Two Times Bodyweight Deadlift: Unreasonable Standard or Realistic Goal?
A little over a week ago one of my sisters in strength, Catherine Marvel, who had previously done some distance coaching with me and also attended I Am Not Afraid To Lift Boston in November 2014 at Iron Body Studios, asked me this question in a an email:
Got a question for you.
I was talking to a friend and mentioned that in our gym being able to deadlift twice your bodyweight is considered “strong”.
Why? She asked.
Where did that number come from? She wanted to know.
When would anyone EVER really need that kind of strength?
I didn’t know the history of that number.
I was wishing I had a better answer for her!
My orthopoedics buddies often say that if you have to brace a fall you can often be dealing w multiples of body weight, but they don’t say which multiple.
Is a 2xBW deadlift urban myth? What is its origin as a goal? Should we hold it up as a strength standard or is it really overkill for the common man to achieve this lift?
Does this level of strength provide significant health benefits? (Understanding that all strength helps us to be durable and have a life filled w more fun, more zest and better health overall).
OR, is 2xBW deadlift, rather, just a sufficiently challenging goal that there’s a nice ego payout for gym rats or muscle heads like us?! 😀
I would value your thoughts on the history, origins, relevance and merits of this goal.
Yours in Iron,
I absolutely LOVED this question because
- This standard is out there floating around and it is not often explained as to why this standard exists; and
- Because I have had potential, current, and past clients as me the same question. WHY two times my bodyweight?
I have my own answer to this question which I included at the end of this post, but I also forwarded the question to some of my colleagues and asked them to provide me with their thoughts on this question.
Below, in alphabetical order, are responses to this question from coaches Tony Bonvechio, Eric Gahan, Tony Gentilcore, Julia Ladewski, Nancy Newell, Greg Robins, Emily Socolinsky, as well as myself.
Tony is a Strength Coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts, Owner of Bonvec Strength, Co-Presenter of the powerlifting workshop Optimizing The Big Three, my insanely strong and badass powerlifting coach, and he has helped me to embrace my triceps for the powerful loaves of bread they truly are.
“A double bodyweight deadlift is definitely strong but fairly common. Five of our female lifters deadlifted over double bodyweight at our meet in October. Some of them took several years to get there, while some of them got there in under two years of dedicated training.
To put it in perspective, the women’s world record deadlift in the 123-pound weight class is 454 pounds by Janis Finkelman, shown in the video below. That’s 3.7 times bodyweight. “
How bananas is this deadlift???
Eric is a Certified Athletic Trainer, Strength Coach, author of the blog http://www.EricGahan.com, my Iron Body Studios’ Co-Owner http://www.ironbodystudios.com, sometimes known as “Ron Body”, sometimes he clean and presses Poland Spring water bottles for fun…
…and he makes the most amazing squat faces
“For me I guess as an athletic trainer at heart it all comes down to goals for the person and risks and rewards.
I have no problem with explaining to a client that the risk and rewards balance is not quite right to pursue that goal right now. Also, what is the goal? Many of our clients want to run, move, and play with their kids. If the rewards out weight the risks I am all on board to build this great strength.
I also feel that this has to take time and preparation from a tissue stand-point. Not to get all scientific but the typical life span of a fibroblast is approximately 52-60 days. So if someone is very new, it will take a lot of time to systematically build up the tissue tolerance and resilience, (bone, tendon, ligament, cartilage, any tissue that develops out of a fibroblast), to withstand this force. On the plus side, once they do, they are super resilient and set up for many new accomplishments.
Deadlifts were always a part of the rehabilitation process in my later stages of the college career and in an orthopedic rehabilitation setting.”
Tony is one of the Co-Founders of Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. He no longer coaches at Cressey but he coaches private and semi-private clients out of a small studio space close to his home in Brookline, he writes an insane number of articles on a weekly basis for his own blog and other publications and still finds time to coach, read, workout, and have a personal life (I’m not sure how he does it, he must not sleep or he is superhuman), he loves deadlifts, cheese, red meat, and in my opinion his biggest accomplishment to date is marrying his brilliant and amazing wife Lisa Lewis who is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports psychology.
Here is Tony contemplating his answer to this question…
“I agree with Tony B. in that, relatively speaking, a 2x bodyweight DL isn’t out of the ordinary. I view the “2x bodyweight number” as an arbitrary number that many coaches and trainers use for their athletes and clients. It’s more or less a basic “standard” that can be used as a litmus test, similar to the FMS’s “standard” for setting people up the same way on an overhead squat. We all have to start from somewhere. A 2x bodyweight deadlift is a nice, easy, quantifiable number.
Do I feel getting someone that level is mandatory? No. But it won’t hurt. And it will certainly help set the stage for decreased incidence of injury and help with athletic performance.”
