Training

Prevent Your Deadlift From Slowing Down With These Exercises

February 6th 2020

You might be wondering if the deadlift is the king of all exercises, then what is the point of deadlift assistance exercises?

Similar to squat assistance exercises, deadlift assistance exercises are utilized to increase the amount of weight you can lift while performing the deadlift.

If you are following one of our recommended programs, 5/3/1, you may be following a linear progression pattern where you slowly increase the amount of weight on the bar every week.

This is program is ideal for beginners who are just getting started weightlifting, but you will eventually reach a point where you cannot keep increasing the weight.

You might be stuck at a certain weight for weeks or months, showing no signs of improvement.

This is known as a plateau.

Plateaus can be caused by many factors such as inadequate sleep, diet, or just having an off day at the gym.

But with each plateau, you must figure out what you are doing wrong and how you can break through it in order to continue getting stronger.

Some of the causes of why people plateau are:

  • Inadequate sleep
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Muscle weakness/imbalance
  • Form breakdown/Sticking point

Your body needs adequate sleep and nutrition is necessary in order to build muscle. Going to the gym but lacking in these two areas will result in subpar results and will certainly lead to a plateau.

If you are lacking in sleep or diet, prioritize getting the proper amount of sleep and a proper diet. By doing so, you will decrease your chances of plateauing, and you will know that if you plateau it is due to the next issue.

If you are getting adequate sleep, and nutrition, and are still plateauing, you might have a muscular weakness/imbalance that is preventing you from being able to progressively add more weight.

In addition, you might also be facing a sticking point which is a point during the deadlift in which your form starts to break down preventing you from lifting more weight.

Inadequate strength and poor form can be worked on by performing more deadlifts.

But a better way to specifically target your weaknesses is through deadlift assistance exercises.

Deadlift assistance exercises help you to work on your weaknesses whether it may be muscular weakness, or poor form during the deadlift.

Having trouble locking out? Try incorporating hip thrusts into your routine which allows you to build stronger glutes, and improve your lockout.

Having trouble getting the bar off the floor? Incorporate deficit deadlifts into your routine to train for explosiveness.

By identifying your weakness/sticking point and performing the right assistance exercise, you can continuously break plateaus.

What Are The Best Deadlift Assistance Exercises For 5/3/1?

Some of the most popular deadlift assistance exercises are:

 

  • Paused deadlifts
  • Bock pulls/rack pulls
  • Deficit deadlifts
  • Barbell Rows
  • Hip thrusts

 

In the next section, we are going to go through how to perform each assistance exercise and the reason why you would perform one over another.

Paused deadlifts

The paused deadlift is similar to the regular deadlift but involves a pause right after the bar leaves the floor.

While lifting the bar, pause at mid-shin level for around 2-3 seconds. This teaches you to incorporate your lats (latissimus dorsi – your back muscle).

Keeping tight lats is important while performing the deadlift because it keeps the bar closer to your body, reducing the distance between your body’s center of mass and the barbell’s, making it easier to lift heavier weights.

It is important to keep your lats tight while performing the deadlift to prevent the bar from drifting away.

Who should use paused deadlifts: Those who have trouble incorporating their lats, those who feel like the bar is drifting away from them while performing the deadlift, and for those who feel like they are jerking the bar rather than lifting the bar in a smooth, controlled manner.

Block pulls/Rack pulls

The block pull and rack pull are the same movements but performed on different equipment.

Both involve increasing the height of the bar. A block pull elevates the bar using blocks, while the rack pull elevates the bar using the rack.

I will refer to both as just a block pull for simplicity.

The starting position of the block pull involves elevating the height of the bar.

This decreases the overall range of motion of the deadlift which allows you to load the bar with more weight than you can normally deadlift.

This is good for those who compete in powerlifting and want to maximize their 1-rep max as block pulls help you get used to handling higher weights.

It could also be used for those who have just received an injury and cannot perform the deadlift in its entire range of motion.

Who should use block pulls: Those who are competing in powerlifting and are looking to peak before a competition, or for those who want to get more comfortable handling higher weights.

