Best deadlift assistance exercises to improve your deadlift

Are you looking to improve your deadlift? Although getting better at deadlifts means being consistent in performing the lifts, you also can improve your deadlift with deadlift assistance exercises.

You will find most deadlifters have a weakness somewhere in their lift that can be fixed through accessory work, deadlift technique and improving your strength.

woman carry dumbbells in farmers carry

Adding accessory exercises, which most deadlifters should already be doing, you can improve your form and how much you can lift.

What are weak points in the deadlift:

  • Rounding the lower back
  • Losing grip of the bar
  • The bar moving away from the legs during the lift
  • Difficulty locking out at the top position of the lift

What are the best deadlift assistance exercises to help improve your lift?

The accessory exercises are not meant to replace the main lift, conventional deadlift, stiff leg deadlift or any variation. They can be used to help improve your technique, form and overall weight you can lift. 

woman standing on 45 plate for deficit deadlift
Woman working deficit deadlift as a deadlift assistance exercise to improve

Deficit Deadlifts 

  1. Stand on a 45 lb weight plate or platform
  2. Drop your hips into the start position, which will be lower than a regular deadlift
  3. Place your hands with an overhand grip at shoulder-width apart.
  4. Pull the bar up to full extension by driving your feet into the floor.
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
  6. Control the weight as you you lower back down and feel the stretch in your hamstrings.

How this helps: This movement helps to build strength from the bottom position of the lift. By adding the range of motion, it makes it more difficult and emphasizes the bottom of the movement, which will eventually help your regular deadlifts feel easier.

Good mornings

  1. Rack a barbell at shoulder height.
  2. Set the barbell on your upper back/traps with retracted shoulders and lift off the rack.
  3. Engage your core to keep your spine in a neutral position and maintain a small bend in the knees.
  4. Hinge at the hips, pushing them backwards while your chest moves towards the ground.
  5. Once you feel a good stretch through your hamstrings, engage through the glutes and drive you hips back forwards until you reach an upright standing position.
  6. Squeeze your glutes and pause for a second before going into your next rep.

How this helps: This hip hinge exercise and movement will help with the strength in your low back.

Front squat

  1. Using a squat rack, place the loaded barbell at shoulder height
  2. Wedge the bar in the crook of your shoulder
  3. Place your hands just beyond shoulder-width and try to get the base of your four fingers around the bar
  4. Raise your elbows up, so that your triceps are parallel to the floor
  5. Stand up to lift the bar from the rack
  6. Take a couple steps back, and set your squat stance 
  7. Bend at your knees, while trying to sit between your thighs to stay more upright
  8. Stop once your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below
  9. Push the floor away to stand up

How this helps: It will help you keep your upper body upright without the rounding of your upper back.

woman preparing for rack pull exercise in squat rack
woman standing in the lockout of the rack pull

Rack pull or block pulls 

  1. Rack a barbell in a power rack sitting at your mid-shin level
  2. Your feet should be hip-width apart and you should be standing with your legs touching it.
  3. Take an overhand grip (or split grip if lifting heavy) just on the outside of your knees.
  4. Your knees should be slightly bent.
  5. Engage your lats, pull your shoulders back and pull the barbell up from rack position to standing position, squeezing your glutes at the top.
  6. Lower back to the safety bar.

How this helps: By lifting heavier weight to the top position of the lift, you train your body to recruit more muscle fibers to help blast past this sticking point.

TIp: The goal of the rack pull is to prioritize load over range of motion. Therefore, you’ll be able to lift more weight than you normally would be able to handle.

Your grip will also be challenged as a result of doing more weight, so feel free to use deadlift straps. My favorite is Versa Grips straps.

Paused deadlift

  1. Step up close to the bar, so that it is about over the middle of your foot.
  2. Lean forward and grip the bar.
  3. Brace your core slightly and lift the bar.
  4. Pull the bar close to your body, with a straight back pausing around shin height for two seconds.
  5. Complete the lift until you are standing straight.
  6. Lower the bar back to the ground with control.

