As I’ve said many times before, deadlifts are my favorite lift right now. I’m consistently improving at them, it’s a newer lift to me (so the excitement hasn’t worn off), and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of my better lifts.
I’ve been doing quite a few things to improve my deadlifts. Of course, I am focusing on my form (one of the main reasons I hired a trainer) but I am also doing some supplemental lifts that are meant to help improve my deadlift 1 rep max!
But first and foremost… a few tweaks in form!
One thing my trainer told me I needed to change…my feet! The middle of your foot should be under the bar. If you feel like you’re way too close to the bar, it’s probably right 😛 It felt unnatural to me at first! When you bend your knees your shins should touch the bar and the bar should move along a vertical path over your mid-foot.
I am also working on making sure my chest is up and my back is neutral with my slight natural arch. I do not want to over arch or round my back as I’m lifting. Rounding your back can cause lower back injuries and keeping your chest up helps, so they say 🙂
Finally, breathing. I fully admit that I am terrible at this. Whether it’s yoga or powerlifting, when I start thinking about breathing I get thrown off and over think it. What you’re SUPPOSED to do is take a deep breath before pulling the deadlift, hold it, then exhale at the top. I’m working on it….
I’m also doing other exercises to help with my deadlift. Nothing can tear apart your body like the three big lifts. Instead of doing deadlifts every other day, you can do supplemental work to get stronger while still improving your deadlift.
Also, certain supplemental exercises can help with certain aspects of your lifts. For example, I’m really noticing that box squats are helping with my starting strength for deadlifts.
Here are some of my favorite supplement deadlift exercises. I’ll link videos or instructions on how to do them and tell you why I’m doing each 🙂
Kettlebell Swings – Great overall workout. Be sure to tighten your abs and those glutes! Kettlebell swings can also help strengthen your lower back and lessen injuries that might occur from having a weak core!
Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlifts – I might almost fall over a few times doing these, but that’s ok. I laugh it off. I need to improve my balance and stability which these help with. They can also help improve hip mobility which, even as a new powerlifter, I’m quickly realizing the importance of.
Pull Ups – Lat development is key to improving your deadlifts and pull ups are great for your lats. Pull ups are honestly just an amazing compound upper body movement overall. I still do these assisted, but am working on lowering that assistance every time I do them.
Back Hyperextensions – The quickest way to kill your lower back. Enough said, I love these. Just don’t over arch your back in the upright position.
Box Squats – I mentioned these before. They’re my favorite supplemental workout for deadlifts. They’re supposed to help improve your starting strength and once you do them, you’ll see why. My trainer told me to really focus on pausing with my butt on the bench for a second, then exploding up.
Romanian Deadlifts from Deficit – Romanian (or straight legged) deadlifts focus more on your hamstrings and glutes than convention deadlifts. They also hit your lower back too. Working on your glute contraction at the end of the deadlift can help with your lockout strength, which is, of course, the final goal of the deadlift. Doing it at a deficit ups the difficulty factor and increases the hamstring stretch.
Low Rows – This is just my preferred upper and middle back workout. I find it easy to target my lower back (ahem, hyperextensions for one), but often times don’t really “feel” it when I’m trying to work the rest of my back. With low rows though, I’m able to isolate my upper and middle back and really squeeeezee those muscles, as opposed to other back workouts where I feel it all in my bis and tris. Just a personal preference, but try it out!
Extra Core Work – Recently, I have been all about doing the ab roller. Quick, but certainly effective. For a while I had been avoiding doing a lot of ab work at the gym because I hated the thought that I wouldn’t really see a difference in my abs anyways until I shed more fat. Instead of ab work, I’d always just jump on a cardio machine. My trainer explained that it is important for powerlifting because, take deadlifts, for example…without a strong core my legs and back will have to do twice as much work overcompensating for the work that my core would be doing.
Most importantly, I have been working on my mental strength. I had a series of really bad workout sessions because I wasn’t in the right place mentally. It’s getting better though! My mind needs to believe how strong my body really is because too often I give up before even really giving it my all due to fear. I am realizing that just because I am struggling to do the lift doesn’t mean that I physically can’t- assuming that my form is correct, of course My mental strength is probably my biggest obstacle right now!