by Nick Hickey
The big three -- squat, bench and deadlift are the key movements to a strong foundation of strength and muscle mass. The deadlift is as primitive a movement as it gets. There is a heavy weight on the floor, bend over and pick it up. Although it is simple in nature, it requires a lot of hard training to make steady progress. Here are some exercises that you can add into your own program to help add weight to your deadlift.
1. Deficit Deadlifts
This is simply pulling a normal deadlift while standing on a 2.5 inch block or a 100 lb plate. Deficit deadlifts are a very challenging exercise. They have been a popular movement in many strong pullers' programs for a while now, and for good reason. The increased range of motion forces your body to fight to keep good pulling position and also puts your muscles under increased tension, which can lead to increased strength and mass gains. Deficit deadlifts really help you initiate the movement with leg drive. A good place to add these in is as the second movement after your normal pulls, on your deadlift day.
2. Barbell Rows
Widely considered as one of the more important lifts, barbell rows should be a staple in any basic weight training or powerlifting program. These put an enormous amount of accountability on your lower back to maintain a solid neutral or arched position throughout the movement. In addition, the rowing motion hammers your middle back and lats. This is basically an all around mass builder that will add strength and stability throughout your back. Do this with a double overhand grip to avoid bicep stress and work on your grip strength. These are an accessory lift, but you can really work up heavy with these, provided you keep your form solid.
3. Block Pulls
Place the weight on elevated blocks from 2-6" in height and execute a deadlift from this elevated position. There are multiple benefits of block pulls, including overloading. Since the blocks take the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the movement away, you can typically handle more weight and overload the top end of the movement. The emphasis is on the middle and top portion of the lift. You will not be able to initiate the lift with your legs. This will add strength and muscle to your low and mid back and help you increase your regular pull. These can be cycled in on your deadlift day as a secondary movement as well.
4. Timed Deadlift Holds
When the weight gets heavy, you need a strong grip. Nothing is more frustrating than being able to handle a weight and pull it properly, only to have it pop out of your hands at lockout. At the end of your deadlift day, when your grip has already been taxed, add in a set of double overhand deadlift holds. Grab a weight that's about 50% of your max and deadlift it double overhand. Make it tough on yourself and use the worst bar your gym has, or even go without chalk. Deadlift the weight and just hold it for 60 seconds. If that's too easy, add time or weight. By the end of the set, your forearms will be feeling it, and your grip will gradually improve. Do 1-2 sets for time as the last movement on deadlift day.
5. Snatch Grip Deadlifts
By widening your grip out to the collars or as close as possible, you are automatically increasing the distance you need to pull. This will force you to really lower your hips and use leg drive to initiate the lift. The nature of the snatch grip puts a lot of stress on your upper back and traps as well as your mid back and erectors. Snatch grip basically just takes a tough lift and makes it tougher. I like doing these in the 4-6 rep range to get some volume in. These, again can be cycled as a secondary movement on the day you do your normal deadlifts.
There are countless ways to get strong. Above are a few exercises you may want to incorporate in your training to help you get where you want to be with your deadlift. At the end of the day, these movements should be used to build the maximum limit strength of your normal deadlift. Deadlifts, more than any other lift, are about having some guts and committing to locking the weight out. Hopefully these movements can help you add some weight to your total come meet day.
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