The deadlift — your favorite go-to for building strength and muscle across your whole body. This move forms the basis of many other weightlifting exercises like the snatch and clean. Improving your deadlift has excellent carryover to all things hip hinge.
To keep getting better at the deadlift, you need to deadlift more. But even if you’re very skilled, there comes the point when weaknesses in different points of your deadlift — off the floor or lockout, for example — start to slow you down. This is when deadlift accessory exercises become your best friend.
Here, we’ll dive into the 15 best deadlift accessory exercises with a splash of anatomy and programming tips and tricks to get the most out of these moves.
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Best Deadlift Accessory Exercises
- Deficit Deadlift
- Barbell Good Morning
- Romanian Deadlift with Horizontal Band Resistance
- Bent-Over Row
- Rack Pull
- Kettlebell Swing
- Hip Thrust
- Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Meadows Row
- Barbell Back Squat
- Barbell Romanian Deadlift
- Front-Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
- Band-Assisted Broad Jump
- TRX Body Saw
- Unilateral TRX Row
With the deficit deadlift, you’ll pull from a raised surface like a weight plate or small wooden box. This increases your range of motion. Doing so helps boost your speed from the floor while improving your upper and lower back strength since you have more ground to cover.
When you return to pulling from the floor, it’ll likely feel easier because you’ve spent time pulling from a deficit. A word of caution before you get too excited: the deficit deadlift is an advanced variation. Approach this variation cautiously if you have hip mobility issues or back pain.
Benefits of the Deficit Deadlift
- Since you’re on an elevated surface, you’ll use extra lower back strength to avoid excessive spinal rounding at the lumbar spine.
- The larger range of motion gives you more time under tension for increased strength and muscle potential.
- The deficit deadlift is a great potential fix when you’re slow off the floor.
How to Do the Deficit Deadlift
Stand on a weight plate or low wooden box no higher than four inches with the loaded barbell in front of you. Set up the same as with a conventional deadlift. Because you’re elevated, you may need to bend your knees more than average to maintain a neutral spine during your hinge.
Grip the bar. Keep your chest up and squeeze your armpits together. Push the ground away and pull the bar up until your knees are extended and your glutes locked out. Reset and repeat.
Barbell Good Morning
The barbell good morning trains and strengthens your entire posterior chain, including upping your glute strength. This exercise puts the glutes and hamstrings through a larger range of motion for better muscle-building potential.
Practice the good morning when you want to improve your hip hinge technique. It’ll also train your ability to keep your lower back neutral under load — all needed for a stronger and safer deadlift.
Benefits of the Barbell Good Morning
- The good morning forces you to maintain excellent form during your hip hinge.
- This move strengthens your lower back and all the spinal stabilizers that help prevent spinal flexion.
- The good morning can also be trained with a resistance band or dumbbell if the barbell isn’t an option.
How to Do the Barbell Good Morning
Get under a loaded barbell set in a power rack. Set up the same way you would for a back squat and perform a crisp walkout. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Reverse the lift by contracting your glutes and hamstrings until you stand back up.
Romanian Deadlift with Horizontal Band Resistance
Adding a horizontal resistance band to the Romanian deadlift (RDL) will improve your hinge technique, hamstring, and upper back strength. The horizontal band engages your upper back and lats because the band is pulling the barbell away from you.
That tugging will encourage you to sit back into your hip hinge, training your hamstrings to do more work as a hip extensor.
Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift with Horizontal Band Resistance
- The horizontal band strengthens your upper back and encourages you to keep the barbell close to your body.
- This exercise provides constant tension on your hips and hamstrings for great muscle-building potential.
- The weight on the bar and the band pulling the barbell away from you help improve your grip strength.
How to Do the Romanian Deadlift with Horizontal Band Resistance
Loop a light or medium around the middle of the barbell before you put plates on. Secure it to a low anchor point in front of the barbell. Bring the bar back toward you until it’s receiving tension from the band. Hinge down and deadlift off the floor. Perform your RDL as usual, ensuring that the bar is always close to your body.
