The Deadlift is the most important exercise next to the Squat. But nothing is more frustrating than plateauing on the same weight over & over. Worse even is when the weight you Deadlifted past workout for 5 reps suddenly doesn't even want to budge the floor. Maybe you've also experienced this on Deadlifts.
Good news - here are 9 surefire strategies that I've used to break through any Deadlift plateau and pull 500lb raw at 165lb body-weight.
1. Deadlift More. The fastest way to boost your Deadlift is to Deadlift more. You don't need to add assistance exercises, you don't require extra posterior chain work, and you don't have to pull against bands. All those things definitely have their place but not until you reach at least 400lb on Deadlifts.
Why? Because technique is the real secret to gaining strength, on every single exercise. Don't take my word for it, here's a quote from the "Michael Jordan of Powerlifting," world class Deadlifter Ed Coan who pulled 900lb...
The deadlift is the number one technique lift. If you don’t have technique in the deadlift, you just can’t muscle it up.
Deadlifting more does NOT mean that you should now do 5x5 instead of 1x5. It only means don't skip your Deadlifts to do other exercises. Just deload if you get stuck, and use the lighter weights to improve your technique.
2. Master Deadlift Technique. Another quote, this one by elite Powerlifter Dave Tate: "The stronger you get, the more important technique becomes, and one inch can make the biggest difference in the world". Technique is the number one thing you should look at when you get stuck on Deadlifts. Some pointers:
- Don't Pull - Push. You have to use your hip muscles. Deadlift by driving through your heels, push your hips forward once the bar reaches knee level, and lock the weight by squeezing your glutes hard at the top.
- Don't Squat - Deadlift. Deadlifts are NOT Squats, your hips have to be higher to pull big weights and so you don't hit your shins on each rep. Raise your hips so your shoulder-blades end up over the bar.
- Use Your Legs. Your hips should be higher than when your Squat, but not too high otherwise your lower back will be doing all the work. Read this article to find the correct hip position depending on your build.
3. Strengthen Your Grip. It doesn't matter if your legs/back have the strength to Deadlift the weight. If your hand can't hold the barbell, it will obviously never leave the floor. The 3 keys to a stronger grip? a) white knuckling b) chalk c) the mixed grip. Read 7 Ways to Build Massive Grip Strength for more tips.
4. Warm-up Properly. Some guys don't warm-up at all which is not only asking for injuries, it also doesn't let you practice Deadlift form. Others are so afraid of getting hurt that they waste energy doing a gazillion of warm-up sets.
- Wrong: 5x135lb - 5x180lb - 5x205lb - 5x215lb - 5x225lb - 5x235lb
- Correct: 5x135lb - 5x180lb - 5x205lb - 5x235lb
Get it? Add 25-50lb on each set until you reach your work weight. Even better is to decrease the reps as your warm-up sets go by (5 -> 4 -> 3 -> 2 -> 1x5). But since some guys can't live with doing only 1x5 Deadlifts, 5 reps on the warm-up sets gives you more volume without messing recovery and causing plateaus.
5. Eat More. David Ricks owns the raw world Deadlift record in the 165lb weight class since 1990 - 672lb. Compare with Konstantinov's 939lb Deadlift record @ 308lb. This 267lb difference illustrates an obvious point: if you want to Deadlift heavy weights, you will have to gain weight. Not just because bigger muscles are stronger but because weighing 161lb at 6'0" is bad leverages. Eat more.
6. Pull Faster. The faster you lift, the more muscles fibers you'll recruit and the more weight you'll pull. Lifting fast is NOT cheating, nor is it dangerous or bad for your joints as long as you control the bar and use proper technique. Proof of this is that all Olympic lifters pull explosively yet they have low rates of injury.
Accelerate the bar from the floor as fast as you can. Way down should be under control but not slow. Don't worry if the bar speed decreases as the weight goes up - just apply as much force to the barbell as you can. You have to pull your warm-up sets fast to be quick on your work sets, so don't be lazy about this.
7. Sleep More. Nothing wrong with sleeping 6h/night if it happens only once in a while, plenty of StrongLifts Members have set Deadlift PRs on little sleep. But chronic sleep deprivation is obviously terrible. One, it hurts recovery (your body releases strength building hormones when you sleep). Two, it kills motivation.
An average of 8 hours of sleep per night is vital for optimal strength gains, and many people believe the hours before midnight count double. If you got trouble falling asleep: stop watching TV and working on your computer the hour before you go to bed, and wake up consistently at the same time every day.
8. Stretch Your Hips. Spending 8h/day or more behind a computer like I do will tighten your hips. You'll have a hard time engaging your glutes during Deadlifts which can turn you weak at lockout and hurt your lower back. Stretch your hip flexors with warrior lunges and do supine bridges to activate your glutes.
9. Wear a Belt. Breathing into your belly and pushing against the belt with your abs increases intra-abdominal pressure. This is why you can easily break your Deadlift plateau and add 30lb to your max almost instantly by wearing a belt.
Get a 4" wide, 10mm thick, single prong belt like the Inzer Forever version that I own (don't be a cheapskate, you only buy this once). Just don't start wearing it on every single set, I only start wearing it from my last warm-up set onwards.
Finally, do not let it become mental. If you keep hitting the same plateau - stop. Deload, add weight slowly but steady, and focus on technique and speed until you're back at your past plateau. Just don't get lost with advanced techniques, you can achieve a 400lb Deadlift by Deadlifting solely. Always keep it simple.
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