What a Teenager and a Pick Up Game of Basketball Can Teach You About Hitting a Deadlift PR

As the sound of metal plates hitting the ground echoed throughout the room, he looked up at me, clearly shaken by what was happening. Instead of speaking, however, he just stared at me.  Sort of like when a dog stares at you because it’s waiting for something.

After about 60 seconds of this awkward “stare at each other and nobody say anything moment,” he finally spoke:

“What in the f___ was that?  Why does that feel so heavy?  I crushed this last week and now it feels like a million pounds?”

To his credit, he was right.

When deadlifting the week before the weight he was currently using flew off the ground.  This week, however, it crawled.  And like all competitive athletes, he wanted to know what in the world was going on.

My Secret

Here’s my secret:  I knew this was going to happen.

You may balk at hearing me say that, but here’s why I knew it was going to happen and why I let it happen:

 The week before he hit a personal record for his sumo deadlift in intensity (heaviest 3 reps he’d ever done), volume (lifted more total weight than he ever had), and density (did it all in shorter time).  Although I did not know these things were going to happen, he felt really good that day so I let him push it.  All in all, I had doubts he would repeat that performance.

 This is the big one:  he played two hours of pick up basketball the day before (it was supposed to be a full rest day).  I don’t care who you are, this crushes your ability to recover and perform the next day.

 I wanted this to be a good learning experience for him.  He’s still in high school, so if he could learn he’s not invincible now then that would be a major bonus (Within reason of course.  He wasn’t in jeopardy of hurting himself).  All kidding aside, part of my job as a coach is to teach people how to manage workloads and how to manage their bodies (aka when to push it and when to back off).  This was going to be a good chance to illustrate how everything he does leaves traces in his central nervous system, and can potentially impact performance.  Furthermore, it would allow me to get across the point that you have to train to your body/ability that day (one reason I'm not a huge fan of set percentages).

What We Did

For starters, I gave him the speal about how you’ll have good days and bad days, and how everything he does (like playing basketball) can have an impact on his performance.

Once I saw a semi-lightbulb go off in his head, I proceeded to tell him to take it light the rest of the way out.  The last thing he needed to do was push through and make things worse than they already were.  Granted, he wasn’t too happy to hear this, but he eventually agreed.

He did all the reps and sets prescribed, but did nothing very strenuous.  He was going to get through everything to the best of his ability that day, and then come back next week and try again.

What Happened

A week had gone by since the infamous “what the f” moment, and once again the sound of colliding metal plates resonated throughout the room

As he rested the bar on the floor, I once again received a look.  This time, however, I received a look of pure astonishment:  he had pr’d his deadlift by 15 pounds.

Now I can’t say this with one 100% certainty, but I’m pretty damn sure this never would have happened if we hadn’t backed off the week before.  It gave his body the “rest” it needed and allowed him to adequately recover.

Anyways, here’s what you need to take away from this post:  always listen to your body.

You’ll have good days, you’ll have bad days and you’ll have days in-between.  The idea is to always work to the best of your ability on any given day.  This will ensure long term progress and success.

If you start pushing through and making yourself work on the crappy days, then you’re body will more than likely continue to slide into depression.  Remember, you only get better when you recover, and nobody knows if you’re recovered better than your body.

Before you go, I’d like to leave you with this great quote by Mel Siff:

“To me, the sign of a really excellent routine is one which places great demands on the athlete, yet produces progressive long-term improvement without soreness, injury or the athlete ever feeling thoroughly depleted. Any fool can create a program that is so demanding that it would virtually kill the toughest Marine or hardiest of elite athletes, but not any fool can create a tough program that produces progress without unnecessary pain.”

about the author


James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.