The bent-over row strengthens your upper back, shoulders, biceps, and grip. It’s a popular accessory exercise for improving your conventional deadlift.
The bent-over row holds an isometric hip hinge. Doing so under load for time will help strengthen your lower and upper back endurance. This improves your technique and also allows for a safer and stronger pull.
Benefits of the Bent-Over Row
- This move adds strength and mass to your upper back, lats, and lower back.
- The bent-over row reinforces good hip hinge mechanics, which will directly carry over to your deadlift.
- It improves the endurance of your upper and lower back because you’re holding a hip hinge for time.
How to Do the Bent-Over Row
Hinge at your hips and grab a loaded barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and row the barbell until it’s touching your stomach. Aim to keep your elbows angled at about 45 degrees throughout the movement. Hold the top position of the row for a beat. Slowly lower the weight back down and repeat.
The rack pull trains the posterior chain muscles, including the erector spinae muscles, lower back, mid-back, and upper back muscles. The partial range of motion with the rack pull focuses on the lockout strength of your glutes and a little less on your hamstrings.
Because you’re pulling from a higher starting point, it’s easier to maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift. You can also lift more with this deadlift variation, so you’ll acclimate your body to lifting heavier weights to increase your deadlift strength.
Benefits of the Rack Pull
- Due to lifting from a partial range of motion and moving more weight, you’ll strengthen your deadlift lockout.
- The rack pull improves your grip strength and lower and upper back strength.
- It gives your lower back a break from pulling heavy from the floor.
How to Do the Rack Pull
Set the barbell up above or below your knees in the squat rack. Assume your standard deadlift stance and grip. Hinge down, grip the barbell with an overhand shoulder-width grip, and squeeze your armpits together. Keep your chest up and shoulders back and pull up until lockout, finishing with your glutes. Hinge back to the rack position. Reset and repeat.
Kettlebell swings are a powerhouse for boosting your glute and hamstring strength. While swinging the kettlebell, you’ll train your entire body for increased stability because you’re constantly adjusting to the shifting center of mass with each repetition.
This improves your core stability and endurance, which you need to pull off solid deadlifts. That makes kettlebell swings an excellent accessory exercise for the deadlift.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
- The kettlebell trains your hips and hamstrings for power, strength, and endurance.
- This is a great tool to improve your speed off the floor, lockout, and grip strength.
- The swing strengthens your anterior core and lower back, which is needed for a safer and stronger pull.
How to Do the Kettlebell Swing
Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, with the kettlebell just in front of you. Hinge down to grip the kettlebell, squeeze your armpits, and get your chest up. Hike the kettlebell behind you and thrust your hips forward, using this momentum to swing the kettlebell. Finish by squeezing your glutes and quads. Repeat in a continuous loop for reps.
The hip thrust builds strength and mass in your glutes and is a great accessory exercise for the deadlift. It’s as close to an isolation movement as exists for the glutes.
Focusing on that backside will carry over to the big lift by improving deadlift lockout strength. The hip thrust also focuses less on your lower back and hamstrings to give them a welcome break from heavy pulling.
Benefits of the Hip Thrust
- The hip thrust builds more glute mass, strength, and power than just about any hip extension exercise.
- It’s less technical and easier to perform than other heavily loaded movements on this list.
- Improved glute strength leads to better stabilization of your posterior chain and anterior core.
How to Do the Hip Thrust
Sit with your back against the edge of a bench parallel to you. With padding across your pelvis, roll a loaded barbell into the crease of your hips. Once the barbell is secure, drive your feet and back towards the bench. You want your shoulder blades on the bench and your upper body and hips in a straight line. Keep your upper body steady as you lower your hips toward the ground and when extending into lockout.
Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The traditional single-leg Romanian deadlift is a unilateral move that uncovers strength imbalances between each side of the body. As such, it is a tremendous balance challenge. To help with balance, enter the landmine single-leg RDL.
Due to the long lever and fixed bar path, the landmine variation is easier on balance and allows you to go heavier than you can with dumbbells or kettlebells. As a bonus, gripping the thick sleeve of a loaded barbell recruits more forearm muscles for improved grip strength.
