold. I’d also love for visitors to post their own forecasts in the comment section below for all to discuss and debate.

My Fitness Health and Strength Industry Predictions:

        • A massive boom in “quantified-self” products, and their connection to personal insurance coverage. Obviously devices like the Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone UP, Fitbit, and the iMapMyRUN+ app have been out a number of years now. Also, we are seeing the creation of competing wearable products, such as the Amiigo and the MisFit (both due out soon.) While it doesn’t take a wild imagination to predict that these products will continue to grow in popularity, I believe the biggest upcoming transition will be the voluntary release of this data to health insurers. With the advent of the state-run insurance exchanges, due to go-live this upcoming year (2014), I believe one’s personal relationship with their insurer will grow in importance. People who once had their insurance selected and subsidized by their employer will now have a much more intimate knowledge of their health insurance coverage through self-purchase. They will be much more attune to which variables generate the greatest cost increases or savings in their premiums. Therefore, the ability to track a healthy lifestyle and present this data to insurers, will hopefully help the individual to offset a portion of their health insurance premiums. Individuals will pay less for their coverage, and the insurers will have a more accurate indicator of their customer’s overall health. Presumably this collection and sharing of data will be a win-win for both parties.
        • Strength trainers’ focus shifting towards injury-prevention vs performance improvement. Along with this prediction I feel there will be a general proliferation of all fitness and strength certification options available. These predictions I feel will take far longer than the other predictions to manifest themselves (7+ years.) This transition will require the retirement of long-standing strength coaches and the arrival of a fresh class of advisers. Slowly but surely, I feel that collegiate and professional strength advisers will recognize that their training has less of an impact on athlete’s performance, and instead more solely helps in preventing injuries. (This will likely draw a lot of controversy, but if this were not the case, would not the strongest athletes almost always be the best? How often is this the case?) When we look at standard weight lifting movements versus the movement requirements of a sport, we see only a very small overlap of actual sport’s related activity/movement. There are bits and pieces of sports-specific movements intertwined in a given lifting motion, but for the most part, developing true sport-specific strength requires the habitual training of that particular motion. Let’s take an offensive lineman blocking as an example. While strong legs and a strong punch are critical in this position, which lift(s) precisely mimic this movement? Squats help to develop leg strength but ignore the punch that is required simultaneously – not to mention no offensive lineman blocks the defender upwards, but rather horizontally (or at a 45 degree angle at most.) A clean and jerk comes closer to addressing the leg and punching motion, but they occur in a  fragmented motion differing from the proper blocking technique — and again the lifting motion is occurring in an upward motion rather than at a proper blocking angle. I am not dismissing the importance of these lifts, but instead see their value in preventing injury rather than increasing sports performance. A strength coach will now focus on correcting improper basic bio-mechanical movements and work on developing the strength to protect joints and ligaments. The coach will only look at the standard weight lifting techniques as a way to diagnose an athlete’s compensatory movements and asymmetries of their overall neuro-muscular system. They will put less importance on 1 rep maxes, and gym performances, and will instead focus on developing sport’s specific programs taking place in the actual sports environment. Because of this added need for specialization, I feel there will be a proliferation of strength and fitness certifications offered. Specialization will occur through a given sport, rather than through their present more generalized focus. For example, there will be a track-and-field strength specialization, a football specialization, MMA specialization, etc versus a certified personal trainer or strength trainer certification.
        • Tremendous growth in the hearing service and device market. Do me a favor — count the number of people you see today (under 35 – and including yourself) that have either black or white cords hanging from their ears. The number will probably surprise you! At the gym, airport, grocery, library, etc. — everyone is now taking their music and podcasts with them everywhere they go. Now I am certainly no hearing expert, but I’d imagine high-volume, long-term, in-ear audio is detrimental to one’s ear drums over time. This upcoming generation will be the first to grow up with this form of extensive listening occurring for the entirety of their life. As such, I envision a massive incline in hearing repair surgery, and the amount of hearing-technology being developed. Surprisingly, of all of my predictions this is the one I’m most bullish on!
        • A transition to fitness and strength programs designed for the older and/or less athletic. Let’s take a quick look at the recent introduction of the popular in-home workout programs: Insanity, P90X, Crossfit, and UFC Fit, etc. All options are great workouts. They effectively engage the user in high intensity interval training (HIIT), and they adhere to muscle confusion protocols — both of which have been shown to generate phenomenal fitness results. However, the issue that I see in this space is the extension of these products to an entirely under-qualified pool of workout candidates. These  phenomenal workouts quickly become injury-inducing workouts when they are started by a cohort of out-of-shape, older, or under-informed individuals. Physical therapists and trainers are seeing an influx of patients arriving to mend the injuries they incurred undertaking these overly vigorous workout routines. Because of this, I see a huge opportunity for products designed to address this slightly less informed, older, and/or less physically fit demographic. Each new product being  released focuses on being more “insane” or intense than the previous offering. My business mind immediately sees this one-up-manship as a market opening opportunity at the lower end of the fitness spectrum. There is a massive market waiting for a toned-down,  in-home workout, designed to develop a fitness foundation and to build injury-prevention skills. These new customers will aspire to engage in the more aggressive workout programs eventually, but are simply not presently ready to take them on safely. We will see a consistent release of this type of product in the near future.
        • A growing importance surrounding gut health and gut flora awareness. The growing popularity of probiotics (allowing for self-experimentation) and the increased formal study of the gut (and it’s nerve system, flora, and hormonal importance) will undoubtedly increase our growing concern and understanding of our gut health. Many interesting gut health video articles can be found at that help to illustrate the increased focus on gut research. We are likely to see a massive surge in gut-related health products in the near future.
        • A growing awareness of brain health, nootropics, and mind-body connectivity – resulting in massive increases in brain/mind-related products and supplements. I feel that the with the increased awareness of autism, the growing familiarity with Alzheimer’s, and the improvement of brain monitoring technology, people will become more aware and concerned with their brain health. Individuals will seek out and consume research studies and products surrounding brain health and mental improvement. We are a long way away from fully understanding mental responses to many stimuli and in truly understanding the blood brain barrier dilemma; but, I feel with the increased information that we do have, individuals will be more experimental with their brain health development than ever before. This behavior will be encouraged by companies releasing ever-more-frequent products devoted to brain health and mental improvement. (Present examples include:Alpha Brain, Zoned, NeuroIQ, Sulbutiamine Nootropic Capsules, Elebra,Phenibut, etc.) Along with this trend, I feel that a greater importance will also be put on the mind-body connection. More studies will be conducted to show the importance of the positive hormonal responses of exercise, and their connection to mental health. The scrawny, unhealthy nerd will be a thing of the past; and, the fit, toned nerd will be the bookworm of the future.

