How to Increase your Deadlift
Simple really – by accumulating volume over time with weight heavy enough to stimulate gains in both size and strength, your deadlift will increase.
You must follow a program and it must be periodised. By that I mean it has to reduce in volume over time, but the intensity and specificity must increase.
So to start with, you should be working with higher repetition sets and a lower weight. That is how you build a solid base to work from.
As the program progresses, your exercise variation should reduce and you should start focusing more on your competition style deadlift: sumo or conventional. This means you’re reserving energy for what really matters.
Lastly the intensity should increase. Intensity refers to the relative weight i.e. the % of your 1RM. Increasing intensity means you need to decrease the overall volume or you’ll burn out. So learn how to manage overtraining.
Not so simple then.
Top 9 ways to Increase your Deadlift
1. Properly warmup: Activate the proper muscles before you lift and don’t neglect warmup sets. Make sure you open your hip flexors, activate your lower back and hamstrings / quads. I typically use double overhand grip until switching to hook grip at around 70% of my 1RM.
2. Push through the Floor: You should visualise your feet pushing through the floor. If you deadlift barefoot (recommended) you alleviate anterior weight shift and enable a tighter posterior chain that improves your lockout potential.
Feeling the floor through your feet is a great way to do so. Once you push your heel so deeply into the floor it leaves an imprint, you know you’re on the right path.
3. Perfect your Starting Position: Don’t just pull the bar as hard as you can without getting rid of slack in the bar. By tightening your shoulder blades and upper back, you mitigate injury risk and create a safer environment to pull heavy weights from.
If your feet start too wide, you can cause knee cave, which weakens your pulling propensity. I like to be as tight as possible before even touching the bar.
4.Mental Cues: You need to get into a routine. Typically something like
i) Taking your foot position
ii) Consistent deep breathing
iii) Pulling the slack out of the bar
iv) Engaging your hamstrings / quads.
Once you’ve found a routine that works for your deadlifting style, reinforce the movement patterns so you know exactly when to pull.
5. Use a Weightlifting Belt: Weightlifting belts add between 5-10% to your lifts. The increased intra-abdominal pressure allows you to create a more effective brace position.
Combined with the Valsalva Manoeuvre, your pulling style will be significantly more robust. Try to avoid over-arching your spine and aim for 360 degree expansion rather than just pushing through your belly.
6. Use Variations: Close deadlift variations allow you to build upon weak points. You’re only as strong as your weakest muscle group, so don’t overemphasise one area.
If you struggle with lockout, then utilise chains and / or block pulls to reinforce that area, If you struggle with power off the floor, then incorporate some deficit deadlifts into your routine.
7. Take your Anthropometry into account: If you’re a longer-limbed puller with stronger quads, then the sumo deadlift should be your crux lift for 1RM. Conventional pulling may increase your power output, but you need to utilise your assets.
I struggle with lower back issues, so I tend to avoid pulling conventional above 85% of my 1RM. Sumo is a safer stance for long-term progress for me and I make the most of that. If you need to develop your posterior chain, then RDL’s will be best suited to your needs.
8. Optimise your Leverages: You need to find the optimal hip position for your lift. Too low and you increase the lateral distance. If you increase the lateral distance between your hips and bar, the vertical distance increases.
Drop your hips to the point of optimal tightness, hamstring / quad engagement and lat tightness. Your shoulders should almost be behind the bar when you first start pulling.
9. Stop doing any other Lifts: If you’re really desperate to improve your deadlift, focus on it. You can’t specify fatigue, so if you deadlift whilst squatting, bench pressing, sprinting etc. you won’t have the same energy levels as if you just focus on deadlifting.
Granted your other lifts won’t increase, but you can certainly maintain and shift focus to deadlifting to improve quickly.
How to Increase your Deadlift without Deadlifting?
It seems like a misnomer, but if you’ve recently experienced lower back / hamstring issues, conventional deadlifting may not be a wise move. You need to train smart and working your way back from any injury probably won’t involve deadlifting.
Given how taxing the lift is, more isn’t always better. Fatigue management is crucial. You can’t always deadlift and nor should you. You need to isolate weak points and bring that muscle group up to it’s stronger counterparts.
Now Read: How Often Should you Deadlift?
For example, if you struggle with lockout at the top of the lift, there are a variety of ways to improve it without actually deadlifting. You could perform weighted pull-ups, heavy lat pull-downs with a slow eccentric or RDL’s to improve weaknesses along your entire posterior chain
|Deadlift Weakness||Muscular Weakness||Remedial Exercise|
|Lockout||Upper Back||Weighted Pull-Ups|
|Maintaining Tightness||Posterior Chain||RDLs|
|Lower Back Rounding||Lower Back||Bent Over Rows|
So to increase your deadlift without deadlifting, you need to work on isolation exercises that improve your weakest areas. Ideally you would be deadlifting or performing a close variation of it twice a week and these would form part of your accessory / hypertrophy work.
Now Read: The Complete Guide to Hypertrophy
By using isolation exercises and single-limb lifts (single leg RDL’s for example), your ability to translate this into an improved lift is increased.