Benefits of the Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- It’s often easier to perform than the dumbbell or kettlebell variations.
- Due to the heavier load and fixed bar path, you can recruit your hamstring muscles better.
- This variation reduces muscular imbalances between sides.
How to Do the Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Stand perpendicular to a barbell loaded in a landmine base or the corner of a wall. Hinge at your hips to bend forward until you can grab the sleeve of a barbell with one hand. Stand up. Lift the foot on the same side as the loaded hand off the floor. Maintain a slight bend in your knee and find your balance. Hinge forward until your torso is about parallel to the ground. Reset and repeat.
The Meadows row was invented by bodybuilder and coach extraordinaire John Meadows. Compared to other single-arm row variations, the Meadows row gives you more upper back activation. That’s a vital component for pulling heavy.
In addition to all that upper back-building, you’ll get added grip strength benefits. By holding the barbell’s fat end, you’ll need to recruit even more finger, wrist, and forearm strength.
Benefits of the Meadows Row
- The Meadows row increases grip and finger strength because you’re gripping the fat end of the barbell.
- This move allows a heavier load than single-arm dumbbell variations for added size and strength.
- You’ll even out upper back imbalances between sides for better muscle development.
How to Do the Meadows Row
Stand side on to the landmine with a staggered stance. Hinge down and grip the barbell with an overhand grip. Rest your non-working forearm on your front thigh. Push your back hip up slightly to feel a stretch in your lats. Row the handle towards your back hip, driving your elbow behind your body while retracting your shoulder blade. Lower down to the starting position. Reset and repeat.
Barbell Back Squat
The back squat is the “king of all exercises” for a good reason. Barbell squatting allows you to load your legs with more weight than most other leg exercises. Not to mention, you’ll be calling in muscular favors to support and move the weight across your entire body — including your back.
Although the squat and deadlift are entirely different movements, the barbell squat helps to improve your leg drive, which is needed after the initial pull from the floor. And especially if you’re doing the low bar back squat, you’ll be strengthening your upper back in a pretty major way.
Benefits of the Barbell Back Squat
- The back squat builds serious leg and back strength, which directly carries over to your deadlift.
- Improved leg strength and size improve your leg drive for the deadlift, which you need for when the barbell leaves the floor.
- The barbell squat helps you learn, practice, and reinforce solid bracing techniques that you’ll need for heavy deadlifts.
How to Do the Barbell Back Squat
Step underneath the barbell. Secure it on your upper back in a high or low position to lift the barbell off the squat rack. Adjust your grip width so you will get your elbows underneath the bar. Unrack it and take three steps back. Pull the barbell down to create upper back tension, take a deep breath, and squat down to your preferred depth. Squat up to the starting position. Reset and repeat.
Barbell Romanian Deadlift
The barbell Romanian deadlift is similar to the standard deadlift, but the Romanian version will have you lowering the bar to shin level rather than to the ground. This slight tweak keeps tension on your glute and hamstring muscles throughout the entire lift.
The conventional deadlift definitely involves your hamstrings, but the RDL is more of a hamstring specialist. You’ll be recruiting the backs of your thighs pretty heavily here, which will come in handy to support your conventional deadlift lockout.
Benefits of the Barbell Romanian Deadlift
- The RDL helps you focus specifically on growing those hamstrings.
- Like rack pulls, the Romanian deadlift will help improve your lockout strength for conventional deadlifts.
- Since the bar will never touch the ground, you’ll be under greater time under tension during this lift.
How to Do the Barbell Romanian Deadlift
Stand in front of the squat rack with the bar racked several inches below your knees. Hinge to grip the barbell with your preferred grip in front of your quads. Keep your chest and shoulders down. Take deep breath and brace your core. Deadlift the bar to standing. With control, lower the bar to shin height. Pause for the beat and hinge back to standing.
Front-Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
If you were to choose one unilateral strength accessory exercise to improve your barbell deadlift, the front-rack Bulgarian split squat would probably be it. This brutal exercise builds leg drive with its large range of motion and massive recruitment of your quads and glutes.