Please feel free to debate these predictions and/or provide your own predictions below!



BMI Calculator

Brian Dick

Do you want to calculate your BMI? Type in your height and weight in the shaded boxes below:

The BMI Calculator Page includes more information on how the BMI is calculated and the controversies surrounding it. You can simply click on this link, or find the BMI Calculator along with many others under the Workout Calculators button on the top right. Hover over the button and select which calculator you want to try out.


The Big Three One Rep Max Calculator

Brian Dick

Functional Strength Lab is proud to roll out their Big Three One Rep Max Calculator! Simply input your body weight, and the weights you perform for reps for each of the Big 3 lifts: bench, squat, and deadlift. Functional Strength Lab‘s Calculator will do the rest!

For the permanent version of the calculator you can visit here: Calculator Home

Big 3 Lifts Calculator – Fill in the shaded areas, or see below the calculator for more instructions!

Above you will find the most comprehensive Big 3 Lifts Calculator on the internet. Input your body weight and the typical weights you perform for reps (under ten) for the Big 3 lifts – Bench, Squat, and Dead Lifts.

Once you complete these inputs, the calculator will do the rest. See where you stack up against others in your weight class!

If you prefer a calculator that simply performs calculations on one of the three big three you may like to visit:, or for the same calculators, but with a more thorough description for beginners.

While having average, or above average numbers in these lifts may represent a “strong” individual in some circles, please note that we at Functional Strength Lab do not equate these numbers directly to functional strength. However, the bench, the squat, and dead lifts do in fact require a tremendous amount of power and explosion, that are valuable in many sports. For this same reason, it is also extremely important to know it is not essential and is oftentimes detrimental to actually push yourself to your 1RM. This is one of the added benefits of this calculator. You only need to know what weights you typically perform for reps, and through the research of seven different strength professionals you can estimate your 1RM.

Pull Up Lab Pitches at Run Down Sun Down

Brian Dick

Functional Strength Lab is proud to announce that they will be pitching their new product (sold through to the Columbus entrepreneurship community on 5/31/2013 — for the 1st ever Sun Down Run Down event.)

In conjunction with the typical Wake Up Start Up events, the Columbus entrepreneurship community is now running a program called Sun Down Run Down, in order to generate a greater number of events for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to investors, thought leaders, and fellow entrepreneurs in Columbus.

Functional Strength Lab and their sister site Pull Up Lab are both proud to pitching their new product offerings – pull up grip attachments!

The event will include pitches by other startups including: Columbus Furniture Revival, Contractor Tools Online,

Functional Strength Lab Logo
Functional Strength Lab


Pull Up Lab
Pull Up Lab