Our journey across the powerlifting map during this programming review series now takes us to the Coan/Philippi Deadlift Routine. For those of you who are unaware, this is not a eBook or anything that you have to purchase. The Coan Philippi Routine is free and widely distributed across the internet. This is a deadlift only routine which means we aren’t going to be able to evaluate it as a true powerlifting program. It is only one piece of a powerlifting program: the deadlift piece.
This has to be one of the most popular deadlift routines of all-time. I’d speculate that it is THE most popular deadlift program of all-time. With that said, why don’t we take a closer look?
If you’d rather watch than read:
Coan/Philippi Deadlift Routine: History, Context
Ed Coan, at one point, owned four all-time world record raw deadlifts. This includes his infamous 901lbs pull at 220lbs body weight:
It is important to note that Ed Coan himself has never confirmed whether or not he actually performed this routine. Considering that I own his training DVDs, and have watched them several times, I can tell you that this routine was NOT the one he presented there. His deadlift routine really didn’t look anything like this whatsoever. He would work up to one or two top sets using Western periodization. The “speed sets” in Coan/Philippi were never mentioned.
As the legend has it, Coan wrote this program for his buddy Mark Philippi – a strongman competitor. It is likely that Eddie was taking into account the conditioning demands of that sport when he wrote this routine. The routine features a lot of pulling on short rest and even circuit style assistance work. Again, Coan didn’t do that type of thing in his own training for powerlifting. It is curious that it ended up in Phillippi’s Routine. The likely explanation, as I’ve already alluded to, is that Eddie was accounting for the fact this routine was going to be run by a strongman competitor.
Nonetheless, countless hundreds, if not thousands of people, have run this routine successfully. Everyone from your average gym bro, to powerlifters, and even some bodybuilders have tried this routine now and again. It has a long track record of success.
The Actual Coan/Phillipi Deadlift Routine
The actual program itself needs to be broken up into two parts to really understand it: your main deadlift work and your assistance work. If you want a preview of the whole program, check out the Coan Philippi Spreadsheet.
As you can see, for the most part, you’re working up to a single top set on the deadlift with progressively heavier poundages each and every single week. Keep in mind, these %s are based off of your “desired” max not your current max. Most people aim for a 25-35lbs improvement over the 10 weeks. So, when the program calls for 90%, that is actually quite a bit more than 90% for example. If you don’t get stronger as this program goes on, you have no chance to finish it.
Now, after your main deadlift set you’re going to be performing “speed” deadlifts. Realistically, these should be called “work capacity” deadlifts. You’re working anywhere from 60-75% and doing multiple triples on limited rest. This is nothing like Westside speed work for the deadlift which typically features singles and accommodating resistance. Most of these sets probably won’t be that “speedy” by the end. They serve mostly to condition you to pulling in a fatigued state and they greatly improve your deadlift work capacity.
Now, the most complicated part of this program is actually the assistance work.
In Weeks 1-4, you are going to perform the following circuit three times doing eight reps per set and resting 90 seconds between exercises:
1) Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
2) Bent Rows
3) Underhand Pulldowns
4) Arched Back Goodmornings
Aim to increase the weights a bit each week.
In Weeks 5-9, you’re going to add Power Shrugs to the Mix using the following percentages of your deadlift max:
Week 5) 60%
Week 6) 65%
Week 7) 70%
Week 8) 75%
Week 9) 75%
In Weeks 5-6, you perform the following assistance work doing each exercise for three sets of five reps before moving onto the next exercise (rest 90-120 seconds between sets):
1) Power Shrugs
2) Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
3) Bent Rows
4) Underhand Pulldowns
5) Arched Back Goodmornings
In Weeks 7-8, you do the exact same thing as Weeks 5 and 6, but you reduce the amount of sets per exercise to two instead of three.
In Week 9, you eliminate all the assistance exercises besides Power Shrugs and Stiff-Legs. Still do two sets of five.
In Week 10, you’ll perform no assistance at all.
And if that is too much to keep track of, just grab a copy of the Coan Philippi Spreadsheet.
If you take a look at the program above, the program leads you right into a meet peak in Week 11. You don’t have to come up with a peak yourself; there is one built-in to the program.
