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Training for the ACFT: The 3-Repetition Maximum Strength Deadlift (MDL). Part 2.

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

If progressive overload is the most fundamental concept in strength and conditioning, specificity is a close second. Part 1 of training for the MDL was all about building a foundation in the trap-bar deadlift, but trap-bar deadlifting is not the only way to improve the MDL. According to the SAID Principle, adaptations that occur in the human body as a result of a given stress are specific to that stressor. These adaptations are a general tendency of a variety of complex mechanisms to improve the body’s response when that same stress is applied again. So, if we appropriately overload the body (aka create stress) in the tricep extension exercise, and we continue to do so progressively over time, we will become more resistant to that specific type of stress; the system is capable of conducting more, or heavier, tricep extensions. This favorable adaptation is specific to the type of stress induced, however. Common sense would agree that conducting tricep extensions will never make you stronger in the deadlift. When properly implemented as an accessory lift however, tricep extensions might make you better at the bench press. This is because the bench press and tricep extension share some biomechanical similarities; it is also because the tricep muscle works in conjunction with the muscles of the chest to execute a bench press.

A quick recap: the body responds to specific demands with similarly specific adaptations. Accessory lifts that improve the strength qualities of a given muscle group will likely contribute to improved performance in primary lifts that share that muscle group, or in movements that are biomechanically similar. With these ideas in mind, training for the MDL event in the ACFT must be specific to the muscle groups and motor patterns of the trap-bar deadlift exercise.

The trap-bar deadlift is different than a conventional deadlift with a straight bar. The Army deliberately chose to use the trap-bar to assess absolute strength for several reasons: 1) it is a little bit less technical than the traditional deadlift and this flattens the learning curve; 2) it may put lifters at less risk of hyperextension, and it decreases the likelihood of excessive spinal flexion as a result of getting “pulled forward;” 3) it transfers to “sport” at least as well as the conventional deadlift.

Biomechanically, the trap-bar deadlift is more similar to a squat than it is a conventional deadlift. As compared to a conventional deadlift, both the squat and the trap-bar deadlift are more “quad-dominant;” the squat and trap-bar deadlift also share similar torso angles. Given these similarities (which result in similar motor patterns and muscle activation), the squat should be a mainstay in your MDL training. See below for accessory lifts to help improve your MDL.

For the legs:

For the trunk:

For the Grip:

For the Upper-Back

  • pull-ups (vertical pulls)

  • Dumbbell rows (horizontal pulls)


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 ACFT.

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