T Nation

Strength Prioritization


Thought this would be a interesting topic. Really, just thinking out loud and want to know what you think from your experience and expertise. This thread could go in any direction.

I was thinking about strength and how one thing usually means another. What I mean is, it’s seems someone who can deadlift 500 lbs., undoubtedly will also have a solid Squat. That isn’t necessarily true when reversed because of other variables.

I find the first thing to go when deadlifting isn’t my legs or back but my grip/forearm strength.

The same could go for almost any kind of pull. It would make sense that being strong in either/or both chins and rows would be the start to a strong deadlift. This makes the deadlift dependent on both the squat and upper body pull strength in chins, rows, even farmers walks.

How valuable is the deadlift for someone who isn’t even excelling in bodyweight + rows and chins?

How much work/time should be spent on deadlifting versus squatting and rows/chins/grip?

The same can be said for benching. There are “strong” benchers who struggle overhead pressing their bodyweight. The opposite would be rare, if it’s even possible. Should more time be spent overheating pressing versus benching?

There are also statistics that show different pushup variations via bands,chains,weighted,TRX can produce similar strength gains as the bench, whereas I don’t know if there is a movement that can produce the same strength gains in the upper body as the overhead press.

My idea is when it comes to strength nothing beats a Squat, strength in a pull (rows/chins), and a overhead press. Just a thought but how much time should be spent deadlifting until squatting near 2x bodyweight and excelling in either chins or heavy rows. Possibly even walking their bodyweight in their hands.

I want to know what you guys think as far as where 99% of guys should prioritize their lifting. This can go wherever it wants, just want to start a conversation/ learn something.


That’s a somewhat interesting question.

First, you’re never going to get a single answer. A powerlifter needs to be good at all competition lifts. Their training will reflect this. How good they are at rows and chins and OHP is irrelevant. Weightlifters need to be good at the snatch and C&J. So to that extent, when (if ever) to focus on BP and DL depends on what you’re doing.

With your specific reference to grip being the main limiter in DL performance, that’s just you. If you want to fix that getting a stronger grip is the solution. Chins and rows are one way to achieve this but not the only, nor necessarily the best, way.

Also, you mention that a 500 lbs puller will have a solid squat. Not always true. I have a friend who also powerlifts in the 165s. He has a 480+ lbs pull but his squat until recently was anything but solid and he would even now probably struggle to hit a 308 lbs squat without wraps. Some people just are better at some lifts.

Also, while you say quite reasonably that the squat and press are possibly the best indicators of strength, you say that upper body pulling also falls into this category. This is certainly valid to an extent, because I can’t think of a strong individual who can’t row heavy or is at least OK at pull ups.

But, the deadlift is a very different test of strength. It is nothing like an upper body pull at all and I have seen guys who are quite good at pull ups but who cannot deadlift close to a similarly sized guy who trains his deadlift but isn’t so good at pull ups.

The pull up is a fantastic measure of upper body pulling strength. The deadlift is a measure of overall strength.

I would contend that the vast majority of people would do best focusing on the squat, press, deadlift and pull up. This is for people not competing in strength sports.

I think that generally speaking, anyone who diligently and consistently follows an even halfway sensible strength program will get stronger and that this will quite quickly translate to any of the big lifts. Yes, some lifts transfer better than others, but a strong person will almost always move more weight than a weaker person on any given lift regardless of how they got strong in the first place.


There is a lot to unpack here.

Assuming we’re talking about the conventional deadlift, this isn’t true. A lifter’s leverages are going to play a huge factor here. I had a 500lb deadlift when I only had a mid 3s squat, mainly because I have a short torso and long limbs (with especially long forearms). I am built for the conventional deadlift, which means I am NOT build to squat. Someone with a long torso and short legs is going to be a monster squatter while having difficulty performing a conventional deadlift, which is why these types of folks tend to pull sumo in powerlifting.

Accepting my above statement as true, we again understand this statement to be true only in certain circumstances. In general, I find the conventional deadlift more a hinging of the hip movement than simply a squat with the bar on the floor, so I don’t find that the barbell back squat has significant carryover to it. Chins and rows aren’t bad, but if your grip is the thing holding you back, it sounds like you simply have a weak grip. This can be fixed with grip training, which (along with neck training) tends to be one of the most neglected areas of training. Most folks attempting to passively train grip (letting other movements in the workout do it), while those folks with a monster grip ACTIVELY train it.