Deficit deadlifts 

The deficit deadlift is the opposite of block pulls in that instead of raising the bar, you are lowering the bar, increasing the range of motion of the deadlift.

The deficit deadlift involves standing on an elevated platform so that the bar is much lower than in a regular deadlift.

This makes the movement much harder, which is helpful for those who are looking to increase their strength or struggle with getting the bar off the floor. 

Who should perform deficit deadlifts: Those who want to increase their strength (by making the deadlift a harder movement), or have trouble lifting the deadlift off of the floor

Barbell Rows

Barbell rows are a great assistance exercise that trains the upper back musculature, lats, as well as the lower back.

By increasing the strength of your upper back, that will help the surrounding structures to keep tight during the deadlift making your body more stable during the deadlift.

During the deadlift, you want your scapula to stay depressed and retracted. This requires strong traps which may be developed using barbell rows.

Who should perform barbell rows: For those who lack upper body stability, and have trouble remaining in a tight position during the deadlift.

Hip Thrusts

The hip thrust is an exercise that targets your glutes which is required for a strong lockout.

The hip thrust is performed with your upper back leaned against a bench and the bar against your hips.

After getting in the starting position, you simply perform a hip thrust lifting the barbell into the air and contracting the glutes.

Who should perform hip thrusts: Those who have trouble locking out the deadlift.

Are deadlift accessory exercises important for beginners?

Performing accessory exercises may be helpful for beginners who face a plateau.

But for those who are just getting started working out, your time is better spent deadlifting more, and working on your form.

If you have poor form while performing the deadlift, these deadlift assistance exercises won’t help very much.

In fact, you might be performing these assistance exercises with poor form as well.

This is why I recommend that deadlift assistance exercises be used for intermediate lifters, and for those who have been lifting for a while and can perform the deadlift with proper form.

Once you start getting the hang of the deadlift and can identify your weak points should you try incorporating deadlift assistance exercises into your routine.

The last point I want to convey is that as you continue training, you must constantly evaluate your progress.

How is your form?

How is your progression?

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Realistically, you will not be great at everything. But you will be more dominant in one or two areas.

Much more, depending on your body type and training history.

So, be aware of the changes that you do each workout and each week.

Stay consistent but be open to adapting to different methods of training methods.

Will deadlift assistance exercises help improve your squat?

Generally not. Deadlift assistance exercises are great for improving your deadlift but the carryover is not the same for the squat.

This is because most of these accessory exercises involve weaknesses of form or tightness/positioning of the upper body.

People are generally not limited in the deadlift by the strength of their lower body. 

People are generally limited by their form, or how efficient they can pull the weight.

If you are looking for ways to increase your squat, check out this article we wrote on the different squat assistance exercises.

Strongman Conditioning for Deadlift Accessories

You will see a drastic improvement in your deadlift.

Especially if you include any Strongman exercises that have you picking up objects and holding them.

Farmer’s walks, keg carries, sandbag carries, overhead presses

Practically all the events have you bracing hard and lifting heavy.

A perfect storm to support your barbell deadlift.

The biggest question is, how should you mess the two?

This question still bugs me even to this day.

I have tried many different training styles for Strongman, lifting 4 times a week, twice a week, once a week.

What I found was that I was able to recover well if I have one day where I do dynamic Strongman events - Farmer’s walks, sandbag carries and atlas stones.

On other days, since I am running 5/3/1 at the time, I can do fat gripz presses for my bench day, overhead press day. It just depends.

I know that eventually, I will work up to a volume where I will be training hard and include all the Strongman exercises on my training days. 

The best thing I can give to you - try it out and see if it makes a difference in your training. Give it 6-8 weeks and reflect on the results.

Be willing to make drastic changes and pivot if needed.

Where do you want to be?

Of course, there are tons of places where you can get your deadlift assistance exercises.

But how do you know if it works?

You need to test them.

Good thing for you, these are some of the same exercises I have used in order to strengthen my weak chain, off the ground.

With that said, I hardly do any deadlift assistance for my lockout - I make sure I do enough working sets for my main deadlift movement, the conventional deadlift.

Take some of these exercises and use them to help shatter your old PRs.

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