Accessory Exercises to Improve Deadlifts


There’s no better way to improve your deadlifts than actually doing deadlifts, but accessory exercises become helpful after you’ve gotten your form and execution down. No, this doesn’t mean you completely switch to doing rack pulls from above the knees because you’re able to lift more.

Accessory exercises to improve deadlifts play a vital role in your strength training program. However, some you may find you favor since you can lift a lot more weight. Don’t let ego come in between you and your strength gains.

Basically a variety of accessory exercises come into play if you’re stuck in a strength hole and just can’t bypass your max effort anymore. Everyone gets stuck and needs to work on the smaller issues causing the big picture to falter.

What are Accessory Exercises?

Accessory exercises are the ones that come after your primary exercise. For example, leg extensions and the leg press are basic accessories to squats. The purpose of them is to work on movements from the primary lift, or muscle groups that support the lift.

These come afterwards because the importance is not above your deadlift. If you have enough time and/or energy just to do a 5×5 deadlift program, or whatever you’re following, then that’s all you do then and create a separate day for these if need be. BUT you should implement them when you do have extra time set aside and some carbs in your water.

Now, you can do accessory lift only days if you’re a little more advanced in your program and essentially using them as a “rest day” or to offset the main lift. A main reason for deadlifts would include allowing your lower back to recover.

More on this when we cover rack and block pulls. But before we cover accessory exercises to improve deadlifts, you should understand the phases of the deadlift:

  • Speed and drive from the floor
  • Mid-range at the knee
  • Full lockout

Want to see those three lights flash for good lift? Then let’s cover accessory lifts for your deadlifts to get you there.

Speed and Drive from the Floor

Every person has his or her own weak spot, and simply getting off the floor is the first main hole to cover. Deadlifts are performed while you’re already in a concentric phase with knees and hips bent. So the stretch reflex isn’t there like when we perform squats unless you perform a slight squat into you pull prior to drive.

(Stretch reflex is when your myofascia create elasticity like a rubber band and help spring your body back up. Hence the use of knee wraps during squats to take advantage of this.)

All styles of the deadlift can be difficult from the floor, but sumo stance deadlifts would be the most highlighted when it comes to this phase. Sumo is usually easier to lockout, but when it comes to clearing the floor it could be an issue.

Hang Cleans

Hang cleans are great for hip extensions and also build up the necessary speed + strength to increase overall power.

Full hang cleans are from the floor and you dip into the front squat afterwards. You see this more for Olympic lifting programs.

If the technique part is messing with you then don’t get overly frustrated. deadliftsViolent hip extensions can still be accomplished with power cleans. Focus greatly on the hip explosion that comes before the cleaning phase.

Kettlebell Swings

This is a simple exercise that should be pretty easy for you to execute. The main focus is to keep your back in the neutral position just like with deadlifts, and do not round your shoulders forward as the kettlebell lowers with gravity.

The hip extension phase is as you pull the kettlebell up and explode your hips forward also squeezing the glutes into action. If you don’t have kettlebells at your gym no worries; just grab a dumbbell and swing away – will help build your grip strength anyways.

Box Jumps from the Bottom

These are technically called concentric box jumps since you’re at the point of the exercise where your primary muscles are shortening. The purpose is to build the speed necessary for explosiveness.

You must allow your body to stay in the concentric portion for 3 seconds to ensure that the stretch reflex is no longer there to assist with the jump. Prior to the jump have your hands in the deadlift grip as your perform the action.

Great supplement for increasing strength, endurance, and recovery.

Throwing your arms in the air for more explosive height isn’t the best idea because we’re trying to mimic the deadlift and improve smaller phases.

Floor Drive Fine Tuning

This fine tuning is to literally develop the strength necessary from the bottom position, which is directly similar to the deadlift plain and simple. No need to sugar coat them – just consider implementing these into your workout.

Anderson Squats

This exercise is a gold mine for powerlifters looking to increase their strength and explosiveness. Also referred to as “bottom up or pin” squats since you’re literally starting from the bottom portion of the squat.

These are not easy to perform, so don’t going throwing 90% of your max lift on the bar and expect it to move. You need a power cage to be able to adjust the safety bars to where you start off in the bottom phase.

However, you can also control the squat lowering down to the rack and pausing before coming back out of the squat.

The only other option is if you train at a weightlifting gym and have the high boxes to squat from. In order to benefit the most from Anderson squats, you need to move your hips and knees simultaneously. This prevents all the contraction being placed solely on your quads.

Front squats can be performed in this same style if that’s what you prefer.

front squats

Front squats also help your deadlifts by teaching your body to keep back tight during the pull and activating the core.

Mid-Range at the Knee

This is the tougher portion of the deadlift because you are now around the halfway point and still need to lockout the body. This phase plays a large role using your hamstrings and a tight lower back – even for the sumo pull.

Stiff Leg Deadlifts

Doing these will allow you to practice your deadlift movement, but the difference is your legs are stiff. This means knees locked out or just slightly bent. The intention of these is to target your hamstrings primarily, but lower back is initiated as well.