You’ll also bolster your hip mobility while building anterior core and upper back strength. You need all of these components for a stronger pull.
Benefits Of The Front-Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
- Bulgarian split squats reduce muscle imbalances between your legs and help to improve leg drive for squats and deadlifts.
- This move will give you more leg muscle recruitment, as Bulgarian split squats make you work harder than other split squat variations due to the increased balance demands and range of motion.
- Holding the weight in a front rack improves anterior core and upper back strength to help keep your spine neutral under a heavy compressive load.
How to Do the Front-Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
Clean a pair of kettlebells into the front rack position. Keep your chest up and your shoulders down. Place your back foot on a weight bench and then adjust your foot to your ideal position. Drop into a split squat by taking your back knee towards the floor while maintaining a slight forward lean. Drive your front foot through the floor to the starting position. Reset and repeat.
Band-Assisted Broad Jump
Broad jumps are a beastly expression of lower body strength and power. With broad jumps, you’ll train yourself to run faster, jump higher, and improve your deadlift lockout strength.
Performing broad jumps with the band makes it harder to overcome the resistance at the beginning. You’ll have to work harder for a more powerful takeoff. But the band might make it easier on the landing because it’ll take some of the impact off your knees.
Benefits of the Band-Assisted Broad Jump
- Performing a broad jump assisted by a resistance band will develop power while taking it easier on your joints.
- This move improves your hip hinge acceleration and power, which carries over to your deadlift lockout strength.
- Broad jumps are a great primer exercise before deadlifting, preparing you to lift heavy.
How to Do the Band-Assisted Broad Jump
Loop a resistance band around a power rack, step into it, and secure it around the front of your hips. Walk forward until you feel the band pulling you backward. Hinge forward, keeping your chest up. Let tension build in your hamstrings. Explode forward and jump, landing on the balls of your feet. Slowly walk back to the starting position. Set your hips back and repeat.
TRX Body Saw
Your big barbell lifts do strengthen your core, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to ignore training core strength. The TRX body saw builds tremendous anti-extension strength throughout your core and spine.
The barbell deadlift puts an incredible compressive load on your lower back. Strengthening your anti-extension strength can help ensure a safer and stronger pull.
Benefits of the TRX Body Saw
- The TRX body saw functions as a more unstable plank position, which can increase your core strength gains.
- This move builds anti-extension core strength to help keep your spine neutral while deadlifting.
- The TRX body saw strengthens your glutes, hip flexors, and deltoids, making it more than just a core exercise.
How to Do the TRX Body Saw
While on the floor with the TRX behind you, put your feet into the straps, which should be a foot above the ground. Get into a front plank position on your elbows. Press your elbows into the floor, squeeze your glutes, and use your elbows to push and pull your body back and forth for reps.
Unilateral TRX Row
Upper back and lat strength are essential for keeping a neutral spine during deadlifting. The TRX unilateral row will build the kind of upper back strength you need to keep command of that barbell.
Since it’s unilateral, you’ll also combat strength imbalances between sides and build your anti-rotational core strength. This exercise will strengthen your upper back without needing heavy weights, giving your body a break from the dumbbell and barbell.
Benefits of the Unilateral TRX Row
- Evening out upper back imbalances between sides will lead to better muscle development and a stronger pull.
- TRX suspension instability strengthens your core and shoulders against instability.
- This move reinforces anti-rotational strength in your obliques.
How to Do the Unilateral TRX Row
Take the TRX handles and loop them through each other to form a single handle. Take a firm grip and adjust your intensity by placing your feet further away from or closer to the anchor point. Keep your torso centered. Pull yourself towards the anchor point. Slowly lower down and repeat.
Muscles Worked by the Deadlift
From head to toe, pretty every muscle is involved in deadlifting, but we’re focusing on the main posterior muscles that make or break your deadlift.
Your upper back comprises the lats, rhomboids, and the upper, middle, and lower trapezius. Taken together, these muscles will help keep your spine neutral and keep the bar close to your body during the deadlift. Without a strong upper back, your pull is over before it begins.