Julia Ladewski a.k.a Wonderwoman
Julia Ladewski is a strength and sports performance coach, professional powerlifter, physique athlete, mom, and all around badass. She is also partially responsible for the popularity of the phrase “Booty Chomp” and author of the Iron Body By Artemis guest post “What Does It Take To Build Muscle Like Wonder Woman?”.
“Most women with a few months of good coaching and consistent training can achieve a 1x bodyweight deadlift. Your average woman weighs about 165 pounds, which is a very achievable deadlift. One of my clients who weighed 225 pounds at the age of 48 deadlifted 225 pounds after a few months of training. So yes, it takes training and technique, but it’s a low “standard” that most can achieve pretty “easily”.
Now, to pull 2x bodyweight, that requires a little more time, effort and dedication to do. So that 165-pound woman I was talking about would now have to pull 330 pounds. That’s a big jump and a big feat.
Most people don’t even get that far (out of fear, or not wanting to). So it’s quite an achievement. Just like running a sub 4-minute mile or other similar athletic feat. It’s tough and challenging and only those that really want to and train for it will be able to do it.
The other question asked is “when would we ever need that kind of strength?” Well, we could throw out a bunch of life threatening and dangerous scenarios but the chances of that happening are few and far between. As mentioned, yes, falling produces a great amount of force on the body and the stronger you are, the better you are able to handle that. And we do know overall strength DOES improve your daily function, especially as we age, making daily tasks and movements and risky incidences easier to handle.
So does everyone need this kind of strength? As much of a meathead as I am, I think we can argue that not every woman needs be deadlifting 300+ pounds (based on their likes/dislikes, goals and lifestyle.) But the continual progress towards improving strength and health should always be at the forefront.
A 2x bodyweight deadlift is that tough challenging goal that us strength enthusiasts strive to reach. It’s not a be all end all number, but it sure is something to shoot for. Maybe one down side is that you’re the friend that always gets called on to help move furniture.”
Nancy is a former intern at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, soon to be coach at Cressey in December 2015 and the owner of Newell Strength. I met Nancy this past summer at Cressey when I attended the powerlifting seminar Optimizing The Big Three when she coined the hashtag #ArmsLikeArtemis.
“Deadlifting two times your body weight is absolutely awesome! To me this means the individual is both mentally and physically strong. They are continually putting in purposeful practice in and out of the gym. I don’t think there is any reason that anyone shouldn’t be able to do this. However, sometimes the means is getting stronger, sometimes the means is losing fat. For example, a 350-pound obese person shouldn’t be held to that standard. They should however be able to lose weight, become lean and deadlift their lean mass. I’ve never seen research on it personally but I don’t have any clients right now who are relatively lean that can’t deadlift their body weight. Not everyone pulls from the floor due to hip anatomy, etc. but they can all pull at least their weight. I hate standards though because they are limiting. Whether I set a standard or not, my process will be the same. Work as hard as possible, train as smart as possible, and get as strong as possible, and never stop!!!!”
Greg Robins is a Strength Coach at Cressey Sports Performance, Owner of The Strength House, creator of Optimizing The Big Three powerlifting seminar, he used to make me run stairs with a weighted vest as revenge for kicking his ass with double kettlebell workouts, and most recently I watched him, in person, deadlift 625lbs for a double. Along with his Spartan strength, he is one of the brightest, humble, and most skilled coaches out there, and he’s half Greek, so of course I am biased as he is my brother in spanekopita.
“I think any question of “strength” is somewhat hard to quantify.
In a powerlifting circle, 2x bodyweight deadlift is pretty common. I would argue that most trained individuals will be able to produce that very quickly – when and if they understand how to leverage their bodyweight against the bar.
Additionally, a 400lbs man pulling 800lbs, compared to a 100lbs man pulling 200lbs isn’t a fair comparison either in my opinion. One, human physiology, regardless of size, is being tested quite a bit more in moving 800lbs. Second, a 400lbs man is most likely quite taller than the 100lbs man.
All of that aside, in general, 2x bodyweight is strong and shows proficiency in the lift. If someone were to tell me they could pull 2x bodyweight and the deadlift was merely part of their overall approach to better fitness I’d say great job. Same scenario, but they told me their end goal was to have a bigger deadlift and they have been training for over a year with that goal in mind, I’d say a smarter plan and better technique probably could have already gotten them past that number (bodyweight dependent). If a 160lbs athlete of mine achieved a 315lbs deadlift I would definitely use that as a marker for someone who is dedicated, and consistent, but I would also not be surprised if they reached that number in the first year of training – in many cases I would expect it.
