Introduction: Deadlift Day Weak Points
The deadlift is the “biggest” and heaviest exercise most of us are going to do in the gym. It’s a massive back, hip, and leg-building exercise. So what happens when you stall on the conventional deadlift? That’s where specific exercises come into play.
Today we’re going to discuss the best sumo and conventional deadlift accessory exercises you can use to get bigger, stronger, and improve your technique.
They’re pretty much the whole package when it comes to improving your deadlift quickly, as well as building stronger muscles and the technical precision you need to stay healthy, keep a neutral spine, and keep progressing into the future.
Let’s get started with what you need for a good deadlift – and then the exercises that make it possible…
The Deadlift: A Quick Needs Analysis
You can break the deadlift down into a few basic parts – the foundations, the setup, then the drive phase, and the hinge phase. These are all you need to get good at in order to rapidly improve your deadlift.
Today, we’re going to go through what the foundational needs are – then look at how the best accessory exercises build strength and improve technique at the same time. That’s about as good as training could possibly get – so let’s get familiar with what a good deadlift requires.
The Deadlift has a set of important, basic needs that you should get familiar with and practice well. This is important before you start deadlifting heavy, but should also be practiced daily in the warm-up for deadlifts and other accessories.
There are a few things we’re going to discuss before you get into the high-quality strength and technique-building exercises. These are core stability, hip control, the setup position – and then we’ll discuss actually doing a deadlift.
Deadlifts are arguably the single most core-demanding of the “big” compound exercises. Not only is it the one that puts the most load on the back and hips, but also the longest movement for most people, with the most weight, and under some of the longest levers.
Your core stabilizes your spine, first and foremost. This is important to provide the right foundation for good back health. Most people who “can’t deadlift because it hurts their back” have problems in the core or hips. Strong, well-controlled cores prevent back injury.
Second, it also helps you transfer force into the bar since you’ve got to create a chain of solid links between the hips and legs (where the force is produced), through the core and lats, into the arms, and then into the bar. If your core is weak, you’ll rapidly start rounding over instead of moving the bar.
Basic Hip Control
Hip control is essential since the whole deadlift requires you to produce force from the hips. This is important for posture (keeping the hips open and not getting bent over by the weight) and forcefully driving the floor away.
Hip control is important throughout – but even more so during the second phase (the hip hinge). The hips work with the core to build spinal stability and shift the load off the quadratus lumborum (a weak and easily-injured muscle) and keep the back healthy.
It also means you get 2 other, important benefits:
- You train the muscles of the hip (such as the glutes) more effectively
- You actually learn to use the hips properly to produce maximum force
This is great because it’s both a technical and training-effect boost. For an exercise as heavy as the deadlift, this means huge development in the long-term when you think about how much total volume you’ll spread these benefits across.
Practicing the deadlift setup isn’t a real exercise, but the deadlift setup drill is one of the most important things you can do to improve your workouts. It’s a simple way to warm up that you should include in every deadlift session.
The Drive: Pulling to the Knees
The drive is the portion of the deadlift that goes from the setup (the bar on the floor) to the bar at the knees. This is the main portion where people get the exercise wrong – and it’s an easy way to make the whole thing far more difficult than necessary.
The drive portion is more quad intensive but requires a constant hinging-open of the hips against the weight. If performed properly, this just looks like the hips and chest coming up at the same speed. If missed out, however, it can be a major technical problem as the bar will pull you forwards into the toes, raise the hips early, and make completing the lift well very difficult.
The proper drive position requires good pressure in the foot, a tight core and back, and the simultaneous effort of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. This makes it a complex movement with some important technical points – and a huge strength requirement.
The Hinge: Finishing the Deadlift
The hinge is what happens from roughly the point where the bar is at the knee – or just above/below depending on your proportions. This is the point at which the chest needs to come up, the hips need to open, and the focus is on standing up straight.
This portion requires more hip strength to actively bring the bar and body together. The accessory exercises for this segment focus more specifically on the development of glute and hamstring strength, as well as keeping the lats active to sweep the bar back and maintain balance over the foot.
