Can You Improve Your Deadlift without Deadlifting?

Oftentimes, when you have lifted for a longer period of time, it gets more and more difficult to improve your strength numbers. Some athletes respond by doing that lift every single day and always at a heavy weight. Their hope is that the more they do it heavy, the more they’ll get comfortable lifting heavy, and then that will be the push they need to actually be able to lift even more weight. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way. In fact, if you feel yourself hitting a plateau on a certain lift, it can often be more beneficial to take a break from actually performing that lift and focusing more on the accessory work that will strengthen the muscles needed to perform the lift better. With that being said, here are 5 exercises that you can do to improve your deadlift without actually deadlifting: 

  1. Hamstring Curls – these can be done a variety of different ways. You can do them lying on your stomach with a band tied to the rig post, you can do them with a medicine ball, with a physio ball, etc. It is best to do these with a deliberate, slow tempo. Try doing sets of 20-25 reps. 
  2. Single-Leg Kettlebell RDLs – this movement is valuable for improving posterior-chain strength, for improving single-leg glute and hamstring strength and for ironing out any left v. right muscle imbalances that you might have. While performing this exercise, focus on keeping a neutral back and a long torso and keep your hips square. Try performing 3 sets of 8 reps per leg as heavy as possible while still maintaining good positioning and control.
  3. Sled Pulls – heavy sled pulls are an effective way to spend a good amount of time under tension and build strength in your glutes, hamstrings, calves, lower back, and quads (basically your entire lower body). Try doing 3 sets of 30-meter sled pulls as heavy as possible while still maintaining constant movement.
  4. Barbell Hip Thrusts – this movement is especially beneficial because they allow you to get used to lifting under a heavy load. In fact, some people can hip thrust more than they can deadlift, which goes a long way for preparing your nervous system and building your confidence for when you return to deadlifting a heavy barbell. Try doing 3 sets of 10 reps as heavy as possible.
  5. Glute-Ham Raises – this is a more difficult movement to perform so it may be necessary to modify by using a band or pushing off a box at the bottom with your hands (more like a plyometric push-up). Try to keep a perfectly neutral spine and avoid breaking at the hips throughout the entire movement. Try doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps. 

It might be time to take a break from deadlifting for a while. Try adding these accessory movements for the next several weeks and then return to deadlifting and see where you’re at.