The periodization employed by this program definitely features a pendulum structure. However, unlike most pendulum periodization programs that we’ve examined, which go from hypertrophy to strength, the pendulum here swings from work capacity to maximal strength.
You’ll notice that in the first four weeks of the program, your rest intervals are only 90 seconds and the volume on the speed work is far higher. You’re also doing your assistance movements in a circuit style. This higher volume and lower rest training period lays the foundation for the heavier weeks by improving the lifter’s work capacity.
In Weeks 5-8, all the rest periods increase, you stop doing circuit style assistance, and the volume on the speed sets is heavily reduced. This is where the pendulum begins to swing back towards maximal strength away from improved work capacity.
In Weeks 9-10, the full strength emphasis goes into effect. You can now rest as long as you want between sets and most of the assistance is just completely dropped. You also switch over to doing singles on your main deadlift work sets. This is peaking time.
You can see that there are three distinct periods here: Weeks 1-4 with a huge emphasis on work capacity, Weeks 5-8 which begins the transition to max strength, and Weeks 9-11 which shift entirely into the realm of maximal strength.
The programming here is most appropriate for intermediate trainees and beyond. As touched on above in the periodization discussion, the volume slowly tapers down over the course of this cycle.
During the first period of the program, where work capacity is the dominant emphasis, you’re doing between 5 and 8 triples for your volume/speed deadlift work. You’re doing three sets of eight on the assistance work.
During the second period, you do no more than three sets of three for the volume/speed deadlift work. The assistance drops down to three sets of five initially and then down even further to two sets of five. You’re preparing for the peak in these weeks.
During Weeks 9-11, the volume is pretty much dropped entirely as the intensity is jacked up over 95%. You go from doing three sets of three on the speed work to two sets of three. The assistance drops from five exercises to two and you’re only doing two sets.
As you can see, this is your standard, Western style programming with higher volume, lower intensity at the beginning of the cycle and higher intensity, lower volume towards the end. While I prefer true block programming to this approach, there is no doubt that this style of Western programming is both very similar to block and very effective for many, many people. This is a smart way to set things up for the intermediate trainee and beyond.
This isn’t actually a powerlifting program so it is hard to have much to say in terms of specificity. While I think that increasing deadlift work capacity is incredibly important, especially for Americans who seem to take an extremely minimalist position on deadlift training, I don’t know that it is necessary to develop that work capacity with limited rest periods.
The point of strength training is to get stronger. The point of conditioning is to get in better shape within the context of your sport. While limiting rest allows you to accumulate more fatigue with lighter weights, it also forces you to lift lighter weights. This is the problem with trying to mix modalities and protocols. When you’re strength training, strength train. When you’re conditioning, condition. Don’t try to both simultaneously. It limits the effectiveness of both the strength component and the conditioning component.
So, in terms of specificity to powerlifting, this program, in my opinion, would be better with longer rests and heavier volume work even if that resulted in less overall volume. Work capacity can be improved without short rests.
That said, you have to like that this program actually has you doing volume work with the main competition movement. That is refreshing to see from an American program. Most Americans feature no deadlifting volume at all. Coan/Phillippi is a notable exception and this is one of the best features of the program.
That said, you’re still doing far more assistance work than actual deadlifting which is always a no-no in terms of specificity. Consider that, in Week One, the highest volume week, you’re doing 26 reps on the deadlift, but you’re doing 96 assistance reps with various movements that mostly aren’t close variants of the competition lifts (besides stiff-legged DLs). That’s a bit out of balance in my opinion. As usual, I’d rather see more deadlifting than more assistance.
This program features traditional progressive overload. The weights literally get heavier almost every single week on the main work sets and volume work. You’re forcing your body to adapt due to the exposure to progressively heavier loads.
Well, it is hard to say anything about fatigue management for a program that isn’t a program, but rather a routine for a single lift.
I personally prefer multiple deadlift sessions per week over a single session with high volume and lots of assistance. I’d rather see this work load split up into two workouts with more deadlifting and less assistance.
That said, considering most Americans can’t handle very much deadlift volume due to their cultural bias towards minimalist deadlift training styles, this is probably still pushing the bounds of what many can recover from. That is also why it works so well for most lifters who actually finish it.
