If you think getting stronger on the deadlift requires a lot of fancy accessory moves or cables, you'd be wrong.
Now, when I talk about the deadlift I'm talking about the righteous, honorable version where your feet are relatively narrow and your hands are OUTSIDE of your legs. If you're a wide-stance deadlifting heathen, then these variations will still apply, but you'll need to modify them for your particular deadlifting approach.
Get stronger and blast through your sticking points with these moves:
Sticking Point – On the Floor
If your issue is getting the bar moving initially, then it's often assumed that weak quads are to blame. But the problem here is usually torso rigidity.
Basically, your body can't hold the necessary position required to initiate the lift and move the load. Torso rigidity is the domain of the lats as well as the core.
There's also the possibility that you're just not strong enough to lift the load... but let's pretend that reality doesn't exist.
What to Do for a Weak Core or Lats
The Sweeping Floating Deadlift
This is great for attacking both of your weak points. Stand on anything that'll elevate you 1 or 2 inches off the floor. Starting from the top, lower the bar to where the floor WOULD be if you weren't elevated. Pause briefly while focusing on creating as much tension as possible before reversing the movement.
This helps teach you how to create tension in the starting position. The forward pull of the resistance band also increases the workload on the lats and cues you to "pull back" constantly.
If you have nothing to stand on, just pause as close to the floor as possible. It will still make your regular deadlift strong.
The Barbell Zercher Carry
This will force you to use a lot less weight than you'd expect. Your core has to work to stabilize the load with less intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) than you'd be able to create normally.
This is a benefit for those who tend to be over-reliant on lifting belts. If you don't have room to do loaded carries then doing regular Zercher squats will be fine.
The Snatch-Grip Deadlift
This places a higher workload on the upper back and lats as well as making you start from a lower position. It's a very powerful tool for strengthening the starting phase. Two things to watch here:
- Make sure your hips aren't shooting up and turning the movement into some ugly, wide-grip stiff-leg deadlift.
- Keep the torso locked in place throughout the movement. You want to improve lat strength and torso rigidity here. So if you're rounding over like a fishing rod, you're missing the entire point.
Sticking Point – Mid-Shin/Below Knees
If you're able to get the bar moving but stall at your shins, there are two possible culprits: weak quads or lower back.
If your hips rise faster than your shoulders, this means quads are the issue since your body is trying to shift the load off them.
What to Do for Weak Quads
The Front Squat
Don't allow your hips to shift back on the concentric; keep the load on the quads. If shoulder mobility is an issue, you can use lifting straps, or you could just start stretching more.
The 1.5 Rep Deadlift
Do the bottom half of the movement twice per rep. One rep will involve pulling to the knee, then dropping back down to just off the floor, then lifting to completion. This is great for improving your initial quad drive and is fun for those interested in self-flagellation.
If your hips and shoulders rise together but you get stuck at the shin, then it's more likely to be your lower back that's the weak point.
What to Do for a Weak Lower Back
The Romanian Deadlift
Focus on maintaining a strong lumbar arch. Think: shorten the distance between your butt and lower back. Only use the ROM that allows this to be maintained.
The Pin Good Morning
Set up the pins so that the start position mimics the torso angle of your deadlift sticking point. Set up using your deadlift stance and again aim for that slightly exaggerated lumbar arch. I like these from pins because it keeps the ROM consistent and allows you to reset each rep to maintain alignment.
Sticking Point – Getting Over Your Knees
This is the point in the lift where the hips need to start moving forward. It's also where the hamstrings are at their most stretched position, leaving them in a less-than-optimal position to produce force. To fix this, you need to work on strengthening your hamstrings, especially in their lengthened state.
What to Do for Weak Hamstrings
The Toes-Elevated Romanian Deadlift
Raising your toes will lengthen the calves and hamstrings. This means they'll be targeted more. You're looking for a more neutral spinal alignment compared to the RDLs. Make sure you're feeling a stretch in your hamstrings at the bottom.
The Deficit Stiff-Legged Deadlift
This is a big favorite of a few famous powerlifters. It's an advanced movement and requires good mobility and proprioception. For hamstring loading, it's almost unbeatable.
Sticking Point – Above the Knees
This is the most mechanically advantageous position, so if you're failing here you're just being lazy. Okay, I'm kidding.
There are two main reasons a deadlift will fail here. For those who are moving very big weights, it can be a grip issue, especially if the lift is slow. Every second that you have to hold three times bodyweight in your hands is going to be hard on your grip. This is often compounded for those who choose to pull sumo because they then have the issue of their hands having to get over their thighs.
What to Do for a Weak Grip
The Heavy Hold from Pins/Blocks
Set the bar so you only have to move it a few inches to lock out. Ramp up to the heaviest weight you can hold for 5-10 seconds.
Use a Hook Grip
For sumo pullers, the hook grip can massively help with the issue of dragging your hand over your quads. It allows your hands to be clenched smaller and means your thumb isn't sticking out to catch on your quads.
More commonly however a missed lockout may be caused by weak glutes.
What to Do for Weak Glutes
The Romanian Deadlift with a Hip Band
Do a regular RDL with a resistance band pulling back on your hips. Squeeze your glutes for two seconds at the top of each rep and make sure you're locking out the lift through the hips/glutes and not by excessively leaning back.
The Seated Sumo Deadlift
I have Christian Thibaudeau to thank for introducing me to these. Set up for a sumo deadlift, but while sitting on a bench. To initiate the lift, extend through your hips while keeping your bum on the bench. This will lift the bar 1 to 2 inches from the floor. Hold this position for two seconds before standing up to complete the lift.
Don't let yourself tip forward or allow the bar to move down when you drive off the bench.
Pick Up More Weight
Getting stronger in the deadlift doesn't need to be complicated. You now have a full arsenal of accessory lifts you can use with a pretty basic home gym setup. Just find your sticking points and pick the exercises that strengthen them.