This also includes the lockout of the lift, which is going to be based on the proper positioning of the body at the start of the hinge – and then performing it properly. Other issues like the grip and the proper locking of the knees and hips come from consistent training with deliberate focus. With proper competition grip accessory work and a focus on legs and hips moving together, these will develop with basic repetition and discipline.
How Do You Deadlift?
At a basic level, the idea of the deadlift is to grab the bar and use your legs and hips to lift it. This means standing up tall – so what’s the difficulty?
The real challenge is that the deadlift breaks down into a huge amount of force required to lift heavy weights. It requires you to keep the back flat, bar close to the body, and not let your knees cave in or back round. These are difficult under heavy weight.
In simple terms, the deadlift is hard because it puts common postural and stability strength under the heaviest and most intense demands of any exercise. As you can imagine, those areas fall apart quickly. The best deadlift accessories will help you strengthen these movements while building up the prime movers to build strength and lift more weight:
- The quadriceps
- The Hamstrings
- The glutes
These are the major factors, and everything else goes into supporting them. By building strength and control in these areas, as well as core stability and good lat-recruitment, you can break deadlift plateaus and train more effectively and sustainably into the future.
If you’re still not sure on how to Deadlift – this video does a great job of breaking down the essentials and gives you a world-class lesson on how to deadlift
The Best Deadlift Accessory Exercises
These exercises have to be broken down into what they do for you – are they for leg drive, core strength, or hip hinging? The most effective deadlift accessory exercise is whichever one fixes the biggest problem with your deadlift.
That depends on practicing some self-review, looking at where you typically struggle in deadlifts. That includes where you miss lifts, when technique breaks down, or simply where you look out of position.
Making sure you get to the weaknesses first and foremost is the key to getting the best results. Accessory exercises for all parts should be tried, as it’s very likely that some exercises will improve your technique in the way you need, while others will be less effective. Whatever builds the best strength and technique, that is the best deadlift accessory exercise!
Setting the Foundation: Core Accessory Exercises
The foundation of your deadlift is a core that isn’t going to give way the moment you start lifting heavyweight. These accessory exercises help you set your core properly and build the strength you need to move heavy weight correctly.
2. 8-point plank:
3. Bracing drill:
4. Front-loaded GM:
Phase One: The Drive
This phase of the deadlift is about breaking from the floor and involves more leg drive. It also requires active hips, a strong core, and a good idea of where your body needs to be.
You need to develop a neutral spine position, exaggerate your range of motion with lighter weight (e.g. deficit deadlifts), and strengthen your starting position for conventional deadlifts. The entire movement starts here, so make sure to get it right before pushing maximal weights.
5. Setup drills for deadlift:
6. Lift-off or Pull To Knee:
7. Deficit deadlift:
8. Floating deadlift:
Phase Two: The Hinge
This section of the deadlift relies heavily on the glutes and hamstrings to bring the chest up and hips ‘in’ towards the bar. It also requires strong lats to sweep the bar back and keep it close to the body.
These accessory movements strengthen these prime movers as well as give you a chance to practice the movements you’ll need to get a stronger deadlift lockout.
10. Back-banded kettlebell swing:
11. Paused barbell GM:
12. Romanian deadlifts:
13. Block pull or rack pull:
14. Stiff-Legged Deadlift:
Other Deadlift Accessories
These are miscellaneous exercises to improve your conventional deadlift. They’ll work on the range of motion, starting position, and the hip hinge position, as well as building lat strength with exercises like snatch grip deadlifts.
15. Paused deadlift:
16. Hip thrust:
18. Back extensions:
19. Snatch grip deadlift:
The deadlift is one of the best places to add in accessory exercises – both to improve your technique and to build deadlifting strength with lighter exercises. We’ve looked through some of the best, but there are dozens or hundreds of other options you can explore. The deadlift will expose a weakness anywhere in the body, making it an exercise with all kinds of possible accessories.
The exercises we’ve included are going to make you better at deadlifting, as well as bigger and stronger. They are some of the most effective uses of your time, but you should still spend time experimenting to find which ones suit you best and have the best results in your deadlift.
The important thing is to be disciplined and make sure that you’re performing all of these exercises in the way that you’d want to deadlift. You can squeeze tons of value out of these exercises if you take your time, load up patiently, and spend your time and recovery wisely!
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