As an anecdote, I’ve pulled a 650lb deadlift off the floor at 200lbs bodyweight, and I haven’t performed a barbell row in years, nor do I ever go heavy on rows or chins. I go with very high volume instead. I don’t find strong rows/chins necessary to build a strong deadlift, and attempting to use farmer’s walks to build a deadlift seems disastrous to me (unless you’re just practicing the pick-up).

Here is where I tend to be a heretic and say that, unless one wants to be a strongman or powerlifter, I see no real compelling reason to have the barbell deadlift proper in a routine. It’s a pretty arbitrary movement, where plate diameter was determined as a means to prevent injury for olympic lifters on a missed lift, and in turn that plate diameter now determines the ROM of the movement. I like partial pulls, neutral handle pulls, odd object lifting, and a variety of other approaches.

I imagine this is because strong benchers are weighing upwards of/over 300lbs, which is a monster overhead press. It’s an odd thing to compare their bodyweights in this metric, as I know of people that can overhead press their bodyweight while still not having great benches, because these people weigh 140lbs.

A strong presser will be strong at pressing. Mobility might limit their overhead ability, or simply a lack of practice. That said, body size can also play a role in benching ability, in the sense that a bencher with a massive belly can reduce the ROM of the movement, so there are a lot of factors at play.

As for your questions regarding how much time should be spent doing XYZ, it all depends on your goals. Decide what you want to do, then determine the best way to get there.


To be honest, I don’t understand why you would avoid the deadlift until your grip strength improves. I think that misses a raft of practical benefits for , at best, a academic argument.

My philosophy is:

  • Everybody should be deadlifting (injuries excluded)
  • Deadlifts should be at least a 1:2 ratio with squats (if you did 10 sets of squats this week, do at least 5 sets of deadlifts - within reason)
  • back work should just be done (unless you have a reason). Eg. I haven’t tracked or programmed chins or rowing for years.


I guess what I can take away from your guys’ comments is it is individualized and there are not absolutes. There are also many variables.

This is a good way to look at your training, and if one thing really seems to be stalling your progress, it can be made apparent by looking at the lifts for what they are and attacking those weak areas.

My argument for grip strength, which I feel for a lot of guys is a limiting factor the chins, heavy rows and walks can help build those forearm flexor muscles more through volume and tension versus just absolute strength.

I guess another question I have is, can the deadlift help your squat numbers? Does the explosiveness of the deadlift translate to possibly better squats? And would neglecting deadlifts possibly hurt your squat?


I’ve honestly never seen someone with a strong grip use this approach to grip training. You can get volume and tension through grip training as well as absolute strength, depending on how you structure it. I hit Captains of Crush grippers for over a hundred reps in some workouts, whereas with others I’m picking up the rolling thunder for singles, but in all cases the focus is on building the GRIP rather than trying to build a bunch of other muscles and oh yeah it would be nice if the grip got built too.

If you really prize grip strength, it’s worth training it hard, just like anything else.

I have never really known my squat to help my deadlift, or vise versa (assuming we’re talking a normal barbell squat). However, safety squat bar squat and deadlift really gel well together.


If you’re one of those people whose deadlift drives their squat, yes, it can. If you aren’t, it probably won’t.

There aren’t absolutes in this respect. For myself, I’ve found that my deadlift and squat tend to go up together, but I doubt that my squat would drop if I stopped training the deadlift or vice versa.


Probably one of the not so strong guys here but I’ll chime in regarding the whole “grip strength” issue. For the past 3-4 months of so, I’ve been using straps for at least 90% of my deadlifting. Grip however, hasn’t been an issue. I would attribute this to Farmer’s Walk. I’m not saying that the Farmer’s Walk is a grip exercise, its a EVERYTHING(pretty sure everything gets worked when I’m doing them) exercise. However, it has improved my grip in the sense that, I love doing them. I wanna do them heavier and go further every single time. Perhaps, this simply forced my grip to get stronger out of pure necessity.

Maybe, instead of viewing having strong grip as a means to an end, view them as an end. Does this make sense or am I just being crazy?

This, basically.


My grip was trash until I finally prioritized it. Just doing your lifts isnt enough once you progress to a certain point. Just my humble 2 cent chime in.