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ACFT Prep: How to build your 3-RM deadlift.

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Photo by Kevin Fleming

Has anxiety over the ACFT test set in because you're not good at deadlifting? Maybe you've never even seen a trap bar in your life up until a year ago...


Don't feel lonely, it's definitely one of the more challenging aspects of the test that more than a handful of soldiers are struggling with. Getting that 100 point score isn't too hard with the right training and concentrated effort..

If your plan is to just max out every training session and hope for the best, there's a good chance you're limiting your improvement. With a few modifications and techniques, improving your deadlift is possible for almost anyone.

Work on form

You've heard it before, but it's true that if you want a good deadlift: you have to focus on form.

Having good deadlift form not only helps limit the risk of injury but it also helps you develop maximum force and efficiency, which is what you need for this test.

While proper form requires experience, focusing on improving during your training should be a priority.

Deadlift often

It should come as no surprise, but if you want to improve your deadlift, you should perform it as often as you can while still recovering.

Deadlifts are hard, and really, that's a good thing. If you have to carry, well, just about anything when you're in the field, you want to be prepared, and honestly, there are few exercises better than the deadlift.

If you're close to being able to deadlift 340lbs for three reps (a 100 score), then a good rule of thumb is to deadlift heavy every other week to maintain and improve.

If you have a hard time with the deadlift and have a lot of work to do, then doing the deadlift more often will really help.

For the first week, go heavy in the rep range of two to five reps per set. Then on the following week, go a little lighter and allow yourself to work up to six to ten reps.

Even though it's not as heavy, you'll still be practicing the exercise and developing the muscle groups that help you perform the lift.

Use elevated and deficit deadlifts

If you struggle with the deadlift, there's a good chance you either have trouble lifting the weight or locking out at the top. Depending on your weak point, deficit and elevated deadlifts can help.

Having a perfect deadlift set-up will help fix these issues before they even start.

If you have trouble getting the weight off the floor, try using deficit deadlifts by standing on a 45lb plate.

Standing on a plate increases the distance the weight needs to travel, which makes it a bit harder. As a result, you'll improve your ability to move the weight off the ground when the distance shortens during a standard deadlift.

If you have trouble with the lockout, try using elevated deadlifts (AKA rack pulls) by placing a platform under the weight plates on each side. Doing this allows you to overload the top portion of the lift, making you stronger during that part of the lift.

Work on grip strength

There's a good chance that your grip is partially to blame for your weak deadlift and there's a simple test to find out. Try deadlifting with wrist straps and then deadlift without them. If you can lift more with the straps, your grip is lacking.

If that's the case, direct grip work is a good idea since, during the ACFT test, you won't have straps.

If your grip needs work, try a few of the following:

  • Weighted dead hangs on a pull-up bar for as long as possible
  • Farmer's walks with the heaviest dumbbells or kettlebells you can
  • Heavy barbell holds
  • Barbell wrist curls

Over time, your grip will improve, making the deadlift a bit easier to manage.

Use dead stop deadlifts

When you perform many deadlifts without pausing, your muscles rely on a stretch reflex to develop force. That's why you might notice that your second and third rep feel a little easier than the first.

Even though you can use the stretch reflex during the test, practicing the lift without this reflex in training can help you learn to develop as much force as possible from a dead stop.

When you deadlift, get set up and perform your first rep. Once the bar touches the ground, let go of the bar and completely reset. Then, continue the set.


For a full deadlift tutorial check out my Mighty Fit Plan Deadlift Tutorial.

Lift with your legs

Most people with weak deadlifts pull with their arms and upper back, and you can tell because they're the ones that look like the St. Louis Gateway Arch during the lift.

Instead, you want to initiate the lift through your feet instead of pulling with your arms.

It's one of the main reasons your back hurts when you deadlift.

To do this, get set up by gripping the bar as you normally would. Then, pull hard on the bar, but just before the bar leaves the ground, change your focus towards pressing through your feet while maintaining tension on the bar.

While doing this will take some practice, repeated practice will help you initiate the lift with your legs, which isn't only a safer practice, but one that will make you stronger in the deadlift as well.

In closing

The deadlift isn't dangerous if you know what you're doing. Don't put yourself in the scenario that involves you attempting 340lbs on the ACFT even though you've never done that weight in training.

If you do, you're your own worst enemy (Just like that song from 1999.)

This article, the one you just read has links to 7 different pieces of content I wrote for you about deadlifting. You don't have to look anywhere else! Just absorb this content and get in the gym.