Your lower back is composed of three muscles that form a column called the erector spinae. The erector spinae runs from your lower back and hips to your cervical (neck) spine. These three muscles are:
- Spinalis: The spinalis is the smallest muscle, nearest to the spinal column.
- Longissimus: This is the middle part and the largest muscle of the three muscles.
- Iliocostalis: The Iliocostalis is the furthest away from the spine and begins at the sacrum.
The primary function of these three muscles while deadlifting is to prevent the flexion and extension of your lower back under compressive load.
The glutes comprise three primary muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. These three muscles are the prime movers in hip extension and play an essential role in producing force for all hip hinge movements, including the deadlift.
You may often think of the hamstrings as one muscle, but they are a group of three muscles on the back of the thigh. They include: the biceps femoris (long and short head), semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. These assist the gluteus in extending your hips and their eccentric strength helps you lower the bar with control.
Programming Deadlift Accessory Training
How often you should train the deadlift depends on your lifting experience. If you are a novice with less than a year of training under your belt, then aiming for six to 10 weekly sets, — including accessory exercises — split over two days works well.
Suppose you’re an intermediate trainer with two to four years of deadlifting experience. In that case, you can bump your deadlifting volume (including accessory exercises) to 12 to 14 sets per week, split over two to three training sessions. For a veteran gym-goer, 14 to 16 weekly sets are more in order.
Deadlift Accessory Exercise Selection
With a wide range of accessory exercises, it is best to focus on your deadlift weaknesses. If you feel you are losing your upper back position and the bar drifts away, then some horizontal band deadlifts and TRX rows need to be your go-to.
Deficit deadlifts are a smart addition to your accessory routine if you’re an experienced deadlift who is slow off the floor. Training your accessories once or twice a week will go a long way to turning these weaknesses into a strength.
Deadlift Accessory Sets and Reps
As accessory exercises, these aren’t going to be your main strength-builders. As such, you’ll focus less on lifting as heavy as you can and more on supplementing your deadlift training.
- For Strength: Do three to five sets of six to eight reps.
- For Muscle Growth: Perform three to four sets of eight to 10 reps.
- For Endurance: Try two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps with less resistance.
Regardless of your set and rep scheme, make sure that you’re pushing hard while using excellent form.
Deadlift Accessory Training Tips
Training the deadlift is complex in itself. Adding accessory movements to the mix puts even more variables in play. Here are a few critical deadlift accessory training tips to get the most out of these exercises.
Train for Strength and Hypertrophy
The stronger you are, the bigger your potential to build muscle — and a bigger muscle is potentially a stronger muscle. It pays to train your glutes and hamstrings for strength and muscle, as both will improve your conventional deadlift. Movements like rack pulls are great for strength, and hip thrusts are fantastic for adding some beef to the glutes.
Taking your body through a warm-up that involves the entire posterior area and anterior core is necessary, even for accessory training. Especially if you’re working on a complex or heavy accessory move — rack pulls or front-rack Bulgarian split squats, for example — perform ramp-up sets before hitting your working weight.
Change Things Up
Many deadlift accessory exercises train similar weaknesses, like lockout strength with rack pulls or hip thrusts. To avoid training boredom, overuse injuries, and plateauing, it helps to cycle through accessory exercises every four to eight weeks.
Deadlifting and accessory training both take a toll on your muscles and energy levels. Make sure you’re scaffolding enough rest, active recovery, and regular mobility sessions into your program to keep you on top form. It can also help to take two to three days’ rest from back and lower body work between deadlifting sessions to regain and improve strength levels.
Accessorize Your Deadlift
Being slow off the floor or unable to lock out a heavy deadlift is not much fun. Attacking your weaknesses with accessory training can bring life back into your pulling program.
To improve your deadlifting numbers, you need to deadlift more. But you need to train smart, too. By working these 15 deadlift accessory exercises into your training cycles, you will do both — and hopefully boost your one-rep max in the process.
Featured Image: Lyashenko Egor / Shutterstock