Leg Press for Hamstring

leg press hamstring

Feet out wide and high for hamstring targeting

The leg press can be used for multiple areas of effect, and in this case it would be your hamstrings, glutes, and hips. The foot placement with the leg press for hamstring would be wide and high. Basically your feet are at the top of the platform all the way to the corners. Always drive up with your heels into the platform.

Good Mornings

This is another great exercise for the posterior chain that mainly focuses on building the lower back. The secondary muscle use is your hamstrings, so as you can tell the good morning is great for building up your mid-range pulling muscles.

These don’t necessarily have to be heavy reps. 5-8 reps works very well, and it wouldn’t hurt to d

eload further into the 12 reps range for effectiveness. You must perform these keeping your back straight to get the benefits needed for your deadlift performance.

Deficit Deadlifts

This type of deadlift you actually perform standing on a box or plates to elevate you off the floor. The intent is to make you have to pull the bar for longer distances than usual, thus building up your mid-range strength and power.

Some peeps that are taller may not benefit from this as it places you to much into a squat stance that may actually cause injury as you begin to pull. Only way to know is place some lighter weight on and see how the pull goes.

Definitely focus on still maintaining good deadlift form not only for practice, but to protect your lower back as well.

The Lockout

Now it’s time to lockout. Pucker-up your butt and drive those hips forward. This is the phase where it’s either make the lift or bail the fuck out. Try not to get in the habit of hitching during training as you may do it during competition, which is illegal under most federations.

(Hitching is when you bounce your knees and jerk the bar up your thighs slowly making progress until lockout.)

Rack Pulls

This is a term most hear, but other names could be box pulls, elevated pulls, etc. Basically it’s a deadlift variation named after what equipment you use to have the bar elevated off the floor.

You want the bar positioned to where your sticking point is i.e. where you get stuck pulling heavy singles or when you max out and get stuck.

Swole AF Labs Strength

The exercise limits the use of your lower back and engages your hips and glutes with greater emphasis. They are even good to perform prior to your deadlifts to get them hips fired up.

Usually for conventional pullers it’s just below the knee or above, which is where you want the bar set when you are in position with knees bent as if you did the deadlift and now have reached this point. See video below for understanding.

In the video I add shrugs to them but that’s an add on to it. All you need to do is pull from the rack, box, etc. and the lockout. Great for lat isolation too if you engage them before each pull as shown. Remember, the key to deadlifts, both conventional and sumo, is learning to engage your lats.

Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusts

Technically you want to get your glutes involved ASAP during the deadlift, but if anything you need them at their strongest when it comes to the lockout phase of your deadlift. These accessory exercises to improve deadlifts are perfect to add in once every couple of weeks.

Hip thrusts are when you have your upper back on a raised platform such as a bench and thrust the bar up from this point. Glute bridges are different because your back is against the floor as you drive your hips forward.

Both target the glutes and quads extremely well, and can be an effective tool for deadlifting more weight.

Barbell Shrugs

Alright, so the lockout phase requires a lot of the upper body now especially the traps and lats. This again applies to both sumo and conventional pulls, although sumo does use a lot more hips and quads for the movement.

Regardless, you will benefit from barbell shrugs in two ways, which are strong ass traps for pulling and juicy traps to pop them shirts up. However, even though you should focus on still hitting 12-15 reps, the weight is going to be heavy. Traps are similar in sets and reps while using heavy weights just like calf raises.

Bent Barbell Rows

These are again performed with heavy weight to target the posterior chain ridiculously well. You can perform the Yate version or Pendlay row. Both are different in their own respect but still accomplish the same overall task when it comes to deadlifts.

Practically any rowing exercises are great for the finishing touch with your deadlifts such as lat pull downs, seated cable rows, and weighted pull ups. Choose one or two of these exercises to accommodate your deadlifts accessory training day.

Don’t Forget About Grip

Grip strength is very important for a competitive powerlifter, but many go about this the wrong way. Some will completely say no straps to improve grip strength. However, if you don’t have any grip to start then your strength will suffer without being able to hold the damn bar.

That’s why lifting straps actually do improve grip strength to an extent, and also allows you to complete accessory exercises for your deadlifts at higher weights. Just break the habit of their usage for the primary complete deadlifts you perform.

As for grip strength and deadlifts, this article from Dark Iron Fitness has some interesting methods.

Accessory Exercises to Improve Deadlifts Recap

Alright brotatoes and chiclets there you have it. A pretty definitive guide for you to follow when it comes to exercises that serve as accessories to the deadlift. As mentioned, you don’t want to neglect performing actual full deadlifts.

Floor and Drive Work

  • Hang Cleans, Concentric Box Jumps, Kettlebell Swings, Anderson Squats

Mid-Range Pull

  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Leg Press for Hamstring, Good Mornings, Hyperextensions

Full Lockout

  • Barbell Shrugs, Glute Bridges, Hip Thrusts, Bent Rows, Pulling Exercise Variations

accessory exercises for deadlifts

That’s it for today fambam. Let me know if you have any questions or have a topic you want me to cover next. Stay strong always!

Strong Fit Living

Live it. Do it.

Brian Pankau

Brian Pankau

Experienced personal trainer and strength coach

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