When you want to get better at deadlifting, you need to deadlift more. Seems like a no brainer, but sometimes you miss the obvious.
However, when working with weights over 90 percent of your 1-rep max, little tendencies creep into your deadlift that are not apparent when you’re training with sub maximal weights. These hitches can hold you back from lifting more weight.
Here are some common ‘weaknesses’ that occur while pulling heavy:
- Pulling slow off the floor
- Locking out and finishing with your glutes
- Lack of upper back strength (rounding of the spine or the bar drifting away from the body)
Next time you’re pulling heavy and doing reps of between 2 to 5, pay attention to your form (or get a friend to video you) to see if any of the above is happening.
If it is, consider these deadlift accessory exercises to attack those weaknesses and build a stronger, safer pull — because your weaknesses will not go away by themselves.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Problem 1: You’re Slow Off the Floor
These exercises help build strength and power from the floor so you can explode past this sticking point.
1. Deficit Deadlifts
Don’t go crazy on the deficit. Standing on a 45-pound weight plate will do.
Why it helps: This movement helps to build strength from the bottom position. Adding range of motion makes it more difficult and really emphasizes the bottom of the movement, which will help your regular deadlifts feel easier. (And if you need convincing, here are four more reasons to try deficit deadlifts.)
Weight: If you’ve never done these before, try starting with a weight between 50 to 70 percent of your deadlift max.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 3 to 6 reps works well. If you’re doing this as your main strength exercise, add an extra set or two.
1A. Deficit deadlift, 3 sets of 6 reps
1B. Incline back extensions, 10 reps
[Nail your form in our comparison of deficit vs conventional deadlifts!]
2. Speed Deadlifts
When you are doing this variation, use 100% effort regardless of the weight. For example, if you’re using 50% of your 1 rep max, the bar should move twice as fast as when you pull your max.
Why it helps: This variation helps to build power from the bottom position.
Weight: Use 50-60% of your 1RM to start. As you get more confident, add more weight — as long as the bar is still moving fast.
Sets and reps: 3 sets for 3- 6 reps.
1A. Speed deadlifts, 3 sets of 5 reps
1B. Passive leg lowering, 10 reps on each leg
Other useful exercises for deadlifts that stall off the ground: Pause deadlifts, pause squats, box squats, and box jumps.
Problem 2: You Can’t Lock Out
The following exercises work on hip extension strength which is essential for locking out your deadlift.
1. Rack Pulls
Rack pulls help you train the lockout part of your deadlift and you can pull significantly higher weights to lockout than your usual floor deadlifts.
Why it helps: By lifting heavier weight, you train your central nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers to help blast past this sticking point.
Weight: Because of the reduced range of motion, you can use over 90% of your 1-rep max.
Sets and reps: This is best used for your big strength movement for the day. Do 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 6 reps, keeping your total reps between 15 and 20.
1A. Rack pulls, 4 sets of 5 reps
1B. Half kneeling hip flexor mobilization, 6 reps
2. Hip Thrusts
Directly training your glutes with hip extension exercises like hip thrusts will help your deadlift accelerate once the bar clears the knees.
Why it helps: These isolate the glutes differently than the deadlift. Hip thrusts focus solely on strengthening the glutes and improving hip extension strength for lockout.
Weight: Don’t go too heavy; you want to feel your glutes working. Training with 50% of your 1-rep max deadlift is a good starting point.
Sets and reps: This exercise can work for a variety of rep ranges. For strength do 4 to 5 sets of 3 to 6 reps and for hypertrophy do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
1A. Barbell hip thrust, 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
1B. Birddogs, 3 sets of 10 reps each side
Other useful exercises for poor lockout: Pull throughs, good mornings, weighted incline back extensions, and glute ham raises.
[Learn more: 6 Things I Learned From 6 Months of Hip Thrusts]
Problem 3: A Weak Upper Back
The upper back plays a key role in pulling the bar in a straight path and keeping a neutral spine under heavy load.
1. Bent Over Rows
Staying in the hip hinge position under heavy load and with a neutral spine will help strengthen your lower and upper back area.
Why it helps: Develops strength in the lower (isometrically) and upper back (eccentrically and concentrically) while being in a deadlift specific position.
Weight: You need to do this exercise without any kipping or compromises in form. Start with your own bodyweight and if that’s too difficult, go down in weight.
Sets and reps: For strength, use less reps and more weight, such as 4 sets of 6 reps. For hypertrophy and endurance, try 3 sets for 8 to 12 reps.
1A. Barbell bent over row, 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps
1B. Band pull aparts, 3 sets of 15 to 25 reps
2. Snatch Grip Deadlifts
The wider grip stresses the upper back more, building strength in the upper back and traps.
Why it helps: This variation strengthens the upper back muscles isometrically, which helps you keep a neutral spine while pulling the bar in a straight path. The snatch grip is great variation for building grip strength too.
Weight: A good starting point is around 60 % of your conventional deadlift max. The weight on the bar should only increase after you’ve built the mobility to use the wide grip and the upper back strength to support a neutral spine.
Sets and reps: 3 to 4 sets, 4 to 6 reps
1A. Snatch grip deadlift, 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps
1B. Leg curl variation, 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Other useful exercises for the upper back: Double kettlebell front squat, single arm row variations, seated row, and deadlift with horizontal resistance.
[See more in our complete guide to the snatch grip deadlift!]
Strengthening your weakness with these accessory exercises will lead to a safer and stronger deadlift and, hopefully, smashing a new PR. Assess your weaknesses, spend a few weeks targeting them with this guide, and enjoy the results.
Featured image via Niyaz Tavkaev/Shutterstock
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns or before beginning any new workout regimen.