Now you could also look to increase explosive strength. Kettlebell swings, snatches or clean and jerks (or close variations) all help build power production. Increasing your power output ultimately increases the force at which you can pull a particular mass, remember:
Force = Mass x Gravity
Newton’s our friend. The weight of an object is defined as the force of gravity acting upon it. The heavier the weight, the greater the force of gravity upon it. This means you need to generate greater acceleration to move said object.
Improving your explosive power production is a surefire way to do so and the Olympic lifts are the best way to do so. I would recommend hang cleans as a starting point, as they require a substantial amount of time to perfect technique.
What are the Best Exercises to Increase your Deadlift?
This is a subject that has an enormous amount of variables, so I will do my best to summarise it.
In your programming cycles there should be a specific focus. You may be focusing on increasing your power production on one day and hypertrophy on another day each week.
This is known as daily undulating periodisation. If this is a new concept to you, then read this article on periodisation first. But the below snipshots of my free powerbuilding program should help improve your understanding of programming.
Deadlift Day 1
Day 1 focuses on your competition style deadlift. It also focus on my specific weak points related to my competition style lift. I’m a sumo puller, so I need to focus on my quads, hence the front squat hypertrophy. I also suffer with lower back issues, so I add in good mornings for strengthening it in the long-term.
Deadlift Day 2
Day 2 focuses on pauses and deficits. I’m looking to build explosive power off the floor and reinforce my technique throughout the entirety of the lift. Variations allow me to progress whilst using a much lower % of my 1RM.
This drives positive adaptations whilst saving my CNS from being overtaxed.
Variations are absolutely crucial in saving your body from undue wear and tear, so you need to pick the right one for your needs.
But the very best exercises to increase your true deadlift improve:
- Your posterior chain strength and stability
- Your pulling strength
- Power from the floor or at lockout
- Grip strength
- Core (isolated) muscle groups
Some of my favourites are:
- RDL’s: Overall posterior chain development
- Weighted Pull-Ups: Lockout
- Deficit Deadlifts: Power from the floor
- Block Pulls: Lockout
- Row Variations: Back thickness and injury prevention
- Front Squats: For sumo pullers as they’re great for quad development
If you stay close to these lifts and program them correctly you won’t go far wrong. Specificity should of course increase as your program progresses, as should intensity. So there’s more ambiguity at the start and you need to pick the right lift to improve your weak points, increasing your power production propensity in the long-term.
How to Increase your Sumo Deadlift?
The sumo variation’s more quad dominant pulling style generally lends itself to a lower risk of injury and places different requirements on strength than the conventional deadlift. Even if you don’t pull sumo, it’s level of hip activation and posterior chain development is exceptional, so at the least it’s a worthy accessory.
To increase your sumo deadlift you need to do the following things:
1. Improve your Quad Strength: Sumo is a much more quad dominant style so requires greater quad strength. I pull sumo and typically front squat at least once a week as an accessory exercise.
2. Improve your Lockout: It’s much less taxing on your lower back, but you definitely need a strong lockout. Add in some wide grip, weighted pull-ups for maximum carryover.
3. Enhance your Stance: Trial your stance width to find out the ideal width for hip activation. One that enables you to point your toes out and get your body behind the bar without your knees shooting forward.
4. Drive your Hips through: Driving your hips through is crucial in sumo stance to ensure a smooth lockout. As such you need to improve your hip strength. Hip hinging exercises like RDL’s, good mornings, glute thrusts or glute bridges will all help your sumo skyrocket.
5. Reinforce Positioning: Typically more people pull conventionally. If you’re new (ish) to sumo deadlifting, then you need to improve your positioning throughout the lift. Add in a pause just below the knee and force yourself to hold the weight there for 1-2 seconds. Fantastic for lockout strength and overall back development.
Now Read: Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift
How to Increase your Conventional Deadlift?
The conventional deadlift is far more hamstring dominant and places a slightly larger strain on your lower back, but tends to breed greater explosiveness. Your lower back and anterior leg muscles are the areas that fatigue the fastest, requiring greater size and explosive power potential to excel in the lift.
1. Strengthen your Posterior Chain: Arguably the most important set of muscles in your body, the conventional deadlift is totally reliant on your posterior chain and is only as good as it’s weakest part. Incorporating RDL’s is a surefire solution to posterior chain weakness.
2. Lockout Improvements: Improve your lockout with rack pulls and save your hamstrings on one day per week, going heavy with sets of rack pulls.
3. Increased Power Production: Stand on top of 2 weight plates to perform a deficit deadlift to increase the ROM (Range of Motion) and consequently your power off the floor. This guide to the best deadlift accessory exercises is key to your success.
4. Hamstring / Lower Back Isolation exercises: Single leg RDL’s, glute ham raises, lower back extensions, reverse hypers, kettlebell snatches, good mornings etc. There’s a whole host of exercises that when used properly (for hypertrophy and explosivity) can translate into an increased deadlift.
5. AMRAP Sets: If the volume isn’t high enough in your sessions, try using the last set as an AMRAP set. Make sure you don’t bounce the weight off the floor. Let it come to a dead stop, reset, pull the slack out of the bar and crush it.
You’ll see weekly PR’s if you’ve never done it before and that feels great. You need mental stimulation.