This is the definitive guide to the best deadlift assistance exercises of all time. In this post you’ll learn proven techniques to help blast through your deadlift plateau and increase your one rep max.
First, you’ll learn how to deadlift with proper form. Next, I’ll show you how to identify the sticking point that’s holding you back from increasing your deadlift max. Finally, I’ll walk you through the 3 best deadlift assistance exercises.
How To Deadlift With Proper Form
Here’s a quick tip most gym bros won’t tell you.
All of the assistance work in the world won’t do jack squat if you don’t deadlift with proper form.
Deadlifting with proper form will (1) increase your mechanical advantage, (2) help you make consistent gains for years, and (3) reduce or prevent injury.
On the other hand, deadlifting without proper form is the perfect recipe for hitting a deadlift plateau and getting injured.
Don’t put the cart before the horse.
Get your deadlift technique down cold. Pick up a real weightlifting belt. Then focus on adding in proven assistance exercises.
Check out Alan Thrall’s short video on how to deadlift with perfect form.
How To Identify The Sticking Point In Your Deadlift
To increase your deadlift quickly and efficiently you first need to identify the weakness in your deadlift.
Here’s a breakdown of the three main sticking points that may be holding you back from reaching your full deadlift potential.
Sticking Point #1 – Weak Off The Floor
Weak off the floor means you have trouble breaking the weight off the ground.
This typically means your legs (quads) are the weak point in your deadlift.
You’ll want to perform assistance exercises that develop the quads, increase explosiveness, and improve leg drive, like deficit deadlifts.
Sticking Point #2 – Weak Around The Knees
Weak around the knees means you’re able to break the bar up off the ground for several inches but struggle to complete the rep.
This means your upper back and lats are the weak point in your deadlift.
You’ll want to perform assistance exercises that target these muscle groups, like paused deadlifts.
Sticking Point #3 – Weak Near Lockout
Weak near lockout means you’re able to move the bar up off the ground and past your knees but you cannot lockout the lift.
This is a sure sign that your glutes and hamstrings are the weak point in your deadlift.
You’ll want to perform Romanian deadlifts to shore up this weakness and improve your ability to lockout heavy deadlifts.
3 Best Assistance Exercises To Increase Your Deadlift
Now that you know how to identify the sticking point in your deadlift, let’s move on to the best deadlift assistance exercises.
Each of these exercises will help increase your deadlift fast and set a new PR.
1. Deficit Deadlifts
The deficit deadlift is a favorite deadlift assistance exercise for targeting the quads and increasing the explosiveness of your pull.
The only difference between a deficit deadlift and a conventional deadlift is that you perform the lift while standing on an elevated surface, typically a 45lb plate or mat. This 2-4 inch elevation creates the “deficit.”
The deficit deadlift is harder than the conventional deadlift because it reduces your mechanical advantage over the weight and increases the range of motion of the lift.
I recommend starting with around 80% of your conventional deadlift weight and see if you can hit the same number of reps.
For example, if you can deadlift 225 for 8 reps, do deficit deadlifts with 185 for 8 reps. Adjust your weight and reps accordingly.
2. Paused Deadlifts
The paused deadlift is the best deadlift assistance exercise for targeting the upper back and lats.
The paused deadlift follows the same movement as the conventional deadlift but with one very important change.
Instead of pulling the bar off the ground, past you knees, and to lockout in one fluid movement like the conventional deadlift, the paused deadlift requires you to pull the bar off the floor to mid-shin and pause for 1-2 seconds before completing the rest of the rep.
Paused deadlifts develop massive upper back and lat strength because the “pause” serves to increase time under tension near the bottom of the rep. It also eliminates any stretch reflex, which makes the lift more difficult.
Like the deficit deadlift, start with 80% of your conventional deadlift weight and adjust to suit your ability.
3. Romanian Deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts, invented by Romanian weightlifter Nicu Vlad, focus like a laser on the glutes and hamstrings and increase your ability to lockout heavy deadlifts.
To perform Romanian deadlifts correctly you’ll want to set up to the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees slightly bent at set up and maintain this degree of knee flexion throughout the lift.
Now hinge your hips and lower the barbell, while keeping your back straight. Lower the bar until you feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings, and then slowly straighten back up. Remember to keep your core tight and the bar as close to your body as possible.
I won’t beat around the bush. It may take some time to perfect your Romanian deadlift form. But when you do you’ll start to notice gains very quickly.
I recommend starting with less than 50% of your conventional deadlift weight.
All of these proven deadlift assistance exercises will quickly turn your weak point into a strength.
But remember, the whole point of assistance exercises is to assist in the development of your deadlift, not replace it.
In other words, perform standard deadlifts AND assistance exercises to make steady gains.
All the best,