If you’re used to some ridiculous set-up where you do a single set of five deadlifts once per week or something like that, this routine is going to be a kick in the ass for you. It is a great transition to doing real deadlift volume on a weekly basis. That said, for lifters who already pull for higher volumes, this isn’t a substantial workload. And, on the other hand, for lifters who both have sub-par recovery, such as masters lifters, and are conditioned to lower deadlift workloads, this might be an impossible program to finish.
If you fall in the right demographic for the program, generally younger guys who have been doing only a handful of deadlift work sets per week, this program will likely be challenging in terms of fatigue, but it will also likely result in great gains. For those who fall outside of that demographic, the results will be variable with some getting virtually nothing from the program and others having no shot to even finish it at all.
As is typical of a program from the 80s or 90s, there is virtually zero autoregulation on this program. Zero. None. Everything is prescribed and there isn’t anything that exists on a rep range in this program. Out of all the programs we’ve looked at, this may be the only one that gets a complete zero in terms of individual differences.
I am lukewarm on the Coan/Phillippi program. On the one hand, I am a big fan of the fact that the program actually has you doing real deadlift volume unlike most American programs. The program is fairly specific in that manner. If you’re a younger guy who is used to low deadlift volume, you’ll likely experience explosive gains from doing this program the first time or two. And the program isn’t too difficult to fit into any other routine you may want to have for squat and bench.
However, overall, the program isn’t a good fit for many demographics out there. There is zero autoregulation, the workloads might be too challenging for those of you who are conditioned to doing one deadlift set per week (especially if you’re older), and I don’t really see the point of the minimal rest periods for powerlifting style training.
I’d recommend this program under a specific set of conditions: you have relatively good recovery meaning that you’re either gaining weight or a younger guy, you’ve been doing minimalist deadlift training and you’re looking to transition to something higher volume, and you’re not going to try anything stupid like doing this at the same time as Smolov for squats or something like that. If you meet those conditions, you can expect pretty substantial gains in my opinion.
For you guys who already do a lot of deadlift volume, I’d pass. For older guys, proceed with caution.
As I said, I’m luke warm on Coan/Phillippi.
The programming series is damned close to its finale now my friends. If you have final requests, please let them be known.
The next program we’re going to take a look at is Korte’s 3×3. We haven’t taken a look at German style programming yet so this should be very interesting and we should see some new elements we haven’t gotten to examine as of yet.
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Table of Contents
Powerlifting Programs I: Scientific Principles of Powerlifting Programming
Powerlifting Programs II: Critical Training Variables
Powerlifting Programs III: Training Organization
Powerlifting Programs IV: Starting Strength
Powerlifting Programs V: StrongLifts 5×5
Powerlifting Programs VI: Jason Blaha’s 5×5 Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs VII: Jonnie Candito’s Linear Program
Powerlifting Programs VIII: Sheiko’s Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs IX: GreySkull Linear Progression
Powerlifting Programs X: The PowerliftingToWin Novice Program
Powerlifting Programs XI: Madcow’s 5×5
Powerlifting Programs XII: The Texas Method
Powerlifting Programs XIII: 5/3/1 and Beyond 5/3/1
Powerlifting Programs XIV: The Cube Method
Powerlifting Programs XV: The Juggernaut Method
Powerlifting Programs XVI: Westside Barbell Method
Powerlifting Programs XVII: Sheiko Routines
Powerlifting Programs XVIII: Smolov and Smolov Junior
Powerlifting Programs XIX: Paul Carter’s Base Building
Powerlifting Programs XX: The Lilliebridge Method
Powerlifting Programs XXI: Jonnie Candito’s 6 Week Strength Program
Powerlifting Programs XXII: The Bulgarian Method for Powerlifting
Powerlifting Programs XXIII: Brian Carroll’s 10/20/Life
Powerlifting Programs XXIV: Destroy the Opposition by Jamie Lewis
Powerlifting Programs XXV: The Coan/Philippi Deadlift Routine
Powerlifting Programs XXVI: Korte’s 3×3
Powerlifting Programs XXVII: RTS Generalized Intermediate Program