How this helps: The pause increases strength off the floor and helps you learn how to stay tight throughout the entire lift. Pause happens at knee height.

woman in neutral position for barbell row
woman raising barbell in barbell row exercise

Barbell row

  1. Starting position with a barbell racked at mid-thigh height.
  2. Lift the barbell off the rack with a shoulder-width pronated grip.
  3. Push your hips back allowing your torso to come down to about 60 degrees.
  4. Keep a tight strong core, lats engaged and your shoulders back.
  5. Pull the barbell up towards the bottom of your rib cage, elbows going just wide of your sides.
  6. Hold for a second at the top of the row when your shoulder blades should be fully squeezed together.
  7. Lower down slowly before starting your next repetition.

How this helps: The bent over row will help strengthen your back and improve the ability to maintain a hinge position, which is needed in the deadlift. 

Farmers walk

  1. Hold a weight in each hand
  2. Engage the core and pull your shoulder blades down and back while standing in an upright position.
  3. Step forward and begin walking. Keep your head up, shoulders back and core muscles engaged.
  4. Do not lean sideways.
  5. Continue walking for your desired time or distance.

How this helps: A combination of heavy loaded carries will improve your grip so you can handle bigger deadlifts. You also benefit from learning to brace and stabilize your core.

Tip: It can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells or a trap bar. If you lean to one side, choose a lighter weight that you can carry but is challenging.

Hip thrust

  1. Start sitting on the floor with your legs out straight and a barbell rolled over them.
  2. Leaning back against a bench with your upper shoulders being at bench height.
  3. Pull the barbell with a barbell pad to the crease in your hips and hold the bar to secure it.
  4. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor.
  5. Engage your core and drive through your heels to push your hips up so that your upper back is now resting on the bench, forming a straight line to your hips and knees.
  6. Lower back down to an inch of the ground and push back up, squeezing your glutes at the top of the hip thrust.
  7. Make sure your feet and knees stay hip width apart for the entire movement.

How this helps: Hip thrusts focus solely on strengthening the glutes and improving hip extension strength for lockout.

Benefits of deadlifts

Research supports the use of deadlifts for a variety of function, fitness and performance goals.

Full body workout

In addition to your lower body, deadlifts engage your lower back, and upper back since those muscles support your torso as you pull weight from the floor. Your biceps during the pull and your shoulders work to keep your arms locked into place.

Builds stronger legs

Improves your strength from the muscles you work – glutes, quads and hamstrings.

Builds core strength

Your core stability is important during deadlifts. You brace your core throughout the lifts which will help with every day life and in other lifts. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What muscles does deadlift work?

The major muscle groups worked with in the conventional deadlift include spinal erectors, hamstrings, glutes, lats, rhomboids and trapezius muscles. 

How much weight should I lift?

Each exercise will be different depending on your experience, strength and form. Start at a lighter weight and increase weight as you become stronger.

How often should I deadlift?

Your optimal frequency will depend on the intensity of your lifts. A heavy intensity may require more rest time but allow you to perform accessory movements in the meantime.

Will accessory exercises help me deadlift more?

The exercises will help you lift more in your deadlift by working on different weak points of the movement from the ground to the lockout position.

Wrap Up

Adding deadlift assistance exercises to help with any weak point in your deadlift. Assistance work will help your overall deadlift performance in the compound exercise that work the entire body. Different exercises will help with different areas that might need improvements.

You do not need to include all of these exercises into your training program at the same time. You’ll want to assess areas that are weak, either because you have a sticking point or lack proper technique, and then include the best exercises for you.

If you program deadlift accessories that take into account your individual differences and build up volume and intensity over the course of several weeks of training.

An important thing to remember is that you do not need heavy deadlifts each time to improve your technique and train to strengthen your posterior chain.

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