I guess there are many variables that play into this. Numbers to numbers, 2x bodyweight is proficient, 2.5x is strong, 3x advanced, anything more is competitive.”
Emily is my short-haired twin sister from another mother. Emily is also a former dancer who started out in the fitness industry as a spin instructor who fell in love with lifting and learned how incredible it was to become insanely strong. Emily is a strength coach and the owner of Fivex3 Training in Baltimore, MD.
“I agree with Tony B. about a 2x bodyweight deadlift being a norm for a lot of women who train the deadlift and are good at it. It takes dedication and practice and consistency to get to that point. With the lighter ladies, it may come a little quicker.
The 1.5x bodyweight is definitely there pretty quickly with most women while a 2x bodyweight may take longer but is very doable for a healthy woman who is also very good at deadlifting. Long arms definitely help. The young woman, Janis Finkelman, in the video Tony B. referenced had incredibly awesome long arms, which is very good leverage for deadlifting. 😉
But just because a woman does not have a 2x bodyweight deadlift does not mean she is “weak.” Strength is strength. Someone can have a killer overhead press or bench but a lower number with the squat or deadlift. We tend to “train” what we are good at too. I have a 95-pound barbell press. I have had to work for this and I have because I have not been able to squat or deadlift heavy for a while. Does this mean just because I do not have a double bodyweight deadlift that I am weak? Of course not. My goal, and it is most of my ladies’ goal too, is to be strongER than the day before, week before, year before, not in any ONE thing but in general; and we are. We don’t necessarily think in terms of double this or triple that, just that we can do more than we could than the month before. My goal is to press triple digits by the end of the year and bench my bodyweight whenever that may be, about 25 pounds away.
Those are my goals. Not because they are strength goals per se, just my goals. ”
Finally, my answer…
I agree with all of these coaches’ answers.
The 2x bodyweight deadlift standard is a number that coaches put out there as a goal to work towards as a general measure of strength. For example, as Greg Robins pointed out, in his opinion a 2x bodyweight deadlift is proficient.
It is a goal that is very easily attainable if trained for properly and makes sense if the rewards outweigh the risks as it pertains to the individual’s goal.
However, no individual should feel like they are not strong, or that they have failed if they are not able to achieve a 2x bodyweight deadlift, or perhaps if they don’t even want to work towards this number.
Like Emily said it’s about being stronger than the day before, than the week before, than the year before, and if a 2x bodyweight deadlift lines up with generally being stronger than before, then great. If not, then it does not mean that you haven’t achieved the goal of being stronger than in the past.
For the average client, I like to set the goal of a 1x bodyweight deadlift. I think this is a reasonable goal to attain easily and fairly quickly if they are training consistently. I also think this goal translates to situations outside of the training room in the average client’s day to day life. There are situations where the average client will have to safely lift or know how to manage his or her bodyweight or close to their bodyweight.
This proficiency instills confidence in the individual, motivates the individual to want to continue to train and get stronger as this success helps to build self-efficacy, and it helps to prevent injury in real life situations outside structured training.
After this some clients are motivated to want to train for a 1.5x bodyweight deadlift.
After that I think the 2x bodyweight deadlift is reserved for those clients who catch the lifting bug and enjoy the thrill and rewards of discovering how strong they can truly become or for strength coaches or strength enthusiasts like myself who want to safely push the envelop for the same reasons. It’s exciting, it builds confidence, it’s a strength enthusiast’s kind of “fun”.
For me personally as someone who is 60.5 inches tall and maintains a bodyweight between 115lbs to 118lbs, a 2x bodyweight deadlift or heavier is something that motivates someone of my size to realize her true strength potential.
Less than a year ago I set a goal of a 275lbs deadlift. This is a goal that is less than 20lbs shy of a 2.5x bodyweight deadlift for me. After the last time I tested my max deadlift, which was 250lbs in August 2015, I thought this goal was probably about a year into the future.
Fast-forward to three months later after joining the Cressey Sports Performance Women’s Powerlifting Group with Coach Tony Bonvechio on September 24, 2015 and after following a powerlifting program for six weeks, I deadlifted 275lbs on November 5, 2015.
From my personal experience, once you achieve this kind of strength and improved proficiency with a lift it’s motivation to want to see how much stronger and how much more proficient at this lift you can become and perhaps even at other lifts.
My eyes are on 300lbs right now.
Overall it comes down to What is your goal? If the 2x bodyweight deadlift does not align with your goal then I would not be too concerned with hitting that number. However, I do think that regardless of a person’s goal it is important to train deadlifts regularly, and to at least work towards a 1x bodyweight deadlift or close to it, as it helps to teach the individual to lift heavy loads with his or her hips and it builds strength that helps to prevent injury outside of the training room.