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Training for the ACFT: The 3-Repetition Maximum Strength Deadlift (MDL). Part 1.

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

Defined simply, strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to generate force against an external resistance. The specific conditions of the external resistance (usually characterized by the weight of the load) determine the specific strength qualities of the muscle group. If the muscle group is required to generate maximum force in order to lift or move a load a single time, we typically call this a 1-Repetition Maximum or 1RM. Traditionally, the 1RM is the most “absolute” measure of muscular strength. In sport, like in combat, other qualities of muscular strength are also important. For instance, the ability to lift a sub-maximal load repeatedly, or to hold a static contraction for a given period of time, is another specific strength quality typically defined as strength-endurance or muscular endurance. Under other specific conditions, we could further describe strength qualities like speed-strength* and strength-speed** . No matter the specific strength quality we seek to develop, the foundational principle for developing strength is progressive overload. Over time, the nervous, muscular, and neuromuscular systems must be exposed to increasing levels of stress (heavier loads, more repetitions, or longer exposure to static loads) in order to develop the physiological adaptations*** that increase the capacity to demonstrate muscular strength.

  1. Speed-strength: rapid execution of unloaded movements or movements against light external resistance

  2. Strength-speed: rapid movements of heavy loads

  3. Physiological adaptations to strength training: structural and functional changes evidenced by the size and strength of muscles; hypertrophy (an increase in the muscles' cross-sectional area); disinhibition of inhibitory mechanisms like golgi tendon organs; improvements in intra- and intermuscular coordination (synchronization, recruitment, and rate coding).

As previously indicated, the specific conditions of the external resistance (usually the weight of the load) help us define the type of strength displayed by a muscle group. The type of external resistance moved not only helps us define the type of strength displayed, but intelligent manipulation of the external resistance is also one of the most critical aspects to developing more strength. In other words, moving light, sub-maximal loads repetitively contributes to developing strength-endurance. Lifting heavy, near-maximal loads for just a few repetitions contributes to developing absolute strength. The MDL, event 1 of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), is a very deliberate measure of absolute strength; therefore, efforts to improve performance in the MDL should be done according to the specific conditions of external resistance that bring about the most efficient absolute strength gains: lifting loads greater than 75% of one’s 1RM.

Prescribing the load (weight to be lifted) according to a percentage of an individual’s 1-repetition maximum is one commonly used method for describing intensity. As previously mentioned, modifying the intensity and volume (number of repetitions performed in a given exercise) are the most commonly modified variables used to ensure that progressive overload is achieved.


Brand new to strength training?

Follow this very simple prescription to increase your performance in the MDL over the course of several weeks.

Execute the deadlift twice per week. There should be at least 2 days between efforts, but no more than 4. Use a linear weight progression (LWP). LWP+5 = use the same weight as the last day of training plus 5 pounds.

Week 1 - 4x8 (4 sets of 8 repetitions) @ 75-80% of your 1RM*

Week 2 - Progress linearly. 4x8 @ the last lift’s weight plus 5 lbs (LWP +5).

Weeks 3 & 4 - 4x6 @ LWP +10

Weeks 5 & 6 - 3x5 @ LWP+10

Week 7 - Re-Test 3RM

*Don’t know your 1RM? Even easier… just execute the first set with a weight that you think you could do 10 or 11 times. Only do 8 though… you’ve got 3 more sets after the first set. If you don’t think you’ll be able to lift all 4 sets at the weight you chose, adjust the weight appropriately.


Know the difference between training for power and training for muscular strength? How do you push your anaerobic threshold higher so you can work harder for longer periods of time? How much recovery is required during and after a workout to maximize your gains? can help you learn the training principles you'll need to dominate the Army's new fitness test - the ACFT.

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